Rating: The Good – 69.5 Genre: Science Fiction, War Duration: 103 mins Director: Don Taylor Stars: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross
Cracking sci-fi thriller starring Kirk Douglas as the captain of a 1980’s aircraft carrier which gets pulled into a vortex during routine manoeuvres off Hawaii and gets sent back to December 6th 1941. The premise is compelling to say the least and it’s tapped for all its worth as the crew of the massively advanced ship weigh the moral and philosophical implications of intervening in the Japanese sneak attack which is about to be launched against Pearl Harbor. The film is set up wonderfully with plenty of time dedicated to substantially introducing the various characters and establishing their various political and moral positions and whatever relationships which will become relevant later on. The scenario is made more interesting with the inclusion of Martin Sheen as a civilian consultant who provides an unpredictable counterpoint to the hardened military personnel.
As two of the most professional actors to ever grace the screen Douglas and Sheen are great either on their own or together and they each bring an abundance of personality to the film. Katherine Ross and the always excellent Charles Durning offer equally interesting points of view as 1941 civilians (Durning playing a wily old senator) rescued by the aircraft carrier after the Japanese attacked their boat. Director Don Taylor is to be commended for his handling of the large scale logistics which include shooting everything from live action fighter jets, helicopters, the carrier itself, to the infamous Japanese “zeros”. The various action sequences are elegantly shot and edited and would rival any dedicated war film from the time. Furthermore, Taylor shows real panache in how he shoots the time-travelling sequence and imbues the moment with a real sense of primordial menace. This is particularly important because if captured in the wrong manner, the tenuousness of the story’s premise could be exposed (for example, just imagine how a “Time Tunnel” like shot of the carrier spinning two-dimensionally into the past could’ve undermined its credibility).
It all builds up to a fitting climax and there’s even time to tie some mind bending logical time-loops into the story in the vein of the best time-travel movies. The Final Countdown is exactly what a war/time travel sci-fi should be. It’s entertaining and reasonably stimulating and it really should’ve been remembered better.
Rating: The Good – 89.8 Genre: Crime Drama Duration: 94 mins Director: Terrence Malick Stars: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates
A blinding debut from recluse Terrence Malick. Badlands follows the kill-spree of two young free spirits in a thoughtful exploration of young adults playing by their own rules while trying to make their mark on the world. Martin Sheen gives the performance of his career as the James Dean wannabe with homicidal tendancies. Sissy Spacek is a revelation as the confused young girl who is just as culpable as her boyfriend yet just as innocent. This is a powerhouse of a film that will leave you with many unanswered questions and a great sense of unease but with Malick’s prodigious sense for visuals and sound as well as the acting of the leading pair, it’s worth the watch and then some.
Rating: The Good – 67.8 Genre: Thriller Duration: 118 mins Director: George Pan Cosmatos Screenplay: George Pan Cosmatos, Robert Katz Stars: Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen
A terrific old school disaster movie about the attempts to contain a carrier of the pneumonic plague on board a Swiss train bound for Scandinavia. Richard Harris top-lines as a famous doctor trapped on board the train who together with his ex-wife (played by Sofia Loren) take control of the situation until such time that the military show up with an altogether more extreme solution to the potential epidemic. This is really a nice little film from an era which specialised in such movies. There is an interesting array of characters all of whom are nicely rounded and the action on the train is well juxtaposed with the colder more clinical efforts of the commanding colonel (Burt Lancaster) as he attempts to contain the situation from an office in Geneva. Harris, Loren, and Lancaster are in fine form and Martin Sheen offers his usual presence in support. Cosmotos handles it all well and shows some genuine clever touches such as giving the eponymous bridge an ominous character of its own.
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness switches the action from Africa to Vietnam to telling effect given the reverberations the East Asian context would have with an audience of the late 70’s and beyond. Thus, in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard journeys up the Nung River with a boat full of assorted and richly drawn American GI’s to deal with Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz.
The stories behind the film’s making are legendary (a typhoon destroying the helicopters being used on the film, Martin Sheen’s health troubles, etc.) but the end product is a mesmerising and reflexive exploration of the dark side to humanity. Brando makes a brief but arresting appearance as the disturbed but magnetic leader of a rag-tag jungle army which includes Dennis Hopper in one of his more deranged roles (and that’s saying something!). However, Sheen’s contribution is just as important as Brando’s, if not more, as the film rests on his shoulders for the vast majority of its long duration. It’s a powerfully tempered performance that encapsulates, more than any of the others, the fragile and disturbing yet steely nature of man.
The last word, of course, should be reserved for Coppola for Apocalypse Now is a sublime piece of film-making. From the very opening sound that phases between the sound of helicopters and that ceiling fan to the illuminating shots that followed it to the audacious La Cavalcata Delle Valchirie sequence now immortalised as perhaps the most famous movie sequence of all time, the level of inspiration and innovation demonstrated here, both technical and from a purely artistic point of view, is simply spell-binding. It was also arguably Coppolla’s last truly great work and given that it was capping films like The Godfather Part I and Part II and The Conversation, he certainly seems to have burned twice as bright as practically every other director working at that time. And if Apocalypse Now really was his denouement as a genius director, it’s an utterly unforgettable piece of work to sign off on.
Rating: The Good – 83.4 Genre: Drama Duration: 126 mins Director: Oliver Stone Stars: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah
Oliver Stone’s story of stock trading and the high life in 1980′s New York stars Charlie Sheen as the ambitious young trader who catches the attention of the greed celebrating master of the universe Michael Douglas and is recruited into the attractive but perilous world of insider trading. Naturally, it isn’t long before he realises that he is nothing more than food for the big fish as his lavish lifestyle begins to have professional and emotional consequences.
Rarely has a film captured the essence of a time and place like this one. Robert Richardson’s cinematography gives the city a life of its own (check out those early morning and late evening shots) particularly when accompanied by Stewart Copeland’s perfectly weighted score. The acting is generally first rate and even the much maligned Daryl Hannah’s performance seems in retrospect to be perfectly in keeping with the vacuous spirit of the times. Martin Sheen is brilliant as the working class father roped into his son’s wheeling and dealings while his son Charlie (real life and on-screen) brings just the right amount of arrogance and vulnerability to the role. Of course, Wall Street is Michael Douglas’ film from start to finish as he devours the scenery and everything else in his vicinity. His iconic portrayal of Gordon Gekko perfectly captured the greed of corporate America and in doing so, it rightly garnered him an Oscar.
Stone’s directorial style changed dramatically in the 1990′s as if to keep up with the inane quick cuts and angled shots of the MTV movie making generation (a style that’s only ever served him well in JFK and Any Given Sunday) but this film proves he had all the patience and skill of the very best directors. Rather than relying on quick cuts between shots he lets the sharp dialogue set the pace (kudos to co-writer Stanley Weiser) and when combined with the great central performances the result is a captivating and thoughtful exploration of greed and ambition that resonates to this day.