Monday, September 29, 2008

What Gives Me Hope

It was suggested to me that readers might be benefited by knowing what exactly manages to affirm my faith in Hollywood. When my eyes are burning and my ears are ringing, when every movie I see makes me want to vomit, it is to these films that I turn. No matter how many times I see them, I'm always left with a smile on my face and a burning candle in my heart that intelligence and artistic integrity has not yet been stripped from the world.

Independence Day-Yes, I'm well aware of the many, varied and drastic problems with this movie, but I grew up wanting to think like the brilliant David Levinson, act like the impossibly confident and cool Steven Hiller and talk like the incredibly inspirational Thomas Whitmore. The iconic one liners, the explosively compelling action sequences, the humor as the world crumbles around the characters, I can't get enough. The theme song instantly takes me racing through the grand canyon and soaring through space. There is no movie of such epic sci-fi scale that manages to remain funny, adventurous and hopeful even as a vast and seemingly invincible alien horde wipes out what would have to be hundreds of millions of people.

V for Vendetta-For starters, V reminded us that when given a good script, Natalie Portman is in fact an incredible actress. But there is also a fun yet deeply intellectual destruction of the establishment, ripping away our preconceptions about how strong and steadfast democracy and freedom is. The world is a dark place where vile people often come out on top, yet always there is a masked avenger who will strike at the heart of evil with wits and gusto.

Animal House-30 years later, John Belushi remains one of the funniest actors ever. College students today could learn a thing or four from the Delta's, boozing, dancing and wrecking a level of chaos no senior prank has ever managed. There is no end to the one-liners, to the envelope pushed all the way to the edge where comedy meets pornographic and yet still retaining a level of class.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi-Yes, people say that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were better, but to that I point to the single greatest space battle ever filmed and to one of the most incredible one on one duels of all time. I battle the enigmatic Rancor and I ambush Stormtroopers with furry warriors and rolling logs. Campy as it may be, much of the appeal of Star Wars will always be for me the attack of the teddy bears.

Batman Begins-I find humor in strange places, case in point, the wonderment that is the single most dangerous hand to hand fighter in any comic book universe getting slapped around by a girl. Christian Bale becomes in front of my eyes everything that Bruce Wayne and his alter ego should be. He does not simply look and dress the part, he fights against the forces of darkness with the mind of the consummate detective and the will of the greatest of warriors.

300-Violence for the sake of violence has never done anything for me. But violence with some of the best directed choreography, set design, score and dialogue of any action film ever drives me into a frenzy "for Sparta, for freedom, to the death." The passionate speeches of freedom, honor and kicking ass make me want to charge the barbarian horde with spear in hand.

Command0-Yes, the lines are camp and the action is some of the most implausible of any movie, but Arnold Shwarzenegger'a mere presence on screen precludes any pretense of taking the film seriously. Sit back and relax for the most brutal yet campy fun imaginable, complete with bulging muscles, blasting machine guns, fiery explosions and one liners so ridiculous that they couldn't be anything but asinine except when delivered by the man who is less an actor than an action sequence unto himself.

Shawshank Redemption-There is a kinetic, palpable energy in this search for freedom. It is a tale of escape and struggle, but what tale it truly tells is the story of a man finding hope, a reason to live and feel again, to shrug off not the chains of prison but of his own soul.

The Hunt for Red October-Just the irony of Commander Bond, the unstoppable thorn in the Soviet Union's side playing its greatest submarine captain is enough to bring a smile to my face. But more than that, I feel the crushing depths and hear the deadly torpedoes, kept on my toes for the next threat. I dive into the ocean and rise up again, riding some incredible one liners highlighted by the simple plea, "come on big D, fly!"

Cloverfield-Essentially, the quintessential What Would I Do flick. There are no heroes, no powers, no death defying odds, just the reaction of ordinary people to the most extraordinary situation imaginable. The brilliance in the movie is its simplicity, focusing entirely on the human elements, staying true to everyday people and their down to Earth reactions and emotions as their entire world comes crashing down.

This is just a taste of what drives my passion for movies, but it is a very good reference point. In these are the elements that make films worth watching for me, dialogue, gravitas, action, intelligence and just a little bit of fun.

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