Ironclad

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Ironclad

Release Date: July 26, 2011

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Jonathan English

Writer: Jonathan English (Story & Screenplay), Stephen McDool (First Screenplay), Erick Kastel (Co-Screenplay)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Here at “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I’m always searching to find movies from a genre I have yet to tackle. The majority of movies I’ve reviewed since I started this last year are Horror movies (mainly because I watch them more than anything else), but my focus this year is to try to find movies from a variety of genres and eras. Throughout the coming months I plan on diving into numerous movies from the Universal Monster Movie era to Westerns to Dramas, etc. As we approach the end of another decade in the 21st Century, I would like to review movies that have come out within this time frame. With that being said, I found a movie that was released in 2011 that I found on accident and after watching it was entertained. It’s an Action/Drama film set in medieval times that is loosely based on a historical event.  The movie is called “Ironclad.”

“Ironclad” takes place in England in the year 1215. The rebel barons have forced King John to sign and seal the Magna Carta, a document which upholds the rights and freedom of the people. Within months, King John refuses to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta and seeks to reclaim England under his rule with the assistance of Danish mercenaries. The barons, with the help of a small group of Knights Templar head to Rochester Castle, located near the coast which the King can bring in goods and supplies to the country. From their they make their last stand against King John and his army until reinforcements from the French arrive. Will they be able to withhold the army and survive or will King John prevail and punish those who defy his rule?

The movie features an ensemble cast. Paul Giamatti plays the ruthless King John. James Purefoy plays Thomas Marshal, the leader of the Knights Templar. Brian Cox plays Baron William d’Aubigny who leads the rebel group into Rochester. Derek Jacobi and Kate Mara are the royal couple of Rochester castle, Baron Reginald de Cornhill and Lady Isabel and Charles Dance makes a small appearance as Archbishop Langton, who gives the blessing of the group taking a stand against King John and uphold the terms of the Magna Carta.

 

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Let me start by saying this. “Ironclad” is a historically flawed film. Without saying too much that could reveal key plot points, there are a lot of inconsistencies between the movie and the historical time line of events. The army that is depicted in the movie that defends Rochester Castle is significantly smaller than the army that was documented. Other inaccuracies include the Danish army that King John uses in his quest to take back Rochester, the promises that were made to the Danes and the timeline of when the French would be arriving to assist the barons with defeating King John. I don’t know how much research the writers did when it came start the screenplay for this movie. Judging by the timeline and sequence of events, it sounds like not a lot of in depth research was done.

Putting all that aside, the movie is enjoyable to watch. Director Jonathan English manages to blend historical and period notices with blood, gore and mud. The first thing that struck me while watching this movie is the recreation of 13th century England. I was taken back by the beautiful landscape and beaches. The overcast weather with periods of rain and cold adds to the tension of the movie and is heightened by the stone-cold look of the castles. I’m not sure if the castles were real or if they were built sets, but they were as realistic as I’ve seen in a medieval themed movie.

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The acting is a little over the top, especially Giamatti’s performance as King John. He really did his best to portray King John as brutal, vengeful and spite who will stop at nothing to reclaim his “birthright” as the ruler of England. Some of it is laughable, but he puts in a good enough effort to where I’m not going to be too critical of him. Jason Purefoy is the strong, silent Templar leader Thomas Marshal who lives and dies by the rules of the Catholic Church. His oath is put to the test not only throughout the conflict, but by the seductive tactics of Lady Isabel. Speaking of Lady Isabel, Kate Mara does a decent performance. She is not very fond of her husband as she is in a forced marriage with no privileges. She becomes quite smitten with Thomas for his heroics and leadership. Brian Cox was my personal favorite performance as William d’Aubigny. He commanded each scene with passion, purpose and sometimes with a little humor. He feels a sense of responsibility to ensure the people of England are entitled to the freedoms bestowed by the Magna Carta and has a personal animosity towards King John since it was his hand that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.

What “Ironclad” is known for is the constant battles that is amped up by huge quantities of blood, gore and mud that’s ever graced a screen. You’ll see limbs, body parts, people split in half and even a tongue cutting through the film’s 121 minute run time. There’s so much visceral and bodies piling up throughout the screen it would put “Saving Private Ryan” to shame. Some of the battles are hard to enjoy due to the headache inducing shaky cam techniques. That was the huge problem for me. This is in large part to director Jonathan English’s amateur experience in filmmaking. This would be the third movie he directed and the second major feature only to the 2006 European Horror film “Minotaur.”

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I can continue to nitpick other things about this movie including costuming, lighting, but we’ll leave that for another movie. Overall, I enjoyed “Ironclad.” Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. That goes back to Jonathan English’s inexperience, but you can only get better at your craft the more films you make. If you can suspend disbelief about the historical timeline of this movie, you’ll enjoy it even more.

Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. It is, however, a highly competent and interesting historical drama. I have some quibbles with costuming etc; but that kind of goes with the territory.

 

TRIVIA

  • Paul Giamatti filmed his role in seven days.
  • After the first attempt by King John’s army to take the castle, King John (Paul Giamatti) can be seen eating a peach in his tent. When the real King John died in October 1216, his death was attributed to poisoned ale, poisoned plums, or a “surfeit of peaches”.
  • According to director Jonathan English, Daniel O’Meara really did eat a beetle during the starvation portion of the siege, but he’s not sure the actor swallowed it.
  • Richard Attenborough, originally cast as Archbishop Langton, convinced the film’s creative team to utilize Wales’ Dragon Studios as the primary shooting location. However, he was forced to cancel his involvement with production after suffering a debilitating fall down the stairs of his home, complications of which led to his death.
  • Angus Macfadyen was initially cast in the role of Jedediah Coteral, but dropped out when the project was re-financed. He was replaced with Jamie Foreman.
  • Depicted as pagans in the film, the Danes were Christianized by that time. The bulk of King John’s mercenaries were not Danes but mostly Flemish, Provençals and Aquitainians.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Templars Without Tongues

King John

Forced Upon Me

Rebellion Or Revenge

Asking The French For Help

You See How He Talks To Me?

I’m No Soldier

Are You Sorry For What You Have Done?

Not Tolerate Drinking

With The Pope’s Blessing

You Better Hit Harder Than That

My Husband’s Appetite Doesn’t Include Me

England Belongs To Me

Great Deal Of Thinking

Goddamned Devils

Damn Your Templar Vows

Take This Castle

King John’s Speech

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No Escape

 

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No Escape

Release Date: April 24, 1994

Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Martin Campbell

Writers: Richard Herley (Novel), Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross (Screenplay)

Starring: Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson, Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Wow! We’re already into the second review of 2019 (I promise I won’t be counting the number of reviews done)! For the next ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,’ we’re going back to the year 1994. During this year in cinema we had “Forest Gump.” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption” (just to name a few). Of course, those movies were mega blockbusters, and all competed for the Best Picture Award at the Oscars. 1994 also had some movies that were overlooked and turned out to be very good in this reviewer’s opinion. We’ll be reviewing one of those movies right now. This week’s review is the dystopian future action/sci-fi flick “No Escape!”

Directed by Martin Campbell, best known for making two of the best James Bond films (again in this reviewer’s opinion) “Goldeneye” and “Casino Royale,” “No Escape” is set in the year 2022 and stars Ray Liotta as John Robbins, a highly trained ex-Marine who is imprisoned for life for murdering his commanding officer. After breaking out of two Level 5 maximum security prisons he’s sent to a Level 6 facility. After holding the Warden at gunpoint in a punishment scene, Robbins is exiled to a placed called “Absolom,” island prison hundreds of miles off the main land. The island is where they send the worst prisoners to live out their days in exile. Unbeknownst, Robbins is caught in the middle of a tribal conflict between the ‘Outsiders’ who are savages that live in the jungle and are led by the sociopathic Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson) and the ‘Insiders’ who are a cooperative autonomous community living a life of peace and purpose led by a terminally ill doctor called the ‘Father’ (Lance Henriksen). Robbins assists the ‘Insiders’ repel an attack from the ‘Outsiders’ and is asked by ‘Father’ to join the community. He refuses and intends to find a way to escape Absolom even though no one has escaped the island and lived to tell about it. The rest of the supporting cast includes Ernie Hudson, Kevin Dillon, Ian McNeice and Michael Lerner.

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“No Escape” is based off the 1987 novel “The Penal Colony” by Richard Herley. The film got mixed reviews upon its released and only made $15M out of a reported $20M budget making it a flop. Just because a movie flops at the Box Office doesn’t mean it’s a complete failure. I first saw the preview for this movie back in 1994 when I was nine years old. I stumbled upon the film later in life on Netflix. When I saw it was available to stream it refreshed my memory of the preview and gave it a shot. I went into the movie with little expectations, but after watching it, I felt the movie was a rare gem. There’s so much about this movie I enjoyed. Let’s go ahead and break it down.

First is the story. It’s nothing original as you can compare it to any other prison escape film, but it merges with elements of tribalism, authoritarianism and hope to make it compelling. What makes the story fresher is how likable the good characters are despite their alleged crimes for which they are banished to the island for. It’s reminds me of a line that Tim Robbins says in “The Shawshank Redemption” when replying to Morgan Freeman’s question as to how he ended up in prison with, “I’m innocent along with everyone else here.”  The movie sets up Robbins as a detestable character for what he had done. He was a Marine who killed his superior. You don’t know the reason why a man who served his country would do such a thing to one of his own. You find out later the reason for it and you sympathize with him even if it was still the wrong thing to do.

Next is the settings. We start the movie in a giant Level 6 prison that is surrounded by an endless windstorm. The industrial cold environment sets the tension between Robbins and the Warden. When Robbins is banished to Absolom, we get this beautiful spacious island with breathtaking views and luscious jungles where you have the freedom to do what you want. The island portion of the film was shot in Queensland, Australia. It does give the audience a sense of peace, happiness and hope as they are emerged in this environment. Heck, it makes me want to join up with the ‘Insiders’ and live a peaceful life where you contribute to the community, you’re far away from civilization and you don’t have to worry about money or bills!

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Third is the acting. There are some great performances from each character. Obviously, Ray Liotta is the star of the movie. I was surprised that he would take on a role like this given his resume and that he is mostly a dramatic actor. Liotta has always played a character of some authority whether it is a law enforcement officer or a gangster.  Of course, we all know him from his iconic portrayal of Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.” He played this role with enthusiasm and dedication. He starts off as this cold loner with the only goal of getting off the island. As the movie progresses, so does his feelings. While he still wants to get off the island, he finds compassion among the ‘Insiders’ and confines with ‘Father’ with what he had done to land him in prison in the way a Catholic goes to a priest to confess his sins. Liotta had not only the acting chops, but the brains and stamina as many scenes where he is fighting with the ‘Outsiders’ and using instinct and the land much in a sense as Rambo to subdue his pursuers. I loved everything Ray Liotta has done, this is in my top three favorite performances of his.

Another all-time favorite actor of mine is Lance Henriksen. His performance as ‘Father’ is a natural fit for him. His namesake is that of a man carrying for his children. In this, the people of his colony are his children and must do everything in his power to protect them. Henriksen has played a diverse role of characters throughout his career. This performance has similarities to his most known role portraying the android Bishop in the “Alien” movie franchise.

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The third most notable performance of this movie goes to Stuart Wilson, who plays the antagonist Walter Marek. Stuart Wilson is not a household name, but if you’re a movie buff, you may remember him from playing other villainous roles such as playing the main villain in “Lethal Weapon 3” and one of the villains in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III!” The villain role suits him well. Marek is a sociopath who is looking to dominate all of Absolom and enslave the ‘Insiders’ under the laws of the jungle. He takes over as de facto leaders of all the jungle tribes. Wilson gives a weirdly amusing performance full of laughs, jokes and downright brutality.

 

“No Escape” has the right amount of action that it doesn’t take over the rest of the movie. There’s enough explosions and battles to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are several shots including Liotta jumping off the waterfall that would be used again in director Martin Campbell’s follow up film “Goldeneye!” Campbell is an underappreciated filmmaker. He knows how to create action movies when he’s given the chance. He is one of three directors to direct multiple installments of the James Bond series.

If you’re looking for an under the radar action/sci-fi flick, look no further than “No Escape!” I’ve said previous that this is a rare gem flick and it still is. It doesn’t need over the top action nor an over preachy story to be enjoyable. If you’re lucky to find a copy of the film online or in your local video store, it is worth the money.  It’s a perfect flick to watch on a Saturday night with a buddy or two.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Throughout the entire movie, there is not one single female character. There are only male characters.
  • The film is known in other countries as “Escape from Absolom”.
  • Filmed in Far North Queensland, Australia.
  • Ray Liotta agreed to take the lead role of Robbins, because he had always wanted to do an action movie, where he played a heroic character.
  • 400 extras played The Outsiders.
  • Most of the extras were European backpackers from local backpacking hostel’s in and around cairn’s north Queensland.
  • A special rig was set up for Ray Liotta’s stunt double, for the sequence which Robbins is shot in the neck by poison darts and falls into the water below, allowing the camera to follow the stunt performer as he falls.
  • After production was complete on the film, Martin Campbell was hired to direct the 1995 James Bond film “Goldeneye” and later, the 2006 reboot “Casino Royale”. “Goldeneye” bares some similarities with this film: The Goldeneye satellite, Bond getting shot with a tranquilizer dart, Boris Grishenko secretly working for Janus, Natalya taking over a helicopter and Alec Trevelyan falling to his death, in the hand to hand combat with Bond

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Ever Turn Your Back On Me Again

Absolom

Welcome To Paradise

Not In The Mood For An Interrogation

Wipe Your Feet

He Does That With Everyone

If You Like Roadkill

Two Shots Of Your Finest 12 Day Old

Find Forgiveness

Basket Weaving

Warden’s Dry Cleaning

No You Cannot Have My Shoes

I Thought You Were My Friend

Second Prize

We’ve Always Been About Survival

Come And Get It

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pawn Sacrifice

 

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Pawn Sacrifice

Release Date: September 25, 2015

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

First off I wish to thank everyone for their continued support of the site. I have reached Review #30. For this review of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary “Bobby Fischer Against The World.” He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called “Pawn Sacrifice!”

“Pawn Sacrifice” chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Courage Under Fire,” and “The Last Samurai” the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what “Pawn Sacrifice” does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

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As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

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Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

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“Pawn Sacrifice” is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier “Bobby Fischer Against The World” and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

 

Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.

Six Against The Rock

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Six Against The Rock

Release Date: May 18, 1987 (TV Movie)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action

Director: Paul Wendkos

Writers: John Gay (Teleplay), Clark Howard (Book)

Starring: David Carradine, Richard Dysart, Dennis Farina, Charles Haid, David Morse, Jan Michael Vincent, Howard Hesseman

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

This past Christmas I received a book written by acting great David Carradine. His memoir titled “Endless Highway” talks about his life, his career and his spiritual journey. Many people know Carradine as the main character from the hit 70s show “Kung Fu”. Today’s younger generation would remember him as the titular title character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. After reading his book, I ventured into his film catalogue to watch some movies he was in. One of the films I came across in his resume was a made for TV movie that sparked my interest. The movie was titled “Six Against the Rock”.

Not to be confused with the film “Escape From Alcatraz”starring Clint Eastwood which was about the only successful escape from the prison, this film portrays the 1946 failed escape attempt by six inmates which leads to a hostage standoff that lasted three days. Carradine plays Bernie Coy, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence for robbery and the architect of the escape. The other accomplices in the plan include Joseph ‘Dutch’ Cretzer (played by Howard Hesseman), Marvin Hubbard (played by David Morse), Miran ‘Buddy’ Thompson (played by Jan Michael Vincent), Sam Shockley (played by Charles Haid) and Dan Durando (played by Paul Sanchez). The plan was to escape through ‘C Block’, which was the largest unit on the rock by capturing the guards posted there and using the yard key to make their escape where they would head to the shipyard and get on a boat that would take them to San Francisco. The plan fails when the inmates cannot find the yard key among all the keys in their possession. When they try to use other keys as an alternative, the lock jams leaving them stuck in the block with the guards. Coy decides to use the guards as hostages and use them as leverage for a negotiation with the prison’s Warden. Warden James Johnston (played by Richard Dysart) refuses to negotiate and instead tries to find a way to stop the siege and rescue the guards. He calls upon the local military for help. Now surrounded by military rifles and other hardware, the inmates only option is to fight it out. Would they survive the fight?

Direct by Paul Wendkos, who was known in the business as a “prolific specialist in made for television movies, this is indeed a tightly made film that accurately depicts the events that unfolded during those three days at Alcatraz in 1946. The majority of the movie takes place in one location so it gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. When the plan fails, the inmates are left to improvise with little to no help from the other inmates. As the hours and days go by in the siege, the inmates get tired and desperate. They begin to turn on one another.

There are some solid performances in this film. First I’ll discuss the inmates. David Carradine and David Morse work great together as Coy and Hubbard. Coy is very logical with his planning and he is quick to improvise when the original plan fails. He keeps his leadership intact with force and reasoning. Morse adds ferocity and patience to the group. Despite the plan slowly unraveling, he does his best to encourage and motivate the team to not lose hope and keep their minds focus on the objective. Hesseman and Haid portrayed the vicious and unstable characters in the movie, Cretzer and Shockley. They end up being more of a liability to the team rather than an asset. They become paranoid and desperate to the point where they start to take out their frustration on the guards being held hostage against Coy’s orders. They want to show they mean business. Jan Michael Vincent who plays Buddy Thompson in the film is quiet and composed, yet he takes his orders from Cretzer. The moralist of the group is Dan Durando, portrayed by Paul Sanchez.  He was convicted of murder at age sixteen and is currently serving a ninety-nine year sentence. He is hesitant about escaping from prison in the beginning of the film and ultimately gets dragged into the situation once Coy releases him from his cell. As the events are unfolding, Durando keeps his distance from the others and prevents Cretzer and Shockley from killing the guards.

Richard Dysart plays Warden Johnston who is grasping with the situation that is unfolding in his prison. His main focus throughout the film is the safety of the guards that are held hostage. The design of the prison works against him and has to rely on the military to come up with a way of diffusing the situation.

There’s not much action in the movie other than the inmates rounding up the guards and defending themselves during the onslaught of the military trying to take back the block There’s an ample amount of violence from the beating of the guards to Carradine shooting the guards in the leg at the Watch Tower. There’s enough going on to keep you on your feet.

“Six Against The Rock” is an intriguing story that tells a historic event that has been overlooked due to the only successful escape from Alcatraz that took place in 1960. It’s a movie where its characters are not just people, but of The Rock itself being a character. The movie reminds us that a plan that looks good on paper, but it may not work in real life. This movie may have been made for the small screen, but it leaves you with the feeling that you just watched a big masterpiece.

TRIVIA (N/A)

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Wolf

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Wolf

Release Date: June 17, 1994

Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance

Director: Mike Nichols

Writers: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s sad that we haven’t seen Jack Nicholson on the big screen in almost a decade. Although he is in his eighties and living out the remaining days of his life, it would be nice to see him in one final performance. After all, he is one of the most iconic actors in history. He has left his mark in film with his numerous memorable performances. From Jack Torrance to The Joker, Jake Gittes to Nathan Jessup, you can’t think about those characters without thinking about the actor that brought them to life. I can’t think of a bad performance from Jack. He gives everything he has in a role. One of his most underrated, or perhaps the most underrated performance of Nicholson’s career was in the 1994 Horror/Romance film ‘Wolf’.

Nicholson portrays Will Randall, who is an editor-in-chief of a publishing house who is about to be demoted due to the purchase of the publishing house by billionaire Raymond Alden (played by Christopher Plummer). On top of that bad news, Will finds out his successor is his protégé Stewart Swinton (Played by James Spader) who is not only taking his job but has taken his wife in an extramarital affair. One night driving home in the snow, Will is attacked by a wolf which leaves him with a bite on his arms. Shortly after his attack, Will discovers that he has heightened senses of sight, smell and hearing. After meeting Alden’s outcast daughter Laura (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Will confides to her about what he is experiencing and they strike up a relationship. As the story continues, Will’s transformation gets deeper and deeper. He must find a way to repress changing into a wolf during the full moon.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Nichols, ‘Wolf’ is not your traditional werewolf movie. Don’t expect a lot of action or gory kill scenes. The concept of the wolf is a metaphor for corporate takeovers and executive rivalries, hence the old saying, “Being thrown to the wolves”.  He fights to keep his job and engages in a rivalry with his protégé Ala teacher vs. student with the student looking to defeat the one that taught him how to succeed. The wolf is also a metaphor for sexual repression as you will see in certain moments of the film not only with Will and his wife, but Will and his quick attraction to Laura. As I watched the film, it felt like I was watching an adult version of “Beauty and the Beast”.

Jack Nicholson continues to show why he is one of the greatest actors in history. Yes, he has that repetitive slick and cunning tone when he speaks, but this was one of the more physical performances I haven’t seen him do since the likes of “The Shining” or “Batman”.  He takes the concept of Method acting to a new level and really gets into the wolf character with his constant sniffing; his constant shifting of the eyes as he is quickly senses his surroundings and his stamina and agility throughout the movie. There’s even a clever funny scene of Nicholson “marking his territory” like any animal would. I have to imagine he was physically and emotionally drained after making this movie, but if he got through “Batman”, he found a way to get through this! Huge props to the makeup and effects department for Nicholson’s transformation. The effects reminded me of “An American Werewolf in London” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. Nicholson was definitely Wolverine before Hugh Jackman took on that role!

The supporting cast is small as it focuses on the relationships between Will, Stewart, Laura and Aldren. Pfeiffer portrays Laura Alden as an isolationist and someone who detests her father and drives up an attraction to Will to spite him. As she gets to know him, she feels concerned and caring for what is happening to him and she even goes to bat for him when he is confronted with a tragic situation. You can feel her emotion through every gasp and every tremble. Spader plays his character as a smooth and calculating weasel who goes behind Will’s back to not only take his job but take his wife. He thinks he is in control of the situation, but the worm turns for him when Will keeps up the fight for his job which sets up the many confrontations they will have throughout the film. And what can you say about Christopher Plummer? Only that he is Christopher Plummer and he is one of the most legendary actors of our time. He doesn’t skip a beat portraying billionaire Raymond Alden. When he purchases the publishing house, he thinks he’s beaten Will and be able to run the publishing house the way he wants, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is engaging in a Chess match with Will to see who will submit first. It’s a duel of egos between these two characters.

The only negative I could think of in the film is the pacing. It turns into a straight up horror film in the third act and feels rushed. Some of the scenes in the third act seem unnecessary, but they were put there to build up the suspense and drama. It gives you an insight on what the climax of the film is going to be.

It’s been twenty-four years since ‘Wolf’ came out in theaters. It is still original and innovative. It doesn’t have to borrow too much from the ‘werewolf’ films of the past to make a statement on corporate diplomacy and the seduction that romances can bring. It’s a shame we didn’t get a sequel to this film. Watch below. This would’ve been a great concept. Don’t you think?

 

 

TRIVIA  (Sourced from IMDB)

  • Jack Nicholson had been trying to get this film made with his friend, writer Jim Harrison, for twelve years.
  • The movie’s release was delayed for six to eight months to re-shoot the entire third act
  • Mia Farrow was slated to play Charlotte Randall. Mike Nichols had to fight to let Farrow have the part, due to the film company’s hesitancy over her being too controversial at the time (the then current Mia Farrow and Woody Allen trial). She had to take a salary cut but in the long run she had to bow out anyway, due to schedule conflicts.
  • Jack Nicholson had final say about who the choice of the director would be, and in fact one of his choices was Mike Nichols.
  • Stanley Kubrick was considered to direct, but he wasn’t interested.
  • Sharon Stone turned down the female lead.
  • When Michelle Pfeiffer expressed interest in playing the part of Laura, Mike Nichols and the film’s screenwriters wanted to make the part stronger and more important to the story, as it was basically a “woman in danger” trope in the original script. Some of the ideas considered were making her into an animal rights activist or a doctor, both of which would have given her a connection to Jack Nicholson’s character and expanded on her conflict with her rich father. Ultimately, Pfeiffer accepted the role without it being hugely upgraded because she wanted to work with Nicholson and Nichols.

 

AUDIO CLIPS