Director – Joshua Logan
Cast – Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero
When I found that Richard Harris was the star of the filmed version of the Broadway smash hit Camelot, I half expected a Paint Your Wagon experience. But in this extravagant re-telling of the Arthurian legend, Harris more than fills the required black leather boots as King Arthur, as do Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero as Guinevere and Lancelot respectively.
While expecting a somewhat dry and bland movie, Camelot surprised me with its wit and, dare I say it, depth. While focusing on the forbidden romance between Guinevere and Lancelot, the movie is really about the effects of their affair, both on King Arthur (who knows about it), and on the fragile union of England embodied by the famous Round Table.
Camelot starts off at what is chronologically almost the final scene. King Arthur finds himself facing an upcoming battle, and ponders the events leading to the tragedy of war. The movie then unfolds in flash back, starting with Harris’ joyously perfect rendition of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”, where he tells of his nervousness at his upcoming (arranged) marriage to a woman he has never met. Of course this woman turns out to be Guinevere, who has similar reservations. They meet-cute in a forest, away from their attendants, and fall in love. Their perfect bliss is soon marred, however, by the appearance of perfect knight Lancelot…
I like the maturity on display here, they’re all so level headed. While Lancelot and Guinevere are having an affair, they are aware of the consequences and even frown upon their actions; but as they say, they can not choose whom they love. On top of all this, King Arthur is aware of the affair, but decides to do nothing, so as to preserve the fragile English peace. No one flies off the rails here. The inevitable war is not a reaction of Arthur to his friend and wifes betrayal, but comes from scheming lords and knights, led by Arthur’s treacherous bastard son, Mordred. I enjoyed the way the movie shows a noble man try to do his best to rule a kingdom, despite forces beyond his control trying to upset his rule. There really is a lot of nobility in this movie, and not just from the royal blood on display.
Granted, the strengths of the movie definitely come from the musical on which it is based, as the songs are funny or affecting in the right amounts. Unfortunately the direction is not extremely assured, and the movie is definitely not helped by its somewhat sluggish pace. We could maybe have used a bit more spice, and you could say the ending is a bit abrupt, but it still packs a nice little punch if given a chance. All in all the grandiosity, seriousness, and wit of Camelot adds up to a very satisfying experience… if you can sit through the 3 hour running time.
Camelot is a big movie, with heaping portions of everything you could ask of a medieval musical. Sure it is a bit slow and unwieldy, but there is a depth of heart here. It is not all flash and Broadway sparkle. This is good old Hollywood entertainment, and I am glad I saw it. In the end, what more could you ask for?
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Planet of the Apes REVIEW
Director – Franklin J. Schaffner
Cast – Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, Linda Harrison, James Daly, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton
– followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes is based on a book by Pierre Boulle, who is also famous for writing The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It is about an astronaut in the future who crash-lands with two comrades on a planet where apes are the dominant species. Here, humans are stunted and stupid, and can easily be hunted by the apes.
Charlton Heston as Taylor (the lead role) is quite cocky, even arrogant as the movie opens. His companions, Landon and Dodge, are more reserved. I would have liked to see a bit more of them in the movie, but we see enough of them that when certain developments occur we feel the necessary impact.
Taylor’s character arc through the movie really propels it along marvelously. When he is captured by Apes he is really defeated, but when he realizes a couple of Apes do not “tow the party line” (that humans are inferior and are to be treated as such), he grasps onto this straw and attempts to convince an Ape court that he is from a distant solar system, and that he is intelligent. This is not easy, especially as his throat is damaged when he is captured, and he can not talk.
Conflict then comes from the Apes High Court, who hold a kangaroo court to condemn both Taylor as inferior and the friendly apes as heretics. Taylor eventually breaks out of prison and tries to journey to the Forbidden Zone, where he believes there is a secret which the Apes superiors are trying to hide. This leads to a climactic confrontation and battle of wills at an archaeological dig, where there is possible evidence of humans having lived on this planet about 2,000 years before. After escaping the Apes, Taylor and Nova, a human he has befriended/fallen in love with, ride away from the area, expecting to find a lush jungle on the other side of the Forbidden Zone. Instead, what he finds shows the whole movie in a different light. I won’t reveal the ending here, just in case anyone reading this doesn’t know it, but let me say it does indeed come as a brutal sucker punch, but in a good way.
This movie is an allegory for two things in general. The main attack of this movie is focused against man’s treatment of his world and other species on it. Man doesn’t want to be treated as animals, yet we treat other species in an inexcusable manner. The apes are shown doing this, and it is obvious what we are being told. Some of the language used by the Ape court (talk of heresy, etc) is deliberately that of religion, but the other point of contention which this movie has is not with religion but with closed-minded thinking in general. The Ape court is reasoned with by Taylor, and yet they refuse to listen to what is brutally obvious. It is said that the screenwriters added this bit as a reference to the McCarthy Hearings of the 1950’s. If that is the case, that would certainly be a good example of the film’s message.
An important thing to note is that despite the movie’s philosophical bend, Planet of the Apesis a fast-moving adventure story at heart. Its subtle and yet well stated way of dealing with fairly serious issues is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.
Planet of the Apes is a great science fiction in the classic mold. The story has real resonance, and it is shot beautifully. Granted, some of the indoors sets look a little like the sets from the 60’s Star Trek show, flimsy and painted, but the outdoor scenes are wonderful, and all things considered this is a great example of this particular era in movie making. With a good message, special effects that (while not quite holding up today) were great for their time, and a strong story and characters, this is a movie that really should be seen.
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2001: A Space Odyssey REVIEW
Director – Stanley Kubrick
Cast – Keir Dullea, Gary Rockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain
– followed by 2010: The Year We Make Contact
2001: A Space Odyssey is often hailed as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and even one of the best films period. I can’t say I disagree. The themes of the film, the ground breaking special effects (which still hold up today), and the pure vision are all excellent reasons to consider this film as one of the Greats. The “antagonist” of the movie (if there is one) is the infamous HAL-9000 computer, who has become one of the most iconic film characters of all time, and the song The Blue Danube has become forever linked with graceful space travel.
In short, this movie has been lauded, praised, and generally worshipped so much that is pointless for me to continue too much. It is a masterpiece, and it is unique, but it is not perfect.
Heaven forbid that such a thing be said. However, it is important to always see a film in context, and with an unbiased eye; especially one as revered as this one.
The quibble I have (and rest assured it is only a quibble, and a comparatively minor one) is in the length of some shots. The film in and of itself is well-paced. It is deliberate, slow, and precise. But off and on there will be a sequence where the shot length is unjustified, in my opinion. The two main points where I noticed this were as follows: when Dr. Poole goes outside the spaceship to fix the infamous AE-35 unit, we are shown his spaceship move all the way around the ship to get tot he offending antennae. It is a very long scene, one that really has no purpose, and kills any tension already established. The second is the famous “Entry into Jupiter” scene. This is essentially one long sequence of dazzling pyrotechnic displays of light,and is absolutely psychedelic and mesmerizing. I don’t know why Kubrick decided to make it 10 minutes long. However, it is almost indefensible in my opinion.
This movie is, at heart, an art film, and Kubrick was definitely experimenting all throughout the film. Thus, that such little quibbles should be raised is inevitable. The power of the movie, the vision, the uniqueness of its storytelling methods, and yes, its “flaws”, all come together to create a truly unique experience, and one that is downright moving. It is rare that such a big budget is allowed for such a personal project, but it was, and because of that we have one of the best films of all time. if I may glow, it even transcends the time period that the film was made. There are very few clues as to when the film was made (except for a few of the actors; some are stereotypical Leave-it-to-Beaver types, all white, straight-laced “Mad Men“), and as I said earlier, the special effects are top-notch. Any film lover who has any resemblance of an open mind should watch this, and then watch it again.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic in all the good senses of the word. It is one of the most highly original movies I have seen, if not the most. It’s sense of awe, majesty, and power will leave you amazed. It is marvelous.
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A Fistful of Dollars REVIEW
Director – Sergio Leone
Cast – Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volontè, Sieghardt Rupp, José Calvo
– followed by A Few Dollars More
Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone revitalized the western genre back in the sixties with their “Spaghetti Westerns”. The director believed that westerns had become stagnant and preachy, and tried to create something. It’s a pity he stole the script from the Japanese film Yojimbo; its producers sued Leone and Co. and ended up getting 15% of all worldwide profits and exclusive distribution rights for Japan. Despite the plagiarism (apparently in both story and style) A Fistful of Dollars remains a unique movie, with a different take on the Western genre.
Much of the credit for this belongs to Clint Eastwood, who plays the lead character. (He is constantly referred to in popular culture as “The Man with No Name”, yet he does have a name here, Joe. He is called by a different name in the sequels however, so it is suggested he always uses aliases.) Clint here is tough, rugged, and a man of few words. We are never given a back story for him, and this works in favor of the movie. He is not a character, but a symbol; a symbol of everything we all wish we could be. His quick draw is lightning fast, and his mind is sharp. In fact, what drives the story (contrary to many of the western genre) is his plotting and politicking.
The plot is about his manipulation of two different families, playing on against the other to Eastwood’s profit, and these families are portrayed interestingly as well. In most movies where there is such a situation, one of the two families is portrayed as worse than the other. There is a overbearing group and a beaten down group. We would of course, cheer for the underdog. But here we are shown two families who are just as bad as one another. The only people we are really asked to sympathize with throughout the movie are a young boy, Jesus, who has been separated from his mother (who has been taken by Ramon Roho, one of the more villainous characters) and his mother herself. This plot line is not brought out as much as it could have been though.
The great Ennio Morricone composed the music, and it is nothing if not iconic. He composed the music for the whole trilogy, and his main theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of those great songs that everyone knows but rarely know where its from. However the music in A Fistful of Dollars (while definitely unique, iconic, and almost experimental) tends to play the same tune once or twice too many. It actually took me out of the movie a couple of times. However it is so distinctive that it is in the end, worth it.
This is a darker movie than most previous westerns, and it was this change in tone that was seen as so revolutionary. We are not given a hero who needs revenge, who is protecting a village from bandits, etc. He is motivated purely by desire for money. It is a violent movie as well, with several deaths, including one of an innocent women who runs out of her burning home only to be shot at point blank range by Ramon Rohos. It’s not pretty, and it doesn’t really even elicite a response from Clint Eastwood’s Joe, who is watching. He merely sighs and leaves the scene. There was nothing he could have done and he knew it. Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne would have jumped in there guns blazing and saved the day. But this is The Man With No Name, and he’s not stupid.
A Fistful of Dollars is the rare beast, a good western movie. It has smarts to go along with its violence. It’s got a memorable musical score and equally memorable characters, and was just the kick up the pants the genre needed. It invented a new definition of cool, and solidified Clint Eastwood as both a critical and commercial success. Definitely recommended.
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Director – Guy Hamilton
Cast – Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee
— follows From Russia With Love
— followed by Thunderball
James Bond returns in the third of the series. Goldfinger features the villianous Auric Goldfinger, a gold collector, who plans to rob Fort Knox itself. (Or does he?) He is a large British man who speaks with a German accent and wears yellow clothes. And has a yellow gun. And car. You get the picture, he’s obsessed with gold. He is brouht to Bond’s attention by the CIA, who suspect him of smuggling gold from country to country in an effort to raise its value. (Or something. It’s not very clear.) Bond follows him around many exotic locales and beds a couple women (all in a days work; not bloody likely) and logically discovers that Auric Goldfinger is up to his gold tipped collar in treasonous and diabolical plots. You’d think the name would have given him a clue that something was up….
There are 2 thinks I liked about this movie.
1) The famous scene where Auric Goldfinger straps Bond to a table and points a laser at his crotch. This scene is remarkably tense and riveting(despite the innumerable parodies that have come in between) and the effects work is top notch. Keep in mind they actually had to physically accomplish the effect of a laser cutting through metal. There was a documentary included on the DVD which explained it and it’s quite fascinating. Sean Connery’s face throughout is priceless. We see a suave spy, yes; but a suave spy who will soon be childless at the very least.
Which brings me to # 2. There is a shot (a single shot) which shows Bond’s car whipping through a factory. It was shot ( I believe) from a camera car directly in front of Bond’s car. I think they may have sped the frame rate up; but if they did it is practically the only time I have ever seen that effect used without looking ghastly. It is a great shot, reminiscent of the car chases in Ronin or The Bourne Identity. It is years ahead of its time and it quite shocked me when I saw it.
The rest is… well, awful. Sean Connery looks just plain bored, and the film is slow, ridiculous, and horribly edited. How can we expect to be thrilled when Bond spends half the movie sitting and amicably chatting with the villian? That might have worked in another movie, but not here. This movie has almost no drive whatsoever.
The amateur mistakes are shocking. There is one scene, for example, when Bond is in his car and a baddie has a gun to his head. He speeds up rapidly, does a quick turn to face in the other direction, and then fires off the ejector seat that Mr. Baddie is sitting in. This takes literally 3 or 4 seconds of screen time, yet the bad guy not only does nothing the whole time, but we are specifically shown him sitting there and do nothing!
The special effects are awful; and while I know we’re supposed to just “go along for the ride”, and while I know that they didn’t have the special or physical effects available to us now, there is a point where a bad movie is just a bad movie. If they couldn’t do a shot well with their limited special effects work, they should have written something else to happen. For example From Russia With Love (the previous movie in the series) gave us plenty of tension and action without resorting to ridiculously cheap-looking rear projection and effects. Why couldn’t they have done that here?
Goldfinger is a bored and tired affair, with a tired and bored villian to match. There are a couple iconic moments scattered throughout, but they are not worth the long wait and awful special effects to get to them. Only Bond completists would want to re-watch this, goodness knows I won’t.
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From Russia With Love REVIEW
Director – Terrence Young
Cast – Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lotta Lenya
— follows Dr. No
— followed by Goldfinger
Sean Connery’s James Bond returns in the second Bond movie, sequel to 1962`s Dr. No. This time the evil SPECTRE group manipulates both the British (MI6) and Russians (SMERSH), attempting to ignite a third World War. Bond must capture a “Lector” decoding machine, while keeping free of both SMERSH and SPECTRE. The obligatory leading lady is also present of course, in this case a Russian agent played quite well by Daniele Bianchi. Bad guys include SPECTRE agents played by Robert Shaw (who later played “Quint” in Jaws), and Lotta Lenya.
This movie takes Bond in a slightly grittier, more realisitic direction while still keeping the familiar Bond sterotypes and adventure, and overall it works very well. From the very opening sequence we see this more realistic turn; it involves Robert Shaw chasing Bond through a maze, then killing him. Then we see it is not Bond, but a “live target” with a Bond mask, used for practice. Throughout the whole movie we actually fear for Bond, as his opponents are just as good if not better than he is. Robert Shaw is always one step ahead of him, out smarting and out-fighting Bond every step of the way. The only reason Bond wins is usually because of the gadgets supplied him by Q. This brings a human angle to Bond which we aren’t used to seeing, and which Daniel Craig’s Bond movies are starting to bring out more, thankfully.
This Bond is also more about tension than action, and it feels wonderful to have a movie like that. Many movies make the mistake of jumping to “The Good Bits”, i.e. the explosions, fistfights, etc.; but it is much more effective to build up slowly. We will actually be thinking, “Will they fight?”, “What’s going to happen, I feel uneasy.”, etc. And then finally when we do get the “payoff” of a fight or action sequence it is so much more satisfying. In the second half of the movie there are a few examples of this. The fight in the train between Bond and Robert Shaw’s SPECTRE agent builds slowly, and then erupts into a riveting, tense fist-fight that is one of the best put onto film. An interesting point is that during this scene there is no music, another very effective device which brings us closer to the action. A fight with a SPECTRE helicopter afterwards is also a good example. However, there aren’t really that many action set-pieces here. In fact this movie is more a thriller than an action movie. In fact the very first scene after the opening credits is a chess match. That is a perfect example of the direction this Bond takes.
Now this isn’t quite a perfect movie. Robert Shaw does a great job as a villian, combining smarts with an undeniable ability to kill. Lotta Lenya however, well… is not so good. Her accent is over the top, her performance wooden, and her accent awful. The famous Bond theme is, of course, iconic, and a great song; however severral times it is used in the wrong spot. One scene for example, has Bond checking his hotel room for bugs. It could be a pretty suspenseful scene; but with the Bond theme blairing over it it takes that whole dimension away. In fact the whole first half of the movie is a bit slow and uneven, almost not knowing what it’s going for. But it’s not too bad, and the last hour more than makes up for it.
This is one of the better Bond movies; it is fairly tense and holds your attention throughout. However, as a movie itself it isn’t that distinctive, without the character of Bond it would blend in with all the other movies of this sort. Recommended if you like Bond, or want a decent spy film.
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