My Book-Wife, NT Anderson, (who is also my editor and partner in shenanigans at Tepris Press!) launched her latest book today.
It’s called ACTS OF CONFESSION and is the second book in her Acts series.
You can buy it here (LINKY), and I totally recommend it if you like a little spicy romance in your life.
Anyhow, as part of her launch she kicked off a bunch of fun threads on Twitter, and on one we were posting random piccies from films. Nikki posted up Jaws, which is probably my favorite movie of all time. She’s a Richard Dreyfuss fan, so that was why. And it got me thinking about how Dreyfuss is in TWO of my fave films.
Which in turn got me wondering what my ‘Mount Rushmore‘ of movies is.
Which I thought was worth a post.
So, four presidents – four movies.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a thesis on why these movies are great. This is not a list of the top 4 movies of all time. This is simply a blog post on why I personally love them. Nothing more than that. Agree or disagree, I’m sure you all have your own personal Mount Rushmore.
Where to start…
Now, there are simply LOADS of films I love. I’m a bit of a cinephile, and I love the cinema experience. And if I’m not watching them there, then I’m watching BluRays, Sky Movies, Netflix, Amazon Prime… if it has movies on it, then I’m watching.
Over the years there’s many films I come back to watch over and over. To name a few: Avengers: End Game, Grand Budapest Hotel, Predator, Alien, Aliens, Independence Day… Yeah, I’m a guilty pleasure viewer all over.
But it’s easy to name my top 4 movies of all time. These are easily the movies that have collectively held my peepers to the screen for more than any others. These are the 4 movies that I would want to have on hand if I was stranded on a desert island.
Ready? Okay, here goes…
“So, eleven hundred men went into the water.
316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.” – Quint
1975. Forty-seven years ago. I was four years old.
Yup, there’s no way I saw this when it came out, I caught it on VHS many MANY years later.
A lot has already been written about this movie, so I’m not going to go write a thesis on its greatness. Instead, I’m just going to tell you why I, personally, love it.
As a movie, it shares a lot in common with one of my other favorite movies, Alien, which came out 4 years later. More recent movies of the same ilk, seem to be more concerned with special effects and forgo the slow-burn build-up to the payoff. Consider, for instance, one of the film’s more modern successors, Deep Blue Sea (which admittedly is another guilty pleasure of mine). We’re shown the sharks in all their CGI glory very early on, which kind of ruins the suspense.
Due to the malfunctioning animatronic shark, Spielberg was forced to change his approach to the movie, so the big reveal comes much later into the film. Instead, we’re treated to a series of musical cues and fleeting glimpses of a fin here and a flash of teeth there. It’s masterful and, as I mentioned, it’s a formula that is repeated by Ridley Scott in Alien later.
The difference for me is in the cast. I have a natural lean toward SciFi, so you’d think Alien would be my preference…but while I love Ripley dearly, she can’t compete with the triumvirate of Hooper, Brody, and Quint. Three very distinctive characters played brilliantly by three wonderful actors.
Hooper is the spoilt rich kid, Brody is the protective lawman, and Quint is the drunken maverick.
They all think they’re right…and they all are. Their correctness overlaps beautifully. Hooper knows that this is a big shark that will keep feeding. Brody knows that he has to hunt this thing down in order to keep the citizens of Amity Bay safe. And Quint knows that he is the only man capable of hunting the beast that stalks their waters. While there is conflict in their character types, there is also begrudging respect.
All three are also out of their depth.
Brody isn’t a sailor (former city cop). Hooper’s experience is mostly theoretical (soft hands!). Quint has bitten off more than he can chew (overconfident outcast)…which is ironic considering his fate.
It’s often been said, but the absolute best scene in the whole movie is the scene where they all get drunk, share their scars, and Quint tells the tale of the USS Indianapolis. It’s a mesmerizing piece of cinema, and the way Robert Shaw delivers the speech is just incredible.
This movie, to me, is the very definition of rewatchable.
Spielberg is up again, for my second choice.
Now, this may come as a surprise to you…but this film both fills me with magic and wonder, while simultaneously scaring the shit out of me. I know what you’re thinking. CE3K (as I will henceforth refer to it) is not that scary. True. But let me tell you a story of when I saw this film.
CE3K came out in 1977, when I was a whippersnapper of just 6 years old. This was another film I saw years later on VHS, probably when I was about 11 or 12. Our home was in Birmingham, on a main road. The kind that was lined in orange sodium streetlamps. Like this…
Those familiar with the movie might know where I’m going with this…
First, I need you to watch this scene from the movie. I’ll be right here when you get back. Promise.
Now…imagine you’re a young boy, who is trying to get to sleep at night and all that he can see peeping between and around his curtains is an orange glow from outside.
Try telling me NOW that I’m crazy to be scared.
This shit psychologically scars you as a child, and that part of the movie STILL gives me the heebie-jeebies to this day!
But, I love this film for some of the same reasons I love Jaws. Dreyfess (who plays Roy Neary) is wonderful in it, and there’s such a slow and leisurely-paced build-up to the magical climax. Watching him being slowly compelled to find out more about what he experienced, while his family thinks he’s descending into madness, is wonderfully played. And while the scene above casts the aliens in a frankly sinister (orange) light, there is truly magic here too.
Roy’s first encounter with the UFO in the middle of nowhere, and the extended chase scene afterward are exhilarating. The mystery of the returning airplanes, the boat in the desert, and the musical notes, compels you as much as it does Roy, to uncover the answers.
And then there’s the ending, which is a staggeringly beautiful mix of special effects and a musical score that I don’t think has EVER been so seamlessly done since. John Williams‘s orchestral score isn’t just playing for background noise here, it’s absolutely integral to the scene, and is beautifully chaotic.
There are so many more scenes I could pick, but I’m going to stop right there!
This is one of those movies where lightning was caught in a bottle.
I’m not going to come down hard on the reboot a few years back that had Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristin Wiig in it. I could see the thinking behind it. The original Ghostbusters from 1984 took a bunch of comedic talents and pushed them together in a movie. Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, took this movie to a place of magic, so why not gender-flip it and get a bunch of contemporary and talented Saturday Night Live alumni to do the same thing all over again.
Alas, they missed the point of the original movie.
Ghostbusters was never about the comedy, it was about the horror. Okay, so it’s not scary in the way that something like Nightmare on Elm Street might be, but it did take its horror aspects seriously. Remove Bill Murray‘s quipping out of the equation, get rid of Ackroyd‘s childish glee, and remove Ramis‘s comedy Spock, and you still have a ghost story featuring such things as ghostly possession and abduction. Those guys just add in a sprinkle of something special to the mix.
And even the more minor parts are treated seriously. Sigourney Weaver is wonderful and iconic as Dana Barratt. Rick Moranis is hilarious. Ernie Hudson is a splendid straight man for the team dynamic. The wonderful casting and writing is so evident when you consider how the 2016 reboot played everything for laughs. As much as I LOVE Chris Hemsworth’s comedic turn as the receptionist in that movie, contrast it to Annie Potts role as the abrasive Janine Melnitz in the original. The former is just a gag, the latter is a real character.
The original Ghostbusters hit the sweet spot of horror and comedy. The story was interesting, the acting was great. It also had iconic visuals, wonderful effects, some classic stop-motion (which people might think looks dated today, but I love it all the same), a catchy theme song, and ohhhhhh such wonderful toys. (I have been eyeing up Proton Packs on Etsy for years, but at over £500 they’re a little too much for my budget! But I tell you this… If I could cosplay something, it would be a Ghostbuster!)
I’ve recently watched Ghostbusters: Afterlife for the second time, and it’s wonderful. It’s an absolutely fitting goodbye to Harold Ramis, and it’s a love letter to the fans. There’s very much a sense of ‘if it ain’t broke…’ to the movie.
I mean just watch the teaser trailer for Afterlife. It has ALL The touchstones to push the nostalgia buttons. The theremin sounds, the orchestral score, the sound of the Proton Packs, and then finally the reveal of Ecto 1. In thirty seconds it gets right EVERYTHING the reboot got so wrong.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize (after talking about my first three movies) that there seems to be a lost art in blockbuster movies these days.
Maybe it’s that people these days expect more bang for their buck, but I miss the days when movies could breathe on the screen. Where humor wasn’t forced. Where there wasn’t the need to push toy sales by creating the next wonderful gadget.
There’s a theme developing here, and I’ll tell you what it is.
It’s something that modern blockbusters frequently ignore as they hurry the plotline from one setpiece to the next. Alternatively, they try and let the film breathe more by extending the runtime.
I watched the new Dune movie (by Denis Villeneuve) and it struck me how kind of old school it is. I loved it. Indeed it made me suddenly realize that he is now responsible for three of my favorite films in recent years. I really loved Bladerunner 2049, and The Arrival very almost made this list, as it’s easily in my top 10. The point is that his films are allowed to linger on the little moments.
So does The Wrath of Khan.
Compare and contrast to the more recent Trek movies from the JJ Abrams series, with their Beastie Boys soundtrack and frantic plotlines. I understand the need to appeal to a new and younger generation that want these things, but what you get in flash you lose in depth.
Star Trek II is Shakespearean. It’s epic. And yet it’s under two hours long. 1 hr 53 mins to be precise.
And each one of those 113 minutes is carefully crafted to serve the story.
The opening scene establishes the Kobayashi Maru test, which will come back full circle later in the movie. But more than that it introduces Saavik as a new character, AND establishes Kirk and co as being the older generation. (A point rammed home when Kirk has to start wearing spectacles!) The whole scene is a setup so that you understand that these older characters you know and love are on the verge of being replaced. Even the USS Enterprise itself is on the way out. An old starship destined to be retired as a training ship.
In a smidgen over 3 minutes, we can see that for Kirk and his famous ship, the glory days are behind them.
Over the course of the next hour or so, the film sets up the return of Khan, his vengeful feelings, Kirk’s son, the return of Chekov, and so much more…and none of it feels rushed or forced.
(As a little disclaimer here, maybe some of this is because we’ve already spent many years with Kirk and co during their series and the first movie. But still…)
It all comes to a head with a beautiful scene played out in the Genesis test area where Kirk munches on an apple and spends the time to tell Saavik and co how he cheated the Kobayashi Maru test.
Which then leads to this…
In my humble opinion, this whole sequence is a masterstroke.
Enterprise and Reliant aren’t treated as space fighters zipping around and zapping each other. This is submarine warfare. Run silent, run deep. It’s a game of cat and mouse between the superior intellect and the superior experience. Between a wounded Enterprise and an undercrewed Reliant.
And it’s amazing.
The scenes that follow are equally fantastic, giving the movie an epic ending that still stands to this day as one of the greatest endings in movie history…in my mind at least. What’s more, it’s done with a series of different scenes.
Take a movie like Avengers: Endgame. That too has a fantastic ending, but it is essentially one huge setpiece that goes on for 30 minutes or so. Wrath of Khan is constantly shifting gears, but each scene is compulsive. From the battle to the victory, to the countdown race, to the sacrifice, to the funeral.
Emotional beat after emotional beat.
And that’s why it’s great!
So, that’s my Mount Rushmore of movies. What are yours? Let me know in the comments.
Love and Books (and Movies!)