The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Monthly Archives: November 2009

My top 10 Movies of all time #1

The Empire Strikes Back
Directed By Irvin Kershner

The Empire Strikes Back is a curious case. It is one of the few films that manages to surpass it’s prequel (1977’s Star Wars) and is considered the pinacle of the series to most fans. It contains all those moments that makes Star Wars legendary and it’s for those reasons I love it more than any other film. It’s not the best movie ever made, I can happily admit that, but I do think of it as my personal favourite.

Set 3 years after A New Hope, after the discovery of a rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth, the empire begin their revenge on the Rebel Alliance by striking it,  the plan is succesful but Luke, Han, Leia and Chewy escape. Luke goes off to become a Jedi, whilst Darth Vader plans to capture Han and The Millenium Falcon for his own means, whilst luring them into an ambush so he can capture Skywalker. The whole film is a bizarre combination of a roadtrip, voyage of self-discovery and pursuit. The film concludes in Cloud City, the Empire’s ambush plan against them is succesful and Han is frozen in carbonite and sent to Jabba The Hutt (who he owes a lot of money, as established in the alst film) However, Luke manages to escape from Darth Vader, at a cost…

Empire Strikes Back is the most iconic film ever. One of the few sequels that is superior than the original, millions of quotable lines and a definite hint to a bigger universe that was glaiced over in the original. Whereas in Star Wars, you could easily look over the mythology and enjoy the film, it fights back here. The mysterious Jedi become a bigger plot focus with the presence of Yoda and Han’s past finally catches up with him. It’s exciting to see these come to fruition (even more exciting when you’re familiar with other Star Wars films, it really feels like pieces falling into place) and the most famous plot twist ever, Darth Vader’s revalation towards Luke, that he’s his father which quickly turns bitter and hateful (He still tries to kill him afterwards, cutting off his hand and making him an emotional wreck).

The film is so magnificent to me because it’s everything the original could have and should have been, better written (to a point, this is still George Lucas we’re talking about) and darker. There’s a definite doom and gloom feel to this that should ahve been in the original, the Rebel Alliance were always a fairly small operationa nd could have been crushed at any point, now it never came across in the original, but it’s constantly reminded in every second of this film.

There’s more focus on Darth Vader and his imperial cronies. They saw the possibility of this iconic twisted, embodiment of evil and developed him into this tragic monster that both makes us curious, yet even mroe terrified and the scene where his helmet comes down and you see the backside of his throbbing, bald mutated head and the references and communication with the Emperor show that there’s something even worse than him…

As mentioned, this film has been seen as such an iconic release, it’s been parodied, referenced by just about everything, surely that’s a sign of absolute quality. For example.

Animated Sitcom Family Guy have put in many cutaway gags relating to Snowspeeders, AT-AT, Tauntauns and are about to release their hour long sequel to Blue HArvest (a parody of Star Wars) with a parody of The Empire Strikes Back, entitled Something, Something, Something Darkside.

Spaced’s lead character Tim Bisley is a massive Star Wars fan and the 6th episode of Series 2 has a parody of the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, the first episode also has him calling Brian “You Lando” In reference to him allowing the enemy in.

Finally, How can I talk about “Empire…” and not discuss it’s amazing musical score, it was the first film in the series to use that legenday fanfare that we’ve used to automatically establish with villians, or mistaken the funeral amrch with ever since. John Williams is a genius for inventing it and I’m going to leave you with it. Goodnight!


My top 10 Movies of all time #2

Directed By Joss Whedon

Let’s look at the facts. Joss Whedon had hit a creative goldmine with Buffy The Vampie Slayer and Angel. These 2 TV shows were ratigns smashes and changed the way we looked at prime time American TV. In 2001, he pitched a show about “9 different people looking into the void of space and seeing 9 different things” and made a Sci-fi TV series called Firefly. It was genius and one of the greatest shows ever (more on that some other time). However, the audience figures were low and the show was subsequently cancelled, c mass outrage amongst it’s few but dedicated fans (something that has just struck Whedon again this week with the cancellation of his latest show, Dollhouse). However they stayed strong,  and through DVD sales and fansites, they showed Whedon and executives that they wanted more. And that’s what Whedon did.

Serenity is the story of the crew of the Firefly class ship of the same name. Led by Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), they take on odd jobs, no matter how legal in order to make a living. However, things are complicated by 2 members of their crew, Simon and River Tam. The former being hunted by the Alliance (effectively the government) and the latter, after being experimented on by the alliance is showing some bizarre signs, Mainly beating up people in clubs and slashing Jayne, hwoever after she has a memory flash about a lost planet, the crew learn something that could change the universe…

The film is masterful in it’s storytelling. It balances an impressive, complex and compelling plot and manages to fit it in with the shows previous canon. I’m not sure how much of it makes sense without seeing the show, but it just works so well. Because of this, the writing is dynamite. Jayne and Wash bounce off each other with jokes and insults, the chemistry between Mal and Inara is kept in and there’s just a wonderful plot device with it.

Of course, it’s all bouncy and fun until someone gets hurt. The film isn’t afraid to take risks in shocking the big fans, the Alliance in their unstoppable hunt for the Tam’s, bomb a town with the innocent Sheperd Books in. If you follow the show, you know that he’s a character who never got involved with violence, always talked about peaceful methods and god and so when he dies, it’s one of the saddest pieces of film. The film’s final scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen, reminding me of everything I love about genre cinema. In a mad dash to Mr Universe’s, Serenity is caught in a space battle between Reavers (kind of a weird zombie/scavenger race) and the Alliance, it looks incredible (for a film with quite a small budget) and inspiring and is very reminisicent of Star Wars, when they land, you feel yourself fist pumping joy that they made it, only for Wash to be killed right away, it’s such a blink and you miss it moment, it just feels…worse than Books death. From that point on, there’s an immediate smaller sense of hope, as Mal is engaged in a big fight in a generator room. The rest of the crew are locked in holding the fort against the reavers in a scene that is similar to the conclusion of so many zombie movies, you really feel like it could just end any second, with no hope.

And it’s that power, which is why I love the film so much, it’s very much a rollercoaster film and a definite must see Sci-fi film, hell I’d almost go so far to say it’s the best, if it wasn’t for…

My top 10 Movies of all time #3

Grave Of The Fireflies
Directed By Isao Takahata

Grave Of The Fireflies is without doubt the bleakest film on this list, it’s from the makers of the acclaimed Spirited Away, Studio Ghibli, but if you think this is a beautiful heartwarming film full of sprites and wonderfully absurd creatures, you’re wrong.

The film is the tale of Seita and Setsuko, a brother and Sister duting the last few months of WWII, when Japan is being destroyed by US attacks. After their mother is killed in an air raid, the two children stay with their aunt, unhappy with their ungratefulness, they are forced to leave and live elsewhere, but with no way to contact other relatives and nowhere else to go, they take lodge in an abandoned bomb shelter. However, after a while with no money and little food, things quickly escalate out of plan and they both slowly die of malnourishment.

The film is so effective because it’s so sad and real. The bright colours of Totoro (a film that this was played with as a double feature because it was too bleak) are replaced with washed out faded murky greys and bleak oranges. Dark crimsons and them taking a “Train of passing” are constantly there to remind you of the characters overall fate and it’s both beautiful and heartbreaking.

Like other Studio Ghibli films, it’s done through the childs point of view and here it’s more effective and more terrifying than ever, looking out at the horror of war, loss and destruction, things a child should never have to witness, which really helps you relate to the characters, when Seita and Setsuko are happy, you feel their joy, but when they’re left alone and tragedy strikes, you cry along or put a hand on your mouth in shock and disbeliefe. The latter will unfortunately happen a lot.

But all these things are what makes Grave Of The Fireflies a masterpiece, it’s both touching and mesmerizing. Miyazaki can make stories of child like wonder and enchantment, but nothing he makes will ever match Takahata-san’s piece of art. I can confidentally say that Grave Of The Fireflies is the most under-rated and under-appreciated Studio Ghibli film and is also their best. It’s everything incredible about Japanese storytelling with heartbreaking moments and a beautiful woodwind based soundtrack, if you don’t cry at the end, you aren’t human. the film has rightfully been compared to anit-war films such as Schindler’s list and I do completely agree that it deserves a place in your DVD collection and your heart.


My top 10 Movies of all time #4

Pulp Firction (1994)
Directed By Quentin Tarantino

Let’s get this out there, as a film, Pulp Fiction shouldn’t work. It’s all loosely interchageable events and all cut of order. Yet, it retains the finest example of non-linear storytelling.

Pulp Fiction tells a couple of stories, Jules and Vince and the briefcase, Vince taking Mia for dinner and Butch and the watch (It may seem like there are more but when put into context, there isn’t that many.

The film starts with 2 people in a diner talking about robbery and how the best way to go about it. Right from the off, we’re introduced to the films genius dialogue.  This is what fuels the film, without Tarantino and Avery’s dynamite script, I doubt this film would be any good at all. Just like that, we’re blasted into a thrill ride of action, wit and superb acting.

The film, like all of Tarantino’s others, are kind of a throwback to past genres, Pulp Fiction is believed to be by some, a neo-noir or at least a parody of them. Although there are elements in the film that suggest this, I don’t believe it is. However I do believe it’s a very postmodern film, it takes the rules of 70’s indie cinema, modernizes it (adding more violence and swearing), embraces it’s cliches and then mocks it behind it’s back, creating something original and completely outstanding.

Another thing that really interests me is the amount of thought put into really meaningless sections. There’s a large emphasis on going to the loo, that sounds crude, but there’s a lot of it. Mia goes there to “Powder her nose” There are 2 scenes right next to each other with Butch and Fabianne, Vince is killed after flushing the bog by Butch. In fact, everytime Vince goes to the toilet in the film, he returns to a completely different world, mainly one where someone is about to die.

You can always tell a popular and iconic film from it’s parodies. And Pulp Fiction is no exception (ironic, considering it’s parody status as it is) For example, a good portion of The Simpsons episode 22 Short Films About Springfield, which contains scenes such as Chief Wiggum getting run over by Snake in a similar way to Marsellis and Butch and parodying the “Royale With Cheese” scene with this:

Lou: So I went to McDonalds in Shelbyville the other day

Chief Wiggum: A Mc what?

Lou: Mc Donalds, I’d never heard of it either, you know it’s weird, it’s the little differences.

Chief Wiggum: Meaning?

Lou: Well, over there, you can get a Krusty Burger with Cheese, but they call it a Krusty Burger with Cheese.

Chief Wiggum: Well, what do they call it?

Lou: A Quarterpounder.

Chief Wiggum: A Quarterpounder? Well, do they have Krusty gelatonised protein dairy drinks?

Lou: Uh-huh. They call ’em shakes.

And to add to that, artist Banksy did a mural with Vince and Jules holding bananas, which shows just how popular and brilliant a piece of indie cinema can be.


My Top 10 Movies Of All Time #5

Star Wars (1977)
Directed By George Lucas

One Upon a time in a galaxy far far away, a young filmmaker called George Lucas had an idea. To take his teenage angst ridden words and style of American Graffiti and to mix it up 2001: A Space Odyessey. 30 script drafts later, he had written the blueprint for one of the most succesful and influential movies of all time. Star Wars.

Star Wars is many things, but one thing it isn’t, is simply a movie, it’s a series of philosphical ideas that all jumble together perfectly, with influences ranging from Japanese cinema and the second world war (X Wings and space dogfights are just planes put in space) Not only that, it changed cinema. Forever.

I could talk about it as a series for absolutely hours, but I’m not. I’m going to talm to you about the one that started it all. Star Wars (later retitled Episode IV: A New Hope) is the tale of a farmboy, Luke Skywalker, as he leaves his home planet of Tatooine on a daring rescue mission at the heart of Imperial rule, the Death Star. With the assistance of Han Sol, his co-pilot Chewbacca and old friend Ben/Obi Wan Kenobi, they rescue Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan from the Death Star, escaping with the stations plans, so the rebel alliance, a group of freedom fighters hell bent on destroying the Empire can destroy the Death Star.

The film is amazing because of 2 things. Right from the get go, you’re absorbed into this universe, which already has tons of history more than the film, from Obi Wan mentioning Luke’s father and discussing the Jedi (which will come in to focus in the later films) and you’re desperate to find out who were the Jedi, what were the Clone Wars and who is Darth Vader?

Of course, as a series, these questions are answered, but it’s the mystery that surrounds the film that makes it compelling. Not only that, it’s a layer of Sci-fi and fantasy that is always up for debate. As previously stated, the series is full of debatable influences and philosphical questions that just add to the appreciation. (See here)

Star Wars also has that added addition of iconicism by it’s simplicity as well. Darth Vader is an obvious villain because of his breathing, his deep booming voices and that he’s entirely dressed in black. It’s because of that when most people think of cinema villians, he’s the first on the list, not to mention Stormtroopers, TIE fighters, lightsabers and the Death Star are pretty much synomonous with Pop culture. It’s also got brilliant (to a point) dialogue, most of which is quotable and just a delight.

In conclusion Star Wars isn’t just a film, it’s an experience. It’s fun, it’s serious, it has almost everything great about cinema. After it’s release it changed it forever. It became one of the first blockbuster summer releases, selling millions and inspiring zillions. I wouldn’t be a writing if it wasn’t for Star Wars. It’s a concept that’s simple enough for kids (Basically a good vs Evil story with explosions) yet deep enough for adults to enjoy (It’s basically the beginnings of a revolution) and it’s a work of genius.