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Posts Tagged ‘1994’

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

06/23/2011 2 comments

Stephen King is well-known for spinning tales of terror ranging from the supernatural to the mundane, using his considerable storytelling skills to inject fear into such things as a vintage car, a hotel room, and high school awkwardness. What many people don’t know is that happens when he steps outside the realm of horror and offers up an inspirational tale of maintaining hope in a situation that seems utterly hopeless, and in keeping a strong spirit in a setting that seems determined to tear you down. The result is this.

The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It stars Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, and Clancy Brown.

It is 1947. A mild-mannered banker named Andy Dufresne has just been convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his protestations of innocence, and sentenced to two life terms in the infamous Shawshank Prison. While there, he meets and befriends one Ellis Redding (known to his friends as Red), who is well-known in the prison for being able to get things for the inmates, and makes two simple requests: a rock hammer, in order to start and maintain a rock collection while in prison, and a poster of Rita Hayworth, one of the sex symbols of the day. Red takes an interest in Andy over the years as inmates come and go (including a lifer who couldn’t handle the outside world after serving 50 years in prison), watching as every part of Shawshank tries to break his will to go on, from the corrupt warden to the predatory band of rapists known as the Sisters. However, Red is about to learn an important lesson from the quiet banker: Prison is more than the walls that contain you. Prison is a state of mind – and if you don’t let prison get into your mind, you are capable of some amazing things.

I was honestly surprised when I found out this was Stephen King’s work. I’d seen and read a lot of his usual fare (my first taste of him was Carrie), and while there are some terrifying moments like Andy becoming the target of the Sisters, most of the tale is character-driven. Having Red as the point-of-view character allows the audience to observe Andy from a point one step removed from the man, even as we cheer on his efforts to overcome the institution’s restrictions. The main circle of convicts that the narrative follows over 20 years are mostly sympathetic despite their crimes, and as they start to look to Andy as a beacon of hope, we look to him as well: his unbreakable spirit offers us guidance for the times when circumstances seem hopeless. In other words, The Shawshank Redemption is spiritually the complete opposite of The Butterfly Effect. Both movies offer a protagonist who is repeatedly beaten down, but only one ultimately overcomes.

Of course, because it’s stupid to hate an institution, even one as intrinsically oppressive as a prison, the movie offers two groups of antagonists on whom we can focus our hate: The corrupt warden, whose every effort seems angled towards breaking the collective spirit of the inmates (and Andy in particular), and the Sisters, a gang of prison rapists who naturally target the fresh-faced Andy when he first arrives. Of course, this isn’t to say that the two antagonist groups are necessarily working to parallel purposes, as once Andy starts to become useful to the Warden, the Sisters’ reign of terror is brought to a swift – and brutal – end. Both the Warden and the Sisters feel like an intrinsic part of Shawshank, like natural predators in the prison environment, and they are the worst kind of douchebag that can be found in any environment. Specifically, they do what they do because they know they can get away with it, making their respective comeuppances that much more satisfying.

This movie will be an unexpected surprise for those familiar with Stephen King horror: a deep, inspiring story about one man’s unbreakable spirit in a setting designed to trap both body and soul within inescapable walls. Absolutely watch this movie.

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Speed (1994)


“Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. If the bus goes above fifty miles per hour, the bomb is armed. If it goes below fifty, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?”

There are relatively few movies out there where the entire premise can be explained in a single line of dialogue. Fortunately, this one sticks to the basics. Bomb. Bus. Nameless potential victims. Mad bomber. Love interest. Heroic cop. Shit blowing up. All that’s left is for you to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Speed is an action thriller film directed by Jan de Bont and written by Graham Yost and Joss Whedon (Yes, that Joss Whedon). It stars Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sanda Bullock, Jeff Daniels, and a Santa Monica city bus.

Howard Payne is not a happy man. So show how unhappy he is, he traps a bunch of people in an elevator rigged with explosives, threatening to send who whole mess plummeting to a rather abrupt doom if his demands are not met. He is thwarted by SWAT officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple, who rescue the hostages, but Howard appears to get blown up by yet another bomb. Oh well. Jack and Harry are commended for their bravery, and all seems well, until the following day when a city bus driven by a friend of Jack’s goes boom. Jack receives a call at a nearby pay phone, and learns two things in rapid succession: Howard Payne is (surprise!) still alive, and he has rigged a second bus to explode. Once the bus goes above fifty miles per hour, the bomb is armed, but once it drops below that… well, you get the idea. Since this second bus is an express bus, stopping it before the bomb is armed proves futile, leaving Jack with no alternative but to board the bus at cruising speed in order to ensure the safety of its passengers and try to figure out how to get everyone safe. Now, he and his fellow police officers must think fast during the only fixed scrolling level in cinematic history to keep a city bus from going boom.

This is not a complicated movie, as summarized by Payne. As one of the crew for Die Hard, naturally de Bont would bem well-suited for this “Die Hard on a Bus” scenario, and as far as that goes he does not disappoint. Speed doesn’t try to pretend to be anything but an extended car fu story, and in this respect it does well. The plot is exciting, the villain is Evil with a Reason (which you find out as the cops dip into Payne’s backstory), and the idea of being trapped on a city bus rigged to explode is a commuter’s nightmare.

That said, the acting is… about what you’d expect in a movie like this. Keanu Reeves had made other movies between Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and this one, but I think this is the first one where he managed to really shake off the spirit of Ted Logan and start to mature as a serious actor. Dennis Hopper is wonderfully hammy as mad bomber Howard Payne, and Sandra Bullock is charming as the frazzled brunette role she would go on to play in later movies. Among the supporting cast, the other police officers were surprisingly competant given the usual trend in the action genre, but amongst the imperiled passengers the only real standout is Alan Ruck’s character Stephens, notable for his diplomatic translation over a radio of Jack’s reaction to finding a second explosive device on the bus.

So, if you’re looking for a decent action movie with a deceptively simple plot, you could do worse than Speed. It’s not complex, but it is engaging in a Snakes on a Plane sort of way, and it would be worth a rental one evening if you had nothing else to do.

The Mask (1994)

04/16/2011 1 comment

Jim Carrey has always been a spaz. From his frenetic stand-up comedy routines to his chaotic stint as a member of the In Living Color troupe, he had already been labelled a human cartoon. Then in 1996, he starred in a movie that showed people how big a spaz he could be by turning him into an actual human cartoon.

The Mask is a superhero fantasy comedy film directed by Chuck Russell, based (generally) on the comic book miniseries of the same title by Dark Horse Comics. It stars Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, and Richard Jeni.

Stanley Ipkiss is a loser. He gets no respect at work, he is a shy closet romantic, and he is regularly bullied by everyone around him. His only friends are his Jack Russell Terrier, Milo, and his co-worker Charlie. One night after being denied entry to the elite Coco Bongo Club and getting stranded in a broken-down rental car by the harbor, Stanley finds a wooden mask floating in the water. On a whim, he takes the mask home, and puts it on as a joke – and the mask tranforms him into a wild, chaotic trickster with reality-bending powers, manifesting as a live-action version of a Tex Avery cartoon character. While his life seems to be turning around now that the Mask has been unleashed, it is also going to get him in trouble with two groups: The police, who are investigating the Mask’s robbery of the bank Stanley works at, and gangster Dorian Tyrell, who had been planning to rob that same bank just before the Mask hit it, and who owns the Coco Bongo Club. Now Stanley finds himself trying to keep a very odd secret from those who would use the Mask for evil, while keeping his natural Jim Carrey-ness on a leash.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. The fact that Carrey’s portrayal of a human cartoon needed only minor CGI enhancement makes the movie that much funnier, but at the same time it offered a glimpse of his ability to play more subdued roles (well, relatively subdued). While Carrey as Stanley was more or less Just a Normal Guy, there were hints and twitches of Not Normal here and there, which only served as foreshadowing of what the Mask would be like, which was, personality-wise, Jim Carrey as a reality warper. Cameron Diaz also fared well in her first movie role as The Hot Chick, starting out as a love-interest/plot device before developing into a genuine character who actually serves a role in the climax beyond the Damsel in Distress. The other characters are borderline caricatures, from the annoying landlady to the bullying boss to the jerkass mechanics, but it works here, since they have to keep up with Jim Carrey in a comic book universe.

Once I heard that the movie had been adapted from a comic book series, I did pick up a couple issues of The Mask to compare. The comics (being from Dark Horse) are a lot darker, and the Mask is more dangerous and sociopathic than just a fun-loving trickster. Here, though, he’s a bit more audience friendly, making the Mask only as dangerous as its wearer, even as it unleashes new heights of hyperactivity that Carrey had previously only dreamed of. The Mask effects were excellent, earning the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects (it lost to Forrest Gump) and perfectly translating cartoonish superpowers to a live-action medium. Honestly, I think only Carrey would have had the energy to play a character like this.

In the end, The Mask is a fun homage to Tex Avery cartoons and an exploration to the limits of Jim Carrey’s sheer hyperactivity. It really doesn’t pretend to be much more than that, and it doesn’t need to be. I highly recommend it next time you’re looking for a good comedy – just sit back and watch the chaos unfold.

The Lion King (1994)


It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

The Lion King is a Disney animated feature film, the 32nd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics. It features music by Elton John and Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans Zimmer. It stars the voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, a Whoopi Goldberg.

The birth of Simba, the son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, is a momentous occasion at Pride Rock. All the animals have gathered to ceberate the presentation of the newborn lion cub – all except one. Mufasa’s brother Scar knows that Simba’s birth means he will never be king of Pride Rock, a fact of royal succession that chafes at him. As Simba grows, Mufasa and his hornbill majordomo Zazu attempt to teach him what it is to be king, but Simba would rather play with his friend Nala than listen to his lessons. When Scar executes a plan to assassinate both Mufasa and young Simba by wildebeest stampede, he is nearly successful, but Mufasa sacrifices his life to save Simba. Scar convinces the distraught cub that Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault, and Simba runs away from the Pridelands in shame, narrowly escaping the hyenas that Scar sent to finish him off. As Simba grows to adulthood in the care of a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa, he turns his back on what he sees as his own mistake, but his past will soon return to haunt him. Simba will be forced to make a decision once and for all: continue running and leave the ruined Pridelands under the rule of his cruel uncle, or return to claim his heritage as the Lion King.

The Lion King is a richly layered animated tale, with beautiful visuals from Simba’s birth and presentation to the animals of Pride Rock, through the terror of a meticulously rendered windebeest stampede, through the despair of Simba’s exile to his epiphany and triumphant return. The characters are distinctive, even the extras in crowd shots, and the animation is fluid and graceful, like a traditional Disney animated film should be. Even though the cast are all animals, you see elements of humanity in them: the rough-and-tumble exuberance of young Simba simultaneously reminds us of a kitten and a preadolescent human. The quiet strength of Mufasa instantly invokes the reaction, “This is a king.” It helps that the characters are designed to bear a passing resemblance to their voice actors, seen most vividly in Scar, who is basically Jeremy Irons in lion shape.

The story is also deep and engaging, reminding one of such stories as Hamlet or any number of biblical tales regarding future prophets abandoned and found in strange circumstances. It is a universal story, one of tragedy and redemption that cuts across all cultures and is helped, not hindered, by the comic relief antics of the happy-go-lucky Timon and Pumbaa. Every character fits a classic archetype: the exiled prince, the scheming uncle, the wise but quirky mentor, the well-meaning but initially annoying advisor, the childhood friend turned love interest. And far from being two-dimensional stereotypes, each character feels well-rounded, as though they have a lifetime of development behind them. Everyone has had a father figure like Mufasa, a teacher like Zazu, a best friend like Timon or Pumbaa. The hyenas (though ill-served here as a species) embody the sense of greed and consumption that fuels Scar’s plans, and even Pride Rock itself is a character, a Fisher Kingdom that reflects its ruler: lush and fertile under Mufasa, but desolate under Scar. Everything works together organically, providing stories wrapped in metaphors embodied in characters so that you feel like you are a part of the world that has been created here.

While Disney’s traditional animated features became a bit hot-or-miss towards the end, The Lion King remains as one of their best feature films. Produced during the height of the animation department’s operation, this film remains as a family classic that will endure for years to come.