1994 – The Shawshank Redemption











The Shawshank Redemption – 1994

This is going to be a difficult review for me to write because it is one of my top 5 favorite movies of all time.  In my mind it is one of the greatest movies ever made.  It has so many deep and profound themes in it that are explored in extremely powerful ways.  We are shown the cruelty of evil men, despair, hopelessness, the struggle to hold on to your humanity when faced with inhuman conditions, incredible friendship, and above all, hope in the face of adversity.

The movie follows the character of Andy Dufresne, wonderfully played by Tim Robbins, who is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover.  We see how the Shawshank Prison’s Warden, Samuel Norton, expertly played by Bob Gunton, cruelly allows his chief guard, Captain Byron Hadley, perfectly played by Clancy Brown, to routinely beat the inmates, sometimes to death, as a means of maintaining powerful control over them.  While in prison, Andy meets and befriends a fellow inmate named Red, superbly played by Morgan Freeman.

Most of the story is told from Red’s perspective.  Throughout the entire movie, he actually provides narration from a 1st person perspective.  He comments on the significant events surrounding Andy’s incarceration and his feelings about his deep friendship with him.  They spend almost 20 years together as inmates.  At first Red doesn’t believe in Andy’s innocence.  But eventually, when Gil Bellows arrives, playing the pivotal role of Tommy Williams, he learns the truth, that Andy had been wrongfully convicted and had spent all those years serving a sentence that he should never deserved, their friendship deepens even further.  Unfortunately, Tommy is murdered by Warden Norton and Officer Hadley for his knowledge.

There are 3 main things that make the movie so profoundly good.  First, director Frank Darabont really took his time fleshing out the characters.  We really got to know Andy and Red, and even some of the other inmates like Heywood, played by William Sadler, or Brooks Hatlen, played by James Whitmore, or even the prison rapist who regularly beat and raped Andy during his first two years in Shawshank, played by Mark Rolston.  And the acting was so good and realistic that we really get to know and feel for them.  We see Andy’s life cast him to the depths of hell, and we know that it is a phenomenal tragedy.

The second thing is that we see how Andy, through the pureness of his spirit and the knowledge of his own innocence, brings light into the dark and despairing world of lifetime imprisonment.  Brooks, who is released after serving a 50 year sentence, an old man who is afraid of the outside world, commits suicide.  In response, Red says, “These walls are funny.  First you hate them.  Then you get used to them.  Enough time goes by, you come to depend on them.  That’s institutionalized.”  Even Red begins to lose any hope for his own future.  But Andy doesn’t, despite being treated as a glorified lap dog to Warden Norton.  As it turns out, Andy is incredibly smart, smart enough to run Norton’s money laundering schemes.

And that leads me to the third thing that made this movie so great.  The incredibly satisfying ending.  Andy outsmarted them all by successfully escaping from Shawshank Prison.  He got away with a huge chunk of Norton’s laundered money, evidence of the illegal activities and murders.  As Andy gets away and goes to Mexico, Hadley gets arrested, and we can only assume that he will be put in prison with the inmates he has spent years abusing, and Warden Norton commits suicide rather than allowing himself to be arrested.  Movies in which the really evil characters get their well-deserved punishments are always satisfying to watch.  That, and the final sequence of the film in which Red eventually gets out of prison and is reunited with his friend in Mexico.  Every time I watch it, I’m in tears.

And I have to give special props to the awesome acting skills of the entire cast.  Freeman was the real stand-out, of course.  He was phenomenal.  The voice-over work for the narration was so beautifully and sensitively delivered that it was like poetry.  It was like it came from the true heart of the character he was playing.  Critics sometimes say that if the film had any problems, it was Robins’ acting.  They say that he had trouble making us believe his character or that he didn’t really connect to the audience.  But I completely disagree.  His character was a deeply introspective and private man.  It was even stated that he had a problem displaying emotion.  Robbins played it perfectly.  And I have to give special props to Clancy Brown’s portrayal of the violent and sadistic character of Officer Hadley.  From the first moment he is on the screen, you are just afraid of him.  Incredible acting.

I’ll say it again.  In my opinion, this is one of the greatest movies ever made.  It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, and tragically won none.  In addition to Best Picture, it was nominated for Best Actor for Freeman, Best Adapted Screenplay, as it was based on a short story by Stephen King, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Mixing.  And it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Forest Gump.  There’s no denying that Gump was good, but the Shawshank Redemption got robbed and should have won the Best Picture Award.

1994 – Quiz Show











Quiz Show – 1994

This certainly wasn’t a bad movie.  On the contrary, it was good enough.  It was just slow and bordered on dull.  The problem wasn’t with Robert Redford, the film’s director, or with the lesser known yet competent cast.  It was the subject matter.  It wasn’t deep, surprising, intense, or daring.  It was just a plain and fairly ordinary movie.  That doesn’t make it bad, just a little lifeless.

It is based on the true events surrounding the popular quiz show of the late 50s, Twenty-One.  You see, televisions had only made it into the homes of the general public after WWII.  It became a powerful tool for swaying public opinion.  Retailers found that advertisements on television boosted sales immeasurably simply because they could hard sell their product to a nation that was ravenous for the entertainment that the medium provided.  TV stars became wildly popular celebrities, and this included game show contestants.  In fact, they had the potential to be more popular than regular TV personalities because they were the common man enjoying instant financial success and national hero status, an attractive prospect to most Americans.

But there was a scandal surrounding Twenty-One.  The show was rigged.  The network, NBC, and their sponsors had complete control over who won and who lost.  It was a quiz show that was supposed to be based on a person’s knowledge of trivia.  But it was all a lie.  Executives decided who was popular and who would make more money for their sponsors.  Based on those decisions, contestants would be given the questions and answers in advance.  They would be told how to behave and what to say.  And when they were no longer popular, or when sponsorship sales had plateaued, they would be told when to take a dive and answer a question wrong.

That’s the set up.  The main plot of the film follows three men.  John Turturro plays Herb Stempel, a popular contestant who is on Twenty-One.  When he is told to give a wrong answer, he is outraged, yet does what he is told.  The second man is Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes.  He is the son of a prominent college professor who is set up to replace Stempel as America’s golden boy.  He has a moral issue with the dishonesty of playing the rigged game, but he is seduced by the money and instant celebrity.  The third man is Dick Goodwin, played by Rob Morrow.  He is a congressional lawyer who goes to New York to investigate the allegations made by Stempel that the show was rigged.

Goodwin is really behind most of the film’s drama, and Morrow stood out to me as a good actor.  True, most of the critics praise went to John Turturro and Paul Scofield who played Charlie’s father, Professor Mark Van Doren, both of whom did a fine job, but I think Morrow’s performance was just as enjoyable to watch.  It was his character who brought the scandal to the House Committee for Legislative Oversight, exposing the truth about how the American public had been deceived.

But I’m looking at the story through my modern eyes which see both truth and lies as commonplace in the world of television and advertising.  But I suppose that the relative newness of television being made available to the general public was an issue.  People were not used to being lied to.  And when it turned out that their common-man heroes were revealed to be frauds, they were incensed.

But after all the drama, the investigation, the hearings, and the confessions of guilt, the movie did have an interesting point to make.  The revelation of the scandal didn’t change anything.  Though the article that I read said that the scandal nearly caused the death of the game show genre on TV, it didn’t.  Game shows are still wildly popular.  Even the network executives who were behind the rigging got away scot-free, using simple denial, and a willing scapegoat or two.

And speaking of the scapegoats, great performances were turned in by David Paymer and Hank Azaria, as Dan Enright and Albert Freedman, the studio producers who actually gave the contestants the questions and answers before the show.  And I have to mention that, again, with my modern sensibilities, I can almost see the unapologetic position he took during the hearings.  When addressed by the committee, he says, “Well, the sponsor makes out, the network makes out, the contestants see money they probably would never see in a lifetime, and the public is entertained.  So who gets hurt?”

On the one hand, it is actually a valid argument… almost.  On the other, it is made clear that Charlie Van Doren’s reputation and career were damaged, but only because the scandal was made public.  Herb Stempel’s sense of vanity was hurt, and more because an anti-semitic angle was lightly touched on.  And the public was hurt because they were made to feel like saps.  And in light of that, the film itself can been seen as a commentary on how we, in the modern age, are aware of how television lies to us, though we have been lied to so often that we no longer care.  A little sad, if you think about it.

1994 – Pulp Fiction











Pulp Fiction – 1994

It has been a very long time since I have seen this movie, and I had forgotten just how incredible it is.  The great cast, the wonderful and intense acting, the perfect music selections, the awesomely smart and intricate script, the spot-on editing, the slick and stylized costumes and set design, the attention to detail, the interesting interlocking stories, and the witty dialogue all made for a masterpiece of filmmaking.  Director Quinten Tarantino really cemented himself as a powerhouse Hollywood artist.  He really hit a home run with this one.

I’ll start with the cast.  When the movie is mentioned, the first names that most people think of are John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.  Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, and Harvey Keitel all have prominent parts, but we can’t forget the fantastic performances of Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, and Maria de Medeiros.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Christopher Walken’s small but wildly memorable performance.  How he delivered his hilarious monologue with a straight face, I’ll never know.

The story structure was one of the key elements that made Pulp Fiction such a masterpiece.  It is a perfect example of what is called circular story telling.  The film starts out in a diner as Roth and Plummer, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, pull out guns and begin a robbery.  The scene freezes as Honey Bunny shouts, “Any of you f—ing pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherf—ing last one of ya!”  The scene freezes and we don’t return to their story until the end of the film, 2 and a half hours later.

First off, that is a brilliant way of telling a story.  By the time we get back to it, we have nearly forgotten about the diner robbery.  But as it happens, the characters of Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, played by Travolta and Jackson, who’s stories we have been following, just happened to be eating breakfast in that diner.  You see the story is told impossibly out of sequence.  But somehow, it works.  There are really 3 stories being told with characters floating in and out of the different narratives, each carrying more of less weight, depending on which story is being told.

The first follows Vincent.  He and Jules are hit men for mob boss Marsellus Wallace, played by Rhames.  After the two kill their target, they miraculously avoid being killed by one of his friends.  The miracle is lost on Vincent, but not on Jules, who takes it as a sign from heaven that he needs to leave the business.  Afterword, Vincent has been assigned to take Marsellus’ wife Mia, played by Thurman out and show her a good time.  The famous and iconic dance sequence was a lot of fun to watch.  But the evening goes awry as Mia overdoses on Vincent’s drugs and he has to give her an adrenalin shot to the heart to revive her.

The second story follows prize fighter Butch Coolidge, played by Willis, as he is instructed by Marsellus to throw a fight.  In the background we see Vincent and Jules appear, inexplicably dressed in different clothes.  But butch betrays the mob boss and wins the fight.  He goes on the run as a price is put on his head.  Through a strange set of coincidences, Marsellus and Butch are abducted by inner-city hillbillies and the gimp is brought out.  Butch redeems himself as he saves Marsellus while he is being raped.  The scene was so perfect.  I loved the moment when Butch is searching for a weapon and finally lays his eyes on a samurai sword!  And I have to give special props to Duane Whittaker and Peter Green as the two rapists, Maynard and Zed.  Creepy!  It is also important to note that during this section of the movie, we see Butch shoot and kill Vincent.

The third story is about how Vincent and Jules, after having survived their encounter with the hidden gunman through divine intervention, accidentally shoot a man in the face inside a car.  Blood and brains get all over them and the car’s interior.  The two quickly go to the home of Jule’s ex-partner, Jimmie, played by Tarantino, himself.  It becomes necessary to call for The Wolf, played by Keitel.  He is a man who cleans up these kinds of messes, but the clock is ticking.  It all has to be done before Jimmy’s wife Bonnie gets home from work.  As part of this clean-up, Vincent and Jules are given different clothes to wear.  This section of the film ends with the two hit men going to a diner to get some breakfast.

The jumbled structure of the film’s storyline was pure genius.  Not only does it keep your interest, it also makes you want to watch the movie multiple times to try to pick up clues and details in the overlapping storylines.  And then there is the big question that has everybody stumped.  What is in the briefcase that Vincent and Jules retrieve.  It is never shown except by its gold glow.  The popular theory is that it is Marsellus’ soul, though Tarantino has never confirmed it.  It is also theorized that the bandage on the back of Marsellus’ head was there to cover the soul’s extraction point.  But true or not, it has gained the status of an urban legend.  Either way, awesome movie!  Violent and bloody, like many of Tarantino’s movies, but awesome!

1994 – Four Weddings and a Funeral











Four Weddings and a Funeral – 1994

Any time you have a movie that can combine laughter and tears in a deeply emotional way, you have something special.  This movie had moments in which I was laughing out loud, and moments when I was in a puddle of tears.  The movie’s title is very indicative of the narrative structure of the film.  There are, in fact, 4 weddings, and 1 funeral.  The weddings were fun and frothy, and the funeral was powerful and emotional.

Hugh Grant plays Charles, a man who is described as a serial monogamist.  He goes out with woman after woman, searching for his one true love, but never finding her.  He has a tight and incredibly close group of friends that love him dearly.  Tom, Gareth, Matthew, Fiona, David, and Scarlett, played respectively by James Fleet, Simon Callow, John Hannah, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Bower, and Charlotte Coleman.

Charlie feels that he is destined to always be at weddings and never in them, that is… until wedding #1.  Her name is Carrie, played by Andie MacDowell.  She is pretty and bright, American, and willing to jump into bed for a fun romp if the mood takes her.  Charlie is the best man, at the wedding, and the two hit it off right away.  But by the time the next morning arrives, he finds that his lightning bold has struck, and he is in love, though she has to go back to America.

Wedding #2 arrives and is full of funny shenanigans, like Charlie being seated at a table full of his ex-girlfriends who discuss the difficulties of dating him as if he wasn’t at the table with them.  Or Charlie being trapped in a room in which the newlywed couple, Lydia and Bernard, played by Sophie Thompson and David Haig, are having loud, wild, passionate sex.  Again, he runs into Carrie, and despite the fact that she is engaged to be married to a Scotsman, the two sleep with each other again.

This leads us into wedding #3 between Carrie and Sir Hamish Banks, played by Corin Redgrave.  Charlie is miserable as he sees his one true love saying her vows to another man.  And it is also clear that Carrie is unsure about the vows she is taking.  Everyone else has a lot of fun, though unfortunately, Gareth has too much fun, and ends up dying of a heart attack.

This leads us to the funeral.  Here is where I lost control and openly wept for the characters on the screen.  You see, Gareth and Matthew had been lovers who were deeply in love with each other.  John Hannah, who played Matthew was a young and relatively unknown actor at the time, but the eulogy he gave was perfectly delivered.  His dramatic timing was spot-on.  He stayed right on the edge of tears until the very end of the speech, and only letting his voice crack half way through reading the beautifully sad and emotional poem Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden.

Finally, wedding #4 comes when Charlie decides to give up on love and, out of fear of being alone, marry one of his ex-girlfriends, Henrietta, played by Anna Chancellor.  But everything is thrown into chaos when Carrie arrives right before the wedding and tells Charlie that her marriage didn’t work out, and that she is once again a free woman.  Charlie, with David’s help, gets out of the wedding, though he receives a black eye to show for it.  The movie ends as he and Carrie meet and declare their love for each other.  Happy ending!

I don’t generally like to turn my reviews into a synopsis of the plot, but this one had such a well-put-together story that I couldn’t help it.  And it is that neat and tidy story that was the real star of the film.  Sure, our main stars, Grant and MacDowell, were both good, and they were both overshadowed by the joyous performance by Simon Callow and John Hannah’s emotional speech at his funeral, but it was really the great script by screenwriter Richard Curtis that stole the show.

I also have to make mention of Kristin Scott Thomas’s wonderful performance.  She had her own little dramatic scene in which she admits to having been in love with Charlie ever since she met him.  It was a serious and heartfelt moment in the midst of a chaotic sequence that was very touching and well-played.  Fiona was perfect as she told Charlie of her unrequited love, letting him know that she was quite aware that he would never love her in return.  The mature and gentle way in which the scene was handled made it special and memorable, just like the entirety of the film.

And as an afterthought, as the credits are about to start rolling, it is shown how everybody else eventually gets married to people they met over the course of the film… well, almost.  As a last joke, Fiona is shown getting married to Prince Charles.  Her image has obviously been superimposed into a photograph with the future King of England, making it even funnier.  The entire movie was both fun and endearing from beginning to end with each of Charlie’s friends having their own little dramatic moments as they try to understand life and love in their own ways.

1993 – The Remains of the Day











Remains of the Day – 1993

Merchant Ivory is at it again, but at least this time it was a step above the rest.  It was a British period drama that did not deal much with class.  Sure the issue of class was mentioned, but it wasn’t the focus. True, we brought back a few of the same actors like Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, but it dealt with a butler who sees his master becoming an unwitting Nazi sympathizer in the years leading up to World War II.

Hopkins played Mr. James Stevens, butler to Lord Darlington, played by James Fox.  The housekeeper, Miss Kenton, is played by Thompson.  The story takes place in both the past and the present.  The present follows Stevens, who now works for the American, Congressman Jack Lewis, played by Christopher Reeve.  Stevens is exchanging letters with the old housekeeper, Miss Kenton, who has long since gotten married and moved away.  As Mr. Lewis wants to revitalize the house and bring his wife across the ocean to live with him, Stevens has intentions of asking Miss Kenton to return to the mansion to resume her former duties.  Mr. Lewis loans Stevens his car so that he can go to the West Country to find her and make his request.

As Stevens makes his way across England, he runs into people who cause him to reminisce about his earlier days, days in which he met and hired Miss Kenton, worked for Lord Darlington, saw him hosting political meeting, consorting with questionable German guests, becoming associated with the wrong kind of people.  But as the butler it was never his place to have an opinion concerning his employer’s friends or confidants.  He was a man who made it his personal policy to never reveal his own feelings, opinions, emotions, or political convictions.  He is so strict with this code of ethics that he nearly becomes incapable of having his own emotions or opinions.  It is revealed that this makes him a very lonely man.

Hopkin’s performance was phenomenal.  He is one of those rare actors who is able to throw his heart and soul into a character, making him seem so real and believable.  It is easy to become invested in the characters he plays.  By the time he finally finds Miss Kenton, and asks her to return to Darlington Hall with him, we have already learned that she is in love with him.  Despite the fact that she is married, though separated, we know that she would accept his offer but for two things.  First, she has recently learned that she has become a grandmother, and she needs to stay where she is to be near the child.  Second, Stevens still doesn’t know how to express his feelings for her, feeling which we know lie under his emotionless exterior.

The film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, though it didn’t win a single one.  It was nominated for Best Actor for Hopkins, Best Actress for Thompson, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Director for James Ivory, Best Music/Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.  Unfortunately, five of those nominations were lost to Schindler’s List.  It is kind of hard to complain about competition like that.  Hopkins lost to Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, and Thompson lost to Holly Hunter in The Piano.  Again, fair enough.  But having never seen Age of Innocence, I can’t comment on the Best Costume Design category.

The film’s score, written by Richard Robbins, was very dramatic and melancholy.  It gave the entire movie the feel of sadness and regret, loss and resignation.  It was beautiful and emotional, and really did its job effectively.  Also, in addition to the four main actors, other recognizable names held supporting rolls, names like Hugh Grant, Peter Vaughan, Paula Jacobs, Ben Chaplain, and Lena Headey.  Everyone did a fine job and played their parts well.

In my research, I found that in addition to the original book and the movie, there was a stage musical adaptation that played in London in 2010, though it only ran for a month.  Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of the novel, was quoted as saying, “This is a small scale thing and I might feel more cautious about it if the film version hadn’t been such serious, faithful adaptation.”

As for the movie’s differences from Ishiguro’s source material, I am happy to say that there were very few changes.  Some of the timelines were sped up0 or condensed, which makes sense for a film adaptation, and there were a few combined characters, also pretty standard.  But it was the character of Lord Darlington’s motivations that made the biggest difference.  In the movie, he was portrayed as a well-intentioned fool who was duped or seduced by the Nazis.  In the book, he was very much aware of what he was doing.  And on top of that, Stevens was also not as blind or deaf to what was going on, or to the people with whom his employer associated.

This movie could have so easily been another carbon copy of the other period dramas by Merchant & Ivory, but it easily exceeded the others in form and content.  It was more than a simple period piece.  It was good drama.

1993 – The Piano











The Piano – 1993

This was one messed up movie.  We have four messed up characters, each of whom do some pretty messed up things.  The result is a drama in which it is sometimes difficult to understand the motivations of the characters.  It wasn’t until I had finished watching the film, then logged on to Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis, that I felt I really understood the film.

The movie stars Holly Hunter as the main protagonist, Ada McGrath.  For some unknown reason, she had stopped speaking when she was 6 years old, and communicated through sign language and a pencil and paper.  Interpreting her sign language into words was her young daughter Flora, played by an 11 year old Anna Paquin.  The daughter frequently makes up lies and does not always obey her mother.  The film starts out as Ada and Flora are dropped off on a cold and misty beach along with all their possessions, which includes Ada’s precious possession, her piano.  She plays beautifully, using it to express her emotions without speaking.

Apparently, she has been sold in marriage to Alisdair Stewart, played by Sam Neil, a rough frontiersman in New Zealand.  After the two women spend a night on the beach alone, he arrives to escort her to her new home.  With him are a number of hired native Maori men and a white man who lives with and works with them, George Baines, played by Harvey Keitel.  An insensitive man, Alisdair tells Ada that there is no room for the piano in his house, and he forces her to leave it on the beach.

That is the set-up.  What follows is a strange story about how George, after becoming entranced by Ada’s piano playing, and seeing her inner beauty when she plays, comes up with a scheme by which he attempts to seduce her.  He gives Alisdair a piece of land in exchange for the piano and asks for lessons from Ada.  The plot got a little complicated from there.  Maybe complicated is not the right word.  Involved might be closer to the mark.  After a strangely successful seduction, Ada and George become lovers.  Uncomfortable with her mother’s infidelity, Flora betrays her and tells Alisdair about Ada’s profession of love for George.  Alisdair becomes enraged and uses an axe to cut off one of Ada’s fingers, both as punishment, and as a way to ensure that she can never play for George again.  It was definitely an intense moment.

There is no doubt that the plot is a unique one.  It was interesting to watch and figure out.  Hunter’s performance was incredibly good, made even more impressive by the fact that she actually played the piano on the screen, and quite beautifully, I might add. Her performance was powerful, as was Neil’s, and the film has the distinction of being Anna Paquin’s first film role.  As a matter of fact, Hunter and Paquin both won Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  There was also Keitel’s full frontal nudity scene just to throw some spice into the pot.  And I have to say that I didn’t feel it was gratuitous or lewd.  It was actually tastefully filmed.

I also liked the aesthetic of the film, the cinematography.  The cold and rainy mid-19th century New Zealand coast was appropriately gloomy.  I think the director actually used a blue filter on some of the outdoor scenes just to make them more ominous and dismal.  The film’s writer and director, Jane Campion, did a great job setting a specific mood and feel.  And just as interesting is the warm gold and red hues used during the film’s intimate moments.  It all seemed like it was a deliberate choice.

Now, I have to make mention of a strange, and almost mystical element of the plot that just seemed to enhance the fantasy of the forbidden romance.  I actually missed its significance until I read the Wikipedia plot synopsis.  It concerns Flora’s father who was a piano teacher with whom Ada had once had an affair.  Ada tells Flora that she believed that she was able to telepathically speak to him when they were together.  This frightened him, and it is why he left her.  At first, I just thought it was a story she would tell her daughter.  But apparently, there was more to it.  In the end, after Alisdair has severed her finger and tries to force himself on her, he hears her speaking to him in his mind.  She tells him to allow George to take her away.  This frightens him and makes him realize that she will never be a loving wife.  He decides to let her go.  George takes her away and crafts her a silver finger to replace the one she had lost.

It was a strange story that touched on some provocative themes of sex and seduction.  Personally I have always liked both Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel as actors, and neither of them disappointed.  If I had any criticisms of the movie it would be that the story took place around 1850 or so.  The music that Ada was playing, while undeniably haunting and lovely, felt too modern to my ears.  It didn’t seem to fit the era in which the story took place.  But that was pretty easy to get over.  It was a powerful story about romance and love that was beautifully told.

1993 – In the Name of the Father











In the Name of the Father – 1993

This was a good movie.  It was a pretty intense drama that didn’t seem to pull any punches.  It had some pretty good characters that and a plot that was based on real events.  It had some pretty incredible acting and a talented cast.  In the Name of the father was a difficult movie to watch.  Because of the nature of the plot, I kept wanting to walk away.  The movie was about extreme injustice.  It is hard to watch the tale of a man, who is wrongly accused of a crime and is sent to prison for a life sentence.  To add insult to injury, when his father tries to help him, he is also arrested and sentenced to prison.  The fact that we are shown his innocence and the corruption of the police just make it harder to watch.  But that’s just effective story telling.

Daniel Day-Lewis played Gerry Conlon, a young Irish man who lives in the hot-bed city of Belfast in the mid 70s.  When he is threatened by the IRA, he goes to London to stay out of trouble.  While there, he becomes involved in the free-love hippy movement, living as a squatter in a commune.  While Gerry and his friend Paul, played by John Lynch, are talking with a homeless man in the park, the IRA plants a bomb in a local pub, killing several people.  Identifying Gerry as an Irishman and a petty thief, the police go out of their way to find him, Paul, and two other squatters guilty of the crime, using them as quick and easy scapegoats.  The police are fully aware of their innocence, but want to show the public quick arrests and convictions.

When Gerry’s father Giuseppe, played by Pete Postlethwaite, goes to London to help his son, the police arrest him along with other members of his family, accusing them of being conspirators.  Gerry and his father spend 15 years in prison together.   All the while, Giuseppe continues to proclaim their innocence and tries to find legal representation to make an appeal to the courts.  Emma Thompson played Gareth Pierce, the lawyer who fights to prove their innocence.

The two men eventually grow closer together than they have ever been.  But Giuseppe eventually becomes sick and as his health deteriorates, Gerry takes over the struggle to find justice and freedom.  When his father dies, he becomes even more determined.  Eventually, Pierce finds a crucial piece of evidence that had been buried by the police in the original trial which proves, not only Gerry’s innocence, but that of his friends, father, and family.  The evidence also reveals that the police knew of their innocence, yet buried the information.

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those actors that seems to throw his entire heart and soul into each and every one of his performances, constantly putting out good work.  This is just another example of his excellent skills as an actor.  I also liked Postlethwaite as the aggrieved father who sacrifices everything for his son.  Thompson’s performance was a little underwhelming, but not because she did a bad job. The script just didn’t demand very much of her.  In addition, there was Joe McAndrew, the man who was actually behind the bombing who is placed in the same prison, played by Don Baker.  He perpetrates violent protests against the wrongful incarceration of Gerry and Giuseppe, even going so far as to set a hated prison guard on fire.

But I also have to make special mention of a certain actor who might easily be overlooked.  The main corrupt police officer who was behind the bogus arrests and convictions was Inspector Robert Dixon, played by Corin Redgrave.  He was so dastardly and smarmy about it.  Whenever he was on the witness stand at both the original trial and the appeal trial, he had such a smug smirk on his face, perfectly portraying the evil arrogance and self-satisfied scorn of the character.

I really liked how the movie portrayed the character of Gerry.  He is basically a good kid.  Not terribly smart, and not completely innocent.  Sure, he is a thief and a drug user, but his is not a member of the IRA.  He starts out as a young hoodlum with little respect for a father who he sees as a spineless failure who never showed him any support or compassion as a child.  But he grows into a man who comes to understand just how much his father loves him.  Day-Lewis was perfectly cast, but it is hard to go wrong with such a dedicated and professional actor.

As with many film based on reality, I read section of the Wikipedia article which talked about historical inaccuracies and found that there was some controversy connected with the film.  But after reading about them, the infractions were so minor that they were seemed insignificant.  For example, in reality, Gerry and Giuseppe were never kept in the same cell in prison.  In fact, they were generally kept in different prisons.  And the courtroom scenes resembled an American courtroom rather than a British one.  Pierce, being only a solicitor and not a barrister, would never have been allowed into the courtroom.  But that was about it.  But I guess you would have to be part of the British legal system in order to consider the misrepresentation a controversy.

1993 – The Fugitive

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The Fugitive – 1993

This was an incredible movie.  It did so many things right.  It was a wonderfully suspenseful cat-and-mouse action/thriller about a man who is wrongfully accused and convicted of his wife’s murder.  He gets the death sentence, but fortune gives him the opportunity to escape.  He goes on the run, and the main plot of the film is about how he avoids being recaptured while investigating his wife’s murder.

Everyone remembers Harrison Ford as Richard Kimble, but not everybody remembers Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar winning performance as Deputy U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard.  Both men did a great job in their respective roles.  It is generally hard to go wrong with Harrison Ford.  I have never seen him in anything I didn’t like.  But I have to look at Jones with a little more caution.  As an actor, he has a very calm and easy demeanor.  He doesn’t often display heightened emotion of any kind.  This often translates into the appearance of unenergetic acting, bordering on passionless.  I know this isn’t true, but everything is so low key for him, I’m often surprised at how popular he is in Hollywood.  But here, I though he did just fine.  He was very well-cast and deserved his Best Supporting Actor Award.

And I would also like to make mention of several other names I recognized and liked.  Joe Pantoliano played Gerard’s fellow Marshall, Cosmo Renfro, offering a little subtle comedy against Jones’ dry humor.  Jeroen Krabbe played a former colleague of Dr. Kimble, Dr. Charles Nichols, who is revealed as part of the conspiracy.  Jane Lynch and Julianne Moore have smaller supporting parts.  And, of course, I have to recognize Andreas Katsulas as Fredrick Sykes, one of the movie’s main antagonists, otherwise known as the one armed man.

So what was it about the movie that made it work so well?  For me, it was the combination of many things like the great cast, the intense action music by composer James Newton Howard, the great cinematography, and the smart script.  I loved that awesome line which so perfectly encapsulated Gerard’s character.  When Kimble says, “I didn’t kill my wife!” Gerard responds by saying, “I don’t care!”  But most of all, it was the man who directed the movie, Andrew Davis, who made it all happen.  More than anyone, he was responsible for keeping the audiences on the edge of their seats for over two hours.  The chase seemed to be non-stop and exciting the entire time.  All the near misses, the close chases and the misdirections were so well timed.

I loved how we followed Dr. Kimble’s efforts to prove his own innocence, and the police’s efforts to catch him.  And they were very evenly matched.  It would have been easy to take the easy way out.  The police could have been portrayed as less intelligent as Kimble, making his evasions and escapes seem unremarkable.  He would avoid being captured and we would say, well, of course he got away.  Look how bumbling Marshall Gerard is.  But because Gerard and his team was just as smart as Kimble, it was believable that they were always just a step or two behind him, never letting him get too far out of their reach.  Gerard’s pursuit of Kimble was relentless and the suspense was inherent in the chase was really fun to watch!

I also loved how it was shown that Kimble was incredibly smart in how he intentionally made sure the police never got too far behind.  Sure, he was investigating the murder, but he made sure the police were right on his trail, ensuring that they saw the same evidence he was uncovering.  That was so important because by the time he learned who was behind it all, the police, by virtue of their pursuit of him, knew that he was, in fact, innocent.  And it was great how, by that time, Gerard was assured of his innocence as well.  In this way, the script was incredibly well-crafted and yet easy to follow.

And I’d also like to mention a really great scene that caught me by surprise.  When Kimball had originally escaped incarceration, another convict escaped at the same time.  Kimble rents a room in a house and goes out to do his investigating.  The police are shown saying how they have found their man, and then we see them on-route to capture their fugitive.  I actually found myself asking how on earth they had found him.  We see Kimble returning to his room.  The tension builds.  The police surround the house.  Kimble is almost home.  But we’ve been tricked!  The raid is actually to capture the other convict who had escaped!  Great misdirection!

The Fugitive was a great movie and was very fun to watch.  Not only was I rooting for Dr. Kimble, I was also rooting for Gerard!  If I had any complaints at all, it would be a minor issue I had with the bad guys.  They were supposed to be pretty smart, but they mad a few illogical mistakes.  For example, as assassins go, Sykes wasn’t very good.  The original target was supposed to be Kimble and not his wife.  And when he went out to kill Kimble in the latter half of the film, there were several ways he could have easily gotten close enough to him to shoot him without any kind of resistance.  Or Dr. Nichols getting into a fist fight with Kimble and trying to shoot Gerrard for no conceivable reason.  Oh well.  At least the fights made for some exciting action sequences.