Skip to main content

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion
(1975)

(SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

If Connery seems unlikely casting – Omar Shariff turned the part down, obviously; Anthony Quinn was also considered – he must have thought he was onto something in terms of Middle Eastern grooves, as he then played a Saudi Arabian in the following year’s The Next Man. Connery’s as appealingly, ruggedly Scottish as the leader of a band of Berbers as he would be playing a very Scottish Spanish/Egyptian peacock in Highlander a decade later (Nadim Sawalha apparently had to give up in his attempts at teaching Connery an Arabic accent). Indeed, it’s his presence that really fuels the picture’s watchability. Which it needs to, since the back end turns on the not-Stockholm-Syndrome-really feelings of his former captives when he himself is held prisoner.

But Connery’s “lion”, opting to kidnap women and children because he discovers he has little recourse if he is to garner attention in an age where combatants no longer look each other in the eye while fighting – a very Milius, “When men were men” sentiment – is only half of the movie. The picture is loosely inspired by the 1904 Perdicaris affair, which saw President Roosevelt intervene in a kidnapping case in Morocco, a decision regarded as having helped with his re-election (Milius out-and-out makes it a canny publicity stunt on Roosevelt’s part, and let’s face it, short of actually vote-rigging, it’s a tried-and-tested formula).

Brian Keith’s Roosevelt is all-man, shootin’ and admirin’ stuffed bears: a man after Milius’ heart. But perhaps because the writer-director is clearly so in awe of the guy (who in turn develops respect for Raisuli) this plotline never feels as if it’s making fulfilling its potential. John Huston is good value as Secretary of State John Hay, but Huston always is. The President sends in the South Atlantic Squadron, must deal with a slippery sultan (Marc Zuber) and Raisuli’s brother the Bashaw (Vladek Sheybal). When there’s a betrayal, and Raisuli is captured by the Germans and Moroccans having been promised he will be unharmed, the Americans end up fighting the Germans, represented by Von Roerkel (most famous as the egg-sucking German tank commander in A Fistful of Dynamite).

This coming in a film where Roosevelt’s staff speculate “A world war. Now that would be something to go out on”. Making Milius’ comment, for all his flag-waving, that “You can take the politics to be any way you want, for or against the United States” actually quite reasonable. He’s clearly an interventionist, but his depictions are not without a sense of humour, as the final letter to Roosevelt suggests (“I like the lion must remain in my place, while you, like the wind, will never know yours”).

In his original conception, Milius wanted Katherine Hepburn for the kidnapped grandmother, changing this to younger mum Eden Pedecaris in order to get financing. He had Julie Christie in mind, but had to settle for Faye Dunaway, who then dropped out and was replaced by Candice Bergen. Bergen’s fine, but she doesn’t especially stand out (Milius opined that her range was limited and she was only concerned with how she looked. He also called Connery “sour and dour” but liked his performance; the feeling was sufficiently mutual that Sean brought Milius in for script doctoring duties on The Hunt for Red October). The director clearly enjoyed having Eden’s children (Simon Harrison and Polly Gottesman) see this as a grand adventure, complete with beheadings (“I had to kill those two or I could not trust the other two” explains Raisuli), cut-out tongues and ensuring swords have blood on them for appearances’ sake; Raisuli takes on the status of father figure, one who never had any intention of killing women and children.

Jerry Goldsmith provides the picture with a suitably rich, expansive (and Oscar-nominated) score, while Billy Williams’ cinematography brings the hoped-for Lawrence of Arabia vibe. That film had a much more persuasive screenplay, though, and commanding lead character. The Wind and the Lion is unable to fully embrace that boy’s own vibe, because the overgrown boy calling the shots ultimately gets in its way.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the