Click here to buy Amazon movie bestsellers

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Constantine (released in 2005) - Supernatural, starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf and Tilda Swinton

If you were able to see demons and other such creatures (along with normal humans), what would you do ? You could try to tell others what you are seeing, and since they cannot see what you can see, there can be a high level of frustration, or maybe you could even be considered crazy. Or you could use your powers for some good, getting rid of demons who have taken over people; all this in the hope that your suicide attempt may be forgiven and you could be considered for heaven. The movie was released in 2005, and was based on a comic book character. The movie was directed by Francis Lawrence (this was his first movie as a director), and starred Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton and Djimon Hounsou. The movie was a big hit, earning around $230 million worldwide, but critics were not so praiseworthy, with some critics not liking the performance of Keanu Reeves as the cynical man who does exorcisms, but is getting tired of all this; other critics did not like the flow of the movie or the end - I liked the movie to some extent, but yes, the end seemed somewhat simplistic, almost like a happy ending (thankfully the hero did not walk off into the sunset with a heroine though).
Keanu Reeves is John Constantine, and suffers from the problems of being able to see demons and other supernatural creatures. As a result, he knows far more than the normal human about the ongoing tussle between God and Satan (Lucifer). He also knows that his future is cooked, since he tried to commit suicide when he was a teenager, and although he was brought back from the dead due to paramedics, he has been condemned to Hell once his life ends - and he also learns that Lucifer is eagerly waiting for him to come to Hell. And to round it all up, due to his long habit of smoking, he also suffers from lung cancer, ensuring that he will reach Hell early. He has tried communication with the archangel Gabriel to let him continue with his action of doing exorcism here on Earth, but did not get any positive reply from Gabriel.




And then he is sought by a LAPD detective, Angela Dodson (played by Rachel Weiz), who wants his help to determine what had actually happened to her sister Isabel (who was reported to have jumped off the roof of a mental hospital where she was staying - this is what telling people that you can see demons will lead you). The weary and cynical Constantine can't be bothered, but when she is attacked by demons right in the street, Constantine is intrigued and starts investigating. He soon learns that both Angela and Isabel had the same gifts that he has, and while Angela has not moved in that direction, Isabel tried to find out more and was committed to the mental hospital.
It turns that this is a damned plot; the son of Lucifer, Mammon wants to have his own kingdom on earth, and the power that Angela possesses will be of great help to him. And helping him is an unlikely candidate, the angel Gabriel who cannot understand why God would help humans who are so undeserving of his love; when they actually see Hell on earth could people begin to understand and appreciate what God is. In the face of such power, there is only one person who could stop them - this was Lucifer himself; but why would he come to help Constantine, all he wants is to take Constantine with him to hell as soon as his life is at an end; but at the same time, Lucifer is unaware of what his own son Mammon is trying and would not appreciate such an attempt. So, it is only Lucifer who can help Constantine, but will not come unless Constantine's life is coming to a closure. What happens ?

Constantine (released in 2005) - Supernatural, starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf and Tilda Swinton

Monday, November 4, 2013

That Championship Season (released in 1982) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Paul Sorvino

They met more than decades ago, with the adrenalin pumping enthusiasm of sportsmen, soaring on the wings of their victory - they now meet again to savor the aftertaste. The year was 1957; the basketball team of Fillmore High School in Scranton had won the Pennsylvania State High School Basketball Championship. The School, and the story, though fictional are roman à clef. The original was a Pulitzer and Tony winning play by Jason Miller, which also won the New York Drama Critics Award as the Best Play of the season in 1971-72. The movie is directed by Miller himself. Twenty five years later - George Sitkowski (played by Bruce Dern), James Daley (played by Stacy Keach), Phil Romano (played by Paul Sorvino), Tom Daley (played by Martin Sheen) and Coach Delaney (played by Robert Mitchum) reminisce and celebrate the years they’ve dwelt on their past glory, as life has dealt a harsh hand to some of them.
George, the Mayor of Scranton, is facing a much younger candidate in the election. James is his campaign manager and a high school principal - he hates having to wait hand and foot on George. The election campaign is aided by Phil Romano, an established and wealthy businessman – the arrangement suits both of them, as each gains leverage from the campaign. James' brother Tom is an alcoholic and failed writer who rarely comes to such dos – the four reunite with former coach, Delaney - retired and ulcerated. Nevertheless, he will always remain their guide, a man who believes in "lean and mean" ethics and counsels his team to "never take less than success." Delaney idolizes Teddy Roosevelt.




The film deals with the sensitive issue of time passing by - and how, even the best give in to the vagaries of age. The atmosphere gets maudlin after the initial euphoria of reuniting and reveling in the past settles down. The four men are at crossroads once more, and at loggerheads with where life has brought them - they’re far from contented with their lot and the only respite they have from the drudgery of the present, and the uncertainty of the future - is the familiarity of the past, like a comfortable pair of old shoes in the closet.
On the other hand is grand old man Coach Delaney - who is still brimming with ‘on-the-field’ enthusiasm to buck his former team players along; only this time, they have to win at the game of life, and the clock’s ticking fast before its games up for them! Before you start to feel sorry for them, a bit of insight into their personal lives would have you know that blackmail, racism, cheating - have all ruled the roost at some point of time in their lives. Their frustration stems more from the fact that despite having had the talent and the verve, yet, they have given up so easily in life. Jason Miller wrote the play and script of the film when he was yet unemployed as an actor – perhaps some of his struggle to get to that hallowed stage of fame, may have contributed to the realism in the story.
The ensemble cast of the film was memorable for its performances – each character seemed almost tailor made for the respective actor, especially Robert Mitchum, who replaced William Holden, as the latter had passed away before the actual filming took place. 
That Championship Season (released in 1982) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Paul Sorvino

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nightkill (released in 1980) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Jaclyn Smith, James Franciscus and Mike Connors

A perfect suburban set up, the sound of shower water cascading, the brief interlude of  a conversation  between two lovers, unbeknownst to whom - the intimate details of which are being recorded. Katherine Atwell (played by Jaclyn Smith) arrives at the airport in Phoenix, afraid she’s late; till she sees her husband Wendell (played by Mike Connors) at the bar at the airport - he got there earlier, after having stashed a whole lot of greens in one of the airport lockers. Their marriage seems ideal to the average outsider, but peel away the façade and what you get is a whole lot of bitterness and anger at Wendell’s end, which he readily unleashes on Cathy. At work, Wendell’s hell bent on shutting down a research lab, as the government sees it fit to do so - he asks Steve Fuller (played by James Franciscus) to be the harbinger of ill news - the loyal sidekick seems not to like being a ‘hatchet man’. Wendell even asks Steve to step into his shoes and be Cathy’s date at an award function - now this, the latter doesn’t seem to mind!
When the three meet that evening at the Atwell’s residence, Steve gets to see the loathsome manner in which Wendell treats his wife, he even insults the housekeeper. As Cathy peruses through papers that her husband insists she sign without bothering to read, while Wendell plays with his caged pet, Steve laces his drink with a sinister looking substance in a vial. Suddenly, he collapses, and Cathy exclaims that he might be having a heart attack - Steve drily remarks ‘No he’s not, I  just killed the b@*t*d - its tasteless, odorless and real fast.’ He stops Cathy from calling the doctor - and the audience now stumbles on the truth about Cathy’s relationship with Steve - he only asks her to trust him, and tells her that he loves her. All the while somebody is recording their conversation.




They conceal the body in a large freezer, even as the family dog whines beside it. The two then go on to alter the pictures of Wendell in his passport - replacing them with Steve’s. The latter intends to steal the dead man’s identity - intending to travel to Washington under this guise. Proving to the police that Wendell went missing on the trip would then be cakewalk. He leaves Cathy to attend an award function held in her honor by two friends - Herbert and Monika Childs (played by Fritz Weaver and Sybil Danning), giving her an alibi. Steve promises Katherine that he will be back the next day.
Seems fine so far, but the efficient secretary at Wendell’s office - reports him missing to the police. Cathy is then questioned by detective Lt. Donner (played by Robert Mitchum), after which she thinks it’s best to dispose of the body - but when she opens the freezer - Wendell’s body isn’t in it - its Steve’s! Apparently, Wendell was aware of her liaison with Steve, and had bribed a detective to bug the house - he was responsible for the recordings. Meanwhile, Monika Child warns Cathy that she must stop flaunting her affair with Steve - how does she tell her he’s dead? Now, it’s his body she has to hide, putting it in a body bag, and driving off, she encounters a road block, due to an accident - she finally rides out into the wilderness, and leaves the body in an abandoned shack, a former building site - the body rolls into the debris. As she plans to fly out to Denver, she hears Wendell Atwell’s name being announced to proceed to the courtesy telephone - stunned, Cathy stops in her tracks. From a distance, she can make out her supposedly - dead husband’s Stetson as he picks up the receiver to speak to someone - she runs hysterically back into her car.
A thriller that seems slow on the pickup, directed by Ted Post, the film still manages to hold your imagination - Robert Mitchum’s performance is great!

Nightkill (released in 1980) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Jaclyn Smith, James Franciscus and Mike Connors

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Agency (released in 1980) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Lee Majors, Saul Rubinek and Valerie Perrine

Also known as Mind Games, The Agency is a 1980 Canadian political thriller. It is directed by George Kaczender. The film finds inspiration from the novel by Paul Gottlieb. It was shot on location in Canada. Lee Majors plays Phillip Morgan (a copywriter in an advertising firm - Porter & Stripe). An anonymous millionaire – Ted Quinn (played by Robert Mitchum) buys out the firm, and flushes out old blood with new, not meaning to reduce the head count at the firm, as just as many are hired, that too of the sort who aren’t the ad-mad type, they’re in fact operatives for furthering political beliefs.
The film deals with the controversial subject of the unprincipled usage of the media by political and corporate barons to achieve their own end. Morgan realizes that Quinn is using the firm to line his own pockets by selling just about any product - from formula for kids to drain cleaners! All the while, it is Ted’s vitiated goal to actually ‘sell’ politicians’ images and warped dreams to consumers by lacing the advertisements with subliminal messages. As the audiences respond to these ads, not only would they increase corporate sales, but also give a boost to the evil designs of politicians and power brokers who remain unelected.
When a commercial writer Sam Goldstein (played by Saul Rubinek) and Morgan’s friend confides in the latter that something seems amiss, and in fact the firm is being misused - Phillip thinks he’s just being a little paranoid. However, Sam’s untimely and mysterious death change Morgan’s mind - he gets hold of an audio that the man recorded before he died. This discovery makes him a man on the run throughout the length of the film as Morgan is hunted high and low by Quinn’s men.




The basis for the film is its controversial premise that advertisers use subliminal messages to induce consumers to buy their products - this is an idea that social critic and journalist Vance Packard alludes to in his book The Hidden Persuaders. Quinn is hoping that the subliminal messages he’s planting will sway the viewers’ choice towards the politician he favors - a pro Nazi, anti–Semitic type who, if he gets elected as President of the US, will lead the way to a glorious future, or so Ted is inclined to believe. Apparently, Quinn is an old hand at this sort of thing - having helped out a fellow in Arizona get to the US Senate. With the help of his love interest Brenda (played by Valerie Perrine), a doctor, Phillip Morgan is able to unearth that a message which was placed under a deodorant commercial, was responsible for this key upset in the elections. The man Quinn is totally without scruples as he has stooped to vitiating kiddy commercials as we, with the intention of catching ’em young!
Now this sort of thing was actually capturing the public’s imagination back in the ’80s, the mid and late Seventies were already questioning the sway advertising held over viewer and as result - consumer choices. However potent the subject matter of the film, the film itself was a near -disaster - boring for the most part of it, the movie is a soufflé gone flat! And of course, the entire matter of effectiveness of this kind of subliminal advertising has been questioned a lot in the last couple of decades to the extent that much of it no longer happens.

The Agency (released in 1980) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Lee Majors, Saul Rubinek and Valerie Perrine

Friday, November 1, 2013

Breakthrough (released in 1979) - Starring Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger

The film is a sequel to the 1977 Eastern Front war flick - Cross of Iron. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, the film has a new cast in reprise characters. May 1944, the German Forces are retreating from the Eastern Front. Although the two were depicted as having had differences in the Cross of Iron - Sgt. Rolf Steiner (played by Richard Burton) of the Wehrmacht (German High Command of the Army) once more teams up with the  ambitious and cut throat Captain Stransky (played by Helmut Griem) to blow up a railway tunnel thus cutting off the line of supply for the Russians. However, the presence of a Russian tank ensures that the attack is foiled, and Steiner’s squad returns to base, defeated. The Sergeant proceeds to Paris on a fourteen day furlough, to nurse battle wounds and rest his battle weary senses - it is cut short because the Allies have landed in Normandy.
His unit is transferred to a France, in the village of St.Bologne. Unknown to most of the Wehrmacht, there is a conspiracy to overthrow and assassinate The Führer, Adolf Hitler. This he is told by General Hoffman (played by Curd Jürgens), his divisional commander in the past, tells him so, sharing with him the disgruntlement and discontent of the officers and men in the Wehrmacht. Those familiar with the character of Steiner from Cross of Iron are aware that he is a principled ‘soldier’s soldier’- fighting for the Vaterland (Fatherland), he personally harbors no allegiance to The Führer, a good guy caught on the wrong side.
General Hoffman would have the lowly sergeant convey the plan to the Americans across enemy lines of the plan, and that they would like to surrender to them. The men across are Colonel Rogers (played by Robert Mitchum) and General Webster (played by Rod Steiger), who are willing to assist, however Stransky is the spanner in the works - how do they deal with him?




We know from history that the assassination plot went kaputt. All the co conspirators were rounded up and faced a firing squad, or were hung to death by the Gestapo (and this was done painfully, being hung on piano wire). As for General Hoffman, he committed suicide with a bullet to the head.
The Americans advance towards St.Bologne, as Stransky has the evil plan to blow up the village, irrespective of massive collateral damage.
The film received brickbats for not really living up to the stature of the prequel - in fact many critics questioned why there had to be a sequel in the first place? Richard Burton with a Irish-Germanic accent (if at all such, as this, exists) is awkward, and too old for the role - he looks jaded and uncomfortable (he died five years later). His character, that of the ‘good German’ is more a Hollywood creation than one based on real life. The General confiding in a man from the ranks is next to unimaginable, no matter how civil or laissez faire the army! Steiner walks around in perfectly clean uniform (and it isn’t even battle fatigues) through the combat front lines, his helmet sitting awkwardly on his head; an all in all disappointment, with hardly any worthwhile action against the Russians.

Breakthrough (released in 1979) - Starring Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum and Rod Steiger

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Big Sleep (released in 1978) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Candy Clark and Joan Collins

Based on the vintage noir 1946 film (having the same name), which was released in 1978, this version is directed by Michael Winner, sourced from the 1939 novel by Raymond Chandler. Unlike the previous version (which was set in LA), the 1978 film takes us to London. Many critics and viewers consider the latter film to be truer to the portrayal of Chandler’s novel, since taboo themes such as homosexuality and  pornography wouldn’t have been well received in the conservative and staid 1940's.
The character of Phillip Marlowe is assayed for the second time by Robert Mitchum, who first played Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely. In a digression from the traditional portrayal of celluloid detectives, Marlowe does not function from a shabby office or live hand-to-mouth. He owns an expensive set of wheels and a Rolex, with snazzy suits thrown in for good measure.
The PI has a new client - a wheelchair bound millionaire General Sternwood (played by James Stewart). The General tells Marlowe that the homosexual proprietor of a local book store – Arthur Geiger (played by John Justin) - is blackmailing him. Geiger has some nude photographs of the General’s younger daughter Camilla (played by Candy Clark), intimidates Sternwood with blackmail, warning him that unless he pays Geiger a handsome sum of money, the slime all will make the pictures public. The actual reason why Sternwood isn’t just telling all this to the police instead of hiring a PI is revealed when he gives away the fact that he’s interested in the whereabouts of his son-in-law, his older daughter, Charlotte’s (played by Sarah Miles) husband - Rusty Reagan (played by David Seville). However, Mrs. Reagan also seems to have her eyes set on the elusive and brooding Phillip Marlowe!




The PI hunts Geiger down to his house - but on arrival is confronted with his corpse, shot between the eyes, an unclothed Camilla by its side. On further investigation it is revealed that the families chauffeur Owen Taylor (played by Martin Potter) had committed this crime of passion, as Camilla was his lover. Taylor, is himself later murdered by an associate of Arthur Geiger – Joe Brody (played by Edward Fox) who dumps the man’s corpse into a nearby river. It seems like Arthur has few friends as Brody had intended to steal the film all along, not unaware that his partner was already dead.
Not only does the General’s younger daughter have to hauled out of a mess, even Charlotte has a whole lot of troubles, especially with gambling debts she has piled up - earning the ire of the unsavory mobster Eddie Mars (played by Oliver Reed), also the house where Geiger lived was owned by the goon. Following close at Eddie’s heels is his sadistic, club footed sidekick ‘Brown Man’ Lash Canino (played by Richard Boone) and others from the red light district which include a lover of Arthur’s. But ultimately, it’s all about the elusive Rusty Reagan.
Marlowe sets up Charlotte, to learn if whether she’s actually grieving for her husband and is disturbed about his disappearance, or whether she was in some way responsible for his fate, his suspicions are proven right. It is she who is responsible for Rusty’s disappearance. Phillip is saddened and now he faces the task of breaking the news to the General. The audacious Camilla points a gun in his face, and Marlowe is appalled by the wickedness of both women.
It has long since been the case for debate whether it was at all necessary for doing a remake of The Big Sleep; critics and viewers look askance, torn between loyalty for greats like Bogart and Bacall and fondness for king of drawl - Mitchum. However, since the second version is more free in its treatment  of taboo issues like promiscuity and drug abuse, Winner’s version is worth a watch.

The Big Sleep (released in 1978) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Candy Clark and Joan Collins

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Amsterdam Kill (released in 1977) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Richard Edgan and Leslie Nielsen

Directed by Robert Clouse, The Amsterdam Kill was filmed on location in Hong Kong and Amsterdam. Clouse also directed "Enter the Dragon" and "Black Belt Jones." Quinlan (played by Robert Mitchum) is a dishonored former DEA agent, his service record tarnished after he stole drug money. Although he’s been ‘ignobly discharged’ - he’s still all good inside, a little more honest than the other average cop you may know - rising to the occasion if the situation (and sometimes his pocket) so demands - the lesser of the devils.
He is contacted by an aging drug baron by the name of Chun Wei (played by Keye Luke) to help him uncover who is behind the murder of heroin dealers, in both Hong Kong and Amsterdam, from where Chun operates and manages one of the largest drug cartels. Wie wants to do all this ratting for a cushy price: he wants a US passport, one way ticket to New York’s Chinatown and not surprisingly, a whole lot of dollars. Quinlan is also re-hired by the DEA who want to make use of his knowledge as an ex-agent; the Department wants him to give information regarding the drug network in Hong Kong as well as Europe. He assists Chun Wei, as well as his former boss Odums (played by Bradford Dillman) and colleague Ridgeway (played by Richard Edgan), he is especially looking forward to show down the pretentious DEA honcho Riley Knight (played by Leslie Nielsen).
With information supplied by Chun, which Quinlan promptly passes onto the DEA, a noticeable number of cartels are actually busted and put out of business. However, rogue elements within the system pass on prior information about one such raid, and reacting to the tip off, the drug dealers ambush agents and policemen in a drug laboratory. When the agents conduct a raid, two agents are lost in combat - this makes Quinlan’s credibility questionable, and he realizes it would take a lot for him to regain their trust, and that most of them do not consider him to be anything but a nuisance. Chun Wei is also tracked down by the dealers, and meets a watery end in a bathtub.




Odums, who heads the US DEA in Hong Kong, tells Quinlan to come over, in order to find out who is responsible for the leaks; the ex agent flies down from London, and is attacked on numerous occasions by unknown assailants, and has miscellaneous violent encounters while in the City. After a number of red herrings and dead leads (quite literally, as the body count increases), Quinlan stumbles upon the word Juliana, the trail leads to the Venice of the North - aka Amsterdam. An eminent, hot shot political czar is vying for all the share of the drug trafficking. However the nameless person commits suicide before he can be apprehended by the law enforcing agencies.
One thing’s for certain, the DEA guys aren’t on his side, so Quinlan seeks help from a former dealer and close friend of his - Jimmy Wong (George Cheung). They soon discover the reason why the detection dogs are unable to sniff out drugs: the flower trade involves more than just ordinary flowers - the drugs are planted inside flower pots to avoid them being discovered. Quinlan and Jimmy singlehandedly, without help from local or US authorities, are able to bust a huge stash at a greenhouse in Amsterdam. The film was rumored to have its fight sequences chalked out and enacted by none other than Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung - the reality however, remains unknown. It is also rumored that Mitchum commented he did the film for money, and wasn’t really happy with neither the treatment of his character onscreen nor the treatment he received as Hollywood guy in Hong Kong.

The Amsterdam Kill (released in 1977) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Richard Edgan and Leslie Nielsen

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Last Tycoon (Released in 1976) - Starring Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum and Jack Nicholson

The Love of the Last Tycoon is the unfinished final novel of the celebrated Irish-American author F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was compiled and published posthumously in 1941 as The Last Tycoon, and again in 1993 as Fitzgerald originally wanted it - The Love of the Last Tycoon. In keeping with Hollywood’s obsession with Fitzgerald, the book was adapted for celluloid and directed by Elia Kazan, this being the last film he ever directed in his lifetime, the screenplay was by Harold Pinter.
The film is a Roman à clef - it draws inspiration from the life of the famed MGM film producer Irving Thalberg. The monochrome first scene – a 1920s classic beauty in the arms of a cigar puffing mafia boss, the characteristic bloodied  shootout in the diner which leaves him dead- and an authoritative  voice stating “The end is too gory, cut out one role of the tape.” Monroe Stahr (Robert de Niro) - charismatic production chief and creative executive at one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. A hard taskmaster, he is used to having his say in every stage of the film making process. Whilst the rest of Hollywood feels fettered in the wake of the creation of the Writers Guild of America, Monroe continues to be authoritarian and controlling. His personal life spiraled downward after the death of his wife, an actress - after which he melted into self exile, isolating himself.
Pat Brady (Robert Mitchum) plays Stahr’s loyal supporter – "I love him. He’s a genius. I’ve always wanted him to get every credit... I’m the strong base upon which Monroe Stahr rests. I’m loyal to him …". However, Brady does wonder what will happen to him? He is torn between his fondness for Stahr and his desire for the realization of his personal ambition - “All I want is recognition.” Brady’s character draws inspiration from the life of studio head Louis B. Mayer.




When an earthquake partially throws a spanner in the works destroying sets, Monroe, in the midst of the chaos notices Kathleen Moore (Ingrid Boulting), a beautiful woman, albeit engaged to someone else - who reminds him of his late wife. Most of his waking hours are spent trying to track down the elusive woman with the silver belt(though that wasn’t Katherine). Meanwhile Cecilia, Pat Brady’s daughter (Theresa Russell) flaunts her affection for Monroe and tries to win him over.
Brimmer (Jack Nicholson) is the thorn in Monroe’s side: a union organizer from New York. The controlling Stahr is confronted with an equally pushy Brimmer - a ‘communist’. To have a writer’s strike with sixteen pictures under production is daunting in the middle of the Depression. On the internal front, Monroe has to go head-to-head with the others regarding budgets and endings - he wants to make a meaningful picture that for once doesn’t make money - an idea that doesn’t go down well with Brady and the boys. As the film progresses, one thing is clear, love clouds Monroe’s once clear vision and finally, the life he gave to his work slips away gradually - in the end, he leaves the studio where he spent all his creative potential and life, making pictures.

The Last Tycoon (Released in 1976) - Starring Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum and Jack Nicholson

Friday, October 25, 2013

Midway (released in 1976) - Starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn and Glenn Ford

Midway or The Battle of Midway is remembered as the greatest debacles in Japanese Naval History in 350 years! It was fought in June 1942, only six months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The film was released by both names in the UK and the US respectively, in 1976. It is directed by Jack Smight, who has made clever use of both archived and staged footage, with faultless switches. The movie also relied on Sensurround to enhance the movie experience of the audiences. Midway/ The Battle of Midway is a fine film depicting not war heroes but men who make extraordinary decisions in times of war. The film mentions that the plot takes place after the Doolittle Raid, before the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Americans were going about the Pacific War with hammer and tongs; they had decoded a Japanese plan to mislead their aircraft carriers using decoys; the decoders were able to decipher the date and exact location of the attack, thus foiling the Japanese attempt by setting up an ambush of its own!
Robert Mitchum plays the skin-disease afflicted Vice Admiral William F. ‘Bull’ Halsey, ("some drunken correspondent," in Halsey's words, changed "Bill" Halsey to "Bull") who, or more than three fourths of the film is ‘indisposed’, as in real life, with advanced dermatitis, laid up in Hawaii. Admiral Chester Nimitz (played by Henry Fonda) is the man of the hour, in-charge of all the planning, in place of William Halsey.




At the helm of affairs for the Japanese is head strategist Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (played by Toshiro Mifune) who conceived the Midway plan. He intended to send in 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 12 destroyers, and five thousand troops to secure the Atoll from American Marines. He was killed after the Americans decoded the Midway plan, as his plane was shot down. This incident shook up the Japanese and their morale took a beating.
Prominent in the US  Navy's cryptographic and intelligence operations, Commander Joseph Rochefort (Hal Holbrook) was the first officer to uncover the Japs plan to attack Midway Atoll, despite JN-25b being “super enciphered.” Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (Robert Webber) was the Officer in Tactical Command, with the US carriers Enterprise and Hornet, and repairs a third Yorktown. Under his command, the three US carriers sank the enemy carriers- Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu. He was later promoted to Vice Admiral.
The film is more a docudrama, and digresses somewhat with the imaginary second thread: Captain Matt Garth (Charlton Heston) is a naval officer who is responsible for strategizing operations in the War; however, he is fighting a war on the home front as well - with his son Ensign Thomas (played by Edward Albert), who is a pilot, in love with a Japanese girl, Haruko Sakura (played by Christina Kokubo) born to immigrants. These three are fictional leads in the film along with a handful of others; the rest are all based on real characters. Captain Garth uses his influence and contacts to rescue the interned girl and her parents, a practice normal in America at the time for Japanese immigrants. The girl and her parents are freed; Haruko is by Thomas’ side when he is wounded in action. Captain Matt Garth is killed in action when his plane crashes.
With stellar performances by all actors, the movie is undeniably a classic war film. Despite the slow pick up, given the documentary style filming, the movie picks pace with almost astral dogfights, larger–than-life celluloid depiction of the operations, given their massive scale. In actual the battle resulted in 3,057 Japanese deaths, a sad fate for Japan and herculean victory for the USA.

Midway (released in 1976) - Starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn and Glenn Ford

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Yakuza (released in 1974) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Kishi Keiko and Richard Jordan

The Yakuza is part of a genre of Japanese high octane action films based on the organized crime, mafia style underworld of Japan of the same name. Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and Robert Towne (Mission Impossible), and directed by Sidney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa), the film is a result of brilliant creative collaborations and can thus be consequently stated to be a work of art. The film’s popular themes are loyalty, uprightness and fortitude in the face of difficulty as well as having a conscientious sense of responsibility. It juxtaposes Japanese and Western values which condition individual societies to function.
Harry Kilmer (played by Robert Mitchum) is a veteran Marine and one time private eye, whose friend George Tanner (Brian Keith) is in trouble - his daughter and her boyfriend are missing; Tanner is in business with the dreaded Japanese yakuza or mafia. He has been arm twisted by Tono (played by Eiji Okada) who has taken the girl and her friend captive, just so that George will go through a shady business deal involving the sale of illegal arms. Since Tanner and Kilmer have been friends for long, having served in Tokyo post the War, the former hopes that the detective’s connections in Japan will help rescue his daughter.
Years ago, Harry had fallen in love with a Japanese lady by the name of Eiko (played by Keiko Kishi), in fact he had helped keep her daughter alive by getting the child much needed penicillin. They were inseparable, even living together, until Ken, her brother who was in the Imperial army returns home. He is livid that Eiko should have an affair with the enemy, however, his principles dictate that he be indebted to Harry for having saved his niece - this would mean that at any time, then or even years later - he would be obliged to repay the debt if Kilmer decided.




Harry had proposed marriage to Eiko but she turned him down – she was not likely to bring more dishonor to her brother and family. As a parting gift, Kilmer borrows five thousand dollars and buys a bar for Eiko, which she converts to a coffeehouse. The two know each that their feelings for each other are so strong that none would find another love - and now, when Harry returns to Tokyo after years - his first stop is the coffeehouse. Meanwhile, Ken joins the feared yakuza - he has no contact with his sister now, and does not speak to her.
He once more proposes to Eiko, who, although she still loves him, also still considers the honor of her family to be a priority. Citing the debt, she tells Harry to meet Ken in Kyoto. When he travels to meet Ken along with Tanner’s bodyguard Dusty (played by Richard Jordan), Ken tells him that he is no longer with the yakuza but he knows enough to be able to be of help. The sense of obligation he has bids him to take up arms once more, and he partners with Harry to rescue George Tanner’s daughter and her friend.
In combat, Ken injures one of Tono’s underlings, and his cover is blown - because the leader sees his involvement as an unnecessary interference. Tono orders the death of both men. On the other hand, Eiko suggests that Harry speak to Goro (played by James Shigeta), to intercede on the men’s behalf; however, he refuses as he is neutral to the affairs of the yakuza. Kilmer is left with no alternative, but to plan Tono’s death. Harry sees himself as the reason for causing such grief and anguish in Eiko’s life again, and endangering Ken’s life - he is guilt ridden and decides to stay back in Tokyo, although he imhas completed the favor George Tanner had wanted of him.
The story gets a fresh twist after a failed attempt on his life, Harry discovers that money-ties are thicker than bonds of friendship, and that Tanner is the one who has sided with Tono, to kill his one time friend and confidante. Shattered, though not surprised, he begins to plan his next move. In a gun battle meant to kill him and Ken, Eiko’s daughter is shot dead, whilst Dusty is killed with a sword. Both Ken and Kilmer, and Eiko are plunged into grief.
Goro steps in to help the two men, making use of his son, who is part of Tono’s yakuza. However, he seeks the favor that his son be spared his life. The boy has a defining spider tattooed on his head. Another shocking revelation is in store for Harry, as Goro discloses to him that Ken is not Eiko’s brother, but her husband! Hanako was their only child - a stunned Harry understands the anguish his presence has caused in the lives of the two people he has come to love and respect. Kilmer hunts down Tanner and kills him, whilst Ken takes Tono’s life with a traditional katana. Goro’s son attacks them and is killed in self defense - as Ken thinks of ending his own life for not having been able to keep his word to Goro - the man stops him. As a peace offering and an apology, Ken cuts off his little finger.
Before leaving Japan, Kilmer pays a visit to Ken, and whilst the latter goes in to prepare a cup of tea for him, Harry commits yubitsume - cutting his little finger and placing it in a handkerchief for Ken. He seeks the man’s forgiveness, asking him to also forgive Eiko. The two part but not before Ken remarks “no man has a greater friend than Kilmer-san.”

The Yakuza (released in 1974) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Kishi Keiko and Richard Jordan

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (released in 1973) - Starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle

The film is a subtle portrayal of crime in the grim locales of Boston; it is adapted from the novel by George V. Higgins, and is directed by Peter Yates in the tradition of 1940s film noir, as well as modern day Sopranos feel. It details the lives of a group of men who are living in the fringes of the criminal underworld, aged and struggling for survival. The title does not give away the fact that Eddie Coyle’s (played by Robert Mitchum) survival is demise-dependent; most of his friends die whilst he is left to linger on. His friends are Dillon (played by Peter Boyle), a bartender who acts as a power broker, not directly involving himself in the dirty wheeling-dealing ways of other criminals; the second pal is Jackie Brown (played by Steven Keats), a young gun dealer.
Coyle’ smooth criminal act is a benchmark of sorts for aspiring criminals, he can’t really understand how Jackie’s vulgar show of strength and boasting can ever earn him a respectful place in the crime-world. His aged experience and wisdom are indispensable, he is sharp and astute - the quintessential bad guy, who started off having his fingers broken as a rookie criminal, for a job gone bad. This earned him the sobriquet Eddie ‘Fingers’ Coyle.
The audience is kept on tenterhooks as the impending doom of Coyle’s career is a tragedy waiting to happen, thus lending a sense of urgency to the plot, exaggerated by the fact that Eddie is awaiting a sentencing. He tries to contribute his bit to being  a worthy citizen by helping a detective David Foley (played by Richard Jordan), hoping for a reduction in sentencing; so he considers ratting on his gun supplier to Foley who is more interested in spate of bank heists.




The film exposes the rot in the food chain of the criminal underworld-robbers, gun suppliers, suppliers, middlemen, stool pigeons - all come together to weave the blood smeared fabric of crime. Eddie is playing by a now-extinct rule book; he is blissfully unaware that almost everyone is taking him for a ride! The law enforcement agencies aren’t any less besmirched - Foley meanwhile is being carefully watched by Dillon, who is ratting on him. Vicious circle.
The heists are being headed by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) and Artie Van(Joe Santos) at suburban banks, Coyle supplies them with guns. The masked gang always takes the bank manager’s family hostage and then ask him to empty the vault, anyone caught pressing alarm buttons is shot – like one poor sod! The gangsters in the film are portrayed as a no good, bloodletting sort - not caring a hoot whether the other person or one of them is killed, having scant regard for their lives. Finally, after all the money and gun laundering, Eddie’s worst fears come true, as he is shot dead with a .22 caliber gun by none other than Dillon and a rookie. Foley thanks Dillon and tells him he’ll understand if the latter doesn’t want to share the details of what happened to Eddie Coley. The film was adapted for stage in 2011 by Bill Doncaster. Truly Mitchum’s best.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (released in 1973) - Starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Wrath of God (released in 1972) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth and Victor Buono

“They offered them a choice - the firing squad . . . or The Wrath of God.”
The Wrath of God, sourced from a book by Jack Higgins (under the pen name James Graham) was released in 1972; having been filmed in Mexico and was directed by Ralph Nelson. The story is about three nefarious men with a reprehensible past. Emmet Keogh (played by Ken Hutchinson) is an Irishman with a violent, bitter past. He is desperately trying to get out of the violent state in Mexico. He manages to put together enough funds to buy a train ticket out of Mexico, where revolutionaries are lined-up in the streets and gunned down with laid back reliability. Emmet meets bootlegger, gunrunner Jennings (played by Victor Buono), a big man in a white suit. Jennings asks him to bootleg Scotch Whiskey (actually guns, though Emmet doesn’t know) across the border into the US. When Keogh refuses, the ‘businessman’ has his passport and ticket stolen, arm twisting Emmet into agreeing to the task.
Father Van Horne (Robert Mitchum) is a Roman Catholic priest (or so he’d have you believe). A trigger happy man of cloth, he carries a gun in his Bible and a switchblade in a Crucifix. A fellow outlaw comments (on noticing that Horne is holding the Bible upside down) : “If that IS a Bible," he says, "read it. If that ain't a Bible, drop it." Emmet learns that the good priest was originally with the Boston dioceses, sent to Central America to raise funds. Keogh is unaware that Van Horne has been defrocked. Van Horne rescues Emmet from brigands who are angry when the latter saves a mute Native American girl, Chela (played by Paula Pritchett) from being gang raped by them.




Consequently, the three men: Van Horne, Emmet Keogh and Jennings are arrested, charged with siding up with the counter revolutionaries and taken captive - to face death by a firing squad. The man responsible for their fate is Colonel Santilla (played by John Colicos), a revolutionary with a deep feeling of hatred for the Catholic Church. The Colonel strikes a deal with them - he will free them and offer safe passage to the US – on the condition that they have to assassinate a despot from nearby – Tomas De La Plata (Frank Langella). The strongman has a personal vendetta against the Colonel, whose men put to death his father, raped his mother, and plagued his sister to commit suicide. And so, the Unholy Trinity, the father (played by Father Van Horne), the son (played by Emmett) and the Holy Ghost (played by Jennings) are to assassinate the despotic maniac.
Van Horne dons his priestly garb once more and throws open the doors of the House of God in De La Plata's village; Emmett and Jennings pretend to be business men interested in the town's mining industry – thus, the Unholy Trinity lays a trap for La Plata. Violence, extreme sometimes, tends to mar the viewing (the merciless gunning of a little boy); also, there is far too much detailing which confuses the viewer .. Notable performances are delivered by Mitchum and Hayworth. This was the latter’s last completed movie. She was constantly plagued with forgetfulness, many members of the crew thought she was downing one drink too many; they later found out that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, which was the cause of her forgetting her lines.

The Wrath of God (released in 1972) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth and Victor Buono

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dead Man (Released in 1995) - Starring Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop and Crispin Glover

“It is preferable not to travel with a dead man.” Henri Michaux. These foreboding words greet the viewer to the monochrome Dead Man, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, the poster boy of independent cinema. The film is similar to other different western literature such as from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
The clanging of the wheels on tracks and the intermittent, unmistakably Western background music set the cadence of the film, as a dapper William Blake (played by Johnny Depp), an accountant from Ohio tries hard to find inspiration in the ‘Bee Journal’, out of place in his fine suit and clean looks. That done, he pulls out a pack of cards and decides to have a go at a game, casting a cursory eye on the scenery outside -on his way to a little township  of ‘Machine’ in the West, where his services as a bookkeeper are needed.
On the train, he meets a fireman (played by Crispin Glover), who wants to know the reason why he’s traveling so far - he tells him his parents are dead, he has no wife and the woman he loved, his fiancée - changed her mind. The fireman tells him she found someone else, Blake looks horrified at the thought and denies the possibility; but the persistent stranger only says – “Yes, she did. Well, that doesn’t explain why you’ve come all the way out here. All the way out here to hell.”  William goes onto show him a letter of employment he’s received from Dickinson Metalworks, at the town of Machine.
On arriving in the Town, Blake is informed that he is a month late and that the letter was written two months ago - they already have a new accountant. When he demands to have a word with Mr. Dickinson - the men in the office laugh their heads off! On entering the supposed office - he is greeted by a macabre sight. On the table rests a human skull with a smoking cigarette placed in an ash tray. Behind the desk hang a portrait (Dickinson?) and an open vault, with bundles of cash strewn around. Lost in his thoughts as he surveys the room, a booming voice breaks into his reverie. Seated in the chair is Mr. John Dickinson (Robert Mitchum in his final role, before his death), who looks down the barrel of a sinister gun, and asks William to get out. Needless to say, he is the laughing stock of the blokes outside in the office.



Dejected and unemployed, Blake walks into a bar, hoping to buy a drink, which he swigs sitting on the stairs - just when Mili Avital (played by Thel Russell), a former harlot who now sells paper flowers; she is thrown out of the pub by a former patron, who said he liked her better when she was in her earlier profession. Blake helps her up, and offers her a drink, she in turn asks him to walk her home - she invites him inside, and he spends the night with her - almost getting shot for it by her ex Charlie (Gabriel Byrne), who ends up accidentally killing Thel, when she tries to shield Blake. In the retaliatory firing, Charlie is shot dead by William, but not before he realizes that a bullet is lodged in his chest, as well.
Fleeing on a stolen horse, he is pursued by three of John Dickinson’s (the old man is actually Charlie’s father) henchmen - who are ordered to bring him back dead or alive. Sometime during his flight, Blake must’ve lost consciousness, for when he comes to, a big American Indian called Nobody (Gary Farmer), in full regalia, is trying to tear open his chest to rid him off the bullet - he tells him he is officially “walking dead”, since the bullet is lodged very close to his heart. Mistaking the injured man for the spirit of the poet William Blake, Nobody swears to return him safely to the spirit world. Many adventures happen on their quest for this after life peace - finally, he is shot at again and as he dies, he sees Nobody is also killed before his eyes - he is taken for burial in a canoe, as he sets his last gaze on the sky, he dies.
Symbolic, since the train fireman we met at the beginning, started his monologue thus - “…remind you when you’re in the boat, and later that night you were lying, looking up at the ceiling … why is it that the landscape is moving but the boat is still?” Was William Blake just walking dead on the train? 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Backfire (released in 1995) - A flop movie starring Kathy Ireland, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas, and Mary McCormack

The movie is written and directed by A. Dean Bell, and is a spoof of the 1991 film Backdraft. Josh Mosby assays the character of Jeremy Jackson, who dreams of making it to the firefighting squad in New York City - all that sounds quite normal until you’re confronted with the fact that he would like to be the first male ‘female firefighter’. What kind of creature is that? This strange desire stems from the fact that when he was a little boy, his mother died in an accidental fire-fighting mishap; and wait till you hear the rest, the little man was responsible for it. And ever since, believes he can find divine retribution and peace of mind only if he joins the gals on the job!
For his dreams to be realized, Jeremy must first attend the fire fighting academy, he enrolls along with his sister Sarah Jackson (played by Mary McCormack) - much to her chagrin and embarrassment. Although a clumsy fellow, he is likeable and the firewomen grow fond of him gradually.
On the personal front, Jeremy’s love interest is Jessica ‘Luvintryst’ (played by Kathy Ireland); she is the Mayor’s PA, invites him to a fund-raiser, hoping to rekindle the old flame between them (the two have a blow – hot-blow-cold history, thanks to his sister Sarah). Jeremy discovers that The Mayor - Herzzonner (played by Laine Valentino) - is less than honorable, he has ties with The Most Evil Man (played by Telly Savalas) - and decides to leave Jessica, who, by the by, isn’t thrilled with his choice of career. The Mayor, getting scent of the trouble to come, manipulates and edits the videographed evidence, and cunningly implicates Jeremy in the shady business - needless to say, the unsuspecting sod is unceremoniously asked to leave the fire department.




New York City is plagued with outbreaks of ‘toilet fires’ and Fire Marshal Mark (Robert Mitchum) is called in to investigate. They unearth an evil plot - the Mayor is buying jet fuel, and piping it through the city’s water hydrants, the cause of the fires. Sarah is apprehensive when Jeremy begs her to let him join the Force, she reluctantly lets him - along with Mark, and Jeremy is able to create a ‘vacuum’, thus helping extinguish the fires and saving the city. The added bonus is of course Jessica, who is back in Jeremy’s arms.
The film has very few genuinely funny moments, most of it is slap-stick in a baaaad way! Mitchum, with his trademark deadpan delivery is no Leslie Nielsen (now there’s a guy who knows his spoofs well!). Telly Savalas’s performance is admirable, sadly it was his last, he died of throat cancer thereafter. The film has its share of memorable faces other than Robert Mitchum - there’s Shelly Winters (Lolita) and Kirsten Johnston (who was there in Third Rock from the Sun)- in albeit, short appearances. Eddie Falco (Sopranos) assays the role of none other than Jeremy’s mother, now that is funny! McCormick and Valentino, aren’t just pitted against each other in the film, even their performances seem a constant bid to outdo one another in ‘the who can be more sullen and wooden’ category.
You may like to give it a miss or see it for an example of a copied movie.

Backfire (released in 1995) - A flop movie starring Kathy Ireland, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas, and Mary McCormack

Friday, October 18, 2013

Midnight Ride (released in 1990) - Thriller movie starring Mark Hamill, Michael Dudikoff, Savina Gersak, and Robert Mitchum

A rough ride, this slasher cum thriller film directed by Bob Bralver - is more of a hit and miss film - it wanted to score a hit with the audiences, but landed a miss :-). The film opens with Justin McKay (played by Mark Hamill, who also did Star Wars) at a car rental, where he is giving travel details – he’d like to rent a car to Hendersonville, when asked to fill in the rental contract form, he tells the attendant that he has no credit card, she tells him that he would then be unable to get the car – he crumples the form and throws it on her face- ‘Keep your stupid car.’
The scenes switches to a housewife, Lara (Savina Gersak), a Russian immigrant – who walks out of the house and her husband Lawson (Michael Dudikoff), her reasons are genuine, though somewhat clichéd and commonplace: he pays more attention to his job than her. “I just wanna leave, be swallowed up… ’. As she drives away, her mind a riot of emotions and thoughts - she thinks of spending the night with her friend at Santa Barbara. But there’s a bad thing waiting to happen to her: she offers a lift to Justin McKay, feeling sorry for him because he tells her he’s missed his bus home.
At a police check point, they are informed they have to take a detour, Lara tells the policeman that she and her ‘brother’ are traveling together. As they pull away, Justin remarks that she reminds him of his sister, whom he liked very much. Unbeknownst to Lara, her husband is following her, as he places his car in her way, she is taken aback and bumps into it. Getting out, she realizes its Lawson, this angers her further and she pulls away again. Lawson radios for help, meanwhile Hamill wonders why he was following them, and Lara tells him he’s her husband. When she pulls over at a motel to make a call, the lady at the desk is particularly rude and arrogant - this peeves Justin,  who says he doesn’t like her because she has a fake eye. While Lara waits her turn at the phone booth, he walks into the reception, the woman asks him what he wants - he points at her eye- ‘I want that.’




Viewers are given a macabre glimpse of  the woman’s corpse, with her eye missing. Lara is none the wiser. Justin shares with Lara the purpose of his visit to Hendersonville - ‘to meet an old professor, he makes me feel good.’ She notices he’s weaving thread or something, he tells her it’s a present for her. Suddenly, he dangles the necklace before her - the motel lady’s glass eye decorated as a pendant - Lara rams the brakes and asks Justin to get out, he tells her she doesn’t mean that - he wants her to like him! He threatens her, and she promises not to bother him or make an attempt to leave. Justin asks her who she is and why she left her husband. Meanwhile Lawson goes over to a colleague’s place to borrow his car. The trail seems to have gone cold, but he persists and is on the road to trace the car.
Leaving a trail of blood and gore, killing fourteen people, including six policemen - the duo travels on. Ultimately, Justin halts at a hospital, his intentions are insane - he  wants Dr.Hardy (played by Robert Mitchum), his psychiatrist, to administer electric shocks, not to him, but to Lara so that she likes him.
The doctor is familiar with Hamill’s history: he was witness to the terrifying butchering of his little sister by their alcoholic mother, thus the doctor knows that Mark is easily offended when he feels disrespected or let down. Hamill ignores the doctor and zaps Lara with the intention of killing her - Lawson arrives just in time and saves her. In the fighting that ensues, Justin is electrocuted and dies. All’s well that ends well- our hero reunites with his lady love and the two will hopefully live happily ever after - as for the audience, can’t say the same after eighty eight minutes of torturous viewing!

Midnight Ride (released in 1990) - Thriller movie starring Mark Hamill, Michael Dudikoff, Savina Gersak, and Robert Mitchum

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Scrooged (released in 1988) - Christmas ghosts starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, and John Forsythe

Ebenezer by another name: Frank Cross, Victorian era Britain: New York City. Directed by Richard Donner (The Omen), Scrooged was a 1988 Christmas offering for the holidays - peace, hope, love, joy and “bah! Humbug!”  The contemporization of a beloved classic, in a manner although surreal, is commendable. However, the movie is better suited to older audiences, given the contentious nature of some scenes in the film.
Frank Cross (played by Bill Murray) is a dissolute and sour television executive at IBC TV Network. He is  hell bent on resorting to any means so long as the ratings and moolah are raked in - despite the fact that he has a modestly burgeoning bank account, he’s hungry for more … and even more. He even harbors almost misanthropic views with regard to the people around him - costing him his family – his brother James(played by John Murray) and the love of his life, Claire (played by Karen Allen).
It is this strange, deeply embedded streak that leads him to get the staff at the to work through Christmas Eve - wanting them to stage a live broadcast of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. He gleefully hatches this evil plot to ensure that the Holiday is ruined and his coffers are brimming. At the receiving end of his constant derision is Grace Cooley (played by Alfre Woodward), the hardworking mother of Calvin, who is mute; much to her consternation and frustration she has to neglect the child and her family because she is so overburdened by work. A disastrous TV commercial produced by Frank causes an old lady’s death, and when his loyal sidekick Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) hesitatingly offers his opinion - he is dismissed from work on Christmas Eve.




Unfortunately for Frank, Christmas has something planned for him - a visit from the Ghosts of past Christmases. The first visitation is by Lew Hayward (played by John Forsythe), the spirit of his dead mentor,  the past, present and future- will visit him; this obviously psyches him out. Matters worsen when Cross is informed by his boss Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) that he will be assisted by a younger, dynamic assistant Brice Cummings (John Glover), an over smart yuppie clearly out to sabotage Frank’s job.
We get a glimpse of how Cross became the man he is, as the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) meets him as a New York cabbie. The two go back in time to the year 1955 when Frank was a kid and through to the moment in his life when he gets his first break at a TV station in 1969, up until the year 1971, when he chooses his career over Claire. The Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) likes to bonk Frank on the face with a toaster oven, she offers him a glimpse of the sad life Grace has and how James, (whose Christmas invite he rejected) despite his unkindness, misses him.
Angered and pained after his unfair dismissal, Eliot Loudermilk, former employee at IBC TV Network, storms Frank’s office in an attempt to kill him. The Ghost of Christmas Future - headless, caped and with a TV screen in place of its face - shows him his lonely future, when it would send right to the grave after a grilling in the crematorium - his funeral attended only by James, whilst Claire’s heart turns to stone, just like his, and poor Calvin ends up in a mental health facility. We have an idea how the film would end - and so, all’s well, eventually.

Scrooged (released by 1988) - Christmas ghosts starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, and John Forsythe

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ryan's Daughter (released in 1970) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, Christopher Jones, and Leo McKern

The screenplays of this movie - Ryan’s Daughter is by legendary author and screenwriter Robert Bolt, he collaborates once more with director David Lean - the duo who gave cinema classics like Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago. Bolt pens a captivating war romance, which was the highest earning movie at the box office in 1970 despite having almost no critical acclaim; it also won two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (John Mills) and Best Cinematography (Freddie Young), winning nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sarah Miles, who was married to Bolt at the time) and Best Sound. The year is 1916, in Ireland. The Irish Republicans want to end British rule and launch an offensive that history would refer to as the Easter Rising, for the festive week in which it took place.
Elsewhere in an imaginary village called Kirrary (on the Dinge Peninsula, in a real part of Ireland) during WWI. Rosy Ryan is the youthful, pretty and somewhat rose-tinted daughter of the local pub owner Tom Ryan (Leo McKern); she reads Byron, is in love with the chivalrous Peter Blood and believes in happily ever after; shielded and kept eons away from the reality of the War, secluded in her part of the picturesque village, where a modest British garrison is about the only reminder of the troubled history of the times. Her father, however is an informer of the British, although he puts up an act of  regret that ‘our boys’ couldn’t hold the uprising against the suppressors.
The charming yet somewhat petulant Rosy is above the attentions of the local lads and would much rather set her eyes on someone with a ‘standing’ in society, a fact that Father Hugh Collins (Trevor Howard) is well aware of when she marries the staid, calm and much older than her school master - Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum). The elders of the village including the priest are disapproving of Rosy, yet can do precious little to change her from being a spit fire to a docile housewife!




Soon enough, Rosy is disillusioned and loses sight of the charm she associated married life with; Major Randolph Doryan, a British army officer, arrives to take charge of the garrison and as a result - with Rosy. Randolph was awarded the Victoria Cross for his contribution to the WWI, which left him crippled, and reeling from what we know today as post traumatic stress, then called ‘shell shock’ - for the helplessness soldiers felt when unprotected in the wake of shelling. His physical shortcomings seem lost to Rosy, who finds herself falling in love with the Major. What ensues is a riotous, torrid love affair, rendezvouses in the nights and hush toned sweet nothings. Although he suspects it, yet Charles decides against confrontation, even if the evidence of the affair is glaring and enormous.
All seems well, until the ubiquitous village buffoon Michael (John Mills) unintentionally discloses the secret affair to the villagers - who at once label her indiscretions with choicest epithets. Things take a turn for the worse when Rosy’s father Tom – rats on the plans of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, represented by Tim O’Leary (Barry Foster) to bully the pub owner into helping them recover a cache of  arms that belongs to the Germans. Loyalty gets the better of him as Tom immediately alerts the British. Maj. Doryan confronts the IRB comrades, a gun fight ensues leaving in its wake a wounded O’Leary.
On the family front, Charles decides to let Rosy know that he is aware of her affair, and hopes that she would ‘come to’ - that night Rosy returns to her lover the Major, only to be seen by Charles, who wanders away, hurt and dismayed. He is discovered on the beach by Father Collins. The villagers, meanwhile get a whiff of the fact that their cause has been betrayed by one of their town - and the obvious choice is Rosy, given the palpable evidence there is of her affair with the British Major. In vigilante-style justice, the mob bears down on the couple, almost killing them, whist lynching and shearing Rosy’s hair - she however realizes it’s her father who is responsible for the deception all along, but does not give his secret up - bearing all the humiliation.
Doryan is dejected and feels responsible for her misery, he is led to the cache of yet undiscovered arms on the beach, and in a fit of guilt charged hopelessness, detonates the dynamite - committing suicide. Rosy leaves the village for Dublin, with her husband, Charles, who has decided he’d leave her, although the priest asks him to reconsider. Not a very well acclaimed film by critics, yet it grossed almost $31 million - a number to reckon with in the ’70s. Audiences liked the star crossed lover - meets - patriot ism-meets a whole jumble of human emotions - perhaps more the kind that suit normal movie buffs, as opposed to intellect seeking critics!

Ryan's Daughter (released in 1970) - Starring Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills, Christopher Jones, and Leo McKern

Going Home (released in 1971) - A nasty movie starring Robert Mitchum, Jan-Michael Vincent and Brenda Vaccaro

A typical ‘slice-of-life’ drama, the film is directed by Herbert B. Leonard. The audience is introduced to the characters of the scene in a macabre setting - a bleeding and battered woman, obviously beaten without mercy, staggers down a flight of stairs where her young son, too shocked and horrified to react, and tries to stay out of her bloody embrace. As she dies on the floor, his father’s drunken and disheveled   silhouette shadows the doorway. He had brutally assaulted his wife with a ten-pin bowling trophy and killed his wife in a fit of drunken rage.
Thirteen remorseful years later, Harry Graham is out on parole, with nothing but a pocketful of honest intentions of eking out a living and staying out of the public eye. He heads for a trailer camp, unbeknownst to his nineteen year old son, Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). Over the past many years, he has been in and out of foster homes and boys’ care homes - he now wants to rekindle the almost nonexistent relationship with his father. When he comes to know that Harry is out on parole, his search takes him to a trailer park, where his father is.
Although the young man and the older Harry try their best to get to know each other, and build a relationship over the mangled remains that are shrouded with the tragic demise of their mother and wife - life is anything but easy, add to that Harry’s new love interest - Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) whom Jimmy isn’t too fond of. But something doesn’t seem to fit in right, for Jimmy seems too sincere about making amends, at the same time appearing to be secretive and guarded. Harry is the awkward, and mostly clueless father - he once initiates a conversation about ten-pin bowling, not really aware about the horrific memory the teenager has attached to the game.




Jimmy is actually a disturbed boy-man, rendered impotent by his rage; he one day tricks Jenny and brutally rapes her - he was drunk, intentionally, trying to recreate the night when Harry murdered his mother. He seems to goad his father relentlessly, seeking an explanation for why he murdered his wife; all the while trying to play lord, master and protector of Jenny, for whom he feels a range of frustrating emotions - from jealousy to affection, anger to helplessness.
After he rapes Jenny, he runs off to Pennsylvania, to where the three once lived. The house is now a bar cum bordello. Guilt ridden, he calls up Harry and confesses to raping his father’s lover (an oedipal twist). Harry is livid, and he beats the pulp out of Jimmy - years of anger over why he testified against him in the open court and the horror of what a monster he’s become - this fuels his anger.
The sensitive characterization of Harry is the coup d’état in the film, overshadowing all else. In the end, the complexities of their relationship remain, tangled and without resolution; Jimmy seeks a difficult answer : why did Harry murder his mother? Finally his father answers, rather frostily that there was no reason, it was a crazed reaction borne of rage. It would seem for now that Jimmy’s search is over, as Harry drives away, leaving him all by himself.

Going Home (released in 1971) - A nasty movie starring Robert Mitchum, Jan-Michael Vincent and Brenda Vaccaro

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (released in 1969) - Starring Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy and Martin Balsam

Directed by Burt Kennedy in 1969, the film is quintessential honorable cowboy meets low life adversary. Jim Flagg (Robert Mitchum) is the sheriff in the little town of Progress. He has spent the most fruitful and honest years of his youth serving on the Force. Just as he’s about to hang his boots, he is warned by his hermit-like friend Grundy (Douglas V. Fowley) that his archenemy, an outlaw by the name of  Big John McKay (George Kennedy) - believed to be dead - is back in Progress, and that he’s planning a heist with his gang.
Jim feels duty bound to warn the Mayor - Randolph Wilker (Martin Balsam), who is disbelieving, and thinks that the sheriff is causing unnecessary panic, especially since he’s hoping to get re-elected and hopes to take over the governor’s seat (the film is  apparently set in New Mexico soon after it gained statehood); instead, he thinks that Jim ought to hand over his badge and move on - this Jim does willingly. Flagg is treated like an old relic, out of place in the changing, more modern time, given the hero’s farewell, his send-off is orchestrated by Wilker who is in a tearing hurry to see him go; Peabody, a bumbling sycophant replaces him, just as Jim thinks he ought to take matters into his own hands, and leaves Progress.
Riding out to meet McKay on his own, Jim is acquainted with the new reality that McKay is no longer boss; instead he is himself a member of a gang of much younger outlaws - who incidentally, capture Flagg. The new leader is a young outlaw names Waco (David Carradine), who makes no bones of the fact that he thinks McKay’s days as boss are over, and it is he whose command must be obeyed.



Waco orders McKay to shoot Jim Flagg, despite their legendary enmity and having been on the opposite side of the law, the two men decide to stick together and McKay refuses to do Waco’s bidding. Waco and his buddies are certain that the train heist (they plan to loot cash coming for the bank in Progress) - will go wrong because Flagg will throw a spanner in the works - so, they abandon the two men, who on their own, with grudging admiration for each other - decide to save the town of Progress. This doesn’t stop them for beating each other up and coming to fists - kind hearted  Grundy tears them apart and brings them to a boarding house run by Mary (Lois Nettleton), a friend of Jim. When they witness a young, wet-behind-the-ears outlaw shooting a man in his back, the two old timers are saddened that there is no ‘honor among  thieves’. How do they stop the robbery from happening ? What can a bunch of oldies do against such a robbery group ?
The film touches upon more profound themes like the replacement of aged experience with the cocksureness of youth, the importance of principles, irrespective of which side of the law you were on and that the expediency of the young whilst dealing with anachronisms like themselves, is nothing but a myopic lack of sight on the part of the town’s mayor and elite.

The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (released in 1969) - Starring Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy and Martin Balsam

Monday, October 14, 2013

Secret Ceremony (released in 1968) - A tragic film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, Robert Mitchum, and Peggy Ashcroft

'Ceremonia Secreta', the 1960 novel by Argentinean author Marco Denevi is the inspiration for the film Secret Ceremony, directed by Joseph Losey. The film opens with a blonde Elizabeth Taylor, who takes her wig off to reveal her lush black hair, as she places the hair piece on its stand; she caresses the black and white photograph of a young child - a girl, which is placed on the dresser. The character of Liz is Lenora, a prostitute, who a year ago has lost her daughter to death. As she boards a bus one day, a young girl (played by Mia Farrow) sits by her side, looking at her longingly, and whispering audibly ‘Mummy’ as Lenora alights from the bus; the girl follows her into a church - where she stands looking at Lenora from behind a pillar, as she kneels in a pew. Lenora looks slowly walks out of the church, into the cemetery, where she stops by the grave of a child, placing a bunch of blue forget-me-nots at the tomb. Lenora turns to find the girl from the bus standing behind her, when she looks into her eyes, in her mind; she sees the eyes of the child in the photograph. Shocked, she willingly lets the girl lead her away from the graveyard, to an opulent  Gothic style apartment.
Once there, Lenora sees photographs of the girl with her mother, who bears a strong resemblance to her. The man standing beside her - his face is blackened. Suddenly, the girl clutches her and cries out ‘mummy’ - stunned, Lenora pushes her away and tells her she’s not who she thinks she is. The girl just looks at her and when asked if she’d like some breakfast, she says yes, and when left alone, decides to pocket a silver coin and ermine coat - she even tucks into the breakfast hungrily. When the girl tells her that she lives all by herself - no cook, no nanny, no father - Lenora seizes the opportunity to take advantage of the child’s lapse of memory and plays along, fitting perfectly into the role of her mother. The girl reveals how Albert (apparently Lenora’s husband, and Cenci’s step-father) had behaved inappropriately - upon hearing which, Lenora slaps her - and shocked with her behavior, she apologizes to the crying girl. They both decide that she needs to take care of her - and so, Lenora settles in, making herself at home.




Once, when they are in the bath together, Cenci pretends her duck is drowning – this upsets Lenora, who asks her ‘what do you know about drowning?’ and starts to cry hysterically. In bed, Cenci says her prayers with her ‘mother’, and they settle down for an afternoon nap. When she awakens, she goes down to the kitchen, to see Cenci carrying out an animated conversation to … an empty chair. She appears to be warding off the advances of the ‘person’ in the chair - asking ‘him’ to take his hands off of her - Lenora is scared to see this crazed, psychotic banter.
Two nosy women - former sisters in law, come to pilfer on the pretext of looking up Cenci; as Lenora hides, the women get suspicious that there is someone in the house besides the girl - but who? They leave hurriedly.
In this surreal world, enter Albert (Robert Mitchum) - who may well be the reason why Cenci is a disturbed child. When she gingerly peeps through a window one morning after hearing the bell ring - she sees an almost derelict and unkempt man in the front lawns. He leaves when she doesn’t let him in. One morning, Leonora pays a visit to Cenci’s aunts who had come to the house - telling them she was a cousin of their sister-in-law Margaret. She learns a lot from them, especially that Albert and Cenci had an incestuous relationship, which probably drove the girl mad and killed Margaret with grief. The aunts, of course, think the girl’s crazy - Leonora is hurt by this observation, and tells them that if they were to visit again - she would tell the police. While she was out, Albert comes home, telling Cenci he cannot help himself, as he kisses her. Leonora goes to church and  prays for strength to go back to the house, not for the money, but for the fact that she wants to protect Cenci - she wants to be there to ‘save’ her, unlike her own child. But after being abused, Cenci orders that Leonora leave the house -killing herself by overdosing on sleeping pills, which she downs with milk.
When Leonora attends the funeral, visibly shattered, Albert tells her that Cenci was responsible for the break - up with Margaret - that the child-woman had nymphomaniacal tendencies - this is the final straw for Leonora, who lashes out at the man and tries to kill him. Macabre, disturbing and sad, the movie does play on the audience sentiment, and one feels sorrier for Leonora, for having lost two ‘children’. Serious watch.

Secret Ceremony (released in 1968) - A tragic film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, Robert Mitchum, and Peggy Ashcroft