It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case we is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list. We’ve frozen the list as of January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 25th update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
Spartacus (1960) – 7.9 No. 232
First off this time around, i watched Spartacus. No, i watched Spartacus. No, I watched Spartacus…
Kirk Douglas is Spartacus, who is sold into slavery to fight as a Gladiator, but refuses to fight. As the slaves around him train hard, and concentrate on the trials ahead, Spartacus dreams of freedom. When time comes for his first fight, he is defeated by Draba, a giant of a man. Draba refuses to kill him, and tries to attack the Roman spectators instead, getting killed by ambitious Senator Crassus in the process. Crassus (Laurence Olivier) purchases a slave woman, and is preparing to leave. Spartacus has fallen in love with the woman Varinia however, and convinces the slaves to rise up against their oppressors.
The newly formed army march across Italy, freeing slaves as they go, aiming to escape by sea from the port of Brundisium. As the army grows, the Roman armies sent to stop them are defeated in turn. Eventually, the slave army is trapped when they arrive at the coast, their plans to escape on pirate ships scuppered by Crassus, who has bribed their proposed saviours. Spartacus’ army, hopelessly outnumbered, is defeated. The end is nigh for the hero, but in his last moments he is allowed to find solace in the knowledge that his son may live free.
The story of Spartacus is fascinating, but save for a few moments, the first two thirds of the movie seem a bit plodding. One of the greater early moments, when Spartacus and Draba await their fight to the death, is brilliantly filmed. Instead of viewing the preceding battle between two of their fellow gladiators, we watch the two men sitting across from each other, contemplating what is about to happen, with the barest glimpse of the fight going on outside. It’s a shame such powerful moments are somewhat dampened by the sheer length of the movie.
When things do get going, and Spartacus discovers his army are marching into a trap, the plot elements come together, and the film becomes much more interesting. The defeat is handled well, Spartacus’ final confrontation with his friend Antoninus, played by Tony Curtis in one of his finest roles, is one of the most emotionally affecting moments of the film. Finally, Spartacus discovering the fate of his son as he dies slowly on the cross, despite feeling somewhat contrived, is also greatly touching.
The brilliance of Director Stanley Kubrick is definitely on display here. Some fantastic moments, great cinematography, and the cold and realistic ending are clear signs of his presence. That a director like Kubrick was handed the reigns of what is, on the surface, a popcorn action epic is incredible really. I hold it akin to Oliver Stone making Transformers , or Terry Gilliam being handed the reigns to Pirates of the Carribean. But it really works well in places, elevating what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward entertainment piece.
A film of brilliance, that unfortunatley just seems a little too stretched out for what is contained within. I find myself wondering if there was studio interference, however, as there are sections that don’t seem to bear Kubrick’s stamp. Definitely worth multiple viewings, however, as i’m sure there are some great moments that i’ve missed.
Gandhi (1982) – 8.1 No. 166
Ben Kingsley is a very well respected British actor. More recently, he has become known for poorly written, over the top villain roles, but at his height, he was one of the best. It was the role of Mahatma Gandhi that started it all off for him.
The film begins with Gandhi in 1893. A young lawyer travelling across South Africa by train, Gandhi is thrown off of for travelling in first class, despite having a ticket. Gandhi is outraged to discover this prejudice exists in the country, and his life is changed for ever. He begins a campaign for equal rights for Indians in South Africa. It is a peaceful campaign, and after enduring much hostility and threats of violence, he is eventually victorious.
Returning to India, Gandhi then takes up the fight for India’s independence from Britain. His once again peaceful campaign is treated with violence, hatred, and several spells behind bars. The events of World War II lead to Britain turning India over, but there then begins a battle between Hindu and Muslim people instead. Gandhi begins a hunger campaign, vowing to starve unless the fighting ends. Eventually, his plan works, and part of India becomes the new country of Pakistan. This is not what Gandhi wanted, and he spends his last days trying to end the continuing conflict between the two religions.
David Attenborough’s filmmaking is very accomplished, but to me, lacks a certain flair. Gandhi’s story is well told, and the important elements are present, with the right amount of condensing done to avoid any wasted screen-time.
It does feel, however, that the director, and or/the writer have busied themselves too much with following the history of the characters actions, and spent precious little time exploring the motivations of the character himself. Gandhi was clearly a very complex man. He had wonderful, selfless ideals, and these are certainly on display here, but there needs to be more exploration of how the events of history affected him emotionally, and there is scant depiction of the doubts he must surely have suffered at times.
Ben Kingsley’s transformation into the character is very convincing, and the film is full of fine performances. Unfortunately, i don’t feel that it works as a compelling movie, does not do enough to truly represent the spirit of the man himself. The story is told, and it is an important one, but i just don’t get the emotional connection with the character that his great actions deserve.
American History X (1998) – 8.5 No. 38
Edward Norton has forged a reputation as one of the best respected actors of a generation whilst, on the whole, making films that are accessible to the Vue multiplex crowd. American History X fits into that category, just, but does it suffer as a consequence of that accessibility?
Norton plays Derek, a white supremacist, whose beliefs and behaviours are causing unrest within his family unit. After a particularly violent encounter with some local black youths, he finds himself incarcerated, leaving his family to cope on their own.
Derek’s younger brother, Daniel, has followed in his brothers footsteps, resulting in clashes with black classmates, and disciplinary problems at school. His principal tasks him with writing an essay about his brothers experience, coinciding with Derek’s release. He is somewhat dismayed to find his older brother trying to shake off his previous life, which results in great conflict with the former supremacist’s past associates.
The story is told initially through the eyes of Derek’s younger brother, but (probably due to Norton’s reported interference) this seems to be discarded quite quickly. In the beginning, a serious and well drawn out story seems to be developing, but once Norton’s character is released, and we are treated to his backstory, a more straightforward, simple minded exploration of the issues occurs.
The issues at hand are serious ones, and definitely deserving of exploration. Unfortunately, American History X boils this down to a very two-dimensional, simplistic view. There are some hard hitting moments, and violent altercations that are almost difficult to watch. Unfortunately, the story and characters are underwritten. The obvious beats are there, but with no real attempt to tie them into a compelling, satisfying narrative.
A shame, because the performances are strong, particularly from Norton. His look and behaviour in full neo-nazi form is spot on, and it is only really his whiny sounding voice that, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to fit the part. Edward Furlong as his brother Daniel is also very good, and it is a shame the narrative is seemingly taken away from his character, as it would be interesting to be allowed a greater insight into his inner conflict when he is met with his brother’s change of view.
A nice attempt, but far too shallow to do justice to a very serious, and continuing problem not just in America, but around the world. Like several films i have looked at, probably in the list more for the sentiment than the actual execution.
Star Trek (2009) – 8.1 No. 144
JJ Abrams’ 2009 movie was a highly anticipated reboot of the phenomenally popular original Star Trek series. There was much conjecture, and then debate over the casting of the iconic characters from the series. When the movie was finally released, it came with an avalanche of publicity, and met with hyperbolic reviews. Looking back now, over a year later, it is difficult to see why it received such unanimous praise.
Chris Pine is young James T Kirk. His father was a Star Fleet captain for less than 20 minutes, dying when Kirk was just entering the world. Some 20 years later, Kirk is a waster. Drinking, fighting, and grand theft auto are all he knows. When a friend of his fathers offers him a chance to make something of himself he eventually, reluctantly, agrees.
Kirk cheats at an infamous battle simulation exercise, and following clashes with the simulation’s programmer Mr Spock, he is on the verge of being flunked out of the Academy when all Hell breaks loose. A Romulan ship is causing havoc, and with a lack of expertly manned federation ships in the vicinity, it is up to the young cadets to stop them. Kirk stows aboard, is ejected, and then after an encounter with a new old friend, takes charge of the USS Enterprise and saves the day.
The re-casting of the popular sci-fi series is mostly successful, with Karl Urban as Bones and Heroes’ Zachary Quinto as Spock particularly impressive. Simon Pegg looks a bit out of place as Scotty, but this is as much a product of the way his character is written as it is with his bewildered look, and dodgy Scottish accent. His character is symbolic of my biggest problem with JJ Abram’s Star Trek. There is far too much silly. The circumstances around the elder Spock’s interjection is preposterous enough, but the slapstick style of much of the humour is just too much.
The action is, at times, thrilling, and there are some fun nods to the original sixties series and characters. The re-imagined settings and designs are fantastic, and that persistent lens flare is only slightly annoying. Overall, i was seriously underwhelmed though. If and when there is a sequel, i will give it a go in hopes of improvement, but as it stands, for me, Star Trek really has no place in the IMDb250 list.
The Hustler (1961) – 8.0 No. 189
Paul Newman has made many iconic roles his own over his long career, and 1961’s The Hustler, based on the novel of the same name, is one of the most enduring.
Newman is ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson, a small time pool hustler desperate to be known as the best. Eddie travels across country with his partner in a quest to take on Minnesota Fats, one of the greatest pool players in the country, and prove himself as number one. Unfortunately, despite playing well and winning a great deal of Minnesota’s money, alcohol and arrogance prove to be Felson’s downfall.
Defeat hits the hustler hard, and when he meets beautiful author Sarah, he starts up a relationship, leaving the pool game behind. Felson’s partner turns up, urging him to get back in the game. Felson turns him down, but his obsession with the game, and his strained relationship with Sarah lead him to going back on the road with her in tow.
When Felson starts to put the game before his relationship with Sarah, she realises he isn’t in love with her. Having left her home behind, she now has nothing left to live for, feeling alone and miserable. When this fragile state leads to her tragic parting with Felsom, he gambles every last penny on one more doomed crack at Minnesota Fats. Having lost the only person who ever loved him, and realising his personal demons will prevent him ever becoming a real success, Felson ends up a broken man.
Paul Newman has played a series of roguish, and often tragic characters throughout his career. These characters usually come with a certain charm, and like-ability. That isn’t allowed by the character of Felson here. A compulsive, self destructive personality, with a huge ego to boot, Felson has no real redeeming features. In the end, he barely even wins your pity. The tragic character here is really Sarah, brilliantly played by Piper Laurie. Her story arc is the most complete, and the most emotionally satisfying of the movie. You genuinely pity her, and share her sadness. Whilst pool is the name of the game, it is her journey, and the misery caused by the destructive relationship shared between her and Felson that is at the heart of the story.
A very dark tale, which whilst remembered as Newman’s film, belongs to Laurie’s tragic Sarah. The Hustler is well written, and in parts genuinely affecting. The tragic story, and downbeat ending are a surprise considering how the movie begins, which only serves to make it all the more affecting. One of the top 250 films ever made? Possibly, just don’t go in expecting a lot of laughs.
Come back next Monday for update 25. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_