Pulp

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

2003

20th Century Fox

Produced by Trevor Albert and Don Murphy

Directed by Stephen Norrington

Screenplay by James Robinson

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

The concept of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is so simple that I’m honestly surprised nobody before Alan Moore thought of it. Here it is in a nutshell: From time to time many of the great fictional heroes (and sometimes villains) of the past and present have found it necessary to come together to form an alliance against evil so overwhelming that it threatens to conquer or destroy the world. They do so under the authority of a special Branch of The British Secret Service, under the direction of a mysterious figure known only as M and this alliance is known as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It is rumored that members of Leagues past and present have included Dr. Syn, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Blood, Lemuel Gulliver, Robin Hood, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, James Bond, and many, many others. But this movie features a particularly unique grouping of The League, one led by the world famous adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery)

Allan Quatermain is an old man, living in Africa, drinking his days away and only wanting to be left alone. However, events in the rest of the world bring him back into action. A mysterious man known only as The Phantom is threatening the governments of the world into a global confrontation.  There is seemingly no way to stop him since he has advanced weapons such as automatic weapons, body armor and tanks. Quatermain is brought to London where he is introduced to M (Richard Roxburg), the current head of the British Secret Service who informs Quatermain that he has been chosen to lead the newest incarnation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.   The membership includes Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah), The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) and Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) who has the benefit of vampiric powers due to her relationship with an infamous Transylvanian count. Quatermain and his team quickly acquire the grown up Tom Sawyer (Shane West) who is now an agent of The United States Secret Service along with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) and his monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde (Jason Flemyng) as well as the immortal Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend).   And they’re off an adventure that takes them all over the world from London to Paris to Venice to a final confrontation at the top of the world in the frozen Artic where the secrets of The Phantom are revealed and the destiny of a new century will be decided as The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen make their final stand against the madness of the old.

You’re going to have a lot of comic book fans that will tell you not to see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN as they feel that the movie bastardized Alan Moore’s concept. I’ve given the trade paperback of the comic to several people whose opinions I trust and they have told me that while they like the comic and appreciate it for what it is they wouldn’t have gone to see a movie that was strictly based on the comic book. However, those people have also said that they greatly enjoyed the movie version and I think that’s because the movie version does exactly what it’s supposed to do: provide us with two hours of thrills, adventure and excitement. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s not the comic book story but it is a great piece of outsized, overblown, pulp action/adventure taken to the extreme and part of the reason I had so much fun watching the movie was that I could see the directors, actors and special effects guys just saying “the hell with it” and allowing themselves the room to have fun with the concept and just working with the material they were given and making sure they delivered. THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is a movie I recommend to friends and family often when they ask me what’s a good Saturday night movie.

First off, you’ve got Sean Connery who’s simply great. When he made this movie he was 75 years old and he’s the only 75-year-old actor in the world who can beat the snot out of actors half his age and look totally badass doing it. Other actors such as Charles Bronson and Roger Moore looked embarrassingly silly in their older years trying to do action scenes but somehow Connery can still pull it off and look convincing. There’s a bunch of great scenes he has with Shane West’s Tom Sawyer where the characters build a father/son type of relationship, especially in the scenes where Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer are chasing down Mr. Hyde across the rooftops of Paris and a later scene aboard Captain Nemo’s Nautilus where Quatermain teaches Tom how to shoot.

Peta Wilson is terrific as Mina Harker who shows a delightfully dark side to her character and I really liked how Naseeruddin Shah played Captain Nemo. As far as I know this the first time the character of Captain Nemo has been played racially correct in a movie and he supplies the team with their technological/transport support. And his fight scenes are among the best in the movie as he gives Captain Nemo a distinctive martial arts style. He plays Captain Nemo in a way unlike any other actor that’s ever played before and I think he’s probably the only actor in this movie who might have read the graphic novel the movie was based on. There’s a certain way he carries himself and the way he says his lines that make you sit up straighter and pay attention. Listen to how he says: “Behold Nautilus…The Sword of The Ocean” and tell me it doesn’t make you grin.

That’s not to say that the movie is without its flaws. I really didn’t like how the CGI guys went nuts on the effects. Especially when it came to Mr. Hyde and The Nautilus. In this movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are more like the Marvel Comics version of Dr. Bruce Banner and The Hulk than the Robert Louis Stevenson version and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is huger, bigger and more technologically advanced than any modern day aircraft carrier. And the scenes in Venice make absolutely no sense whatsoever. There’s a whole lot of yelling and chasing around and fighting and shooting but when it’s all over you’re wondering: “What was that all about?”

But there are a lot of little nice touches. The obvious one is where Quatermain is receiving his assignment to assemble The League from M. And if you don’t appreciate the humor of Sean Connery once again getting orders from M then you really need to go back to Basic Film School. And pay attention to the scene between M and Quatermain because in the background are huge portraits of former Leagues.

There’s some incredible fight sequences and plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming.  And even though I felt the final fight between Mr. Hyde and The Phantom’s main big bad was yet another reason for the CGI boys to go wild I liked the teamwork between Mr. Hyde and Captain Nemo as they struggled to find a way to defeat their foe as well as the ending scenes between Allan Quatermain and Tom Sawyer.

So should you see THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN? I see no reason why you shouldn’t. Don’t listen to your comic book reading friends who’ll tell you that it’s nothing like the comic book. Of course it isn’t like the comic book. It’s a movie and a pretty damn good entertaining one. Go ahead and watch it and have fun for what it is: it’s purely pulp action/adventure designed to get you interested in reading the source materials and characters it’s based on. No more and no less. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time watching THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN before you read the material it’s based on.

110 minutes
Rated PG-13

Diamonds Are Forever

1971

United Artists

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman
Screenplay written by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming

Memory is a funny thing. Ask me what I had for dinner last night and I’ll probably take a few minutes to think about it. Ask me what I did last week and there’s a better than average chance I’ll tell you I have no idea. But ask me about the Saturday afternoon in 1971 when my father took me to see my first James Bond movie DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and I’ll go on and on for hours recounting every single detail in such a way that you would swear it had happened to me yesterday.

I think that the major reasons DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is my absolute favorite James Bond film of all is because of two reasons: It was the first James Bond movie I saw in a theatre and I saw it with my father, who is also a huge movie fan. He took me to see Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” during its original theatrical run and we drove my mother crazy discussing the movie for days and days afterwards. My voracious movie addiction can be blamed on the both of them. A favorite story they like to tell about me is when they took me as a baby with them to see “The Ten Commandments”.  While other babies in the theatre were crying and had to be taken out by their disgruntled parents, my parents claim I was totally silent, eyes open as wide as possible, staring at the screen as if hypnotized. I probably was. Movies do that to me, y’know.

The movie’s pre-credits sequence has an unusually brutal James Bond (Sean Connery) hunting down his archenemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). Although it’s never stated outright, one can assume Bond’s looking for Blofeld to take revenge for the murder of his wife, Tracy that occurred at the conclusion of the previous Bond adventure, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  Bond seemingly dispatches Blofeld in a particularly nasty manner and after the gorgeously lush theme song sung by Shirley Bassey we get into the meat of the plot:

Startling amounts of high-grade diamonds are being smuggled out of South Africa to Las Vegas by means of an efficient pipeline of couriers. There is worry that these diamonds will be dumped into the market at some future time, which would drastically drop diamond prices. Bond is assigned to follow the pipeline, an assignment that he clearly thinks is beneath his talents but M (Bernard Lee) quickly puts him in his place: “Blofeld is dead, 007. I think we have the right to expect some plain honest work from you now. Bond heads off to Amsterdam to take the place of Peter Franks, an international jewel courier and he makes the acquaintance of the superhot redheaded smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), the next contact in the pipeline.

The trail of deadly diamonds leads Bond to Las Vegas where it quickly becomes apparent that smuggling is only the tip of the iceberg as Bond’s archenemy Blofeld returns from the dead with a scheme to hold the world hostage that involves a diamond enhanced laser satellite. Now when I lay it out like that, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER seems like your straightforward action/adventure, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. I broke the story down to its simplest elements out of space consideration but it has been said by many critics and reviewers that the plot of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is too complicated to properly explain and I have to agree. When you throw in the Howard Hughes-like Willard Whyte who for about half of the movie’s running time we think is the movie’s real villain, the homosexual killer duo Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint who run around whacking the various diamond smugglers for no apparent reason and even Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) who at one point in the movie shows up someplace she has absolutely no business being and is drowned for no reason at all…and that’s not even half the inconsistencies and plot holes that stick out like a cockroach on a wedding cake.

But somehow, none of that seems to matter when you’re right there on the edge of your seat watching the movie. Sean Connery is James Bond and when he’s on the screen you can’t take your eyes off him. Connery understood the dynamics of a James Bond movie in a way no other actor who played the role would until Pierce Brosnan strapped on the Walter PPK and he occupies the center of the movie with total confidence. He doesn’t take it all that seriously but his performance has such wit and charm that while he’s clearly having fun with the character and the material he respects it and thereby respects us. The major acting disappointment comes from Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Gray is simply too effeminate to be a towering mastermind of brilliant evil bent on world domination. He looks as if he would be more at home organizing The Sisters of The Revolving Door Tabernacle Annual Cotillion and Fish Fry. And Norman Burton barely registers on screen as ace CIA agent and Bond’s best friend Felix Leiter. But let’s face facts, except for David Hedison (who is the only actor to have played Felix Leiter twice) and Bernie Casey, Felix Leiter has never been played decently.

But we’ve got dependable regulars such as Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) to pick up the slack and Jill St. John is wonderfully spicy and looks gorgeous as Tiffany Case. And any mention of the acting in this one isn’t complete without noticing the excellent work by Putter Smith and John Glover (Crispin Glover’s dad) as Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. The pair is not only properly chilling but also provides a good deal of the movie’s humor as they grow increasingly frustrated as Bond continually manages to circumvent their efforts to kill him. And I have to mention Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister) even though it’s apparent from her first scene that she wasn’t chosen for the role for her acting ability. Why is she in the movie then? I’ll give you a clue: 36C/D-24-35. Need I say anymore other than I commend the casting director for his excellent eyesight? I even liked Jimmy Dean as eccentric multibillionaire Willard Whyte. Today Jimmy Dean is mostly known for his line of pork products but back during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s he was a fairly popular country western singer who occasionally acted. Bond and Whyte click so well during the hunt for Blofeld that I think the producers missed a bet by not having Whyte become a re-occurring character in the films. By the end of the movie Bond and Whyte seem more like best friends than Bond and Leiter.

And it never fails to amuse me that even though people will say that DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER isn’t as good as the other Connery Bonds, it’s the one that has more action sequences people can readily name right off the top of their head than any other Connery Bond. Everybody remembers the chase through the desert with Bond driving the moon buggy. There’s the classic Las Vegas car chase sequence that ends with Bond flipping his Mustang up on two wheels to slide through a narrow alley and evade his pursuers. The helicopter assault on Blofeld’s oil rig headquarters. There’s the nail-biting climb Bond performs on the outside of Willard Whyte’s Las Vegas casino/hotel. The fight in the elevator with Peter Franks. The fight with the outrageously beautiful pair of acrobatic karate killers, Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks)

I suppose that most who read this review will probably have seen DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER on television or DVD and so won’t have the same love I have for the movie as I do. But no matter how many times I see it, I always remember seeing my first James Bond film on the big screen with my father and the feelings I had that day have never left me and it was those feelings that made me want to create stories as exciting and thrilling as the one I was watching and I suppose that in a very large way, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER helped shaped my passion to write and for that if nothing else, it will remain my favorite James Bond movie.

125 min
Rated PG

Shock Corridor

1963

Allied Artists

Written, Directed and Produced by Samuel Fuller

Samuel Fuller is one of my heroes.  A man of staggering talent as a novelist, screenwriter and director, his films are among my favorite because they’re flat out pulp.  Sometimes lurid pulp, sure.  But isn’t that the best kind?  I like Mr. Fuller’s movies a lot because there’s no pretension in them.  And the protagonists of a lot of his movies aren’t heroic or even likeable.  He serves them up exactly as they are and he lets you decide who and what they are.  And as a result he comes closer to art than writer/directors who deliberately start out with lofty goals of cinematic immortality.  Sam Fuller just wanted to tell a good story.  And SHOCK CORRIDOR is one of his best.

Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) is already touched with a kind of madness when we first meet him.  He’s being coached by Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn) how to behave like a sexual deviant.  Johnny’s madness is the single-minded pursuit of fame and he’ll do anything to write a Pulitzer Prize winning story.  Even if the story is inside of an insane asylum.  Johnny is determined to solve a murder that took place in the facility.  There are three witnesses to the murder and they’re all insane themselves.  Johnny’s plan is simple: he’ll pretend to be insane, get himself committed to the asylum and then question the three witnesses, solve the murder, write the story and collect his Pulitzer.  Hell, he may even get a book or movie deal out of it he excitedly explains to any one who will listen.

His stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) hates the plan and thinks that if Johnny spends too long in there, he’ll end up with the spots on his dice missing as well.  But the plan needs her co-operation as she has to pretend to be Johnny’s sister and swear out a complaint against him.

Johnny gets inside and begins his investigation.  But it’s nowhere near as easy as he thought it would be.  After all, it’s tough pretending you’re crazy when you’re not.  Unless, of course you happen to be surrounded by madmen more than willing to show you how it’s done.  And those megavolt shock treatments don’t help either.  Or being raped by nymphomaniacs.  And you stick to your cover story of your girlfriend being your sister to the extent that you actually start to believe she is your sister.   Johnny doggedly pursues his quest and pieces together clues even while his own mind starts to come slowly apart.

SHOCK CORRIDOR is one of those movies made with such raw fearlessness that it amazes me that it was made during the 60’s.  Sam Fuller isn’t afraid to go for broke and his depictions of the various kinds of crazy suffered by the inmates range from humorous to downright horrifying.  There’s a big, friendly bearded bear of a guy who calls himself Pagliacci and sings opera.  At the other end of the spectrum there’s Trent (Hari Rhodes) who was the first black student admitted to an all-white Southern college.  Trent cracked under the strain of living in what was for him enemy territory.  And when I say he cracked I mean he busted wide open.  Trent steals pillowcases to make hoods, declares himself Grand Wizard of The KKK and spends his days inciting attacks on the other black inmates and giving brutally racist monologues.

It’s Hari Rhodes who steals the acting honors in this one.  Trent is truly a terrifyingly tragic character and Rhodes plays him for all he’s worth.  Peter Breck never impressed me much as an actor and I attribute his amazing performance in SHOCK CORRIDOR to Sam Fuller’s direction.  It’s a brutally comprehensive character arc Johnny Barrett goes through and Breck is totally committed to selling the character and the story.  Constance Towers is good here as well, equally as good as she is in “The Naked Kiss” another Sam Fuller movie that you should definitely check out.

So should you see SHOCK CORRIDOR?  Chances are if you’re familiar with Sam Fuller you already have.  If you’ve never seen a Sam Fuller movie then this is a great one to start with.  I also highly recommend “The Steel Helmet” “The Naked Kiss” “Forty Guns” “The Crimson Kimono” and “The Big Red One”.  But for me, none of them pack the punch delivered by SHOCK CORRIDOR.  Enjoy.

101 minutes

Avatar

2009

20th Century Fox/Lightstorm Entertainment

Written and Directed by James Cameron

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

I have to be honest and confess that I’m biased when it comes to James Cameron because he hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t liked.  Which compared to a lot of other filmmakers isn’t a lot.  I mean, counting AVATAR he’s directed eight movies in thirty years.  We’ve got directors who have made thirty movies in eight years.  But James Cameron’s movies are all ‘event’ movies and he’s such a meticulous director/writer that he’s in no rush to make a movie just to make a movie.  He makes movies that are entire worlds that draw us in and engage us totally and completely into what is happening on the screen.  Twenty minutes into AVATAR I completely forgot I was looking at SFX and CGI characters and digital sets.  That’s how immersed into the story and characters I was.  And I attribute that to the genius of James Cameron.  Unlike directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich he knows how to spend half a billion bucks on a movie that makes me feel like I haven’t wasted my money or more importantly, my time.

The planet Pandora is extraordinarily hostile to human beings.  Even the air is toxic and it seems like every animal on the planet is out to eat every other animal.  Pandora also is rich with the mineral unobtanium which is being mined by a corporation that is never named but I’d be willing to bet my ‘Alien’ DVD it’s Weyland-Yutani. The use of unobtanium made me laugh as that fictional element has a very long history in science fiction.  Since seeing this movie I’ve heard from so-called science fiction fans complaining about how corny the name unobtanium is and that a name that sounded more realistic should have been used.  Which immediately told me that these ‘fans’ weren’t as knowledgeable about sci-fi as they thought they were.   The corporation has recruited an army of mercenaries as security to protect the workers from the many dangerous life-forms. Pandora is also inhabited by the Na’vi.  An azure-skinned, humanoid race, nine feet tall that live in a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the animals and the land.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has helped develop the Avatar Program. Avatars are Na’vi/Human clones bio-engineered to enable humans to interact with the Na’vi.  Humans are linked to their specific Avatars and control them while their human body sleeps.  This is particularly appealing to paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).  Jake is invited to join The Avatar Program due to his twin brother’s untimely death.  Since his DNA is identical to his brother’s, Jake can link with his Avatar.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Augustine but it works out just fine for Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who sees this as an opportunity to get valuable intelligence on the Na’vi.  Quaritch dangles the promise of surgery that will restore the full use of his legs to Jake.  And naturally Jake accepts the deal

Jake’s first time out in the bush in his Avatar ends up with him lost in the jungle which he is woefully unsuited to survive in, despite his Marine training.  Luckily for him he’s rescued by a Na’vi warrior woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him back to her clan.  There are a couple of her clansmen who aren’t happy with this.  Her father Eytucan (Wes Studi) the leader of the clan and his heir, the clan’s best warrior Tsu’Tey (Laz Alonso) who’d cheerfully cut Jake’s throat if it wasn’t for the clan’s queen and spiritual leader Mo’at (CCH Pounder) who persuades her husband to let Jake stay and learn their ways while they learn more about him.  Neytiri is charged with teaching the outsider how to be a true Na’vi.  And she does a good job of it.  A really good job.  Maybe too good as it turns out.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front. You’ve probably heard that AVATAR is a big budget remake of “Dances With Wolves” in sci-fi drag and to an extent, it’s correct.  But I’ve seen plenty of other westerns about a white man going ‘native’ and adopting another culture.  There’s elements of “Lord Jim” and “The Last Samurai” and “The Mission” in here as well along with half a dozen other movies.

But AVATAR is told so well and the special effects are so magnificent that all that becomes unimportant.  James Cameron spends a considerable amount of time on the Na’vi way of life as seen through the eyes of Jake and we, along with him soon have a respect and fascination for their world and their relationship.  Sam Worthington really sells the movie, along with Sigourney Weaver; whose Avatar is so realistic and looks so much like her it’s almost creepy.

And any director who can make me like Michelle Rodriguez is okay in my book.  For once she’s not playing the perpetually pissed-off Latina and does some real acting here.  Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang aren’t served as well as the other actors by the screenplay.  Their characters are so one dimensional that right from their first scenes they’re gnashing their teeth, yelling “Crush!  Kill!  Destroy!”and planning to wipe out the Na’vi.  And that’s just about the same note they play through the whole movie.

And AVATAR makes the same mistake “Star Trek: Insurrection” made.  Remember how in that movie Starfleet wanted to remove a relatively small group of natives off their own world in order to exploit the anti-aging properties of the planet?  Now the big flaw in that thinking was this: why couldn’t everybody share the planet?  I mean, it’s a pretty big planet.  Lots of room for all, I should think.   In AVATAR, whenever Giovanni Ribisi started in about there being such a rich deposit of unobtanium under the sacred Hometree I asked myself why couldn’t the corporation find another deposit somewhere on the planet and spare everyone a lot of needless bloodshed and violence.  But James Cameron works so hard at making us hate the corporation and the mercenaries that angle is never explored.  And Cameron pounds the pro-environmental angle into our foreheads at every single opportunity in a not very subtle fashion.

Having said all that is AVATAR worth your time?  Sure it is.  It’s a James Cameron movie and once again he’s presented us a movie full of life, meticulous detail, astounding action sequences and exceptional acting.  Sure the story is pure 50’s science fiction pulp adventure but its 50’s science fiction pulp that makes us care about what we’re watching and that makes all the difference.

162 minutes

PG-13

Quigley Down Under

MGM
1990

Directed by Simon Wincer

Produced by Stanley O’Toole and Alexandra Rose

Written by John Hill

Original Music by Basil Poledouris

I think it’s really a damn shame that Tom Selleck never became as big a movie star as I think he solidly deserved to be. He got jerked out of playing Indiana Jones and despite whatever you may have heard from that friend of yours who knows all about movies or that other friend who claims he knows the “real story” Tom Selleck was the first choice of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones.

Tom Selleck has had a solid movie career, though and he did some really good stuff that I liked a lot. He got to do a couple of 1930’s adventure films such as “Lassiter” with Jane Seymour in which he played a cat burglar operating in London just before WWII and “High Road To China” where he played a boozy barnstorming pilot helping Bess Armstrong find her father who’s been kidnapped by a Chinese warlord. He also did more than his share of westerns and if your cable/satellite provider carries TNT then you know what I’m talking about. During the 90’s it seemed like every other week there was a new western starring Tom Selleck featured on that station. But he did one major feature western that has gone seriously unnoticed: QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER.

Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is a cowboy/sharpshooter from America who travels to Australia with his trusty weapon: a modified 1847 Sharps Buffalo Rifle with which he can hit a man from 1200 yards away. That may not sound impressive but as a way of reference let’s put it this way: the modern football field is 100 yards long. You do the math. Quigley’s been hired by a wealthy and powerful landowner, Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman) for a job. He doesn’t say what the job is but he’ll pay Quigley 50 dollars in gold just to make the three-month trip to his ranch just to hear him out. Quigley finds Marston to be a refined gentleman obsessed with The American West. He even has a matched pair of Navy Colts that he’s become expert at using. Marston is also a sadistic racist who wants Quigley to use his sharpshooting skills to help in cutting down the Outback aborigines. Quigley’s response to this job offer is to kick Marston’s ass.

He would have been much better off just saying no and going on back home. He’s beaten half to death, taken out to the unforgiving Australia desert and dumped along with Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) a woman Quigley has befriended. For some reason Crazy Cora thinks that Quigley is her husband Roy and part of the fun of the movie is that we’re never sure exactly how crazy Crazy Cora really is as even Quigley says to her at one point: “The scary thing is that from time to time you actually make sense.” Quigley and Cora are rescued by aborigines and that sets up the second half of the movie as Quigley goes after Marston and in the process becomes a legend among the aborigines known as ‘The Spirit Warrior’. He also learns the tragic history of Crazy Cora and why she became crazy.

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is rarely mentioned when even western fans get together and I don’t know why. It’s got Tom Selleck who is one of the few modern actors who actually looks as if he belongs in The Old West. He’s a worthy successor to Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both of who would have slid into this role like you slide into your favorite jeans. He’s tough when he has to be in his scenes with Alan Rickman and tender in his scenes with Laura San Giacomo. Selleck has studied his westerns and he knows that in a role like this less is more. He says only what he has to say and no more. It’s a great old school performance.

Laura San Giacomo is totally terrific. She has to carry the load of being the only comic relief in the movie and she does it by creating a character that has us constantly wondering: “is she really crazy or just playing crazy?” Even covered in dirt she’s mad sexy and she has two really great scenes: one where she softly tells Quigley what happened to make her crazy and the other is where she spends a horrifying night defending an aborigine baby from a pack of dingos.

Alan Rickman is wonderful as Elliot Marston and if you expect to see him playing Hans Gruber In A Western, think again. Rickman’s too damn good for that. Marston’s a separate bad guy and he and Quigley make for wonderfully matched opponents. It helps that Rickman and Selleck look as if they’re having just as much fun going up against each other as Rickman and Willis did.

What else can I mention? Oh, yes…the simply magnificent score by Basil Poledouris. If you don’t know the work of this master then shame on you. And for QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER he composed one the most heroic, rousing scores I’ve ever heard for a movie. The location work is beautiful and really gives you a sense of how big Australia is. There’s a scene where Quigley has been already traveling four days to get to Marston’s and asks one of Marston’s men when will they get to his ranch and the man responds: “You’ve been on it for two days.” The look on Quigley’s face says it all. I would have liked to see more of the aborigine way of life but hey, the small bits we do see where they teach Quigley how to find water in the desert and how he teaches them how to lasso are fun and even charming.

So should you see QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER? I give thee a resounding “YES”. If you’re a fan of Tom Selleck in particular or westerns in general then you really ought to do yourself a favor and see this one. It’s got a solid story, some terrific action sequences and strong acting. QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is a movie that belongs in the library of every movie fan.

PG-13
119 minutes

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow

2004
Paramount

Produced by Jon Avnet
Written And Directed by Kerry Conran

In doing my research prior to writing this review I discovered that Kerry Conran originally wanted to do this movie with unknown actors and break it up into ‘chapters’ and present it as if it were a lost serial from the 1930’s that had recently been discovered. I would really have liked to see that version of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW since I think he could have pulled it off. As anybody who’s read my work knows, I’m a full out geek when it comes to the blood and thunder pulps of the 1930’s and 1940’s and Saturday morning serials and 90% of my work is written in the tradition of the pulps. As I watched SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW I realized that I had a spiritual brother in Kerry Conran. I don’t often recommend that people see a movie just for the way it looks but SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is one of those movies. It’s an out-of-body experience that truly takes you into another world and despite what I think are some flaws that prevent it from being quite as good as such great pulp inspired films such as The Indiana Jones movies “The Rocketeer” “The Phantom” and “Buckaroo Banzai” it’s an astounding adventure movie that proves what I’ve been saying for years: pulp action adventure is alive and well and if presented in the right way, people will eat it up.

The look of the movie is achieved through the means of almost total CGI. Except for the actors, their costumes and some of the sets, nearly everything else is a digital creation and the results are simply astounding in evoking a 1939 that only existed in the pages of pulp magazines and serials and could only be realized now. There’s a certain irony in the fact that the best way to visualize a world of the past is by means of a futuristic technology but it works. Boy, does it ever work.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW takes place in an alternate Earth where the Second World War has apparently never happened. We can tell that right from the beautiful opening sequence where The Hindenburg III docks at The Empire State Building. That huge tower on the top was designed exactly for that purpose in our reality but after it was built it was discovered that the high winds would make dirigibles move around too much and make it impossible for passengers to disembark. But in this world they’ve obviously overcome that problem. Aboard The Hindenburg is Dr. Vargas (Julian Curry) who is on the run from sinister forces who have been kidnapping the world’s leading scientists and he’s next on the list.

He’s come to New York to warn his colleague, Dr. Jennings (Trevor Baxter) who in turn contacts the crack reporter of The New York Chronicle, the wonderfully named Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and informs her that he was once a member of a mysterious group known as Unit 11 who worked for a Doctor Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Oliver in archival footage) on projects that were “too horrible to speak of” It’s during their meeting that New York is attacked by an army of giant flying robots that proceed to steal the city’s generators. There’s only one chance for the city to survive and the call goes out for Joe Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to come and save the day in his customized, pimped-out P-40 Warhawk which he does in a breathtaking sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Turns out that Sky Captain is the only hope to find out where these giant robots are coming from and why they’re attacking cities all over the entire world for their generators. Sky Captain is ably backed up by his own private army and his faithful sidekick, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) who judging from his speech patterns and technological genius must be an ancestor of Stark Trek’s Mr. Spock. Polly insists on going along the adventure and it turns out that she and Sky Captain had a wild romance in the past that resulted in her sabotaging his beloved plane.   That led to him being held in a prison for six months so there’s a certain amount of friction there that leads to some entertaining banter between the two as they go off on a world-wide quest for Tontenkopf’s secret base to stop his mad schemes. They’re followed by The Mysterious Woman (Bai Ling) who is Totenkopf’s enforcer and seeks to stop them. Along the way Sky Captain and Polly get the help of Franky (Angelina Jolie) the eye patch wearing commander of a fleet of aerial aircraft carriers and they assault Dr. Totenkopf’s island fortress in a last ditch effort to save the world.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is a great movie for those of us who love the pulps and those of us who have no idea of what the pulps were and want to know. Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie do an absolutely bang-up job in their roles and considering they were working on sets where they had to imagine what they were seeing, they do a great job. I really liked Angelina Jolie’s work in this movie and I bet if you ask her she’d admit that she’s a fan of Jim Steranko’s “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” since her role is practically a 1930’s female version of that character. There’s a fantastic scene where she and her squadron of ace pilots dive into the ocean and we see that their planes can also become submarine fighters that had me jumping up and hollaring like a maniac. And I won’t even tell you the scene that happens after that when she has to take out a giant robotic crab monster protecting Totenkopf’s island.

But SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW does have some major flaws. First is that even though Sky Captain is the hero he never has a real enemy to face off with. Dr. Totenkopf is played by Sir Laurence Oliver who died before the movie was made and so only appears either in footage that has been CGI’ed. And The Mysterious Woman looks as if she might be a formidable enemy but she and Sky Captain never have a real emotional or physical conflict. Near the end of the movie, The Mysterious Woman and Sky Captain square off in a battle that looks as if we’re going to get some real ass-kicking action but it doesn’t happen. It’s resolved in a manner that had me saying; “That’s IT?!”

Another thing that had me puzzling over is that early in the movie it’s said that the nations of the world have to rely on Sky Captain and his private army to find Totenkopf since their armies are engaged in other conflicts. Well, if in this world there’s no World War II then what conflict is going on that would prevent the world powers from sending their armies after Totenkopf? And I also didn’t like how near the end where Sky Captain and Polly have been busting their asses to save Dex for nearly 30 minutes of the movie’s running time Dex shows up to save them and he explains how he escaped in an unconvincing offhanded manner.

And the movie doesn’t have the headlong adrenaline rush of the Indiana Jones movies or “The Rocketeer” or “The Phantom”. It’s a good movie, don’t get me wrong but I have the feeling that the director is more in love with getting the look and feel of the movie right more than the action elements.  But when we do get action, it’s worth the wait. You just can’t beat the scene in New York with Sky Captain fighting the robots and that simply incredible underwater scene with the amphibious planes. Stuff like that is what a pulp fan like me lives for and I certainly got it. But there’s a curious lack of headlong action that doesn’t carry you along in a rush that I attribute to the director. Kerry Conran is good, yeah, but he’s not a major action direction who could have torn up the screen with material like this.

The performances in the movie are also worth mentioning. SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW was part of the Jude Law Film Festival of 2004 where it seemed as if every other movie that hit the screens that year starred Jude Law. He’s really good in this one as he plays it absolutely straight. His daredevil pilot Joe Sullivan would have been right at home in a Howard Hawkes movie like “Only Angels Have Wings” and I loved how during the underwater fight scene Angelina Jolie grins like a kid on Christmas while wearing a helmet I’m positive was inspired by Wally Wood.

So should you see SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? Without a doubt. It’s an excellent movie simply on a technical level in that it brings to life a world of pure pulp adventure. I would advise you to see The Indiana Jones movies or “The Rocketeer” or “The Phantom” if you want to know what the action and energy of the pulps and Saturday Morning serials felt like but see SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW if you want to know what the pulps and Saturday morning serials looked like.

106 minutes
Rated PG