By Marc S. Sanders

Did Kevin Smith know he’d create a lasting cultural phenomenon when he recruited his neighborhood friends to depict the mundane life of a convenience store clerk (Dante) and video store clerk (Randall)? How could he? He made this very shoestring budgeted movie by maxing out his credit cards. He’s on a short list of entrepreneurs who went all in. Bravo!

Clerks is a film that doesn’t seem to say much, but actually says a lot by the time it’s finished. Smith wrote a script where Dante mulls over how hard it is to move on, to change and accept the fact that even his ex-girlfriend moved on to get married, while he’s nothing but number 37 on his current girlfriend’s oral conquests. It’s a challenge as he and Randall debate over the accomplishments of Star Wars films. Then there are the eccentric customers like Smith’s friend Walt Flanigan (of Comic Book Men) as a guy looking for the perfect dozen eggs, or another one offended by the harsh language of a couple of bored clerks.

On paper, this all looks ordinary and boring. Yet, that’s the point. It’s fair to say we have all experienced the boredom of work with no definitive vision of a future. So, we complain about how we are not supposed to be there on our day off, or that the most important, immediate need is participating in a Saturday afternoon hockey game. Since we gotta work, we’ll compromise. If we can’t leave work, we will move the game to the roof of the store.

Two legendary cinematic characters also debuted, Jay & Silent Bob (Jason Mewes & Smith). They just lean against a wall, smoke and do not much else. Still, they offer atmosphere. There’s always loiterers mulling around a 7-11 or Circle K. They have stories as well, but we will likely never know. They just cross our paths as we pick up a soda. Smith wrote these guys as anybody we’d recognize and who we’re familiar with.

Kudos to Kevin Smith for following through with Clerks. This doesn’t look like much of anything, but it’s everything.


By Marc S. Sanders

Meryl Streep can do anything. Comedy, drama, accents, age defiance, make unbearable choices, even play opposite Roseanne; anything! She can even go white water rafting. She’s a real life James Bond.

In The River Wild, Streep takes a while to outsmart bad guys Kevin Bacon and John C Reilly, but she always maintains the raft through dangerous rapids while protecting her husband and son (David Strathairn and Joseph Mazzello).

See, according to Curtis Hanson’s adventure film, the best way to outrun the law following committing a robbery is to go white water rafting, even if you have no experience with the sport. That becomes a downer for Meryl Streep’s family getaway where tensions are high in her marriage to her workaholic husband. Fortunately, this setback might get them on the right track and Strathairn will find an appreciation for the dog that has come along. Reader, I won’t give it away but like I said, Meryl Streep can do anything. So, the odds on the family pet making it out of this alive are pretty favorable. Too bad Mazzello and the dog won’t listen to dad when it’s necessary.

The plot of The River Wild is very simplistic. Hanson quickly gets to the river following some exposition of familial discourse at home. However, just because he gets to the river so soon, doesn’t mean that the thrills begin right away. There’s a lot of beautiful nature footage here and everyone is happily getting along. Bacon connects with Mazzello much to Strathairn’s chagrin, and he flirts charmingly with Streep. Then lo and behold, oh my stars, Kevin Bacon is a bad guy??? What? The Footloose guy?????? Why he’s six degrees of any one of us!!!!!

Hanson gets some good action moments on the rapids. There close up shots against the rocks, and right into the water and down the impossible falls. The suspense is lacking though. Strathairn makes an escape in the woods. He’s got a good head start, and the best option he can come up is to climb a steep rock wall in plain sight with no coverage whatsoever. Kevin Bacon, what are you doing? Shoot the guy!!!! Mr. Hanson, you just brought your stride to a screeching halt.

That’s the problem with The River Wild. There’s a lack of thrill to it all. This is not a film brave enough to really endanger the dog, nor the kid, nor Streep. The worst that’s really done is a couple of punches to Strathairn and a cut above his eye.

Mazzello made it as the screamer kid star in his adolescent years in film (see Jurassic Park). Bacon seems like he wanted to get a little crazier in the villain role, but he held back. I wanted him to cross the line a little more, a lot more actually. He wasn’t dangerous enough for me. Reilly was just a bumbling, worried accomplice in tow.

Hanson has done way better than this with his supreme effort like L.A. Confidential and even Eminem’s 8 Mile. Thank goodness I can still respect the man’s career beyond this doused misfire.


By Marc S. Sanders

Jan de Bont’s Speed is one of the best action thrillers ever made. It moves at a breakneck pace with huge suspense, big laughs and never-ending excitement. It’s also really smart with its crazy storyline.

A mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) manages to terrorize the city of Los Angeles by rigging a high-rise elevator with a bomb. Thirteen hostages need to be rescued and for an opening scene of a movie it does not get better than this. The heights and cramped space of the elevator and shaft are tightly claustrophobic, leaving you biting your nails. Small explosions come unexpectedly. This is what Hitchcock is always talking about. Putting a bomb under a table is suspense. The moment you detonate the bomb, the fear is over. De Bont blows up some bombs, but he leaves you hanging for when he’s going to set off the biggest bomb of all – the one that’ll put a hole in the world.

Later, the bomber does the same to a city wide transit bus traveling the freeway routes of rush hour traffic in the city. If the bus’ speed drops below 50 MPH, it’ll explode. Imagine pulling two tricks of Hitchcock all in one film. Imagine trying to never slow down a bus. This bad guy is destroying the city without even setting the big bomb off yet. This is great writing from Graham Yost. The whole scenario is tension at a maximum level.

The cop trying to stop the bomber is Jack Traven (at the time of release, an unlikely Keanu Reeves). Reeves is a perfect hero in this film. He allows the film to stand apart from being just another Die Hard rip-off by avoiding the Bruce Willis smart aleck stance. He’s a smart guy who keeps focus on just the situation at hand. He’ll get the bad guy later.

Sandra Bullock plays an adorable character named Annie who consequently has to drive the bus. This was Bullock’s breakthrough performance and I truly think it still holds as one her best. She’s funny, but she has some good dramatic moments as the tensions build up where Hopper’s crazed bomber makes things more difficult for Jack and the passengers. Bullock is good at crying on film, but she also knows how to deliver a line too.

De Bont does a great job at poking fun at the mundane trappings of traffic and intercity daily activity. As the bus careens through the city, pedestrian crossings are at risk, tow truck cars are problematic, cop cars are bashed up, and Annie is mindful enough to turn her blinker on as she careens around the corners. That last gag kills me every time. De Bont does what I always insist works in most films. He makes the setting of his film the character as well. This bomb rigged bus is stressing out the city of Los Angeles, for sure.

Seeing Speed holds a special memory for me. I saw it on its opening Friday night with some college buddies. Two days later, I insisted on taking dad to see it. Dad could not stop laughing through the absurdity of it all as street signs crash down, cars get totaled, and the fast editing blended with Annie’s laughable panic. Most especially, he loved a hapless driver (a scene stealing cameo from Glenn Plummer) in his gorgeous Jaguar convertible known as “Tuneman” by his license plate. Jack desperately hijacks his car as a means to catch up to the bus. As Tuneman’s car gets more and more wrecked, Dad could not get over it. He was in stitches. This is why movies can be so vital in our lives. I’ll never forget Dad’s nonstop laughing. I carry it with me forever, and I heard it again last night as I caught up with Speed. He’s gone now, but these are the moments I miss most about Dad.

A third act of the film is just as thrilling. Let’s see. We’ve done an elevator and a bus. How about a subway train? It’s a briefer sequence for the climax of the film, but it keeps the thrills ongoing.

Speed works on so many levels with a brilliant cast of B actors (at the time of 1994) that also include Joe Morton, Alan Ruck and a great Jeff Daniels as Jack’s partner with bomb experience. The action sequences cannot be complimented enough, and the Oscar nominated editing from John Wright with De Bont’s direction pair perfectly in timing.

Speed is an absolute thrill ride and a rocking great time at the movies.

MURIEL’S WEDDING (1994, Australia)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: P.J. Hogan
Cast: Toni Collette, Bill Hunter, Rachel Griffiths
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 79% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A young social outcast in Australia steals money from her parents to finance a vacation where she hopes to find happiness, and perhaps love.

For years and years, I had always assumed Muriel’s Wedding was your stereotypical romantic comedy.  I mean, come on, it’s got Wedding right there in the title.  The story involves a quirky young woman, obsessed with weddings, who runs away from home to find a new life for herself.  Who knows…maybe she’ll get married herself?

But what am I saying, of COURSE she gets married…once again, it’s in the title.  So, based on that bit of logic, I never made any serious effort to watch this movie.  The rom-com has never been my absolute favorite genre.  For me to enjoy one, it has to really stand out in some way.  Either it must be REALLY different (Stranger Than Fiction), or it must be a shining example of the genre (The Philadelphia Story), or it must be so well written that it sneaks past my defenses (Jersey Girl – I know, I don’t get it either, I just responded to it, leave me alone).  I never imagined Muriel’s Wedding would meet any of those criteria.  On the surface, it didn’t look like much.

Welp…I was wrong.  Be warned because some story spoilers may follow, though I will do my best to be obtuse where necessary.

The plot: Muriel (Toni Collette, in the role that put her on the map) is a painfully awkward, overweight young woman who lives for weddings.  At the opening of the film, she is one of many women fighting for the tossed bouquet at a friend’s wedding, and the look on her face is of pure religious ecstasy.  She wears a hideous leopard print outfit completely out of place with…well, everyone.

Her home life is one of middle-class desperation.  She and her family live in a hopelessly hopeful seaside town called Porpoise Spit.  Her parents are in a loveless marriage, she and her oldest brother are on the dole (that’s “welfare” to us Yanks), and one of her sisters seems capable of greeting her only with the same phrase over and over again: “You’re terrible, Muriel.”  She has “friends”, but when they’re on their way to celebrate their newlywed friend’s discovery that her new husband is already cheating on her (long story), they tell Muriel point blank they don’t want her around anymore because she’s a drag on their image.  Muriel’s reaction to this news is as pitiful and heartbreaking as anything I’ve ever seen on film.

It was around this time that I started to wonder if the word Wedding in the film’s title was some kind of perverse code word for “suicide.”  What’s going on here?  There’s comedy here, but it’s comedy of awkwardness, the kind of comedy that can be painful to watch.

Through an improbable, but satisfying, chain of events, Muriel steals quite a bit of her father’s money, goes on an impromptu vacation, and meets an old schoolmate, Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths, in her film debut), who gets Muriel to open up a little.  For the vacation resort’s talent show, they lip-synch and dance to “Dancing Queen” by Abba in white stretch pants, a scene that must have at least partially inspired the makers of Mamma Mia!  Instead of returning home after her vacation, Muriel moves to Sydney and tries to reinvent herself.  At her low points during this time, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the wedding gowns on display at the local bridal shops…

The rest I leave for you to discover.  One of the joys of this movie is how one thing leads to another in completely unexpected ways.  This was, without a doubt, one of the most unpredictable films of any kind that I have ever seen.  I can’t tell you how delightful it is whenever I find a movie that avoids cliches and narrative pitfalls and continually surprises me.

For example, there’s a scene involving – how can I say this without giving too much away – two people clumsily making out, a broken window, two naked men, and a malfunctioning beanbag cushion that had me laughing uproariously.  And then, just when I thought the scene was over, a curveball gets thrown that made me gasp audibly, as if I were watching footage of a dog getting run over.

The whole movie is like that.  For an hour and forty minutes, I was completely and utterly in the dark about what might be coming next.  The screenplay is bloody ingenious.  It starts with what looks like a generic rom-com premise, leads you down the garden path, then removes the path, and then removes the garden.  There are genuinely tender moments, and moments of delight (Muriel’s reactions during her first date are sheer perfection), and one or two shocking moments, and, and, and…  You get the idea.

Muriel’s Wedding gets high marks for its honest performances and its unfailing unpredictability.  The posters and especially the trailers paint the film as an “uproariously funny” comedy, and it is…at the funny parts.  There are also loads of dramatic surprises, and tender moments, and utterly unexpected plot twists.  It’s one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen.


By Marc S. Sanders

Hoop Dreams is not a simple documentary. It spans five years beginning in the late 80s through the early 90s capturing the lives of two young promising basketball prospects looking for a shot at the NBA, a million to one shot.

Arthur Agee and William Gates are two black youths from the ghetto areas of Chicago who are given an opportunity to attend St. Joseph’s High School and to participate on their prestigious basketball squad, the same team where Isaiah Thomas began his trek to the pros. The film, directed by Steve James, continuously shows how far reaching the accomplishments of Thomas really are with moments frequently focusing on the school’s hallway cabinet display dedicated to the legendary former student. Arthur and William are magnificently talented as top coaches and recruiters will attest, but are they that good? Do they have Thomas’ drive and ferociousness on the court. As well, are they capable to maintain their required minimum grades and ACT test scores for college scholarships? Can the boys overcome injury or tuition demands to stay at St Joseph’s?

Hoop Dreams explores these questions in its three-hour running time. Though it’s a documentary, the drama is undeniably intense.

For Arthur, his talents on the court can only go so far. A family life that has highs and lows make it challenging for him during his high school years. His father, Bo, has been in and out of prison and he’s a drug addict. Director Steve James is so attentive and unforgiving with using his camera that he shows fourteen-year-old Arthur playing on the neighborhood court with Bo, who eventually drifts off into the background where we actually see Bo purchasing drugs from a dealer, right in front of his son and right in front of the camera.

Arthur’s NBA dreams also become more fleeting in his sophomore year when his family can not come up with the necessary portion of his tuition to remain at St. Joseph’s. From there, I desperately wondered if he’d ever return to the school.

William’s story begins with much more promise. He’s a magnificent player and comes off very responsible beginning in his freshman year at age 14 while keeping a job, and a respectful and positive attitude with his teachers and peers. His scholarship to remain at St Joseph’s is backed by a top executive for Encyclopedia Britannica. He’s a dynamo on the court and he’s got tremendous support from legendary St Joseph’s Coach Eugene “Ping” Pingatore who started Isaiah Thomas on his road to success. However, a knee injury comes into play. William is given the best treatments available including numerous surgeries to remove cartilage and maintain repairs. The knee never seems to go back to what it once was for William but even worse, according to Ping, the injury is messing with William’s confidence on the court.

This is not only disappointing for William with various setbacks that keep him off the court, but also for his older brother, Curtis, who lost out on his own basketball dreams. Curtis lives through the potential success of William.

The Agee and Gates families have next to no money living in the projects of Chicago. They endure job layoffs, welfare and at times no means to put food on the table or cover the cost of electricity. The need to support families of multiple children while they make every effort to survive the streets laden with drugs and crime beyond these troubles. What they live for is the will of Arthur and William’s potential for athletic greatness. The families are these boys’ greatest cheerleaders.

James’ film puts the golden ticket for these young men front and center at the beginning of the film when Isaiah Thomas speaks at a session for many prospective talents with a shot to attend St. Joseph’s High School. There’s uplifting footage of young Arthur playing with Thomas, and you feel the drive to now follow the boy’s journey to maybe see the professional ball player again but maybe in an arena where Arthur is now wearing a Detroit Pistons uniform as an actual teammate. As a viewer I was truly believing this could work out and by the time I get to the end I’ll finally see that moment captured in real life footage.

Nevertheless, Hoop Dreams shows that exceptional talent is never a promise for a shot in the NBA. Surviving day to day with no money and even a challenge to maintain academics, stay healthy, and avoid drugs and crime are at least just as important factors along that path.

Hoop Dreams is a long film. It needs to be to truly depict the essence of what happens to William and Arthur from year to year in high school. It’s absolutely riveting and emotionally suspenseful. Amazingly enough is that Steve James could never know what would come of Arthur and William when he began covering their stories in freshman year. Unlike other celebrated documentaries, Hoop Dreams is not a recap of a historical moment in time with stock footage that’s been recovered for narrative use. Hoop Dreams is in the moment. It’s a continuous exploration of what direction life will spell out for these boys and their families once high school comes to an end. Steve James was intuitive in following the respective trajectories without really ever being fully aware of the conclusions for these two stories.

Siskel & Ebert declared this film the best picture of 1994, topping films like Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and The Shawshank Redemption. I can’t decide yet if I agree with that ranking, but I will never deny that the film belongs in that company of greatness for sure.

Hoop Dreams is absolutely magnificent, and likely one of the best documentary films I’ll ever see.


By Marc S. Sanders

There’s not much that I can say to further praise the merits of Robert Zemekis’ Forrest Gump. It’s a film of legend though it’s a sore spot for die-hard fans of Pulp Fiction, which competed for Best Picture in 1994. Guess which film won. Tom Hanks won the Oscar for the second year in a row, following his outstanding turn in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. Zemekis won Best Director. Eric Roth’s screenplay won as well.

What holds a lasting impression for me about Forrest Gump is the sweeping travel through time of a man with limited intelligence but unlimited willingness to explore and participate, whether it be as a Ping Pong Champion, a Medal of Honor recipient for heroism during the Vietnam War, a millionaire entrepreneur of a shrimping boat business, or a man who just felt like running from one corner to the next of the North American continent. Forrest Gump never knew to compromise a belief he had, probably because he was never aware of the capability to compromise in the first place.

An interesting theme occurs throughout Roth’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Winston Groom). The people that Forrest encounters are always shouting their ideals and agendas. Yet no one seems to listen. Not just Forrest though. No one at all listens to each other. Lieutenant Dan (Oscar nominee, Gary Sinese) shouts for an immediate evacuation of a hostile territory under attack and no one on the other end of the line, appears to be listening to him. He orders Gump to leave him there, but Forrest does not listen. Forrest only focuses on rescuing his friends, Lt. Dan and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). What exactly were Americans like the Hippie movements, the War Veterans, the Black Panther party, even the men in the burlesque nightclubs, as well as the various assassinations attempting to accomplish really? Did they accomplish anything? Did any of these parties make an impactful change, or did they just like to hear themselves talk? Did they just want the recognition for only themselves and no one else? When Forrest meets up with his love Jenny (Robin Wright), in a gorgeous caption in front of the Washington Monument (often shown during Oscar film compilations), he has just shared his thoughts over a loudspeaker, unaware that not one of the thousands of war protestors could hear him because the microphone had been unplugged. Later that day, a Black Panther participant only cares to wave his finger and shout his agenda in Forrest’s face. Is Forrest interested? Is he even listening? Is the Jenny, the hippie and her protestor boyfriend listening? Like many Americans, Forrest was only concerned with what was most important to him; Jenny. When Forrest develops a following during his cross country run, everyone is looking for his purpose and his message, and Forrest is unaware that he needed to offer one. Americans are always looking for the next best following. When Forrest passes the Grand Canyon and stops running, the parade of lost souls behind him shouts, “Now what are we supposed to do?” Forrest doesn’t listen. He just walks away and declares he’s tired. America during the mid twentieth century was lost. Forrest was not. Forrest just went in the direction in front of him.

Zemekis pulls an interesting trick of contrasting Forrest against other regulars. The nurse who sits on the bench next to Forrest is more interested in reading a mundane two dimensional issue of “People Magazine.” A man listening to Forrest’s tale of rescue in Vietnam was only concerned with the bullet that struck Forrest in the butt, not the men he saved or the loss of his dear friend Bubba. The old codgers who hang around the local barber shop in Greenbough, Alabama just watch the exploits of Forrest as the years go by. Their hair gets grayer and their skin gets more wrinkled, and life just passes them by while Forrest passes life by. It’s a subtle, yet effective, device that I appreciate on repeat viewings.

Sally Field contributes to the disregard Forrest has for menial issues. If Forrest is going to be denied going to a regular school because his intelligence level falls a few points below average, she will make certain that does not interfere even if it means pleasuring the principal. Mama Gump has the wit and intelligence. Forrest does not. However, their commonality shows in their disregard for what keeps us from living life to the fullest. Without Mama as his influence, Forrest would never have met the President again, and again, and again.

Mama reminds Forrest that “Life is like a box of chocolates…” You know the rest! It doesn’t matter what we get, as long as we get what we pursue.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford’s 1994 masterpiece deserves much more recognition than it ever got.

Here, he produced and directed a stellar cast that showed how America was always in it for the competition and for the glory and for the fame and naturally for the money.

Redford opens his film with a car salesman describing the regal elegance and perfection of a 1957 Chrysler convertible. It’s a gorgeous car. Then the potential buyer turns on the radio. The car isn’t so fascinating anymore as a news announcement reveals that Russia beat the United States into space with its launch of Sputnik. All America has now is just a car.

Opening credits roll and the next American sensation is presented, “21,” the most popular show displayed on the greatest invention, a home television set. However, the show is all a lie, and yet by the end it’ll survive along with its network, NBC, and its wealthy sponsors.

Quiz Show foreshadows the cost of fame and attention. It’s a wonderful sensation until it’s stripped away in personal disgrace. John Turturro (how did he not get an Oscar nomination?) is Herb Stemple, the champion, nerdy schlub who is growing tiresome among producers and audiences. He is forced to take a dive and be replaced by the handsome Charles Van Doren played Ralph Fiennes, a member of one of the country’s most intellectually gifted families. The difference in appearance is obvious. So is the desire for a change in programming. What’s obvious is how the two men are exploited as pawns for gain in corporate America. Cheat, but if you call it television, what harm is there really?

The harm falls in public perception. Disgrace comes to these men, and worse, to their families. It mirrors modern stories like Harvey Weinstein, Joe Paterno, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer.

It’s a very calm film that debates the ethics of these men and necessities to uncover the truths and reveal the falsehoods.

Redford only gets aggressive in his period settings and I’m thankful for it. Nothing looks out of place, including the large enthusiastic grins of a 1950s American viewing audience dressed elegantly and innocent. Even nuns and pajama clad children are invested in “21.” This clean cut appearance will soon fade , however, after the quiz show scandal dies down.

Ugly lies and denials were committed against Redford’s beautiful backdrops. Therein lies the necessary conflict of another fascinating story.

Was this country ever innocent?


By Marc S. Sanders

No one can deny that Quentin Tarantino’s classic film, 1994’s Pulp Fiction is one of the greatest screen accomplishments of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s strange, lurid, scary, unforgivingly funny and altogether different from practically anything that came before it. How did the Weinstein brothers with Miramax films prophesize the energy it would surge in mainstream audiences?

When I first saw the film I was apprehensively going with two college friends who insisted I see what they experienced from a prior viewing. Suddenly, I realized that alternate surf 70s rock, black suits, and a kinetic visit to the restaurant known as Jack Rabbit Slims could entertain and make me look further than just a facial close up.

Tarantino entertains the lens of his camera by making his audience the camera. A drug dealer scrambles to find a medical book to awaken a boss’ wife who is dying from a potent heroin overdose, and the camera stands in place only frantically swinging left and right. The camera doesn’t move while everyone in the scene remains in a panic, frightened of administering an adrenaline shot. The camera stands still to allow the audience to stand in the room as well. It’s very unusually funny, but unnerving and suddenly we are amid the clutter of crime and drugs frightened of a terrible fate.

Another scene follows two gangsters down the hall as they debate whether a foot massage equates to fellatio on a woman. They look serious as they earlier regretted bringing shotguns to their destination but here they are having a debate likely reserved for men’s locker room talk. Is a foot massage really worthy of dropping a guy out of a four story window into a glass enclosed garden below? I mean, apparently the poor guy developed a speech impediment.

Tarantino used Pulp Fiction as an excuse to show how criminals inadvertently lead their lives to the unexpected, beyond a cliché cop bust. Two guys might be settling a personal vendetta, but somehow get interrupted by a redneck gang rapist and his chained up “gimp.” Two other guys might be trying to deliver a briefcase and yet somebody’s brains splatter all over the inside of a car. Another guy might have left behind a family heirloom gold watch as he and his girlfriend run for their lives, or they might suddenly acknowledge a moment of clarity when death seemingly walks out of a bathroom door.

Some might not agree but I always consider Tarantino’s colorful film characters to be rather two dimensional. What you see is all you see. There are no hints at an underlying motivation or a background to anyone you meet in Pulp Fiction, or any of his other films. Normally, that’s a negative in my book but with Quentin Tarantino it is what’s expected. He’s a masterful script writer of the situation. A well known fan of kung fu and lurid crime movies of the B variety, gangsters like Vincent Vega, Jules Whitfield, Marsellius Wallace, Butch Coolidge and Winston Wolf (even the names are entertaining) get caught up in just a random moment in time. Beyond the incident nothing else matters, and just to make it fun Tarantino uses his favorite editor, Sally Menke, to scramble everything out of order. I like to think the script was assembled this way to demonstrate that what happens in one instance doesn’t reflect what happens in another. Every brief moment is bookended. Again, two dimensional characters who don’t reach an intended karma. It doesn’t matter what’s been done before or what will be done next. It only matters in the moment.

The cast is great. Likely, you know who all the players are by now. The best compliment is that they obviously listened closely to the director’s vision. They spoke his language which had yet to be very mainstream before this film’s release. They are a pioneering cast of great talent and many owe quite a bit to Tarantino for jump starting and reviving their careers.

Pulp Fiction is a rousing expedition in sin and surf music symphony with endless quotable and un-PC dialogue that revolutionized filmmaking and brought about risk taking movie makers. It’s just exciting and fun and wild and it especially became a favorite upon seeing one of my favorite kinds of scenes-a dance sequence. If you incorporate dancing into a non musical film, you’ll likely win me over.

Spoiler alert: Vincent & Mia win the dance contest, and right they should. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” became that other popular film song once Pulp Fiction hit the scene.

Thank you Quentin Tarantino.


By Marc S. Sanders

The purest form of humanity can be found in some of the most unexpected places. Frank Darabont’s first film, The Shawshank Redemption, based upon a novella by Stephen King is a perfect example of that truth. In a federal prison, the true test of a man’s character is established. Will a prisoner be as cold hearted as the crime he’s been punished for, or will he find a deeper meaning to his existence for himself and those around him? What if this particular man is actually innocent, wrongfully convicted? Will his innocence of crime be upheld?

To experience The Shawshank Redemption is to learn about a community that I am completely unfamiliar with, and I’d bargain most of its viewers are as well. Shawshank prison is not a place I would like to check into. Though many of its residents display heart and comradery, nonetheless. These men likely didn’t know they were capable of such merit until Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) arrived to serve two concurrent life sentences for murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. Andy says he’s innocent without any desperation or urgency because none of that elevated showmanship would make a difference. The evidence and circumstances at trial unfortunately were coincidental to easily sentence Andy for a crime he didn’t commit. Everyone at Shawshank insist they’re innocent. Likely though, Andy is the only one who can genuinely make that claim.

Andy’s introduction to the prison is hard for the first couple of years. He’s consistently beaten and raped by inmates who need to exhaust their sexual tendencies. Fortunately, he sidles up with Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman in maybe my favorite role of his career). Red is the go-to man for contraband resources like whiskey or as Andy requests a small rock hammer and a large poster of Rita Hayworth. Everyone is happy to know a guy like Red. Yet, Andy does not lose sight of his personal value. He was a banker by trade and when an opportunity opens up, he assists the viciously frightening prison guard Byron Hadley (Clancy Brown, who really should have more villainous roles in film beyond his voiceover as Lex Luthor in cartoons) with a legally accepted government tax exemption. More importantly Warden Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton) takes advantage of Andy’s talents to sustain his seemingly innocent money laundering schemes.

There is much education to be had from viewing The Shawshank Redemption. I learned what the term “institutionalized” means from Red’s experience. A man who has served a near half century has become accustomed to prison life. He offers little significance or purpose outside the prison walls. I also learned the value of music and literature and art. It’s needed to survive those lonely nights in a prison cell, or worse in the hole where you can wind up should you step out of line from the Warden’s strict guidelines of adhering to discipline and the Holy Bible. What you hear and what your read stay with you in your heart and mind, offering a most valuable commodity – hope. A life sentence will take away your liberties to walk freely among the masses, but nothing will take away what you’ve absorbed. If you can at least hold on to your memories, then you will never lose hope. Andy reminds Red and his fellow prison inmates of the hope you hold onto no matter how long you are held against your will.

Frank Darabont introduces a spectacular midway scene where Andy finally receives a donation of books and records for a prison library he envisions building for Shawshank. He uncovers a vinyl record of an Italian opera and with complete disregard for rules, he airs the music through the intercom. Darabont gathers gorgeous close ups of the hundreds of prison extras with overhead shots of the yard, woodshop and infirmary. The men freeze for a moment to look up in the sky from where the music is emanating from while mixed in with the soothing voiceover narration from Freeman. It’s a beautifully directed scene. A risky scene for late 20th century audiences who are used to quick cuts of action in their films with powerhouse soundtracks and pop music. Darabont found a way to connect the audience delicately to the film through Andy’s personal values and Red’s learned observations.

The Shawshank Redemption is an exceptional piece of writing. I can’t compare it to King’s source material as I’ve never read the story. Having said that, I’m typically hot and cold on the author’s books and screenplays. Sometimes they go too over the top for me. However, Darabont honed in on a perfect balance of likable characters and honest life within a prison; at least I feel that it’s honest. All men are created with good inside them. What they learn from day one is what can drastically change them and what can come of their sins can revert their instincts. Andy Dufresne is the instrument that redeems the men of Shawshank prison. Tim Robbins is right in this role; maybe his best role for his career as well. He does not underestimate any of the men in Shawshank and keeps to his personal enrichment which he also shares, despite the selfish hypocrisy of those meant to maintain order like the Norton and Hadley.

Morgan Freeman is the man who is becoming more and more institutionalized to prison life, always failing to get paroled for a murder he committed when he was a young and stupid kid. If not for Robbins’ melancholy performance as Andy, Freeman’s performance as Red would not realize a new kind of importance for himself. In fact, many of the inmates wouldn’t be able to acknowledge what they are capable of or what they mean in the world they live in without Red, but more importantly Andy as well. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins make for one of the best on screen couples in film history. Their chemistry is magical. Any scene between them can be studied for the weight of emotion or lack there of which the two actors carry. They both went on to win Oscars later in their career, respectively from a pair of Clint Eastwood projects actually, but the argument can be said that the awards should have come their way for Darabont’s film.

The ending to The Shawshank Redemption is an unforgettable and unexpected piece of storytelling that never seems to imply itself before the reveal and yet pleasantly makes so much sense. Maybe the one convenience to build to it’s winning conclusion stems from the location of Andy’s cell within Shawshank prison. Bah!!!! I dismiss that little contrivance to allow me to joyously appreciate this film over and over again.

There are ironies and unfortunate moments to see in The Shawshank Redemption. Still, there are revelations and opportunities to cheer and feel better about yourself when watching the movie. It’s one of the most uplifting films you will ever see. It’s inspiring and imaginative. Most of all it is smart and defiant. The Shawshank Redemption never believes in despair. It only grasps upon the hope of its characters. The Shawshank Redemption is a must see film.