Never forget the victims of Islamic terror on this day 17 years ago, family and friends alike.
Never forget the victims of Islamic terror on this day 17 years ago, family and friends alike.
We’re all happy that you’re going to live, John Book. After witnessing a brutal murder, young Amish boy Samuel (Lukas Haas) and his mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) seek protection from police officer John Book (Harrison Ford). When Book uncovers evidence of police corruption involving narcotics lieutenant James McFee (Danny Glover), Book must take Rachel and Samuel, and flee to the Amish countryside where Rachel grew up. There, immersed in Amish culture and tradition, Book and Rachel begin a cautious romance while he tries to fit in and the enemy closes in … I just don’t like the idea of my son spending all this time with a man who carries a gun and goes around whacking people! Great films tend to create a narrative fulcrum based on juxtaposition and opposites: here we have simplicity and purity versus corruption and violence, delicacy versus roughness, city versus country, child versus man. Written by Pamela Wallace and Earl Wallace and William Kelley, this was director Peter Weir’s entree to the American mainstream after a decade of extraordinary work in his native Australia. It also marked Harrison Ford’s acceptance into the acting world proper after a decade as action superstar courtesy of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. His relationships with Rachel and Samuel and his willingness to look silly – that sheepish grin when he’s in Amish clothing! – signalled a new level of sensitive and complex personification. With a barn-building sequence out of the Dutch masters, a romantic dance scene that is one of the sexiest ever made, and a conclusion that ratchets like a vise-like grip closing on the protagonists with an astonishing climax in a grain silo out of silent horror cinema, this is made by a master craftsman at his most cinematic and beautiful. Maurice Jarre’s score is legendary. An American classic. No. Try not. Do or do not
Who in the hell gave you that power? You’re just a coach. You’re just a high school football coach. Steff Djordjevic (Tom Cruise) is the star player of his high school football team and desperately hoping that his football talents will earn him a scholarship. That’s his only chance to get out of his dying hometown of Ampipe, Pennsylvania where his father and brother and every other guy works at the plant before they’re laid off. When a heated argument with his coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) gets him kicked off the team and blacklisted from college recruiters, petty revenge is taken on Nickerson’s house. Steff is blamed and then has to fight for a chance to achieve his dream and escape the dead-end future he faces while girlfriend Lisa (Lea Thompson) wants to study music but reckons she’ll never have the chances that he’s screwed up … From the roughhousing in the changing room to the nasty barroom exchanges and the explicit sex scenes and the unfortunate friend (Chris Penn) who knocks up his girlfriend and has to get married, this has the distinct whiff of authenticity yet never really makes you like it. The blue collar Pennsylvania milieu reminds you both of Flashdance and The Deer Hunter yet the narrative feels underpowered and even Cruise can’t really make this work. Risky Business was his slicker film that year and it’s a colder piece of work while fundamentally dealing with the same crap game of college entrance and kidding other kidders but it stays in the mind in a different way. Michael Kane’s screenplay was based on an article by Pat Jordan and this marked the directing debut of the great cinematographer Michael Chapman.
Will I be plagued till my dying day by that infernal Jew? Keen young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) contacts the renowned Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) from South America with the startling news that Nazi war criminals are gathering in Paraguay under the aegis of Dr Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck). As he phones him a recording of a meeting detailing a strange plan he is killed and Mengele realises someone knows something they shouldn’t…. In Vienna, Lieberman opens a packet of photos Barry sent him and tries to make sense of what he’s heard – why must 94 sixty-five year old male civil servants in several different countries be killed by a certain date? After speaking to Nazi guard Frieda Maloney (Uta Hagen) in prison he finds out that several male babies were adopted in the Sixties by women who were 23 years younger than their husbands. After speaking with biologist Professor Bruckner (Bruno Ganz) he discovers that cloning is indeed possible and not necessarily from living donors: Mengele has bred mini-Hitlers and is having them raised in conditions akin to those in which his glorious leader lived (his father was a civil servant who died before the boy was 15). Lieberman must stop the plot to rekindle the Fourth Reich. Ira Levin’s speculative fiction is probably closer to happening now than it was in the Seventies – since which time IVF, cloning and three-parent babies are a mere thought away from what Mengele was doing in his horrifying twins experiments in Auschwitz. So this is a lot less like science fiction than it is science fact. It plugs into the real-life work of Simon Wiesenthal (with Olivier perhaps atoning for his sins in Marathon Man!) when real-life Nazis were still relatively young and of course a huge number of high profile SS men were known to be living freely in sympathetic countries like Brazil and Argentina (never mind running Austria and Germany). It also uses the Lebensborn project as a basis for what is now entirely feasible – apparently. James Mason plays Eduard Seibert, the man who comes to rain on Mengele’s crazy rainforest parade but not before Mengele makes his way to Lancaster Pennsylvania to murder Wheelock (John Dehner) the father of the fourth cloned Hitler (Jeremy Black) a child who is as obnoxious and snotty as his copies in London and elsewhere but has a crucially murderous nature which Lieberman discovers after the boy sets the family’s Dobermans on Mengele. There is a fight to the death – but whose? This is literally sensational and for connoisseurs of Nazi villains (in cinema) it’s bizarre to see the great liberal actor Peck have a go at Walter Gotell whom he thinks is betraying his plan for world domination. Didn’t they meet in The Guns of Navarone?! Bizarre also to see Bruno Ganz pontificating about clones when his own resemblance to Hitler meant he would play him years later in Downfall. Most bizarre is the fact that Mengele was still alive (for at least another year, possibly longer) when this was released. And for all we know all those Germans in South America (and Europe) have already got their fortysomething men waiting in the wings. Adapted by Heywood Gould and directed by Franklin Schaffner, this had 25 minutes cut for theatrical release in Germany. Poor things! When will everybody stop talking about the Third Reich already?! In the words of the great Dr Henry Jones Jr., Nazis, I hate these guys.
Michael Chabon’s droll campus novel of dejected one hit wonder creative writing professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) gets a funny and tender adaptation from the late Curtis Hanson and writer Steve Kloves. James Leer (Tobey Maguire) is the weird and ubertalented student whose work is stupendously impressive so when agent Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr) arrives at a college event for aspiring authors he immediately transfers his affection from his transvestitite companion to this new kid on the block and a raucous weekend on and off campus ensues. At a party given by the Chancellor Sara Gaskell (Frances McDormand) – who happens to be Grady’s mistress – and her husband Walter (Richard Thomas) a valuable piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia is stolen, the family dog is shot and the body hidden in a trunk, and tension rattles when Sara reveals she’s pregnant by Grady, whose wife has taken off to her parents’. Grady thinks James is a suicide risk so keeps him with him – along with the dead dog. It eventually dawns on him that James is a compulsive liar and a total liability. His fellow student Hannah (Katie Holmes) has a thing for Grady but he’s not into her which makes life at his house tricky – she’s renting a room there. Walter sends the police for James when he figures where the MM goods have gone. What happens to Grady’s new book manuscript and the car is just cringeworthy … This is so great in every department – the very texture of the emotions is in every gesture and expression, something that occurs when writing, performance and staging are in perfect sync. Hilarious, compassionate and endlessly watchable. And for anyone looking to complete their picture collection of Michael Douglas’ abject masculinity on film, there’s the image of him standing on the porch in a woman’s dressing gown – something to knock that Basic Instinct v-neck into a cocked hat. Cherishable.
It’s no accident that weatherman Phil Connors shares his name with the beaver that surfaces (or not) every February 2nd to forecast the end of winter: Punxsutawney Phil is a metaphor for the crisis besetting a man whose cynicism needs a serious reboot. He relives the same day. Over and over again. The irony for the viewer is that the more often you see this film, the repetition becomes more meaningful, the karma more poetic, the lessons more refined. A work of utterly incomparable comic genius approaching philosophical brilliance, written and directed by the late, great Harold Ramis from a story by Danny Rubin. Simply classic.
How ironic that a movie whose tagline is ‘Tell the truth’ should have coasted on a wave of controversy because Will Smith (a Black actor, apparently it’s not enough just to be an actor any more) wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. The truth is, this part-biopic of a forensic pathologist who linked neurological disorders similar to Alzheimer’s in NFL players to injuries they sustained during games is hackneyed and dull. Smith is unconvincing and his accent is distracting. And the whole unfolding of the one man against the system plot is about as predictable as an episode of General Hospital. This could have been made as a thriller and it would have worked a lot better. Frankly I feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a broom. There are some good supporting performances but they’re only by actors, not Black actors. Hey – can I get an award for being Black? I do hope I am not discriminated against for being white! And hey, don’t let my being female put you off! I’m better than any man in the room! Sometimes you have to make a good film and give a good performance to be nominated. It’s not enough to show up.You know I’m right! It’s all in the title, really. Yawn.
What a difficult thing it is to be the first. And the best. This was the first Nam movie. Michael Cimino was directing for just the second time after earning his stripes with Clint Eastwood on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. He co-wrote the original story – he had been writing for years of course – with Deric Washburn, who got the screenplay credit. Louis Garfinkle and Quinn Redeker had written an unproduced script about Russian roulette and Vegas so they share story credit. Cimino recced locations all over the US for verisimilitude and many of the extras are the real-life inhabitants of those places masquerading as western Pennsylvania circa 1967. The vets in the rehab facility are the real thing. The setpieces establishing the men’s friendship (drinking, hunting, the wedding party) are leisurely and help us empathise with them when with an extraordinary jump cut they and we are transported to the killing fields. We love these guys by now. One of them (John Savage) is weaker than the others and it’s De Niro who leads the charge against the vicious Vietnamese: their contempt for life is all over the movie (and no surprise to those of us related to POWs held by the Japanese.) And yet the film could be about any war, anywhere: the cast said Vietnam was never even mentioned and it was shot in Thailand. This is a film about people under pressure and how they react to that pressure. Nicky (Christopher Walken) stays behind and it is of course his scene with De Niro for which the film is notorious. It never fails to shock. The overwhelming emotion in the scene strangely is that it is about love – and that of course is what certain people hated. The final gathering, in which the original team of Russian American steel workers are reunited at his funeral and Meryl Streep leads them in God Bless America really pissed off a lot of liberals. Warren Beatty allegedly orchestrated a campaign against the film during awards season (Heaven Can Wait was in competition!) Cimino came from making Heaven’s Gate to the Academy Awards where it took 5 including Best Director and Best Picture (De Niro lost out to Jon Voight but Walken took Best Supporting Actor). Afterwards Cimino found himself sharing an elevator with Jane Fonda and wanted to congratulate her for winning Best Actress for Coming Home: she refused to acknowledge him (she hadn’t seen the film. Her own rehab flick was up against it for Picture). The music, adapting Stanley Myers’ theme, is exquisite, as is the sound design. The acting is extraordinary and probably unsurpassed by those performers in a flawless cast (professional and amateur alike). Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is perfection.If you’re not crying by the end of this, the greatest Seventies movie of them all, then you’re probably …no, I won’t go there. Cimino was responsible for some of cinema’s finest hours and they’re right here. RIP.