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Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, Niall Buggy
Screenplay: John Boorman
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Music: David Munrow
Editing: John Merritt
Director: John Boorman
After the success of Deliverance, director John Boorman could film just about anything he wanted, and so we get a passion project, Zardoz, a science fiction film about an Earth that in 2293 is divided between the Eternals and the Brutals. The Eternals are immortal but this comes at the price of having little purpose and some occasional side effects (rapid senility or catatonia). The Brutals live in a wasteland, growing food for the Eternals and being paid for it in weapons, which…didn’t any of the Eternals think that one through??
Out of their ranks emerges a special Brutal, Zed (Connery, with an outrageous ponytail and skimpy, nug-hugging outfit), who is experimented on by two female Eternals and searches for the secrets of the Tabernacle, a sentient crystal they worship. Once he destroys the Tabernacle, the other Brutals rise up and kill most of the Eternals, with Zed and his former Eternal, Consuela (Rampling), going off to raise a family in a cave.
Boorman knows how to engage an audience, as with the opening scene, where a giant, floating stone head appears before the Brutals, who chant about the gun being good, the penis being evil. And the film is always fun to watch, with trippy visuals and editing. Certainly Boorman has some interesting ideas here, despite the conceit of this world being inspired by The Wizard of Oz seeming like a stoned initial idea that doesn’t survive to make much sense in the actual script. It could be that Boorman’s having a laugh, or maybe he got so close to the project he didn’t see how silly it all was, but it is definitely silly. Mostly it’s a harmless kind of silliness, but I can’t think of any other film where Connery looked so foolish. And I don’t just mean his outfit and hair, though yes, it’s the worst he’s looked, but in his performance, he seems to be giving it a real go, to really committing, and he’s committing to nonsense. At least in his other films, Bond and otherwise, there’s a kind of knowing wink, like he’s in on the joke. He’s not in on this joke, and so you’re a little embarrassed for him.
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Frank Morgan, James Craig, Van Johnson, Donna Reed, John Craven, Darryl Hickman, Ray Collins
Screenplay: Howard Estabrook, Based on the Novel by William Saroyan
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Music: Herbert Stothart
Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Director: Clarence Brown
An extremely sentimental MGM drama about goodness and homespun American values, as exemplified by the Macauley family in fictional Ithaca, CA. Homer (Rooney) is a scrappy high school student and telegraphy delivery boy, holding down the fort while older brother Marcus (Johnson) joins the Navy and trains for war. Marcus befriends Toby, an orphan, and speaks so vividly of his family and Ithaca that Toby has a feeling of home and family he’s never known. Other little dramas involve Homer’s boss, Mr. Spangler (Craig), marrying above his station, neighborhood weird kid Lionel (Hickman) facing bullies and learning of the wonder of books, telegraph operator Willie (Morgan) crawling into a bottle, and Bess Macauley and her friend Mary having a night on the town with some soldiers on leave.
It’s very corny, but affecting, especially any scene where Rooney can show his boundless athleticism or bottomless passion. The Macauleys can stand in for the best qualities of any American family because, of course, they’re white. There’s an odd, It’s a Small World type scene where Spangler takes his new bride on a drive right after their wedding, showing her a series of Easter celebrations by groups of Greeks, Mexicans and Swedes, all tidy and in their own part of a park, though we never see any of them in the rest of the film. It’s a dud scene, and really, the whole Spangler romantic subplot is a non-starter, but Rooney and Johnson carry the film pretty well, and it’s hard not to like it by the end. Movie fans will notice Robert Mitchum, Frank DeFore and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer in small roles as well.
Wheel of Fortune. Painful…
Great with the spinning. The solving? Not so much.
How October Jones Passes Time on the Train
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Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Music: Henry Jackman
Editing: Jeffrey Ford
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Steve Rogers (Evans), WWII hero-turned-Avenger, finds he is increasingly out of place in the modern world, especially when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Jackson) tells him about Project Insight, a linked trio of perpetually airborne helicarriers with advanced targeted killing capabilities. When Fury is shot, Rogers goes on the run from the corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. with a small team comprised of Black Widow (Johansson), a former black bag agent who had redeemed herself under Fury’s guidance, Sam “The Falcon” Wilson, a former pararescue trooper skilled with a top secret flying rig, and Maria Hill (Smulders), a high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent absolutely loyal to Fury. The team not only must contend with a S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltrated by terrorist organization Hydra, but also Hydra operative The Winter Soldier (Stan), an assassin with links to Steve’s past.
I liked but didn’t love Captain America: The First Avenger, which was a good origin story with some nice character moments that then became a pretty cartoony WWII action-adventure, with Hydra soldiers standing in for Nazis. To be fair, with Captain America being the most “square” Marvel superhero, and the only one in their film universe to date back to WWII, his first film presented unique challenges. Thankfully, the Russos and the writers and producers have smartly brought things almost entirely into the present day (save for a couple flashbacks), and turned Captain America into more of a superstrong Jason Bourne, a man on the run, searching for answers and some payback, up against a corrupt government division in a story informed by current concerns over drone attacks. I doubt Evans will win many acting awards, but he’s an excellent Steve Rogers, earnest without being corny or overly judgmental, a character you know is hurting emotionally even though he’s able to take out entire battalions of enemies and drop hundreds of feet without injury.
There are a lot of stories to cover here, and for the most part it all works, even if some of the threads (what happens to Winter Soldier once he realizes who he is, what happens to Black Widow once her unsavory past is public knowledge, what happens to S.H.I.E.L.D.) are left for other Marvel movies to explore. All the characters at least get moments to shine, from Fury against Hydra to Black Widow’s physical prowess and ability to always be a step ahead of everyone else. As Sam Wilson, Mackie is impressive, adding humor to lighten scenes with earnest Steve Rogers, even as the script gives him enough gravitas that he’s never played as just a clown. Sebastian Stan does his best as Winter Soldier, a character clearly designed to be Steve Roger’s opposite in every way (long hair, stubble, cyborg arm with Russian star on it, scary half-mask and eyeblack), but, as with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye throughout much of The Avengers, he’s playing a guy whose mind has been altered. It’s hard to register as a character when most of the time you’re wordlessly trying to blow up all the good guys. He’s much better in the flashback, so there’s hope for the future when he’s in his right mind.
As the big bad guy, Redford is good, getting a couple cocky lines but remaining believable as a man who believes in the rightness of his cause. However, after the film raises complex questions about targeted killing and Fury himself, it eventually settles into comic book territory, with Pierce almost twirling a mustache after some unnecessary murders, and the revelation that Hydra is behind Project Insight. If it was just S.H.I.E.L.D. and the World Security Council deciding this project was the best way to police the world, then you still have some ambiguity there; technically, Fury is a traitor and justifiably sanctioned. Once you mention Hydra, there’s no question whose side to line up on. Still, it’s a very entertaining thriller with not just great action scenes but several good character moments. I hope the Russos continue playing in the Marvel sandbox.
As far as comic book geekery, the Joss Whedon-directed mid-credits scene features Hydra’s leader Baron von Strucker, Loki’s scepter and “the twins”, who are Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), though she’s more of a telekinetic here than in the comics, as I guess “affecting probability fields” was deemed hard to visualize. There’s a reference to Stephen Strange, so that’s encouraging news for those hoping for a Dr. Strange movie. And the main Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. badass here, Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), is the same name as minor Marvel villain Crossbones, and since we see his burned body recovered at the end of the film, it’s likely he’ll show up again. And we’re definitely set up for Steve Rogers to get to know Agent 13 (Van Camp), maybe in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And I enjoyed seeing Toby Jones return as Arnim Zola, reimagined as basically a disembodied consciousness in a computer rather than the odd Jack Kirby comics version (android body with face in torso), or essentially the same character as another Captain America comics enemy, Machinesmith.
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Fredric March, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Edmond O’Brien, John Houseman
Screenplay: Rod Serling, Based on the Novel by Fletcher Knebel
Cinematography: Ellsworth Fredericks
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Editing: Ferris Webster
Director: John Frankenheimer
This political thriller is set some years forward in the Cold War, as President Lyman (March) has signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Debate rages, as much of the public worries the Treaty will leave the U.S. vulnerable to attack. Col. “Jiggs” Casey (Douglas) becomes suspicious that his superior, Air Force General Scott (Lancaster) is planning a coup, and he brings this concern to the President at the risk of his career.
Lyman tasks Casey and a handful of men he can trust to verify the plot and the conspirators, which leads to the discovery of a secret desert base. Meanwhile, Casey tracks down a former lover of Scott’s, Ellie Holbrook (a still-lovely Gardner), somewhat needlessly flirting with her to obtain letters incriminating Scott in adultery, should they need them. Eventually, with a crucial piece of evidence and a lot of resolve, all but Scott breaks down and agrees to resign, with the implication that Scott has no choice left but to also resign or perhaps commit suicide.
This film is within Frankenheimer’s prime period of filmmaking, the ’60s, in which he showed an uncanny knack for tapping into topical concerns and putting his characters into complex moral quandaries. Although the film is light on action, with most scenes resolving with dialogue, it’s always visually interesting and covers a lot of ground, including some guerrilla style shooting on an aircraft carrier and outside the White House, this accomplished because President Kennedy believed the scenario of the film could happen and wanted the film to be made, informally authorizing filming by arranging to be out of town during shooting days.
It’s a film of strong, charismatic men clenching their jaws and saying what they believe in, with Douglas put in the difficult position of having to betray his commander to uphold the Constitution. March is also well-chosen, looking very old, especially next to the vigorous Lancaster, but his diminished ego gives him moral clarity over the younger man. The film is pretty tame these days—try filming something about a government coup today and you’ll need lots of shooting and explosions, like Captain America: The Winter Soldier—but it’s sturdy enough, and its central concern, the fear that those we give power to may be corrupted by that power—is always going to be relevant.
"It was a strange love story from the beginning. I could see Jean-Luc was looking at me all the time, and I was looking at him too, all day long. We were like animals. One night we were at this dinner in Lausanne. My boyfriend, who was a painter, was there too. And suddenly I felt something under the table – it was Jean-Luc’s hand. He gave me a piece of paper and then left to drive back to Geneva. I went into another room to see what he’d written. It said, “I love you. Rendezvous at midnight at the Café de la Prez.” And then my boyfriend came into the room and demanded to see the piece of paper, and he took my arm and grabbed it and read it. He said, “You’re not going.” And I said, “I am.” And he said, “But you can’t do this to me.” I said, “But I’m in love too, so I’m going.” But he still didn’t believe me. We drove back to Geneva and I started to pack my tiny suitcase. He said, “Tell me you’re not going.” And I said, “I’ve been in love with him since I saw him the second time. And I can’t do anything about it.” It was like something electric. I walked there, and I remember my painter was running after me crying. I was, like, hypnotized – it never happened again to me in my life."
- Anna Karina
JLG had game.
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Starring: Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming
Story: Hilary Saint George Saunders, Francis Beeding
Screenplay: Angus MacPhail, Ben Hecht
Cinematography: George Barnes
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Editing: Hal C. Kern
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cold, emotionless psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) heats up quickly upon the arrival of new director, Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Peck), who instantly reveals himself to be suffering from some sort of disorder, which she eventually determines is caused by shock at witnessing a death and not actually guilt over causing that death. She even figures out who committed the murder, before the man is caught and love rules the day.
This is a pretty flimsy Hitchcock effort, with an understanding of psychology and standard practices that may have worked in 1945 but is laughable today, with tepid performances by both Bergman and Peck. They have minimal chemistry together, but worse, Hitchcock doesn’t try very hard to ignite it, and the climactic scene is more concerned with a special effect gimmick (a point-of-view close-up of the murderer’s revolver pointed first at Bergman and then eventually turned back at the murderer) than generating real suspense. The best part of the film is the symbol-laden dream sequence Constance works at decoding, featuring designs by surrealist Salvador Dali. There are some nice shots elsewhere, too, such as a close-up of Peck’s hand holding a shining razor against his black pants, but mostly it just grinds along, hitting the points of its silly plot.
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