In the late 1100s, the disowned son (Anthony Andrews) of a Saxon nobleman (Michael Hordern) returns from the Crusades and becomes involved in the struggle between Saxons and Normans. The big Hollywood treatment of the famous Walter Scott novel came in 1952, but this TV movie is a more ambitious version that aims to teach us a lesson about how the historically poor treatment of Jews should still be a matter of concern for us today. Still, this is largely a traditional adventure for the whole family with plenty of swordplay and romance. Enthusiastically performed, but goes on a little too long.
1982-U.S. Made for TV. 142 min. Color. Directed by Douglas Camfield. Novel: Walter Scott. Cast: James Mason (Isaac of York), Anthony Andrews (Wilfred of Ivanhoe), Sam Neill (Brian de Bois-Guilbert), Michael Hordern, Olivia Hussey, Lysette Anthony… Julian Glover, John Rhys-Davies.
Anne (Julie Christie) follows in the path of her great aunt Olivia who lived in India in the 1920s as the wife of an official employed by the British Raj; bored by the routines, Olivia fell in love with a Nawab… Another collaboration between James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; some of their previous India chronicles also had good roles for Shashi Kapoor who’s cast here as the eloquent Nawab. The film tells two stories simultaneously and the 60-year time difference offers contrasting views of India. Interesting and well acted, but less heat than you might expect from Anne and Olivia’s experiences.
1983-Britain. 130 min. Color. Produced by Ismail Merchant. Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay, Novel: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Cinematography: Walter Lassally. Cast: Julie Christie (Anne), Greta Scacchi (Olivia Rivers), Christopher Cazenove (Douglas Rivers), Julian Glover, Susan Fleetwood, Shashi Kapoor.
I went back to this old favorite certain that I would be less impressed this time and give it a lower rating. But I’m surprised to say that the sequel to Star Wars is still a masterpiece as far as popcorn blockbusters go – and it’s quite different from its predecessor. The first film’s visual effects were groundbreaking, but the second movie revealed George Lucas’s true ambitions. Wisely enough, he handed screenwriting duties over to a real pro who knew science fiction and could turn Lucas’s ideas into magic. The film was Leigh Brackett’s last, but another promising writer finished her work. It became Lawrence Kasdan’s first screenplay. Two generations came together and the results were intelligent and awe-inspiring.
The film begins some time after the last one ends. The part of the Rebel Alliance that is led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has established a secret base on the ice planet Hoth, but the Empire (led by Darth Vader) frantically searches for them, dispatching drones to all parts of the galaxy. One of them lands on Hoth and it doesn’t take long for it to detect life on the planet. Vader senses that this is the place where the Rebels are hiding and sends his forces there. The base is destroyed in a full-scale attack, but Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) escapes together with R2D2 in his fighter and heads to another planet, Dagobah, where he’s been told that he shall receive training to be a Jedi fighter. There he encounters a green, curious-looking, diminutive creature… who turns out to be Yoda, the Jedi Master. Meanwhile, Leia, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), C-3PO and Chewbacca have also fled from Hoth in the Millennium Falcon, but the ship is badly damaged and they go to Cloud City to get help from an old friend of Han’s, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). But tremendous challenges, betrayals and surprises await all our heroes.
A little bigger, a little heavier Everything is darker in this chapter, not just the themes. Director Irvin Kershner (making the best film of his career, by far) and his team have taken the look from the first film and made a few changes; everything seems a little bigger, a little heavier, a little more despairing. Production designer Norman Reynolds’s sets are overwhelming; the beautiful sights of the light and airy Cloud City and the empty, cold and gray innards of it where the final showdown between Luke and Vader takes place. John Williams’s score is once again the perfect accompaniment; this was the chapter where he introduced the now classic Imperial march theme, the ultimate evil cue. The visual effects look amazing; those Imperial walkers in the Hoth battle are gloriously terrifying (and hopelessly impractical) and the efforts to bring them down keeps you on the edge of your seat. The writers have also tried to make real people out of the first film’s cartoon characters; the emotions between our heroes are getting clearer and they forebode the revelations of the film’s final act. Even Darth Vader is made into more than just the bogeyman; we understand how destructive the Force can be if you lose control over it and exactly what dangers Yoda and (a now ghostly) Obi-Wan feared in the training of Luke.
I previously described the look of the film as despairing in a sense. The Empire does strike back in full force, makes friends betray each other and plays its best card to lead the last hope, Luke, astray. In the end, when the battle looks almost lost, our heroes are nevertheless determined to fight on. The film ends on that note. Bruised but not beaten – and the next chapter will set everything right.
The Empire Strikes Back 1980-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Gary Kurtz. Directed by Irvin Kershner. Screenplay: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan. Story: George Lucas. Music: John Williams. Production Design: Norman Reynolds. Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, and others. Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse… Alec Guinness, Julian Glover. Voices of Frank Oz, James Earl Jones.
Trivia: Alternative title: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Followed by Return of the Jedi (1983).
Oscar: Best Sound (also received a Special Achievement Award for the visual effects). BAFTA: Best Film Music.
Quote:“I am your father.” (Darth Vader)
Last word:“I have not given much credence to reviews of my films. Sometimes they’re wrong, but it didn’t matter to me. I have not been a follower of how many millions my films made or did not make. In this case, I wanted very much for the film to succeed because I knew that George was spending his own money on it. I think the critics felt that they were going to see an extension of ‘Star Wars’. In other words, they wanted another ‘Star Wars’. I decided that the potential was much greater than a rerun of ‘Star Wars’. When I finally accepted the assignment, I knew that it was going to be a dark film, with more depth to the characters than in the first film. It took a few years for the critics to catch up with the film and to see it as a fairy tale rather than a comic book.” (Kershner, Vanity Fair)
THE PERFECT MAN. THE PERFECT STORY. THE PERFECT MURDER.
After making contact with a dead reporter, Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), a journalist, and Sid Waterman (Woody Allen), a magician, follow a tip that leads them to a possible serial killer. The director stayed in London for a while longer after making Match Point (2005) and put together this comedy that looks like Allen’s idea of a vacation. It’s a bit like his previous Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), a pleasant but hardly significant little film where the three leads seem to have a very nice time together. Allen delivers funny oneliners, and I enjoyed the narrative framework, a journey to Hades.
2006-U.S.-Britain. 96 min. Color. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen (Sid Waterman), Scarlett Johansson (Sondra Pransky), Hugh Jackman (Peter Lyman), Ian McShane, Romola Garai, Fenella Woolgar… Charles Dance, Julian Glover.
Quote:“She thought I was immature and that I never grew up… I had a great rebuttal for her, I coulda nailed her, you know, but uh… I raised my hand, she would not call on me.” (Allen on why his wife divorced him)
THE MAN WITH THE HAT IS BACK. AND THIS TIME, HE’S BRINGING HIS DAD.
In 1938, Indy (Harrison Ford) joins his father (Sean Connery) in the quest for the Holy Grail, but the Nazis turn out to be devious competitors. The third film is close in tone and story to the first one (that goes for the finale as well); John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott are very welcome back. An interesting prologue explains a few things about Indy and introduces us to his stern, mostly absent father. Ford and Connery are hilarious together as they’re trying to reconnect while fighting the Germans. They bring a nice sense of humor to the story. The action sequences are as always a thrillride, particularly a fight involving a tank.
1989-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Robert Watts. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam. Music: John Williams. Cast: Harrison Ford (Henry “Indiana” Jones), Sean Connery (Henry Jones), Denholm Elliott (Marcus Brody), Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover… River Phoenix.
Last word: “We wrote complete scripts on other MacGuffins [for the third film]. And finally I said, look, let’s just try the Holy Grail. [Adopting another voice] ‘Ohhh, it’s too cerebral, we’ll never make it work….’ So we turned it into a tangible magic cup with healing powers, instead of an intellectual thing. It wasn’t until the idea of introducing the father came along that we kind of pulled [the third movie] out of the fire. Because it then shifted from being about the MacGuffin. But ultimately, these are supernatural mysteries. They aren’t action adventures. Everybody thinks they’re action-adventure films, but that’s just the genre we hang them on.” (Executive producer George Lucas, Entertainment Weekly)
A spy ship containing a communications device critical to British intelligence sinks off the coast of Albania; James Bond (Roger Moore) must retrieve it before theKGB does. The twelfth Bond flick abandons the madness of Moonraker(1979) and returns to the simpler, more exciting concept of the first films in the series. One novel twist is that we’re never quite sure of who the bad guy is, Topol or Julian Glover. Plenty of good action (love that car chase) and attractive locations, a lovely performance from Carole Bouquet and a charming one from Moore. There’s also an outstanding opening sequence where old nemesis Blofeld meets his destiny.
1981-Britain. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli. Directed by John Glen. Song: “For Your Eyes Only” (performed by Sheena Easton). Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Carole Bouquet (Melina Havelock), Topol (Milos Columbo), Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover, Jill Bennett… Desmond Llewelyn.
Trivia:Charles Dance can be spotted in an early part as a gunman. Followed by Octopussy (1983).
Last word: “It is true that Roger did not like heights and who could blame him! The climbing scenes shot in the Meteora region of Greece were scary to say the least. Roger overcame his fears and performed admirably. Rick Sylvester, who doubled for Roger in the ski/parachute jump in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ did similar work here, particularly the rope drop. Carole Bouquet had a different problem. Whereas Roger was terrific in the water she unfortunately had an inner ear problem which prohibited her to dive. We overcame the problem of filming the extensive underwater sequences by shooting them dry. Derek Meddings, a very talented visual effects director, came in to his own in achieving this. No CGI in those days! By shooting at 90 frames a second and using a wind machine we were able to simulate the underwater movements. A graph paper was put on the view finder of the Mitchell camera and the positions of their mouths were notated. The undeveloped film was then passed to Derek for superimposing bubbles.” (Glen, JamesBond007.se)