Stand By Me – 25th Anniversary Blu-ray – Review

Stand By Me (1986) 

Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Wil WheatonRiver PhoenixCorey FeldmanJerry O’ConnellKiefer SutherlandRichard Dreyfuss.

25th years after its released a new brand remastered version with a great PiP commentary comes out on Blu-Ray tomorrow.

I find incredibly difficult to review “Stand By Me” without being completely biased and detached, the way a real film critic should be. But then again, I am not a real film critic, I’m just a film lover (and a geek, of course!) and most of the time my response to a film is an emotional one: if it makes me laugh or cry or think then it means that it worked on me; but if it makes me laugh and cry and think, then there is something more to it too!

Basically let me just tell you upfront: I adore this film!

The word classic gets over-used these days. Any anniversary is an excuse to re-release any piece of junk that’s more than 20 years old. Most of those films carry that cheesy sense of nostalgia for the 80s, and that’s sometimes enough for them to appropriate a cult status. But when you look at them closely, you’ll find that they have aged quite badly, either technically (terrible matte paintings, visual effects or synthesized music) or stylistically (Their look, the clothes and the hairstyles people are wearing and the corny dialogue nobody seemed to mind so much at the time).

However “Stand by me” has the advantage of being a period piece (It is set in 1959) and its simple, subtle and honest depiction of the 60s not only hides away the cheesiness of the 80s but also adds a sense of timelessness. The film is 25 years old, but it could just as well be 35 or 45 … and yet it still relates all of us as if it was made yesterday…

I loved it at the time, for its sheer sense of fun, adventure and mischief and I love it today for its poignant look at the way we were…

It’s the ultimate coming of age story, set in the hazy, warm, sunny and dreamy landscape of Oregon, as 4 friends set out on a journey along the railway tracks, looking for the body of a missing boy.

The film is adapted by a short novel by Stephen King, from the book “Four Seasons” (The Shawshank Redemption was also adapted from the same book) and like all the best tales from King, finds its strength in the way the characters are fleshed out: rarely have teenagers so very well depicted like in “Stand by Me”. The contrast between the way they try to act as adults in front of each other, by smoking or swearing (“Go get the food, you morphodite”) and the way they reveal their real age by talking about the most childish and mundane things and yet making them sound profound and meaningful (MightyMouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy!).

Behind all that, there’s a pure, sincere and real sense of friendship that permeates the whole film.

That line at the end on that computer screen “I never had friends like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” resonates in all of us and it’s one of the most poignant and truthful line I can remember in any film.

The interaction between the four young actors is the real power of “Stand By Me”: never for a moment you think they might be acting. Will Wheaton’s take as the sensitive Gordie is impeccable. The way he pauses before delivering his lines, how he smiles and looks at his best friends, how he proudly tells them the story of Lard-Ass, how he breaks down into tears at the sudden realization that his parents might hate him and finally how coldly threatens Kiefer Sutherland‘s terrifying bully, without even flinching (suck my fat one, you cheap die store hood!).

Both Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell are also spot on in their roles, bringing not only that amount of comic relief needed but also that sense of playfulness that kids at that age have (I don’t shut up I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!)

But ultimately it’s River Phoenix that steals the show. The poignancy and sincerity he brings to the role of Chris Chambers is even more enhanced today by the ending of the film and as we see him fading away in the distance and we’re just left with a sour taste of what an incredible actor he could have become.

Beautifully photographed, as seen from the dreamy eyes of an adult (in this case Richard Dreyfuss) who’s obviously very fond of those memories, the film is also accompanied by the most wonderful soundtrack, a mixture of hits from the time, perfectly integrated into the film (like the moment the kids break into signing “lollipop“) and the actual score made up with a subtle slowed down version of the “Stand By Me” itself by Ben E.King

This film is a real little gem , a small masterpiece, dare_I-say, that works because of its charming and honest simplicity. You could easily argue against some of the clichés and the non-very-subtle depiction of Gordie’s family and the ever-too-perfect-dead-older-brother or obvious lines like “The town seemed different: smaller“, but it would be like arguing that Snow-White is a two-dimensional character, or that Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the cuckoos’ Nest” is an unbelievable bitch: basically it would be pointless.

Reiner’s  film is a true undeniable classic, a nostalgic look at the way we were, in a time of innocence when friendship really meant something and when the most important question was “if Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?

9.5/10

If you Agree, or disagree, do let me know and leave me a message.

If you enjoy this review, do leave a message (… Actually I guess you should leave one even if you didn’t…)

The Way Back – Review

THE WAY BACK  

Directed by Peter Weir. Starring Jim SturgessColin FarrellDejan AngelovDragos BucurEd HarrisMark Strong

Based on a supposedly true memoir (possibly even ghostwritten) by Slavomir Rawicz called The Long Walk, (no, not the one by Stephen King), it tells the story of a polish prisoner and his companions escaping labour camp in Siberia in the 1940s and basically walking all the way across, Mongolia, China, the Himalayas and then into India.

I am sure your geography is pretty good, but just to refresh it a little bit I took the liberty of attaching a map to this post, just to show you how bloody far it is!!

It is an amazing story, so amazing that people argue whether it’s actually true or not. However, the movie goes beyond all that: yes it is a story about the journey, but also about the human endurance, about bonding with friends,  and ultimately about people prevailing over the adversities.

I find this film particularly hard to review: I saw it a few days ago, but resisted from writing anything about it, as I wanted to wait for the film to sink in.

My first reaction was that the pace  of the film seemed to be a bit off. It is a long one for sure, and yet I felt, for the first time in a while, that actually it could have gained more pathos by being even a touch longer. I couldn’t help feeling there must be a lot of material somewhere in the editing room that didn’t quite make the final cut, most of which at the expense of the characters and their relation with one another.

It all seemed oddly fast in places. For example, in one scene people argue with each other, in the next one (few days later) they were all talking normally. At some point they were all suspicious about a new girl joining their group, the next moment they were talking to her and revealing their deepest emotions.

This particularly happens towards the beginning of the film and it made me feel a bit uneasy about it all.

I do wonder if it would have been better to get rid off one of the characters and concentrate more on the fewer of them. It’s interesting to notice that well into the film I still had no idea how many people were actually on the journey and who was who.

I can’t wait to see a possible director’s cut on DVD (or even better ono BluRay): I’m sure the film could only improve by being a little bit more drawn out. I can’t quite believe I’m hearing myself saying that, but it is after all a film about an incredible long journey, so it’s fair enough to have a film which feels  just as long.

Having said all this, the whole thing just looks beautiful! I was quite surprised to see the National Geographic logo at the front, but having seen the film, somehow it all makes sense. Those grand landscapes and vistas make it look like one of their best documentaries.

Performances are strong throughout. Jim Sturgess was chosen by the director on the basis of “Across the Universe” (a film which has been panned in this country and yet loved in many others… in which case I’d consider myself a foreigner).  Colin Farrell is the quirkiest of the all (what a surprise) and I really enjoyed watching him. And Ed Harris, who plays his age, pulls out one of the most rounded characters of the whole piece.

I was also a bit surprised to see a caption at the front of the film basically giving away the ending ( I won’t do here, don’t worry) which actually, when it finally comes, feels rushed and a bit “tagged on” and left me with a slight sour taste in my mouth.

And it’s a real shame, because on the whole, this is a solid film, quite understated (including the music, which could have gone so syrupy/hollywood grand and instead, thankfully was kept quite restrained) , with a good story and good performances. I would recommend it to anyone., even though it might not make it to the Oscars…

7/10

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