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 to me when I’m right there on the edge of my 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

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

2001

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Produced by Don Hahn
Associate Producer: Kendra Holland
Written by Tab Murphy, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Kirk Wise, Bryce Zabel and Jackie Zabel

I remember reading a bunch of articles in various movie magazines such as Cinescape and Cinefantasque a couple of months before ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE hit movie theatres.  Most of the articles were gushing on and on about the producers hiring the same linguist who created the Klingon language for Star Trek to create an Atlantean language for the movie. Now, you have to wonder why the producers went to all that trouble since the Atlantean language is heard on screen for maybe 30 seconds and written Atlantean is hardly seen.  And in any case, the main character translates it for the rest of the characters (and thereby for us, the audience as well), so what’s the point of going to all the trouble to invent a new language? After seeing ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, I figured it out: the producers had to do something to justify the incredibly thin and tired story. After spending all that money on a brand new language and the animation, they probably didn’t have much left over to pay one good writer. Which may explain why there are six credited writers: my guess is that they were so bored with trying to write this story that they just passed the script around in a sort of round robin: whenever someone got tired of writing, they just passed it on to the next poor sucker in line.

Milo Thatch is the grandson of the great archeologist Thaddeus Thatch and the old man has passed down his dream of finding Atlantis to Milo. However, Milo is stuck working as a janitor, frustrated beyond words because he can’t get anyone to believe his theory and finance an expedition. Maybe the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that Atlantis exists has something to do with it. And one day, outta nowhere, with no forewarning or setup, this crazy old millionaire shows up and drops into Milo’s lap a book that shows him where Atlantis is and has even built a submarine and hired a crew to help Milo find the Lost Empire. Now there are so many things wrong here that I audibly groaned when I saw this scene. But I digress….let’s just simply go on ahead with the rest of the story, okay?

Milo meets Commander Rourke and his second-in-command, the beautiful and calculating Helga and a colorful assortment of multi-national specialists in various fields (doctor, communications expert, demolitionist, etc) that made me sit up and pay attention for a while since I thought that they were going to be a crew of goofy, eccentric but supremely skilled and capable sidekicks like Doc Savage’s Amazing Five or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. No such luck. They’re on board mostly for comic relief, except for the black doctor and Latina teenage mechanic who actually have interesting back-stories.

They get on board this way cool submarine that looks like a 19th Century prototype of The Seaview from Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and find Atlantis in record time, losing most of the crew and the way cool sub and from there the movie continues on a limp and predictable path as Milo finds that Commander Rourke and his crew are really out to steal the magnificent giant crystal that powers Atlantis. And I’m not giving anything away here because almost right from the first time we meet Rourke he’s whispering in ominous asides to Helga and we’re shown mysterious crates full of oversized guns being loaded on board the sub. And so Milo has to appeal to the better nature of the mercenaries to get them to change sides and help him save Atlantis from Rourke.

The animation is absolutely spectacular, especially the opening sequences where we see Atlantis sink and the ending, which is a terrific action sequence, but that’s all I can recommend in  ATLANTIS:THE LOST EMPIRE. At 95 minutes, it zips by in a bewildering daze. Atlantis is found in the first half-hour of the movie and there is absolutely no time to get to know the secondary characters and/or their motivations. In a desperate attempt to give the characters some dimension, the filmmakers stick in a scene where the characters sit around a campfire and actually tell Milo their back-stories. But by then, it’s too late. I wasn’t interested in what happened to any of these characters and was only in it for the eye candy of the outstanding animation work.

And it’s a shame because the voice work is also quite good. There’s a real problem when the bad guy of a movie is more charismatic and appealing than the good guy, but that’s what happens here. James Garner does such a good job as Rourke that I found myself hoping he’d pitch Milo off a cliff and actually get away with stealing the crystal. Michael J. Fox is his usual energetic self as Milo. Leonard Nimoy voices The Atlantean King and there’s other familiar voices such as Cree Summer, Phil Morris, John Mahoney, Claudia Christian, Jim Varney and Don Novello all of who no doubt jumped at the chance to collect a nice voiceover check while waiting for a live action movie or TV show guest spot.

It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE and I realize that I’m not the target audience for this movie, but I have a hard time believing that even kids would find this material exciting or thrilling.  And let’s face it…you don’t blow up a way cool sub like that in the first 30 minutes of your movie…any kid will tell you that.  And there’s just too much metaphysical New Age mumbo-jumbo involving crystals and mysterious life-force energies and all kinds of mystical double-talk that does nothing but try to make you think that there’s something going on here. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE could have been a smashing Edgar Rice Burroughs/Jules Verne type of adventure and all the right elements are there. My advice to the producers is: next time, forget about creating new languages and tell a good adventure story.  My advice is to go Netflix George Pal’s “Atlantis: The Lost Continent” if you want to see a really good movie about Atlantis.

95 minutes
Rated PG and that’s a stretch. I’d have given it an outright G.

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea

1961

20th Century Fox

Directed and Produced by Irwin Allen

Written by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett

Not too long ago I was in a discussion with some friends who asked me if I had a chance to remake any movie with today’s special effects, which one would I do.  My answer with no hesitation was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.

Don’t ask me why this movie holds such a place in my movie going heart but every single time it’s shown on Turner Classic Movies, I stop what I’m doing and watch it.  What’s even stranger is that I really didn’t care for the TV show that was based on the movie and rarely watched it but the movie…I guess it’s because I first watched it when I was a kid and I can still get in touch with that 12 year old who saw the movie for the first time and who sat there totally hypnotized by the story, characters and action.

After we get past the theme song sung by then teenage idol Frankie Avalon (the 60’s version of Clay Aiken) we see our first view of the magnificent futuristic supersub Seaview as it leaps out of the water like a dolphin.  Next to Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, The Seaview is probably the most famous fictional submarine you know.  It’s sleek as a rocket with a unique transparent nose that is part of the observation deck where you can see the marvels of undersea life.  The Seaview is the brainchild of Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) a brilliant, eccentric and arrogant (is there really any other kind in the movies?) scientist who is the founder of The Nelson Institute of Oceanographic Research and he’s taken The Seaview on a test run in the Arctic.  Among those aboard The Seaview is the sub’s captain, Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) The Admiral’s personal assistant Lt. Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden), Nelson’s longtime friend Commodore Lucius Emery (Peter Lorre) Captain Crane’s right hand man Lt. Danny Romano (Frankie Avalon) as well as Dr. Susan Hiller (Joan Fontaine) who is observing the effects of long term undersea stress on the crew.  Nelson’s sub has been considered a folly but the Arctic tests have proven the sub’s capabilities.: It’s not only the fastest sub ever built but it can dive deeper than any other sub.  It carries more destructive capabilities than all the explosive power used during World War II and it has enough laboratories on board to qualify as a mobile research facility.

Nelson is deliriously happy with the results of the tests and is relishing in his sub having proven its worth.  But then, during some underwater tests, icebergs batter The Seaview and the sub surfaces to find the entire sky is on fire. In a spookily surrealistic scene, Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane see massive icebergs smoking due to their melting from the intensive heat.  Nelson contacts Washington and finds out that the Van Allen Belt of radiation surrounding the earth has been ignited by a rogue comet and the temperature of the Earth is rising.   He’s ordered to The United Nations where the world’s leading scientists are meeting to try and find a solution.  The Seaview makes it from the Arctic to New York in two days (told you it was a fast sub) and Nelson presents his solution:  he thinks that if The Seaview can fire a nuclear missile from The Marianas Trench at just the right angle at just the right time on just the right day, the nuclear explosion will blow the Van Allen Belt out into space and kill the fire.  Nelson is violently opposed as the other scientists think the fire will burn itself out once it reaches a certain temperature.  The problem with this plan is that if Nelson doesn’t get to fire his missile and if his colleagues are wrong, there will no chance for another try and the temperature will keep rising and burn the Earth to a cinder.

Nelson and his crew have to fight their way out of The United Nations and back to The Seaview where Nelson orders Crane to head for The Marianas Trench.   His intention is to get in touch with The President of The United States to get authorization.  The radiation thrown off by the Van Allen belt makes this impossible and so Nelson decides to go ahead with his plan.  The problem is this: The Seaview has been declared rogue and every submarine in the world has orders to blow it out of the water.  So the intrepid crew of The Seaview not only have to make their deadline but they have to do it while dodging enemy submarines trying to stop them, a secret saboteur onboard, a giant squid, a lethal minefield and Nelson’s own arrogant stubbornness which leads his crew to near mutiny.  And what if Nelson is wrong?  Will his plan doom the Earth to certain destruction?

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA is plain good old-fashioned non-stop pulp adventure from start to finish.  There’s an amazing amount of good characterization provided by the actors, especially Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lorre, Barbara Eden and Joan Fontaine. The actors play it absolutely straight and even though the science in the movie is totally goofy, they sell it.   Michael Ansara is also aboard the sub as a man who The Seaview picks up on the Arctic ice and who believes that The Seaview should be stopped in it’s mission as he believes it’s God’s will that if the world should come to an end, Nelson shouldn’t prevent it.  They have a really good scene where Pigeon argues with Ansara that if God believes that that world should come to an end then why did God give man the intelligence and capabilities to try and prevent that end?  It’s a really tense scene that lifts the movie out of what could have been a cheesy standard sci-fi underwater adventure and gives it a little thought and philosophical substance.

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The movie also has great suspense as even Lee Crane begins to doubt Admiral Nelson, who he looks on as a father and he’s torn between his love and respect for the Admiral and his concern for his men.  And to make things even worse there are signs that even the iron-willed Admiral Nelson might be cracking under the strain of trying to save the world.  And who is sabotaging The Seaview?  Is it Dr. Hiller who thinks that Nelson is suffering from stress?  Or is it the religious fanatic Alvarez (Michael Ansara)?  Or could it just be one of the crew who has begun to doubt Nelson?

The special effects are what you would expect from the 1960’s but they’re awfully effective, especially the attack by the giant squid but the truly terrifying scene where The Seaview has to navigate a mine field gets my vote as the real nail biter.  And the last fifteen minutes of the movie where Alvarez holds the control room of The Seaview hostage with a bomb and time is running out to fire the missile is just as good.

VoyagetotheBottomoftheSeaStill

So should you see VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA?  Hell, yes.  Even though it was made back in the 60’s I really don’t think it’s dated as all in terms of story and acting.  It’s a terrifically entertaining Saturday Afternoon movie that wants nothing more than for you to sit back and be thrilled by the adventure on the screen.  It’s got action, suspense, one of the coolest submarines ever put on film and terrific performances by an old school cast that knows they’re making a B-movie and they’re gonna make a damn good one.  See it and I dare you to tell me VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA doesn’t deserve a “King Kong”style big-budget remake.

105 minutes