I love movies. Always have. I enjoy going to the theater, buying the overpriced popcorn and being taken away into a story for a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter if the film is a special effects laden popcorn muncher like The Avengers or a light-hearted Woody Allen romcom like Magic in the Moonlight (which Leif recently treated Lisa and I to – we loved it), I just love going to the movies. i also like watching them at home on DVD or Blu Ray or on Netflix or Hulu Plus or even just ripped illegally out of the ether via the internet. Nooo… of course I don’t do that…That would be wrong.
Naturally, like anyone else, I have my select favorite movies. The ones I am willing to watch over and over regardless of how many times I see them or how capable I am of reciting the dialogue. I wanted to run down a few of these here.
Directed bu a twenty six year old kid named Steven Spielberg, the summer blockbuster was pretty much invented when this movie released in 1974. Set on the fictional Amity Island, New York (but actually filmed on Martha’s Vineyard) we’re all familiar with the plot of Jaws; an enormous Great White shark shows up off the coast of the New York island and starts making meals of bathers. The town’s chief of police, Brody (played masterfully by Roy Schider), new to small town law enforcement, springs into action, closing the beaches and sending for experts from the Ocean Institute on “the mainland.” This action doesn’t sit well with the town’s mayor (Murray Hamilton) and many of its business owners, who fear that the loss of summer tourism will be economically devastating to the town. After the death of a ten year-old boy and some other grisly shark attacks, Brody has had enough and hires a local Ahab-esque fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to catch and kill the shark. Brody and Quint set out after the big predator along with shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a man vs. shark adventure on the ocean ensues.
The latter half of Jaws is where Spielberg really shines as a director and the film shocases the talents of both original novelist Peter Benchley and screenwriter carl Gottlieb. The men’s battle with the shark is part The Old Man and the Sea, part Moby Dick, and part The Posseidon Adventure, with Brody, Hooper, and Quint’s unique personalities coming into play in robust ways. Quint is very much a cartoon character grizzled old seaman and you can almost hear Shaw peppering his speach with “arrrr’s” and “yo-ho-ho’s” as he delivers his lines. Yet, the character has some of the greatest lines in film history.”You know the thing about a shark, he’s got… lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eye. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white…” He also has a habit of bursting into sea shantys, his favorite seeming to be “Farewell and Adieu to you Fair Spanish Ladies.” As the story progresses and the men’s struggle with the shark becomes more intense, Quint becomes more and more a mirror of Ahab from Moby Dick and he does, in fact, meet his demise in the titular jaws of the shark. Spoilers. Fuck you, the movie came out forty years ago.
Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Big surprise here, huh? But yeah, I like Empire much better than A New Hope (we just called it Star Wars when I was a kid) or Jedi for the same reasons Kevin Smith wrote into the script of Clerks:
“Empire has the better ending. It ends on such a down note. Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets taken off by Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt. That’s what life is: a series of down endings. All Jedi had was a bunch of fuckin’ muppets.”
Empire definitely ends on a down note and is, in a lot of ways, much darker than the “first” (okay fourth) Star Wars. It really feels the least “kiddie” of all the films in the franchise, especially the prequels. It introduces the character of Yoda, establishes the romance between Han and Leia, and when we were twelve, what was cooler than an AT-AT Walker? It also gives us Boba Fett, an ancillary and minor character who rose so quickly in popularity that Lucas was compelled to include him in the prequel saga. It’s true that I love all the Star Wars films to varying degrees, but Empire is by far my favorite and the one I’ve most certainly seen the most times.
I always have a hard time answering the “what is your favorite movie?” question, simply because I love movies so much. Those who read me often know of my affinnity for all things Star Wars (see above), for example, and my love of George A. Romero is also fairly well documented. Truth be told, however, my real all-time favorite film has got to be Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. It is, in the words of Lois Griffin, the perfect movie.
It just has the greatest lines ever and is infinitely quotable. “You can’t shoot ‘im a mile away like in the army, you gotta get up close and bada-BING! Get his brains all over your nice new suit,” says Sonny, not long before he gets his at a toll booth. And oh, how I want to tell him to avoid that stop every time I watch the movie. Carlo definitely deserved that trash can-involved ass whooping he received. “Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes” is a Sicilian message we’re all familiar with, and of course we all know what it means when we hear “My father made him an offefr he couldn’t refuse.”
The Godfather Part II is one of those rare situations where many people think the sequel is a better film than the original. With this I do not agree. While I love Robert DeNiro as the young Don Vito Corleone and Bruno Kirby as Clemenza, I don’t think there’s much of any film better than The Godfather. The Godfather Part III is easy to hate on, because it is pretty bad… because it is a Godfather movie. If that flick was a stand alone or a part of some other franchise, no one would bat an eye. Put Coppola and Puzo behind it, however, and the bar gets raised. On a podcast Lisa and I like to listen to (“Wits” with John Moe – it’s brilliant) they played a gag advertisement: “Act now and receive a box set of all three Godfather films for ten dollars… or just parts one and two for twenty dollars!”
I was twelve years old in 1980 when this flick came out and I’ve been laughing at it for all these years. “Surely you can’t be serious!?” “I’m dead serious. And don’t call me Shirly.” It’s just funny. “Do you like to watch movies about gladiators?” “What’s our Vector, Victor?” I saw it originally at the drive-in as part of a double-feature with Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke, but the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker flick is by far the funnier of the two.
This is Spinal Tap
Okay, yeah it’s got a cult following, but the film that made the “mockumentary” a thing is still, in my mind, one of the greatest ever made. Rob Reiner gives us a hysterical look at the world of early 80’s rock bands with this look at such a band on tour supporting their controversially covered album Smell the Glove. Along the way we get a glimpse of the band over the years in the British Invasion early 60’s, the Flower People inspired late 60’s or early 70’s, and watch them go through countless drummers. We see bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) get caught in a prop pod, the band get lost on the way to the stage, snd hear the leaders of the group, David StHubbins and Nigel Tuffnel (Michael McKean and Christopher Guest) explain the band’s earliest stages, “Well we were called The Originals, but we found out there already was a band called that so we became the New Originals…”
One of the best ways for someone who has seen it multiple times to watch This is Spinal Tap, in my opinion, is to watch the DVD version with the audio commentary track on. Unlike most commentary tracks which usually include the film’s director or producer and maybe one or two of the stars talking about the film in their own personas, this one has all three actors (McKean, Guest, and Shears) watching and commenting on the film in character. Its almost a whole ne movie! Too funny.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” Heralded as the film that introduced the world to the “new” zombies, countless stories and franchises owe their very existence to this masterwork from director George A Romero. I dare say that The Walking Dead, Dead Rising, Resident Evil, and, of course, another favorite, Shaun of the Dead would not be a thing if it weren’t for this film. Reportedly made on a shoestring budget (the stories vary – the film was released as an “Image Ten” production. It’s been said that Romero and nine others each kicked in $1,000 to make the film. This means a budget of $10,000. Other stories indicate the each invested as much as $6,000. A budget of $6,000 is considerably more, but still nothing for a film, even in 1968 dollars), the flick tells the tale of the horrifying first night that dead bodies began rising from their graves and eating human flesh. One of the nice things is that the movie really offers no solid explanation for what’s happening. The dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims. There’s no virus, no patient zero, no explanation. Purists may argue with me saying that the film does propose a cause, a news story about a space probe returning from the planet Venus carrying with it some “strange radiation” is brought up at one point. This is true, but it is never revealed to be the definitive reason behind the problem. The movie is violent and gory and brutal and great fun. Also I give it points for a film made in 1968 having an African American protagonist who not only speaks sharply to a George Wallace looking white man, but smacks him around a bit and shoots him. Those klan boys in ‘bama musta been shitting themselves!
Im sure if I allowed myself to, I could go on about movies i love for days. here I am 1700 plus words in and I’ve not even mentioned Monty Python and the Holy Grail or The Rocky Horror Picture Show even once. Oh well, it is “a few of my favorite films,” not all of ’em.