A film that will entertain while at the same time make you think

What it’s about

Lieutenant Hanna, a detective played by Al Pacino, decides to catch a highly intelligent seasonal criminal, played by Robert De Niro, who has vowed to pull off one last robbery before he retires for good.

What you will learn from watching it

​Heat is based on the true story of Neil McCauley and Detective Chuck Adamson from back in 1964, McCauley was a calculating criminal and was an ex-inmate of Alcatraz, Detective Chuck Adamson was the man who caught him.

What makes this film perhaps a really interesting proposition is that though poetic licence has been used to make the story more dramatic, there is a lot of truth in the account of what happened, which is rare for a Hollywood film.

For example, in the film Al Pacino who plays Chuck Adamson and Robert De Niro who plays McCauley, meet one-time for a coffee. This actually happened. The next time they meet in the film guns are drawn. This also is true, in real life the next time they met guns were drawn.

Obviously also the film is set in the 90s rather than the 60s, but ignoring that by Hollywood standards this is a fairly decent account of what went down. In terms of what in my view you can learn from watching this film, besides an interesting account of a true crime story, is the power of the bad guy.

To explain, what makes this film interesting is the fact that no person can watch it and not find themselves rooting for the bad guy. You will really want Robert De Niro’s character to get away with it and escape to his new life with his girl.

Based on what he has done, you should not want this to happen, you know you should not want this to happen, there are literally no grounds to justify his actions, and yet you most definitely do want this to happen.

The way I see this film is a perfect example of how bad guys no matter how bad they are when shown and seen in a certain light can feel like the good guys, and because of that you find yourself rooting for them.

In a way it is like the famous saying, bad guys don’t see themselves as bad guys, they see themselves as good guys, which is why at times they can seem so attractive. For example, Al Capone genuinely saw himself as a good guy, he thought he was helping people to have a good time and because of it was working in the interests of the people.

He was not a good guy, selling the alcohol illegally was one thing, but all the killing and the evil crimes he committed were another entirely. But if he told his story the way he wanted to tell it, so from his perspective, no doubt he would argue that every crime he committed was in the interests of the greater good and that he really was a good guy and no doubt he would be able to sell his argument with such strength that you might actually believe him, which at the time a lot of people did.

It is so easy to get taken in by a bad guy, in my view this film shows you just how easy and that for me makes it a great watch. The fact it is such a great film is the cherry on the cake.

Is the story any good

There are a number of angles going on in this film, on the one hand you have the breakdown of Al Pacino’s relationship with his wife, on the other hand you have Robert De Niro’s character realising he does not want to live a life alone, and so is looking for love.

Added to the cat and mouse game that De Niro and Pacino play, it has to be said this film makes for a highly compelling watch but the character that you end up rooting for is without question like said De Niro.

And that is why this is such a good story, because like said you should not be rooting for him. Yet the way the story is told makes you root for him while at the same time making you feel like you shouldn’t be rooting for him.

Final words

Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, even a young Natalie Portman, the roll call in this film to say the least is filled with some great actors. And for good reason, this is a brilliant film. It should be said that if you don’t like nitty-gritty crime dramas which are driven more by the actors rather than the effects team, then you will probably find this film boring, but if you do like nitty-gritty crime dramas which are driven by the actors rather than special effects, then you’ll most probably like this film, maybe even love it.

For that reason from me this film gets a big thumbs up.

Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Michael Mann

Genre: crime, drama, thriller

Year: 1995

Runtime: 172 minutes


The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

A decent if not very basic look at a legendary Queen

What it’s about

Loosely based on true events. Freedom fighter Rani of Jhansi shifts the balance of power by leading her people into battle against the British Empire in 1857 India. Her insurrection set in motion the demise of the British East India Company.

What you will learn from watching it

​This film is done very well in regards to providing a very simplistic snapshot of the political situation in the providence of Jhansi in regards to the rule of the British East India company, it also captures very well what really went so wrong with the British East India company.

But before getting onto that, one thing is clear there is nothing in-depth about this, so this is a very very simplistic near enough back of a cigarette packet look at the situation of the time, so what caused the uprising in the mid-1800s and how the British East India company responded to it. It is also a very PG look, so this is a very light story which considering that it covers subjects like mass rape and murder, as well as a fifteen-year-old Queen marrying a much older king, may lead some to wonder whether the film does the story justice.

But on the flipside this is a film that younger people could quite easily watch, and I imagine if I had a youngest daughter this would be a great film to watch with her. And that’s because this is a story that is very much of the inspirational sort, a film which shows that even in the past there truly were women who could kick ass and inspire.

Now to how it shows quite well just what was so wrong with the leadership of the British East India Company, perhaps the best example comes when one of the shareholders proudly states that he is sixth generation shareholder. Meaning he sure as hell did not earn his role.

This is a clever piece of dialogue because in a very simple way it highlights one of the biggest problems of the British Empire, and that was how the people running it rarely earned their position and more often, in fact pretty much in every case inherited it, and the more this happened the more the Empire fell into decay and the more wrongdoings the Empire ended up committing. For example what led to the Indian uprising in the first place was a catastrophic error on the part of the British East India Company – the bullets were made using cow and pig fat, something which was sacrilege to the Indians of the time.

But like said this it is very much a back of the packet of cigarettes telling of what happened and what the situation was. But it gives that packet of cigarettes type review in a very clear and intelligible way, making it a great starting point for perhaps someone young to gain knowledge of a very inspirational historical figure, but for the adult market perhaps lacking in depth.

Is the story any good

Director Swati Bhise has created a hit and miss film, the drama and storytelling is quite good but at the same time it feels that such powerful historical figure of Rani Laxmibai deserved a more in-depth story, something that really got into the nitty-gritty of just who she was, the hurdles she had to face, and just what she had to overcome to truly become the Warrior Queen.

But like said as a PG version it works, and is a fun and inspiring story. The only real letdown is the fight scenes, firstly she slaughters British troops in a way similar to how Arnold Schwarzenegger kills the bad guys in a typical action flick.

The difference of course is whereas in Arnold’s world firstly due to his size he does look like he could do some damage, but secondly due to the type of films he stars in these types of unrealistic feats are expected.

In this film not only does it not seem believable that Devika Bhise’s Queen Rani could do the type of damage that she does, at the same time it doesn’t feel the type of film where you would expect such feats to be possible.

For example, in one scene at the end she is surrounded by British troops and my first thought was why the heck did one of the troops just shoot her, surely they would have done.

In a typical action flick you would not think such a thing because you expect such things from that type of film, the problem this film has you expect a little bit of realism but in the fight scenes it just feels like there is none and it pushes poetic licence just a little bit too far.

Really I think the problem is the director seemed to be unable to decide whether she wanted this to be a film based on realism or a fantasy version of it. So something that turns the Warrior Queen more into a mythical figure than a real figure. At times it feels like you are being asked to see this as a realistic tale, at other times it feels like you are being asked to see this as a mythical tale.

But ignoring this if you look past the fight scenes, this still tells a decent story.

Final words

If you are interested in learning a little bit about British/Indian history specifically the uprising in the mid-1800s but do not want to go in depth in your learning, this film presents a decent solution by telling the story of a person who is in effect a true real life kick ass Queen. But remember when watching this not to expect anything in depth, this is just like I say a very simple back of a cigarette packet style look at one of history’s great figures. It is also very PG which means it is great for perhaps showing to a young daughter as means of inspiration but not so great for someone wanting a more in-depth look at a legendary historical figure.

But despite that this film still gets a thumbs up from me, as it is a fun watch.

Director: Swati Bhise

Writer: Devika Bhise, Swati Bhise, Olivia Emden

Genre: historical drama, action

Year: 2019

Runtime: 104 minutes

Meet Joe Black

Death falls in love with the living threatening deadly consequences

What it’s about

Disguised as a human, Grim Reaper Joe Black comes to Earth to escort back the soul of media tycoon William Parrish. But Joe’s fascinating journey ends with him falling in love with William’s daughter.

What you will learn from watching it

​This is one of those films that most definitely will make you think specifically about the merits of love at first sight. And the way it goes about making you question the merits of it is simply genius.

A man and a woman meet in a coffee shop and really hit it off, then unbeknownst to that woman the man gets knocked over by a car. He is dead but death wanting to experience life takes over the man’s body and becomes Joe Black.

What follows is a fascinating love story, the woman turns out to be Susan Parrish the daughter of William Parrish who death has decided will be the man to teach him about the living world.

The question is does Susan Parrish love the man from the coffee shop or does she love death? This film is an investigation into that answer and a fascinating one at that, which will most definitely make you think.

Is the story any good

The story is loosely based on the 1934 classic novel death takes a holiday. However, Martin Brest who directed this film when talking about it mentioned that for years he had wanted to bring this film to life but struggled to find a way to make the premise work on screen, which likely explains why it went through eight different writers before it finally came to screen.

The premise is a fascinating one, and is along the lines of what would happen if death fell in love with the living and the only way for them to be together was for death to take the life of the person he loves but the person that he loves does not know that he is death, but instead thinks that death is the man that they fell in love with at first sight in a coffee shop one day?

Pretty long-winded and pretty complex which is no doubt why it went through eight different writers, it is also likely why the runtime is a staggering 181 minutes for what is at heart a very basic story.

But at its heart this is a very beautiful story, about a father’s love for his daughter, and in reality that’s what this film is a story about a father fighting to keep his daughter out of the hands of death.

This is very much an arty film but Anthony Hopkins performance is simply superb, Brad Pitt also puts in a stonking effort as death. The soundtrack for the movie composed by Thomas Newman is also extremely beautiful.

Meaning this is a beautiful story which is backed up with a beautiful soundtrack with excellent acting by the main characters. Which means yes the story is very good.

Final words

With a brilliant premise and a brilliant story normally I would be saying if you like stories about love then you should watch this film.

However, it should be noted that this film very much needs to be watched with a pinch of salt mentality, that means if you are a person that likes to tear a film apart then in all probability you will find this film a drag.

But if you are a person who is able to watch a film and see it for what it is, and you enjoy watching films about love then you will most definitely love this film.

That means this film gets a solid thumbs up from me, with a reminder that this is a three hour long love story.

Director: Martin Brest

Writer: Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman

Genre: drama, romance and fantasy

Year: 1998

Runtime: 181 minutes

Schindler’s List

One of the Most Remarkable Stories in History

What it’s about

Based on a true story. Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, tries to save his Jewish employees after witnessing the persecution of Jews in Poland.

What you will learn from watching it

​Arguably no other story captures the horrors of the Holocaust and the fight to survive it better than this one. And no person who watches this film will ever see the world in the same way again. The fact it is based on a true story makes it all the more harrowing.

Is it a one hundred percent accurate portrayal, no but the main narrative which shows what Oscar Schindler did and many of the obstacles he had to face in an effort to keep his Jewish workforce alive.

Meaning what this film does is present a solid snapshot of what it would have been like for Oscar Schindler and his workforce in Nazi German, and the lengths he had to go to to keep his Jewish workforce alive.

Is the story any good

The story was derived from a Booker prize-winning novel by Thomas Keneally, entitled Schindler’s Ark which presented a fictionalised account of the true story of Oscar Schindler.

The novel was in itself completely and entirely remarkable for its brilliance in telling this true story, and in the translation to film none of this brilliance has been lost.

Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Stevens Zaillian have combined brilliantly to bring this on to the big screen, and Liam Neeson puts in a dazzling performance as Oscar Schindler.

To say the least all in all this story is absolutely brilliant. Perhaps its greatest strength is that rather than turning it into a story of tragedy, it is a story in which there is an enormous tragedy but this is not a story of tragedy it is a story of the most human kind, where a man fights in his own way to keep alive those who a monstrous regime wishes to slaughter.

Final words

If you like dramas and stories of how one man through the choices he makes truly does have the power to make a difference then this is the film for you. The fact it is in black-and-white may put some people off, the fact it is a story of the Holocaust may but some people off, but in both cases this would be a mistake because this is truly an amazing story.

That means, without a shadow of a doubt this film gets super-sized thumbs up from me.

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Steven Zaillian

Genre: biography, drama, historical

Year: 1993

Runtime: 195 minutes

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Ultimate Proof That Friendship Has No Prejudice

What it’s about

Bruno is the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp during WWII. His friendship with a Jewish boy he meets across the fence leads to unexpected consequences.

What you will learn from watching it

​This film brilliantly captures the horrors of the Holocaust and the madness of it without utilising any real violence.

But it is not the Holocaust or the atrocities of the Nazi’s that people will take from this film, what they will take from this film is a most beautiful but also heart-wrenching reality about friendship, and that reality which is shown without a hint of preaching is that hate is learnt and friendship truly does have no prejudice.

Is the story any good

Mark Herman directed this film and adapted the story from the novel of the same name which is written by John Boyne. And what a good job he has done, the story is both beautiful, poignant and completely and entirely heart wrenching.

A rare spoiler alert, this film will break your heart but in doing so it will open your mind to a reality that is so empowering it is worth the price.

And that is the power of the story, you know what is going to happen all the way through, you may hope for a different outcome, but you know what is going to happen and yet you can’t stop watching because the friendship that is growing between the two boys on either side of the fence, a Jewish boy and the son of a Nazi commander is such a beautiful friendship.

Final words

If you love stories of the most human kind, then you will love this film. But be warned, if you’re looking for a film that will leave you feeling happy at the end, this is not for you. But if you’re looking for a story that will change the way you see the world, then this is one of those, because it’s a damn guarantee that after watching this you will never look at a person who thinks differently to you in the same way again.

That means, without a shadow of a doubt this film gets monumental thumbs up from me.

Director: Mark Herman

Writer: Mark Herman

Genre: drama, history, war

Year: 2008

Runtime: 94 minutes

Twelve Years a Slave

Riveting Tale about the Human Cost of Slavery

What it’s about

Based on a true story. Solomon Northup, a free African-American, is promised a fortnightly job by Brown and Hamilton. However, after arriving in Washington DC, he realises that he has been sold into slavery.

What you will learn from watching it

This film provides an excellent insight into the human cost of slavery and does very well at avoiding telling people what to think by focusing simply on telling a story and allowing the viewer to form an opinion.

It also does well at avoiding making this a story solely about skin colour, there are just people and some are bad, some are good and some are slaves, it is just in this story the slaves are black and that’s why they are slaves.

A worthy winner of the best picture Oscar as no person who watches this can watch it without by the end coming to the conclusion that if the world was a certain way, they could have been Solomon.

Is the story any good

The story from this film is derived from the real-life memoirs of Solomon Northup, which was a bestseller back in its day in the 1850s. Despite this the book fell into relative obscurity until Louisiana University in the 1960s released a historically annotated version which thrust it back into public knowledge.

The memoirs provided an extensive account of just what it was like working as a slave in the deep South, as well as detailing Solomons experiences working on plantations. Considering this it is easy to see how this film could quite easily have turned into a history lesson that brilliantly presented what it was like for slaves in the deep South, but was boring as hell to watch.

Thankfully that does not happen as screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve McQueen have managed to find that perfect balance between focusing on the story while at the same time presenting an accurate image of the past.

What that means is this is very much a human story, and it is a human story that is told very well, so much so Solomon could have existed in any time and have been any person. And in that is the power of this story, and why it is such a brilliant one.

Final words

If you like historical dramas and are interested in learning about the slave trade, specifically what it was like for those trapped in it, then you will definitely like this film. But as this is very much a human story if you like dramas of the human kind then you will in all probability like this film, meaning this is a film which transcends its genre.

That means, all in all this film gets a solid thumbs up from me.

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley

Genre: biography, drama, historical

Year: 2013

Runtime: 134 minutes


Time travel thriller like no other

What it’s about

In the near future, the mob sends their victims back in time to get them executed by the loopers. Joe, one such looper, finds himself to be the victim of his own actions.

What you will learn from watching it

The concept is one moment has the power to define a person’s life, and in that moment a person may turn out to be good or bad. This is a fact that everyone knows to be true but the way it is shown in this film really drives home just how true it is.

Also the way this film shows the contrast between who you are today and who you may be tomorrow, and how you may react to each other should you meet is really quite brilliant.

Whether you will learn anything from watching this film though is debatable, one thing is clear it will most definitely make you think and as we always say here at Story Maniacs that is only ever a good thing.

Is the story any good

This is a very clever film which does its very best not to be confusingly clever, some may argue that it has succeeded in doing just that others may argue otherwise. But one thing is indisputable, and that is that the premise of this film is brilliant and is delivered in a smooth digestible fashion, a fact that writer/director Rian Johnson deserves much credit for.

That means the story is allowed to flow without hindrance meaning whether you understand what is going on in regards to the time travel is not important in regards to the entirely human story at the heart of this film.

And the story at the heart of this film, which is a grim but poignant story about the power of a mother’s love for her son and just how much that love can define a life, is one that will touch the heart strings of even the toughest of souls.

Final words

If you like time travel thrillers you will definitely like this film, but though this film has time travel in it, it is not a film about time travel, it simply uses time travel to push home its narrative and that narrative is an entirely human story about the power of love to define a life. If that’s something that appeals to you then you will like this film.

But be warned, this is not a happy film and in fact throughout makes for grim watching. So powerful and poignant it may be, but happy it is not. But poignant stories rarely are, at least in the world of film therefore that should not be held against it.

That means, all in all this film gets a thumbs up from me.

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Genre: action, drama, sci-fi

Year: 2012

Runtime: 119 minutes

Apollo 13

Nailbiting True Story of the Fated Mission to the Moon

What it’s about

Astronauts Lovell, Haise and Swigert of the Apollo 13 moon mission find themselves stranded when their spacecraft gets damaged. NASA must now find a way to bring them back before it is too late.

What you will learn from watching it

This film tells the true story of the fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon, one of its great selling points is the sheer level of technical authenticity there is in this film. That means unlike most films which are based on true stories, this one actually presents an accurate account of what actually happened and just how those involved overcame near insurmountable odds to bring to bring the doomed mission home.

Obviously the characters themselves despite the actors playing real people are fictionalised to an extent for the purposes of the narrative. But this does not take away from the fact that this film shows a true event in history, and in nailbiting fashion accurately portrays what it was like for those three astronauts stuck in space and the team on the ground trying to get them back down.

All in all, if you wish to understand the sheer amount of effort and ingenuity needed to get a man to the moon and back again, and just how much more effort is needed still to bring them home should something go wrong, then this film will leave you with little doubt as to the answer.

It also captures brilliantly the fickle nature of human interest in a subject, especially around the lack of interest in the follow up trips to the moon. But perhaps the greatest thing seen in this film is just how when a life is in danger people will rally round all around the world in an effort to save that life. The fact it is based on a true story and this really happened makes it all the more empowering to watch.

Is the story any good

Some films based on true stories, especially those that focus on technical authenticity end up being bore fests to any person without a deep interest in the subject.

This is not one of those films. The true story is an amazing story in itself, and this film captures that story in nailbiting fashion and presents it in a way that even people without an interest in the subject can digest.

Both director Ron Howard and screenplay writers William Broyles Jr and Al Reinert who derived the story from Jim Lovell and journalist Jeffrey Kluger’s book of the events of the fated mission deserve much credit for that fact.

Final words

If you are interested in spaceflight, and like films full of nailbiting drama, then this is definitely a film for you. And even if you are not interested in spaceflight if you like films which show the ingenuity of man in overcoming the odds then you will like this film.

That means, all in all this film gets a big thumbs up from me.

Director: Ron Howard

Writers: William Broyles Jr and Al Reinert

Genre: adventure, drama, history

Year: 1995

Runtime: 140 minutes


A Brilliant Look at One of History’s Greatest Practitioners of Nonviolence

What it’s about

A lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, returns to British India from South Africa. He begins a nationwide campaign of non-violent resistance against the British rule, pressuring Britain to liberate India.

What you will learn from watching it

This film is not a documentary as such of Gandhi it is more a snapshot of his motivations and methods for bringing about independence, but in that is its power.

The majority of texts about Gandhi which that are worth reading are long and detailed, which means they are either unappealing or inaccessible to the majority of people, especially those with only a passing interest.

This film provides the solution to that problem. By presenting what it was Gandhi was fighting for, how he fought for it and what it was he had to overcome to achieve his goal, and presenting all that in an easy to watch narrative, any person can gain a simple understanding of just who Gandhi was.

And that’s what people will gain from watching this film, a basic insight into just who Gandhi was and what it was he fighting for.

Is the story any good

To put it simply, yes. Gandhi’s real-life story in itself is an amazing story, and the way a small part of his story is told in this film captures that brilliance, a fact that both director Richard Attenborough and writer John Briley deserve much credit for.

It is both riveting and gripping throughout, and most definitely does a good job of making clear just how not black-and-white things that we believe should be black-and-white are.

Final words

Whether you are interested in Gandhi as a person or not, this film is still most definitely worth watching even if only for gaining an understanding of the power of nonviolence for bringing about change.

That means, all in all this film gets a big thumbs up from me.

Director: Richard Attenborough

Writer: John Briley

Genre: biography, drama, historical

Year: 1982

Runtime: 170 minutes

Saving Private Ryan

Visual Masterpiece with the Most Human of Stories

What it’s about

During the Normandy invasion of World War II, Captain John Miller is assigned the task of searching for Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have already been killed in the war.

What you will learn from watching it

This film captures brilliantly just how grim World War II was, meaning if you don’t already understand just how grim war can be then this film makes it abundantly clear.

It also via use of the sole survivor directive which the US military practice shows just how difficult it is to choose which lives to save and which to sacrifice during war.

So there is much we can learn from this film, but this film’s strength is not in its ability to teach us something but more in its ability to make us think, and any film that can make you think has the power to change the way you think. Making this a very compelling watch for any person looking for a film that will help make them think about things in a way they perhaps otherwise would not have done so.

Is the story any good

Visually speaking this film is a masterpiece in the way it presents such a realistic and vivid account of what it was like on the front line during World War II. The opening sequence is especially impressive for its realism, basically Steven Spielberg has knocked it out of the park on the cinematography side of things.

But what makes this film stand out is it has substance to go with those visuals, as it tells an extremely powerful story which asks the question is it right to risk the lives of other soldiers to save one soldier, simply because that one soldier has lost all his siblings. 

And it tells that story in a very good way. Which means yes the story is really good, which means writer Robert Rodat who penned the script has also along with Spielberg in his cinematography knocked it out of the park.

Final words

If you like war films, without a doubt. Even if you dislike war films, as long as you can stomach the grimness it is still likely worth watching because like said from a story perspective it tells a brilliant tale.

That means this film gets a definite thumbs up from me.

Director: Stephen Spielberg

Writer: Robert Rodat

Genre: drama, action, war

Year: 1998

Runtime: 170 minutes