Category Archives: Action

Gladiator

Directed by Ridley Scott
Produced by Douglas Wick, David Franzoni & Branko Lustig
Screenplay by David Franzoni, John Logan & William Nicholson
Story by David Franzoni
Starring Russell Crowe
Joaquin Phoenix
Connie Nielsen
Oliver Reed
Derek Jacobi
Djimon Hounsou
Richard Harris
Music by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt & Lisa Gerrard
Cinematography John Mathieson
Editing by Pietro Scalia
Studio Scott Free Productions & Red Wagon Entertainment
Distributed by DreamWorks (USA) & Universal Studios (non-USA)
Release date May 1, 2000 (2000-05-01) (Los Angeles)
May 5, 2000 (2000-05-05) (United States)
May 12, 2000 (2000-05-12) (United Kingdom)
Running time 155 minutes
Country United Kingdom & United States
Language English

The other night I watched Ridley Scott’s Gladiator for the first time in a decade. The version that I watched was the extended cut, with a few scenes added to the cinematic version. Russell Crowe gives a great performance as Maximus, the general who after being left for dead becomes a gladiator and challenges the power of the emperor, whilst Joaquin Phoenix is very eccentric as Commodus.

The fight scenes are very good although they do tend to be a little over the top with the gore. I like the way in which the fights were choreographed.

Gladiator was a bit of a gamble for its creators, as the days of sword and sandals epics had long disappeared. Even since 2000 there really have been no good films from this genre.


Shaft In Africa

Shaft in Africa

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Starring Richard Roundtree
Frank Finlay
Neda Arnerić
Vonetta McGee
Frank McRae
Distributed by MGM
Release date June 14, 1973
Country (USA)
Running time 112 min.
Language English

Shaft In Africa is the third instalment in the Shaft trilogy of blaxploitation movies from the 1970s. This film focuses on private detective John Shaft after he has been enlisted by an African nation to bust up a slavery ring in Ethiopia and France.

This is a very 70s movie, with lots of slang from the era, much of which would have been hilarious even then. While the music is great it does not feature the iconic Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes which is featured in the first Shaft film. Unlike the other movies John Shaft is more like a black James Bond than what we expect.

Shaft In Africa was the least successful of the Shaft films and was panned by critics. I guess that the reason for this is because Shaft has been taken out of his regular NYC environment, with the film makers obviously trying to make this not just another blaxploitation movie. Personally I enjoyed the picture quite a bit and thought it was rather exciting. Richard Roundtree is as charismatic as ever as John Shaft, whilst one of his love (or should that be lust) interests, Aleme, played by the late Vonetta McGee, looks a lot like Beyonce in this film.

I must also make a slight mention of the cars in the film. Usually in blaxploitation movies you expect to see big, late 60s – early 70s, American V8 muscle cars that have been pimped out to the extreme, but not in Shaft In Africa. At the start of the film Shaft is seen driving and Alfa Romeo GTA, whilst the French villain Amafi drives a Citroen DS. At the end there are also a number of Renault 8s.


Hatari

Directed by Howard Hawks
Produced by Howard Hawks & Paul Helmick
Written by Harry Kurnitz
Leigh Brackett
Starring John Wayne
Elsa Martinelli
Hardy Krüger
Red Buttons
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date October 6, 1962
Running time 157 min

Hatari is another manly John Wayne movie. It’s not as manly as The Quiet Man, but it is pretty close. Of course John Wayne is a man’s man, even if there are photos of him wearing women’s clothing which somehow hasn’t made it to the internet yet! (Perhaps he is so manly that the internet refuses to believe that he was into transvetitism!). Hatari is such a manly film that even the woman act manly, no matter how hot they are. In one scene that lasted about five minutes Elsa Martinelli smokes three cigarettes and drinks a beer. The film is just dripping with testosterone.

Seriously it is an enjoyable, although overlong, film. There are lots of exotic animals and dangers in the African savannah and there is also a lot of good-natured humour. With John Wayne you always know what you are going to get as he always plays the same type of character. Perhaps he didn’t need much of an acting range since he was so manly?!

I should also mention the music and that at the end of the film we are treated to Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk and the sight of three cute baby elephants running amok.  All in all an enjoyable way to waste 2 1/2 hours and best thing is that you can get the DVD from Big W for less than ten bucks.


Shaft

Directed by Gordon Parks
Produced by Joel Freeman
Written by Ernest Tidyman (novel & screenplay)
John D.F. Black
Starring Richard Roundtree
Music by Isaac Hayes & J. J. Johnson
Cinematography Urs Furrer
Editing by Hugh A. Robertson
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Warner Bros. (DVD)
Release date July 2, 1971 (USA)
Language English

Shaft is often hailed as one of the first Blaxploitation films that were made in the 1970s but I am not so sure if it really fits into that category. To me it seems more like a typical cop film set in New York, only with a black man as the hero of the piece. There is also the iconic Theme From Shaft by the late Isaac Hayes, which I guess sets it apart from the rest.

I enjoyed Shaft very much and thought it was very exciting. Compared to the blaxploitation films that followed this one seems very tame, as the sex scenes and violence are toned down, while the swearing is not as over the top as the later films. The plot involves the daughter of  a black crime boss being kidnapped by the mafia and Shaft having to rescue her in order to stop the potential bloodshed that a gang war in Harlem would cause. Richard Roundtree is very likable as John Shaft and gives a very laid back performance. Most of the acting is pretty good, especially when compared to later blaxploitation films.


Iron Man

Directed by Jon Favreau
Produced by Avi Arad & Kevin Feige

Written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & John August

Starring Robert Downey Jr.
Terrence Howard
Jeff Bridges
Gwyneth Paltrow

Music by Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography Matthew Libatique
Editing by Dan Lebental
Studio Marvel Studios
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date May 2, 2008
Running time 125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I didn’t get around to seeing Iron Man when it came out in 2008. This wasn’t my fault though, as I remember that I really wanted to see. The only reason I didn’t go was because Priscilla didn’t want to go and see ‘another stupid superhero movie’. I could have gone to see it on my own, but where is the fun in that?!

Iron Man is more of an anti-hero than a true hero. In the comic books he is a heavy drinker whose indirect actions caused the death of Captain America. I don’t really think that he has a very memorable rogue’s gallery like Spider-man or the Fantastic Four but he has been the head of the heroic Avengers team during his career.

One thing that surprised me about the Iron Man film was just how little screen time Iron Man was given. Instead the film focussed on his alter-ego Tony Stark, who was only in his suit of armour for about ten to fifteen minutes. Still that is not to say that this is a bad move, as the origin story is perhaps more fascinating than just seeing two costumed characters beat the snot out of each other.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark but he really doesn’t stretch his acting ability here. He basically is playing himself but that works in this case (whereas it didn’t in the awful Sherlock Holmes!). Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark’s harried assistant Pepper Potts while Jeff Bridges plays the villain Stane.

Overall the film is pretty good. It is not as entertaining as the current DC Comics Batman franchise but it is the best of the Marvel Comics films to have been released so far, with the exception of the first Spider-man film.


Superman and the Mole Men

Directed by Lee Sholem
Produced by Barney A. Sarecky
Written by Richard Fielding
Starring George Reeves & Phyllis Coates
Music by Darrell Calker & Walter Greene
Cinematography Clark Ramsey
Editing by Albrecht Joseph
Distributed by Lippert Pictures Inc.
Release date(s) November 23, 1951
Running time 58 min.
Country United States
Language English

I love the old Superman TV show of the 1950s. I remember getting up early to watch this show, as well as the Three Stooges, The Thunderbirds and Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid. The show still holds up pretty well today despite the dodgy special effects.

Superman Meets The Mole People was a theatrically released B movie and introduced George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. It was later edited into two half hour episodes for the first season of the TV show.

The film is perhaps not as good as the TV show that followed it. Perhaps this is because it does not feature the familiar “Is it a bird…” introduction that the TV show has, or because we do not see Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larsen) and Perry White (John Hamilton). Maybe it’s because we don’t really see all that much of the ‘man of steel’, as like in the TV show Clark Kent has a bigger role than Superman. This is much more noticeable in a sixty minute feature film than it is in a half hour TV show episode.

This film itself deals with similar themes as the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, in that the small town of Silsby is whipped up into hysteria when some small mole human hybrid creatures are spotted. The townspeople (and Lois’) first reaction is that the mole people are horribly ugly and thus must be destroyed but as ever Superman provides a voice of reason. The mob leader Corrigan also does not seem all that bright, as he tries to shoot Superman on three separate occasions. You’d think that after seeing bullets ricochet off him the first time he would have given up trying.

The mole people themselves look really creepy. They look like bald-headed little people with John Howard-esque eyebrows. After one of them is shot by the townspeople they try to gain revenge by using their Electrolux vacuum cleaner/laser gun. This shows just how dodgy the special effects were, just like in the scene where Superman flies up to save one of the mole people who has been shot and is falling from the top of a dam that he is on for some inexplicable reason. The flying is ‘animated’ and looks really dodgy. Still I could point out all of the flaws of this low-budget B-grade film but that does not mean that it is not entertaining. The film is enjoyable if only for the previously mentioned dodginess and the warm performance of George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman.


The Greatest Show On Earth

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Written by Fredric M. Frank, Theodore St. John, Frank Cavett & Barré Lyndon Narrated by Cecil B. DeMille
Starring Betty Hutton
Cornel Wilde
Charlton Heston
James Stewart
Dorothy Lamour
Gloria Grahame
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Anne Bauchens
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) January 10, 1952 (1952-01-10)
Running time 152 minutes
Country United States
Language English

We bring you the circus — that Pied Piper whose magic tunes lead children of all ages, from 6 to 60, into a tinseled and spun-candied world of reckless beauty and mounting laughter; whirling thrills; of rhythm, excitement and grace; of daring, enflaring and dance; of high-stepping horses and high-flying stars.

But behind all this, the circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline, motion and speed …. a mechanized army on wheels that rolls over any obstacle in its path …. that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling …. a place where disaster and tragedy stalk the Big Top, haunt the backyards, and ride the circus rails …. where Death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear.

A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds: That is the circus. And this is the story of the biggest of the Big Tops …. and of the men and women who fight to make it — The Greatest Show on Earth!

The Greatest Show On Earth won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1952 but is often called the worst Best Picture of all time. This is mainly because 1952 was the year that other classics such as High Noon, Singin’ In The Rain, Ivanhoe, The Quiet Man and Moulin Rouge were released. Despite what critics may say and the reputation that it has had hoist upon it, The Greatest Show On Earth is still a very fine film. I am not just saying this because The Greatest Show On Earth was my favourite show as a kid either. Sometimes it is good to watch a big budget, dumb film with lots of colour and action and FUN!!! It is not just worthy films that should be considered great, not all films have to have a message or feature dramatic performances, sometimes it’s enough to be able to much on some popcorn and be thoroughly entertained for two and a half hours. I suspect that if The Greatest Show On Earth had not received the Oscar for best picture in 1952 it would be much more respected than it is today.

I am not a wanker movie reviewer (obviously) who has try to look intelligent or profound with what I say. I don’t have to try to pretend to shun the mainstream for whatever is hip. I am allowed to say that I like a film that many professional critics have maligned, which is the case here. Let’s face it, I still like The Greatest Show On Earth and would say that of the other films that were nominated for Best Picture in 1952, only High Noon can compare to it. (The same can be said for The Sound Of Music, but that was omitted from the nominations for best picture!)

In hindsight I do admit that The Greatest Show On Earth is a big, dumb movie, but that is no bad thing. The best way to enjoy this film is to turn your brain off before watching it and to just take in the colour and spectacle of the movie. It’s fun to watch the film and to reminisce about the old days of the circus, and to watch the cameos by actual renowned circus performers like Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs. Charlton Heston is Ok as Brad the circus owner while Betty Hutton is downright annoying at times as aerialist Holly. I do like James Stewart’s fine role as Buttons the Clown and find him intriguing, especially as he does not take his make-up off at all in the picture.


North By Northwest

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Written by Ernest Lehman
Starring Cary Grant
Eva Marie Saint
James Mason
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Robert Burks, ASC
Editing by George Tomasini
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) July 28, 1959 (US)
Running time 136 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Along with Psycho and The Birds, North By Northwest is perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s best known work. Of all of Hitchcock’s films North By Northwest is probably the one that is the most critically acclaimed. It is also the film that contains a couple of the most well-known scenes in all of Hitch’s movies and indeed of all of cinema. While the shower scene from Psycho may be the most famous of Hitchcock’s signature scenes, Cary Grant being chased by the crop duster through the corn field in North By Northwest as well as the backdrop of Mount Rushmore while Grant and Eve Marie Saint battle their would be assassins have both become just as iconic in their own right.

In this exciting movie Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, a nobody advertising executive who is mistaken for fictious spy George Kaplan. He is initially kidnapped by a couple of thugs who believe he is the spy Kaplan and who try to murder him. Once he escapes a cat and mouse adventure begins, with Thornhill being chased across the United States as he searches in vain for Kaplan. The film is just thrilling in every sense, with this being one of Grant’s best films. Bernard Herrmann’s score is once again brilliant and matches the excitement of each scene.  In my opinion this is simply a great film that everyone should see once in their lifetime.

* Early in the film watch for a cameo by Ed Platt as Thornhill’s lawyer. A few years later Platt went on to play the Chief in Get Smart, my favourite TV show of all time!!!


The General

Directed by Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Produced by Joseph Schenck & Buster Keaton
Written by William Pittenger (memoir)
Screenplay: Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Uncredited: Charles Henry Smith & Paul Girard Smith
Starring Buster Keaton & Marion Mack
Music by Carl Davis (1987)
Robert Israel (1995)
Joe Hisaishi (2004)
Cinematography Bert Haines & Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Buster Keaton & Sherman Kell (both uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) February 5, 1927
Running time 75 minutes (times vary with different versions)
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

The General is regarded as Buster Keaton’s greatest masterpiece. In my opinion it is indeed a fine piece of film making that seems to be more of an action or adventure film than a comedy.

The movie is based on true historical events from the American Civil War. It involves the theft of the train The General, by the Union Army and how the group who stole it, Anderson’s Raiders, were pursued by one determined Southerner named Johnnie Gray. The film is very exciting and some of the cinematography is brilliant, considering that the film was made in 1927 and there are a few amusing bits, but nothing really laugh out loud funny. The final chase between the Union train The Texas and The General from back to the south is particularly exciting, as is the blowing up of the Rock River Bridge.

The film is more of an action/adventure film than a comedy. Although it was a critical and box office failure on its release, it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made. I enjoyed the film but more as a historical artefact than as a piece of entertainment. It has moments of excitement and drama but it isn’t really a comedy film.

* 29 years later Disney made their film The Great Locomotive Chase which was also based on these events but from the point of view of the Unionist who stole The General rather than the South.


Spartacus

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Edward Lewis
Written by Dalton Trumbo & Howard Fast (Novel)
Starring
Kirk Douglas
Laurence Olivier
Peter Ustinov
John Gavin
Jean Simmons
Charles Laughton
Tony Curtis
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Russell Metty
Editing by Robert Lawrence
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) October 7, 1960
Running time 184 minutes
Country United States
Language English

“I’m Spartacus”

Spartacus is an epic gladiator film from 1960. It is from a time when long movies had intermissions so that patrons could go to the bathroom or buy a Coke, popcorn and a choc-top before watching the second half of the film. These types of films also allow the home-viewer a chance to take a break too, before putting disc 2 into the machine. In fact I actually watched part 1 of the film this morning before going to work and part two when I got home. I should also make a note that I borrowed this DVD from the local public library.

The film follows the life of Spartacus, a slave who is sold to a gladiator school but then causes a revolt, before turning his attention to freeing the rest of Rome’s slaves. While the action and the battle scenes are very good, there is also a good insight into the (fictionalised) political maneuverings in ancient Rome. It is fun to see how the Senators and the generals are at times more willing to find a way to humiliate the other and diminish their rivals’ political standing, than fight the slave army of Spartacus.

The film stars Kirk Douglas as Spartacus and features some of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Kirk is very charismatic as the freed slave but it just feels like Spartacus is an extension of his own natural persona and that he is just playing Kirk Douglas. The only difference here from his performance in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is that here he is a little more intense, and less clownish, but the similarities of the two performances are there. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy his performance here.

In fact I enjoyed Spartacus so much that I will buy the DVD for myself to watch over and over. In fact the only thing I didn’t enjoy about the film is the condition of the DVD that I borrowed, as when it got to the 48 minute mark of disc two the picture kept freezing and jumping. I always thought that DVDs were meant to be indestructible but I do notice that there are several discs at the two public libraries that I belong to that are almost unwatchable. I know that I lovingly take care of my own DVDs and none are scratched or damaged at all, but it seems that when people borrow DVDs from the library that they just don’t care how they treat them, hence the damage that I often find in library discs.