Skip to main content

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba
(1979)

(SPOILERS) Cuba-based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh, who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.

Soderbergh particularly rated its “refusal to play to the idea of a war-torn romance. An absolute refusal to be sentimental or easy about anything”. But an area he cites as bucking trends is really symptomatic of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be. At any rate, if Charles Wood knew when writing the screenplay, it didn’t translate to Richard Lester when he was directing it. Soderbergh’s take is that viewers didn’t like the romance plotline, but viewers simply weren’t interested full stop.

Lester’s idea was to “portray an impression of the moment one regime was replaced by the next”, and there are elements that succeed in this regard. But they fail to coalesce in the way great movies with multiple plot strands do. Most successful is probably Chris Sarandon’s alcoholic, profligate son of Walter Gottell’s (alias General Gogol) rum and cigar factory owner (that’s original). There’s a young punk rebel out to kill him (and later Sean). Denholm Elliot’s a smuggler, but his inclusion only ever feels like an afterthought. Jack Weston’s curiously named Gutman is interested in investing in the factory. Martin Balsam is the delusional general, Hector Elizondo (looking very young) his sympathetic and smarter captain.

And marching through all this, with absolutely nothing dynamic to do, is Sean Connery. Ostensibly, his mercenary and former major Robert Dapes has been brought in to train the Cuban army, but he’s (a) too late and (b) spends most of the proceedings standing around like a lemon, or growling at Brooke Adams for spurning his advances. She’s Sarandon’s husband and an old flame of Connery’s. Or should that be young flame (“I was a silly girl of fifteen” she tells him of her first meeting. It’s alright, though; Sean thought she was seventeen). 

The main reason this fizzles isn’t due to the anti-romance nature of Cuba; it’s that there’s zero chemistry between the two of them, and Adams just isn’t lead material. Sean’s baffled by it all. So are we. You kind of understand why Sarandon (who is terrific) is getting pissed all the time.

Does Cuba reveal much about revolutions or more specifically this one? It offers superficial snapshots of why the revolt is taking place, of corrupt police with (literal) suitcases full of money, but for a movie accused of being pro-the revolution, it’s remarkably slack about giving this side any weight. There's the occasional glib slice of wisdom ("You'll only defeat someone like Castro if you're right") which only adds to the feeling Lester's lens is very peripheral, even towards the central characters. Nothing ends up suggestive of substance or insight; even the escalation, as various folks attempt to flee, lacks much in the way of suspense. Sean gets in a tank. And then he gets out of it again. His best moments are some earlier put-downs of the general he’s there to help (for a pronounced mercenary, he seems to do everything he can not to get paid).

Also notable for Roger Lloyd-Pack and David Rappaport, both as Cubans, Cuba represented something of a nadir for Connery’s 70s, a rough patch as persistent as pal Michael Caine’s (although, in both cases, there are glittering jewels in there too). He was about to turn the corner. As was Lester, with the Salkinds coming calling once again. This time to take over Superman II.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Suspicions of destiny. We all have them. A deep, wordless knowledge that our time has come.

Damien: Omen II (1978) (SPOILERS) There’s an undercurrent of unfulfilled potential with the Omen series, an opportunity to explore the machinations of the Antichrist and his minions largely ignored in favour of Final Destination deaths every twenty minutes or so. Of the exploration there is, however, the better part is found in Damien: Omen II , where we’re privy to the parallel efforts of a twelve or thirteen-year-old Damien at military school and those of Thorn Industries. The natural home of the diabolical is, after all, big business. Consequently, while this sequel is much less slick than the original, it is also more engaging dramatically.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.