Tag Archives: Joseph Sargent

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MacArthur (1977) 3.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76
Genre: War, Drama
Duration: 130 mins
Director: Joseph Sargent
Stars: Gregory Peck, Dan O’Herlihy, Ed Flanders

Joseph Sargent’s little recognised account of General Douglas MacArthur’s career from the beginning of WWII to his retirement is a rather compelling and fully engaging military drama. Gregory Peck takes on the role of the larger than life figure and imbues him with all the self-certainty and military vision that have come to be associated with him but balanced that with a healthy dose of sadness at the passing of time, and a complicated look at the self-proclaimed pacifist’s contradictory craving for war.

As much as Franklin J. Schaffner did with Patton, Sargent captures the point at which myth and reality meet and seems to paint the entire picture with that theme. At all times, we feel we are witnessing something epochal. Befitting the name and the myth, there’s a majesty to the tone of the film and there’s nobody better to shoulder any accompanying stress points than Gregory Peck. Such stress points take the shape of necessary omissions of key occurrences that would give more accurate shape to the political and military incidents MacArthur is otherwise given full credit for. But through Peck’s ownership of the role, he gives one the impression that such cracks in the story don’t exists – just like the General himself did! In its place, is a very elegant progression of events as Sargent unfolds a rather substantial history of the man and America’s contemporaneous international concerns.

The look of the movie can impress at times but, at others, it has a distinct TV movie feel. The wide staging of some of the battle sequences for example is magnificent but when up close with the soldiers, it all gets a little artificial. But unlike say The Longest Day, this isn’t about the knitting together of the large and small scale realities of war. Instead, it follows the likes of Patton, by using the latter as dramatic filler between the more dramatic scenes. Just not as substantially as was done in Patton.

Unfortunately, MacArthur has been forgotten by everyone but the strictest of war movie buffs. Peck always walked a tightrope between stoic brilliance and wooden delivery but such an affectation seems very befitting of the blood-military “General’s General”. Like the film as a whole, it’s a delicate balance that comes out firmly on the right side and deserves a wider audience.

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Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) 3/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.9
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Joseph Sargent 
Stars: Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Gordon Pinsent

Back in the early days of the computer revolution, when computers seemed all powerful and full of potential malevolence, the notion of a sinister AI systematically removing our human liberties was one that made for some unsettling films. Given how overrated we now know those dangers to be, most films premised on this topic don’t maintain that same sense of menace when watched nowadays but a few (the most obvious being 2001: A Space Odyssey) do. Despite its shoestring budget, and modest place in the history of cinema, Colossus: The Forbin Project is one such film. Eric Braeden plays Dr. Charles Forbin, the world’s leading computer scientist, who has just completed work on a massive computer system designed to maintain full autonomous control over the US military’s defence capabilities. However, as soon as this system (named “Colossus”) is placed on line, it detects a similar computer controlling the Soviet network and despite the best effort of both countries, the two supercomputers begin working together to take control of the world.

There’s a lovely build up to this film as it begins by picking up at the end of what appears to have been an exhausting project. As the scientists celebrate and the politicians preen, there’s a real sense of one’s guard been let down. James Bridge’s script gives the various characters a believable overconfidence by rooting it not in arrogance but, ironically, in their intelligence. Thus, when Colossus begins misbehaving, a wonderfully drawn out recognition of peril occurs. As he would later demonstrate in The Taking of Pelham 123, director Joseph Sargent has a refined touch when it comes to handling tense drama and his framing and use of space parallels and therefore accentuates the heightening sense of claustrophobia which the apparent omnipresence of Colossus gives rise to. The shots of Colossus’ physical manifestations (close circuit cameras, mainframes, etc), while very dated, still play wonderfully on the Kuleshov effect (which Kubrick tapped so brilliantly in 2001) so that much of the malevolence it takes on begins within the minds of the audience. Of course, no such subtlety is aimed for with its voice but the grizzled electronic sound is a welcomed turn of pace for a film which primarily dealt with the subtle.

There are nice touches of comedy layered throughout the picture which are picked up on and channeled well through the cast. Braeden is superb as the stern but thoughtful Dr. Forbin in a performance reminiscent of Gregory Peck in his pomp while Susan Clark’s turn as his chief accomplice in his plans against the computer is a positive addition to vibe of the movie. Colossus: The Forbin Project isn’t an explicitly terrifying film but as we see the machine devise ever more clever ways at keeping the humans under its control, it does become implicitly unsettling which is what these type of science fiction films have always been about.

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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.5
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 104 mins
Director: Joseph Sargent
Stars: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam

The Daddy of the 70’s thriller gives us one of Walter Matthau’s best performances as the smart talking Subway Transit cop who has to negotiate with the legendary Robert Shaw’s nasty hijacker. This is exactly what a thriller should do. From scene one when that thumping David Shire score (which on its own could have defined the best decade in American cinema) jumps out at you, this movie has you and it keeps you right through to the closing scene. The tension is built up in sublime fashion as director Joseph Sargent takes his time introducing the various characters and their even bigger personalities. In fact, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect to the movie is watching the various headstrong characters playing off each other (each one a walking, talking force of New York nature) as they each do their bit to solve matters to their own satisfaction. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three directly inspired Tarantino in his writing of Reservoir Dogs, and it’s not difficult to see why as Peter Stone’s screenplay is eaten up by the uniformly splendid cast. Accept No Substitutes!

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