Tag Archives: Sean Connery

The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma)

There are few constants in The Untouchables. Leading man Kevin Costner comes in after nemesis Robert De Niro (as Al Capone) opens the movie; only the Chicago setting and Ennio Morricone’s grandiose, bombastic, omnipresent score are unabated. Director De Palma embraces the film’s various phases, sometimes through Stephen H. Burum’s photography, sometimes just through how much he lets the actors chew at the scenery. In his deftest move (with the actors, anyway), the only ones De Palma never lets get chewy are Costner and Sean Connery. With Connery, it’s a wonderful disconnect from what could be a very showy, chewy role. With Costner, it’s more because David Mamet’s screenplay has him so absurdly earnest, the part doesn’t have the teeth for it.

Costner’s the protagonist–and when Untouchables fully embraces itself as an action picture in the last third, it’s Costner leading the charge–but Connery and De Niro get the best parts. Connery’s an aged, failed, albeit mostly honest, beat cop who can’t help but bond with earnest treasury agent Eliot Ness (Costner). Even when De Palma, Burum, and Morricone turn up the melodrama on Connery, he stays reserved. His is the most honest part in Mamet’s script, whether in his counseling of Costner and the rest of the team (Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia) or butting heads with cop pal Richard Bradford. De Niro, on the other hand, plays Capone like Robert De Niro playing Al Capone. It’s an exaggerated performance in an exaggerated film, only De Palma doesn’t direct the scenes for De Niro’s performance so much as around it.

The Untouchables is weird that way. It all comes together, but isn’t fluid outside that Morricone score. And Chicago, of course. It makes wonderful use of its locations. The score and setting glue the consecutive pieces of the film together, which is particularly helpful since Mamet repeats himself over and over when it comes to exposition. Most of Smith’s part–outside his introduction, action sequences, and occasional cute moments–is saying the same things, over and over, about getting Capone on his taxes. And he talks about it in his first scene.

Mamet and De Palma are also real bad about Costner’s family life; after introducing Patricia Clarkson and doing a little establishing, she’s pretty much offscreen to the point it’s not even clear she’s pregnant. The pregnancy only becomes a plot detail after she gives. While she’s in the movie throughout–she’s how Mamet and De Palma introduce Costner in fact–she doesn’t have any lines.

Actually, besides Clarkson, there might only be three other speaking roles for female actors. And each of them only get one scene. Untouchables is all about the boys. They all talk about how nice it is to be married. It’s one of Mamet’s main recurring dialogue motifs; De Palma doesn’t seem to put much stock in it though. Costner and company, in their battle for good against De Niro and his goons, are separate from the goings-on of the regular world.

All of the acting is fine, some of it is better. De Palma seems to know he can get away with exaggerated performances because nothing’s going to be louder than that Morricone music. Or main goon Billy Drago’s white suit.

Now, while Morricone’s score is grandiose and melodramatic, it’s still got a lot of nuance and sincere emotional impact. Costner, Connery, Garcia, and Smith immediately establish themselves as a team. De Palma doesn’t spend a lot of time just relaxing with the characters, but there’s some of it and a sense of camaraderie permeates. It’s in stark contrast to De Niro, who exists to terrorize, whether it be regular people or his own flunkies.

In the first two thirds of the picture, De Palma’s more concerned with the drama. There’s some action, but he’s not focusing on it as much as where it occurs or how it perturbs the plot. In the last third, however, De Palma’s all about the action. Yes, how its affecting Costner–and Costner’s character development–is a thing, but character is secondary to style. And it’s some masterful style. The Untouchables is solid until it all of a sudden becomes exceptional for a while. De Palma, Burum, Morricone, and editors Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow do some fantastic work finishing up the film.

It’s a fine film, succeeding when it almost shouldn’t–Costner’s earnestness ought to be too much, it’s not; De Niro’s excess ought to be too much, it’s not. Morricone’s score ought to be too much. It’s not. Instead, it’s essential in making The Untouchables work.

It and that Chicago location shooting, of course.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by David Mamet, suggested by the book by Oscar Fraley and Eliot Ness; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Gerald B. Greenberg and Bill Pankow; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Art Linson; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (Ness), Sean Connery (Malone), Charles Martin Smith (Wallace), Andy Garcia (Stone), Robert De Niro (Capone), Richard Bradford (Dorsett), Patricia Clarkson (Catherine), and Billy Drago (Nitti).


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Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

Highlander II: The Quickening has had a reputation as a sequel disaster since its release. Outside of “Starlog” write-ups, did anyone ever pretend to be excited about this film? But since its initial release (and multiple home video re-releases with different editing), The Quickening has actually gotten to be a wonderful time capsule of its era and situation.

The film is desperate. It goes all out. People like hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II, let’s have hoverboards. The ladies liked stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery with long hair in the first one, let’s do all long hair in the second one. Highlander 2 ought to be subtitled Big Hair and Big Swords because it’s desperate enough to give villain Michael Ironside long hair, presumably to make him… sexy?

Now. Ironside. Real quick. He ought to look embarrassed and he doesn’t. He gets through. John C. McGinley not so much, but Ironside gets through. He’s the lamest early nineties movie villain–a mix of the savage punk villain from the previous Highlander and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman–but Ironside does get through it.

Sean Connery’s actually okay enough. Lambert’s bad but how could anyone be good. He’s so bad he’s better under the old age make-up at the beginning than when he’s young again.

Virginia Madsen is not good as the love interest. It’s a terrible part, but she’s still not good. Oh, look, a metaphor for the entire film. It’s terrible for multiple reasons, but it could never be good. Even when Highlander 2 does something right for a little while, it gets screwed up. Director Mulcahy has a handful of decent concepts, but they’re either too short or ultimately fail. And when it seems like a perfect Mulcahy moment–many of the sets are enormous so Mulcahy can do his swinging crane shots–he never takes advantage. It’s puzzling and disconcerting.

Weird score from Stewart Copeland, weirder pop soundtrack. Both are bad, but interesting in their weirdness. Like everything else, they’re desperate to appear hip. Peter Bellwood’s lousy script apes corporations as bad guys from Robocop and Total Recall, bringing along poor Ironside from that latter as well. Highlander 2 is a sequel to a cable and home video hit desperately trying to be a cable and home video hit.

I suppose it’s oddly appropriate a film about immortality is also such a perfect time capsule of a popular filmmaking era. It’s such a perfect example of it, I’m only moderately embarrassed to have written over 400 words about it right now.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


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The Rock (1996, Michael Bay)

I’m loathe to say it, but The Rock isn’t bad. Its good qualities are questionable, but it’s not bad. Besides some of the acting, what’s best about the film is how it fuses the action and adventure genres. Bay does his action stuff in traditional adventure settings—there’s a setting straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but Bay plays it as action and it works.

What doesn’t work—I’ll finish with what does to be positive—is, first and foremost, the writing. Most of the one-liners flop. There are occasional decent moments, like when Sean Connery’s character shows his army experience, but there are also the terrible scenes with Ed Harris. Every one of them is awful. Harris tries, but there’s nothing he can do. His voice cracks during one tense scene and it sort of sums up his entire attempt at essaying the character. He just can’t sell it.

As the lead, Nicolas Cage has some problems. He’s appealing in his first Hollywood manic role, but not quite good. But he’s irreplaceable.

Oh, I forgot the other bad stuff—some of the acting is terrible. Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine give awful performances.

Then there’s the score. Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer make some terrible music together.

Great supporting work from David Morse, John Spencer and Stuart Wilson. Bay knows how to fill a room with character actors and make it work.

It could be better, but also a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook and Mark Rosner, based on a story by Weisberg and Cook; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael White; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (John Patrick Mason), Nicolas Cage (Dr. Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel), John Spencer (FBI Director James Womack), David Morse (Major Tom Baxter), William Forsythe (Special Agent Ernest Paxton), Stuart Wilson (General Al Kramer), Michael Biehn (Commander Charles Anderson), Vanessa Marcil (Carla Pestalozzi), Claire Forlani (Jade Angelou), John C. McGinley (Marine Captain Hendrix), Gregory Sporleder (Captain Frye), Tony Todd (Captain Darrow), Bokeem Woodbine (Sergeant Crisp), Raymond Cruz (Sergeant Rojas), John Laughlin (General Peterson), and Philip Baker Hall (Chief Justice).

Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Sidney Lumet)

There are two significant problems with Murder on the Orient Express. Unfortunately, both of them are aspects of the film’s genre. Well, one of them is an aspect of the genre and the other is related to the film’s extremely high quality acting. So, neither of them are “problems” in the traditional sense.

First, the solution. The solution scene in Orient Express is one of Lumet’s fantastic long sequences of filmmaking. However, it’s a narratively unsound scene. How to talk about it without “spoiling.” The solution sequence does not offer the characters anything, the people who are experiencing the film’s events, just the viewer. Yes, it has to be done because it’s a mystery, but it doesn’t make any sense.

Second is less about genre and more about the film itself. Murder on the Orient Express has one of the finest casts ever assembled–and many of them give these sublime, luminescent performances. The standouts are John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Colin Blakely, Rachel Roberts, Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman. Albert Finney is great in the lead–I grew up thinking this performance was indicative of the rest of his work–with Lauren Bacall being a great comedic foil.

The best story for the characters these actors create is not, however, the one in the film. There’s a scene where everyone gets a moment together and it’s transcendent. I had tears in my eyes (Richard Rodney Bennett’s music probably helped).

It’s the best film this story could be; it’s technically marvelous.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Paul Dehn, based on the novel by Agatha Christie; director of photography, Geoffrey Unsworth; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; production designer, Tony Walton; produced by John Brabourne; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot), Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Hubbard), Martin Balsam (Bianchi), Ingrid Bergman (Greta), Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Pierre), Sean Connery (Colonel Arbuthnot), John Gielgud (Beddoes), Wendy Hiller (Princess Dragomiroff), Anthony Perkins (McQueen), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary Debenham), Rachel Roberts (Hildegarde), Richard Widmark (Ratchett), Michael York (Count Andrenyi), Colin Blakely (Hardman) and George Coulouris (Doctor).


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