Movie Review – “The Lion in Winter” (1968)

 

 

If words could kill, “The Lion in Winter” would be the most brutal film ever made.

 

Imagine if “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was set during mediveal times and concerned a “King Lear” type story. That should give you an idea of how uncomfortable “The Lion in Winter” can be, while still being a wordsmith like William Shakespeare. Every word uttered in this film is carefully calculated to be an emotional dagger right into our characters’ hearts, as every one of them is overcome with a lust for greed and power.

 

In the age of King Henry II (Peter O’Toole), he has now become an old man and still has not choosen who will be the next King. So for Christmas, Henry invites his whole family for the holiday, including his estranged sons, the rough and selfish Richard (Anthony Hopkins), the cold and calculating Geoffrey (John Castle), and the inexperienced and naive John (Nigel Terry), as well as his wife Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), who Henry has imprisoned for the last few years. Henry also invites the young king of France (Timothy Dalton). Henry says he will use this time to decide who will be the next king, mostly leaning towards John since he’s the only one Henry likes even if he would be terrible king, while he also tries to make amends for his past sins, all while abusing his power as king over all of them.

 

 

 

“The Lion in Winter” is mostly a game of chess played through words and subtle manipulations of others, played by King Henry and Eleanor. They both have much larger schemes than either wants to show, especially Eleanor who takes every opportunity to goad Henry and show him that he is not as powerful or as perfect as he thinks. Both take absolute delight in knocking the other down a peg, while both scream at the top of their lungs to see who is the loudest.

 

This is done masterfully through Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn’s performances, as they show the deeper parts of Henry and Eleanor’s love-hate relationship as well as how much they need each other. These are both cruel, greedy people who want the other acknowledge their brilliance, yet they adore one another because they force the best out of each other. This comes during their quieter moments when the two reflect on when they first met and how their love and need for each other has evolved over the years. Tormenting each other with power plays and mind games has changed their relationship into a furious struggle to maintain dominance, and they would not have it any other way.

 

Overall, “The Lion in Winter” is a lot of fun, if only for the wordplay, devestating insults and the relationship between Henry and Eleanor. This feels like a medival tragedy only Shakespeare could have written, so it is amazing that writer James Goldman could create such a fascinating screenplay. The pacing is a bit slow at times, but the tension during the final act is absolutley worth it.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1961)

 

 

This is one film that gets better the less you think about it and the absurd premise. Science and reality are thrown out the window for entertainment’s sake, but “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” handles this by balancing difficult moral decisions with impressive special effects.

 

One of the richest and intellectual minds in the world, Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) has designed the most advanced nuclear submarine the world has ever seen, the Seaview, including going to unthinkable depths in the arctic sea. Nelson plans to see how long the Seaview can last underwater without radio contact, but after a few days of underwater testing, the Seaview is forced to the surface when the ice caps around them start to break down. The crew finds that the sky is on fire and the surface temperature at the north pole is nearly 120 degrees and rising.

 

The crew arrives in New York City to find that the whole world is experiencing this deadly heat wave. Scientists have estimated that the Earth will become uninhabitable for any life within three weeks. One Russian scientist proposes that just two days before that time, this heat will just go away and everything will return to normal thus humanity should do nothing but wait. But Nelson and the crew are against this plan and come up with their own fire a nuclear missile into the atmosphere at just the right moment in just the right place, from the deepest point of the Earth just before all life is wiped out.

 

The governments of the world refuse to approve this plan, which leads Nelson to take drastic actions and steal the Seaview and her crew, as they make their way towards the Marianas trench near Guam in an attempt to save humanity.

 

 

 

The main theme of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” is power and how much one man should have of it. Nelson not only builds a one-of-a-kind submarine that outclasses everything the military had built up to the point, but he takes it upon himself to save the world from an event that he feels only he can stop. Anyone else is inadequate or not intelligent enough to carry this burden in Nelson’s eyes. He betrays the advice and authority of the United Nations to go on this mission, and even challenges the integrity and courage of the Seaview’s crew, feeling that they will be the downfall of this mission and thus ending all life on the planet.

 

Nelson’s power is questioned further when they rescue a scientists stranded on the ice, Alvarez, who spouts on about how this heat wave is God’s will and that he has chosen to end all life on the planet Who are we to go against the will of God? Yet, despite all this, Nelson pushes forward to prove that man has the power to make his own destiny, despite the will of others.

 

Robert Sterling plays Captain Lee Crane, who runs the Seaview and her crew, but is constantly battling Nelson’s decisions, especially with how he treats the crew and constantly puts the ship in danger, like when the sonar and radar go out and this leads the ship into a mine field they didn’t see coming. Sterling plays to the emotional side of the film, always understanding and compassionate towards his crew while focusing less on the mission, while Nelson is the cold, logical yet twisted side, always one wrong calculation away from breaking but has to keep his eyes on the goal at all times.

 

This makes the character struggles the most interesting part of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” especially as the film reaches its climax and the odds keep staking against them. Certainly worth checking out if you’ve got nothing else to check out.

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “El Dorado” (1966)

 

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

Oh wait, my bad. That’s the plot synopsis for Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo.” Here’s the details on Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado.”

 

John Wayne plays an aging gunman in the lawless west, who must aid a drunkard in the capture of an outlaw, as they capture their criminal in a jail cell and must protect him from his posse so that he can face justice, all while Wayne fights off a previous lover.

 

…Wait.

 

 

 

Yeah, right away I began to notice a lot of similarities between “El Dorado” and “Rio Bravo,” especially in terms of plot and story. Although “El Dorado” adds in new characters, including a family that is caught in the middle of this feud, and the outlaw being a business man planning to buy out all the water in the area, instead of a loose-cannon gunman.

 

But where the two differ is in their tone and atmosphere, as well as the acting. Outside of the comedic scenes between John Wayne and his ex-lover, “Rio Bravo” took itself very seriously, like the whole state of Texas was on the line if they failed their mission to bring this criminal in to face justice. The film reminded me a lot of another Howard Hawks western, “Red River,” with its somber yet meticulous pacing where dread and terror could be around any corner.

 

“El Dorado” on the other hand never takes itself too seriously, with Wayne having a lot more time for banter among his buddies, including the druken sherriff (Robert Mitchum) and a skilled knife marksman (James Caan). The pace is far more leisurely, taking its time to build things up and often going off to do things that don’t have an immediate payoff, like an injury that Wayne sustains early on, or the way that Wayne and Caan’s characters meet out of the blue. This makes “El Dorado” far more pleasant to sit through than “Rio Bravo” and offers a lot more that made me smile, especially through humor and simple conversations.

 

 

 

“El Dorado” also gets bonus points for having some better performances than “Rio Bravo,” namely from Robert Mitchum. His character goes through many different shades, from patient sherriff with wit, to a drunk man who has nothing to lose, to a old man looking to redeem himself, and Mitchum makes each of these sides feel like one whole man, filled to the brim with successes and failures. While “Rio Bravo” had Dean Martin as its drunk gunman, who nailed the humor and banter with Wayne, Mitchum nailed the tragedy of this character and poured on the sympathy.

 

But the biggest reason I take “El Dorado” is because there was no petty scuabbling between Wayne and his ex-lover like in “Rio Bravo,” which was so irritating and insufferable that it almost made me want to turn off the movie. Instead, “El Dorado” was a supportive, almost motherly figure with Maudie (Charlene Holt), who isn’t afraid to snap back at Wayne but knows that she cannot change his mind.

 

Overall, while “Rio Bravo” and “El Dorado” have their share of similarites, the two certainly set about it in different ways. One is a darker, tense tale of redemption and justice, while the other is a more pleasant, humorous romp about making things right. They’re both great movies in their own right, certainly worth checking out if you’re in the mood for a classic western. It is hard to go wrong with Howard Hawks directing John Wayne.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Spartacus” (1960)

Just watching this to say I’ve nearly seen every Stanley Kubrick film. Nothing to see here.

Well okay, there is an interesting history to “Spartacus.” This film came about when actor Kirk Douglas was turned down to play the lead role in “Ben-Hur” which went to Charlton Heston. Douglas wanted to prove that he could play that same role better than Heston ever could and set out to make the best Roman epic Hollywood could make. Douglas ended up being the executive producer on “Spartacus” and wanted Anthony Mann to direct, but had many creative differences with Mann and instead went to Stanley Kubrick, who had worked with Douglas previously on “Paths of Glory.”

“Spartacus” is also one of the films to basically end the “Blacklist”-era of Hollywood by openly showcasing Dalton Trumbo’s name as the screenwriter even though he was a blacklisted writer. Douglas openly admitted that Trumbo wrote the script and “Spartacus” went on to be one of the highest grossing films of 1960, showing that Hollywood needed Dalton Trumbo.

 

So while the film started out as a petty way for Kirk Douglas to get back at the executives that turned him down for a role, it did end up saving the careers of hundreds blacklisted writers, directors, actors and filmmakers. A true showcase of selfishness becoming selflessness.

That being said, “Spartacus” is about as average of a Roman epic as you can get. We see the slave uprising, the evil greed of the Roman Empire and their need to suppress everyone around them, the leader of the slaves being very stoic and showing his men kindness instead of the hatred the Romans showed, and so on. Outside of the now famous “I’m Spartacus!” scene, I have a hard time remembering most of the plot.

I find the story of how “Spartacus” was made more interesting than the movie itself.

Final Grade: C

 

Movie Review – “The Pink Panther” (1964)

 

 

Boy, 1964 was the year of fun movies wasn’t it? “Goldfinger,” “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and now “The Pink Panther.” Screw 1939 or 1994, 1964 might be the greatest year of cinema.

These days, I hear little about the Pink Panther film series, at least anything good. Before watching this movie, my only exposure were the Steve Martin movies, who portrays the title character Inspector Clouseau as incompetent fool who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works. And most people seem to agree with me. But after watching the original film, I can see why Steve Martin’s performance is so infuriating to those who enjoyed the series.

In the 1964 film, Inspector Clouseau is played by Peter Sellers, a bumbling police officer who seems to be just a few steps behind the notorious jewel thief, the Phantom (David Niven). He travels the globe constantly searching for the next clue, alongside his wife Simone (Capucine). We quickly learn that Simone is working with the Phantom and stops the Inspector at every turn, but seems to have fallen in love with him, and at least two other men.

 

 

For all of his comedic antics throughout the film, what I enjoyed about Inspector Clouseau is that he was still great at his job. He was always on the trail and would set aside family and loved ones to complete his mission, always intelligently assessing the situation and coming to the best conclusion possible. His problem is that he doesn’t always look where he’s going and his body cannot keep up with his brain.

He’s not a mindless idiot, just uncoordinated and a little too dedicated to the job.

Originally, “The Pink Panther” was mostly going to be about the Phantom and his nephew attempting to steal the largest diamond in the world, the pink panther diamond. But as the filmming progressed, Peter Sellers stole more and more of the show and cracked up everyone on set with his bumbling personality. This convinced the studio to put Sellers in more scenes, until he ultimatley became the main character and got top billing. David Niven later noted that, while he played a jewel thief, it was Peter Sellers who stole the movie.

And while Niven does well with his role, playing the suave yet pompous gentlemen, Sellers gives us some great scenes in the later parts of the film.

My biggest complaint with “The Pink Panther” is how slow it starts out. There are small moments of goodness sprinkled throughout the first hour, especially between Niven and the princess who owns the diamond, but nothing substainial. But once it gets to an uproarious scene where Clouseau, the Phantom, his nephew and Simone keep going back and forth through the same hotel room and Simone attempts to hide everything from her husband, the film gets great, with one great joke after another leading to a hilarious punchline.

Overall, “The Pink Panther” may start out slow but it has one of the greatest comedic endings I have seen, which makes the whole journey worth it. Peter Sellers is wonderful in every scene, whether he is solving a crime or bumbling his way through answering the phone. It is not hard to see why this verison of Inspector Clouseau is so beloved and why Peter Sellers stole top billing for this movie.

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)

 

 

I would like to take a moment to address some glaring mistakes I’ve made in the past, in particular to my review of “Selma” and the terrible things I said. In that review, it came across like I said racism doesn’t exist and shouldn’t be an issue that is discussed when that shouldn’t be the case. It came across like I was speaking from a white priveledged perspective and as someone who has never seen racism, which made me look insensitive and, for lack of a better term, racist.

While this is long overdue, I do apologize for what I said in that review and any other time I’ve said something that you have taken as offensive. While it was not my intention to come across that way, it was clear that my perspective was skewed, unfocused, and selfish. While my opinion of “Selma” has changed very little since my initial review, I should have made it clear that I respected the film for its brutal honesty and being unrelenting in the face of the truth, much like Martin Luther King himself, which certainly does strengthen the film and its history.

For without the fight for equal rights and treatment from heroes like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the world would be much darker and prejudiced place.

This is what makes 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night” one of the most important movies of all time. While this film claims to be a murder-mystery, the true star of the film is prejudice and intolerance, set in a hot small town in Mississippi after the one man who make this town big is murdered, and the police officers begin throwing around suspects like they were tickets to the state fair, including to a visiting African-American, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier). The sherriff, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), quickly learns Tibbs is a homocide detective from Philadelphia and is given this murder case by his superior.

 

 

The film is less about solving the crime and more about Tibbs and the sherriff fighting and clawing at one another, in the hope of recognition and respect – Tibbs to show that any man, no matter his color or creed, can achieve any job they want to, and the sherriff to show he is worthy of being in charge of the law in this town.

They both just want to be created as equals, whether as a man or as an officer.

This is compliemented perfectly by Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger’s performances. Poitier is unflinching and unforgiving, and goes into the case expecting nothing but to prove his worth. Without scalding or hardly raising his voice above a whisper, he proves he is louder and stronger than anyone else.

Steiger, on the other hand, plays his role as a man who has laid back most of his life and let the answers come to him. This case is the first time he has been challenged, in more ways than one. He is quick to assume because it is easy, but he learns that police investigations are anything but easy. He comes across as a conflicted man, who wants to trust Tibbs but is torn by his prejudice.

Any scene between these two is racked with tense dialogue, each trying to dig in to the other. Any moment of silence is deadly as the two stare each other down, like a old western showdown.

I adore “In the Heat of the Night” for its timing, commentary on recognition and the tense atmosphere. The pacing moves just well enough to keep the mystery compelling, yet slow enough to let the quieter moments sink in. This is a quintessential picture for anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the evolution of mankind, myself included.

Final Grade: A

 

Movie Review – “The Time Machine” (1960)

 

 

The second film by George Pal adapting an H.G. Wells novel, the first being “War of the Worlds,” “The Time Machine,” falls into many of the same categories as the other adaptation – Good effects, lousy characters, but a great job adapting Wells’ message about the strengths and weaknesses of mankind.

H.G. Wells was way ahead of his time, coming up with ideas for science fiction stories in the 1800s and developing the blue print that every alien invasion and time travel story comes from.

“The Time Machine” follows inventor George Wells (Rod Taylor) who has developed a machine that allows him to travel through the fourth dimension of time. He demonstrates the device to his colleagues, but they can’t believe in such a contraption. When George gets fed up with living in the present, he uses his machine to travel into the future and see how far mankind has come in the year 802,701 A.D.

 

 

The film takes a while to get going, since George spends the first third of the film contemplating what the future will be like and why he has no interest in going into the past (even though he built in that function), as well as going into the future by just a few years. It doesn’t help that George comes across as the typical action hero who has to save the day.

Overall, I enjoyed “The Time Machine” for its unique approach with time-lapse photography and how far mankind will have come in thousands of years, whether that is forward or backwards. The pacing isn’t anything to write about and I don’t remember anything about the characters. This is worth checking out to see where time travel got its science fiction roots.

Final Grade: C+