Thrillers & Action Adventure
Christopher Nolan has become so famous for directing grand, mind-bending action movies, it is hard to remember that he started with small-scale films like Memento. The film follows an amnesiac named Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), who is looking for one of the men who murdered his wife and clubbed him over the head. Because he cannot store short term memories, however, he must conduct his investigation using notes he doesn’t remember writing — many of which are tattooed on his body — and photos he doesn’t remember taking. Memento is told through two sequences –one running backward, one forward — as Leonard tries to piece together the events of the film. Although it lacks the scope of his more recent works, Memento is as thought-provoking as any of Nolan’s films, a taut thriller built around a unique premise.
Just like the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, Jurassic Park takes place on a remote island owned by businessman John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), where a group of scientists have used cloning and genetic manipulation to bring several species of dinosaur back from extinction in attempt to create a safari-like theme park. Hammond invites his grandchildren, and a trio of scientists — paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and eccentric mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) — to visit the park and witness the biological marvels up close. What begins as an awe-inspiring tour through history suddenly becomes a struggle for survival, however, when one mischievous employee releases the carnivorous dinosaurs. Spielberg’s landmark film remains a beloved classic, with captivating special effects that look just as good today as they did in ’93.
Captain America: Civil War
The opening salvo of the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, predictably, spectacular. The titular “civil war” occurs when the opinions of Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) differ regarding control of the Avengers. The two leaders recruit teams for the ensuing clash, with characters such as Spiderman and the Black Panther making their first appearances in the MCU. However, despite the film’s cacophony of special effects and adrenaline-touched sequences, it somehow manages to balance an upwards of 10 comic book characters with plenty of gusto, while presenting a throng of thought-provoking ideas in its wake. Civil War represents Marvel at it’s most entertaining, and, dare we say, mature.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Honestly, who thought a film based on a popular Disney attraction was going to be any good? That said, it surprised moviegoers and the populace as a whole with a score of iconic swashbuckling and classic pirate clichés that ultimately paved the way for far too many sequels. The premise for the original blockbuster centers on one Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who sets out alongside pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue Keira Knightley from the crew of undead pirates that call the Black Pearl home. Most of the performances are so-so, yet Depp’s is so original and iconic that he makes Geoffrey Rush’s nutty portrayal as Captain Barbarossa seem tame. The constant slurring and borderline drunken behavior certainly add to the effect.
Jake Gyllenhaal has done exemplary work in the past — take Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain, for instance– but nothing quite compares to his eerie performance as TV stringer Louis “Lou” Bloom in Nightcrawler. The modern thriller, a resounding success for first-time director Dan Gilroy, follows an amateur journalist and former thief as he trolls the mean streets of Los Angeles looking for heinous accidents and crimes to capture on film. Gilroy’s script and vision is both dark and thought-provoking, however, it’s Gyllenhaal’s twisted charisma and his sordid actions as he navigates the unseemly business that truly bring the film to the forefront of recent neo-noir films.
The African Queen
The African Queen, first released in 1951, is a star-studded Hollywood classic. Directed by John Huston and co-starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn — two silver-screen legends — the film still holds up more than 60 years later. It was adapted from the C.S. Forester novel of the same name, and takes place East Africa in 1914. In the film, Bogart plays the surly captain of The African Queen, a steamboat that routinely delivers provisions and mail to a British missionary (Hepburn) in the remote village of Kungdu.
Once World War I ensues, however, Hepburn is stuck in enemy territory with nowhere to hide. Bogart agrees to help her escape on board his ship, and the former eventually convinces Bogart that the two must do their part to support the British war effort by sinking a nearby German warship. Disheveled and stuck within the limited confines of The African Queen, Bogart and Hepburn deliver one of the best dialogue-driven performances of the era — one that garnered Bogart his only Oscar. Needless to say, watching two masters of the craft share a stage isn’t something you see everyday.
Once Upon a Time in the West
Once Upon a Time in the West is the direct result of the late Sergio Leone trying to retire from the same genre that made him an international icon in the mid-’60s. It’s a spaghetti Western at heart, one pertaining to an unyielding gunslinger named Frank (Henry Fonda) and the Western expansion of the railroad, but it also represents a notable shift from Leone’s earlier work. Regardless, its profound influence on filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese cannot be overstated, nor can its subtle irony or the ample references to previous Westerns and literature.