EYE IN THE SKY (2016) Contrived But Effective

0

eye in the sky poster

If you could save the lives of hundreds of people who will perish in a terrorist attack, but by doing so, take the life of an innocent little girl, would you do it?

That’s basically the question asked in EYE IN THE SKY (2016) a taut thriller in which the powers that be wrestle with this exact dilemma.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is coordinating a mission via drone cameras to locate members of an elusive terrorist cell in Kenya.  Piloting the drones in the air are two American pilots, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox).  Powell also has a man on the ground Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) who controls a smaller drone which is able to take interior pictures of the compound.  It’s this drone that not only locates the terrorists but reveals that they are about to conduct a suicide mission.  Suddenly, the “capture” mission becomes a “kill” mission.

To complicate matters, a nine year-old girl sits out front of the compound selling bread for her family. As a result, pilot Steve Watts requests that Colonel Powell verify with her superiors that they have the clearance to conduct a mission that will cause lethal collateral damage.

What follows is an oftentimes terse study in diplomacy, politics, and military positioning as the various powers-that-be wrestle with the decision of just who will be the one to give the official green light to a mission that will no doubt kill an innocent little girl.  And it’s all decided upon from the relative comfort and safety of situation rooms across the globe, miles upon miles away from the action.

This would all be terribly disturbing if it wasn’t so contrived.  I had difficulty wrapping my head around the notion that a government worth its salt would even consider letting a terrorist group armed with suicide bombs walk away, if the collateral damage was simply one life.  It’s a great essay question for a philosophy class, but as a plot in a movie, it wasn’t convincing.

Still, the story put forth in EYE IN THE SKY is timely and relevant.  It’s just not always believable.  It asks important questions in this day and age where warfare can be conducted by drones.  And the screenplay by Guy Hibbert does create three-dimensional characters who struggle with the dilemma they face.

Of course, the high caliber of actors in this one also helps.

Helen Mirren is superb as Colonel Katherine Powell.  Her take on the situation is simple:  the terrorists must be taken out.  The innocent girl’s inevitable death must be accepted.  If not, they will have the blood of many more innocent victims on their hands if they let the terrorists escape.

Both Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are equally effective as the pilots who want no part of killing an innocent girl.  Paul, who was phenomenal on TV’s BREAKING BAD as Jesse Pinkman, has been excellent in every film I’ve seen him in since.  I hope he continues to land film roles and that they grow in prominence.  Here, his Steve Watts just wants to do the right thing, and Paul is excellent showing Watts’ anguish when it becomes clear he’s going to have to do something he doesn’t want to do.

Phoebe Fox, who I enjoyed a lot in the horror sequel THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2:  ANGEL OF DEATH (2014) is equally as good as fellow pilot Carrie Gershon, as she shares Watts’ frustrations.

Alan Rickman, in his last live action film role [he lends his voice to the upcoming ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016)] plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson, a military officer who tries to see both sides of the coin but ultimately sides with Mirren’s Colonel Powell.  Rickman also enjoys one of the best bits in the movie, a brief speech near the end where he scolds a diplomat for questioning a soldier’s understanding of the price of warfare.  It’s a great moment.

Rickman, who passed away in January,  looks pale and tired here. Perhaps he was supposed to look this way for the role, but I couldn’t help but think while watching him on screen that he didn’t look healthy.

The movie is dedicated to Rickman’s memory.

Barkhad Abdi, who was memorable as the head pirate in CAPTAIN PHILIPS (2013), is nearly as good here as Jama Farah, the agent on the ground flying the miniature drone, who later risks his life in a futile attempt to buy the little girl’s bread so she can get clear of the area, in one of the film’s more suspenseful sequences.

EYE IN THE SKY was directed by Gavin Hood, who also appears in the film as Aaron Paul’s superior officer Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh, and he’s actually very good in these few scenes.  He’s not bad as the director either.  Hood directed the superhero film X-MEN ORIGINS:  WOLVERINE (2009), a film that most X-Men fans hated, but I really liked.

That being said, EYE IN THE SKY is not a phenomenal movie, nor does Hood hit a homerun with it.  The pacing is somewhat slow, and it takes a while to get going.  More importantly, its main moral dilemma, whether or not to spare the girl’s life, comes off as a fake hypothetical situation.  Had we been talking about hundreds of lives potentially lost due to collateral damage, then that might have been more believable.

Still, the actors here do such a good job bringing this situation to life, that I found myself looking past this flaw and going along with the story.

The more relevant topic this film examines is warfare conducted from the comfort and safety of war rooms miles away from the action, but even this theme is not handled crisply.  The movie seems to be implying that this kind of warfare— using drones— is too easy and will lead to generals making ill-fated decisions because they don’t have to worry about the lives of their soldiers on the ground.  However, in this movie, the folks giving the orders are more cautious than if they had soldiers on the ground.

All this being said, EYE IN THE SKY does have some fine moments.  The scene where Barkhad Abdi’s agent on the ground attempts to buy the little girl’s bread to get her away from the missile strike is extremely suspenseful and one of the more exciting scenes in the film.

And every time Alan Rickman is on screen the film seems to become that much more compelling.

EYE IN THE SKY is an inconsistent movie, but it builds as it goes along and finishes strong, ending with an emphatic exclamation point.  And with its talented cast, it overcomes its contrivances to the point where it’s ultimately worth your while.

—END—

 

Advertisements

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) Remake Is A Rousing Adventure

0

the-jungle-book-2016-poster

Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife—.

Eh hem.  Excuse me.  I got carried away.

“The Bare Necessities” is one of my favorite songs from the 1967 animated Disney THE JUNGLE BOOK— one of my favorite movies of all time— and I’m happy to say it makes it into the 2016 remake by director Jon Favreau.

Because I’m a huge fan of the 1967 film, I was certainly looking forward to this new version of THE JUNGLE BOOK.  At the same time, I was wary that it wouldn’t be able to live up to the classic animated film.  While I probably still prefer the 1967 movie— it’s been a favorite for so long— this new remake comes pretty darn close to satisfying on all levels. In short, it’s a pretty darn good movie.

Now, there’s also a 1994 live action version of THE JUNGLE BOOK, also produced by Disney, that I have not seen, a version that was not well received upon its initial release, although there are some folks who swear by it.  Not to mention the 1942 version starring Sabu.  But for me, the 1967 animated film has always been the most endearing.  Now comes the 2016 THE JUNGLE BOOK. All of these films are based on the collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) opens with an homage to the 1967 film, using the same music and the very same opening shot.  But this is no shot-by-shot remake, as there are plenty of differences between the two films.

THE JUNGLE BOOK is the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) a young boy who had been abandoned in the jungle only to be rescued by the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) who turned him over to a wolf pack, where he was raised as a wolf.  Mowgli enjoyed a happy life with the pack, with his adopted parents Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyon’go), and wolf cub brothers and sisters.

All is well until the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who hates and fears humans decides that Mowgli must die.  The pack realizes that even with their combined strength, they are no match for Shere Khan, and so they arrange for Bagheera to bring Mowgli back to the man-village, to live safely with his own kind.

But Shere Khan is wise to their plan and attempts to kill Mowgli while he is still with Bagheera, who fights off the tiger while telling Mowgli to run, which the youth does.  On his own in the jungle, things look bleak for Mowgli until he is rescued by the laid-back Baloo the Bear (Bill Murray).

But the danger is far from over.  Threats lurk behind every tree, as Mowgli and his friends must contend with Kaa the snake (Scarlett Johansson), King Louie (Christopher Walken) and his army of apes, and of course Shere Khan.

There is a lot to like about this new version of THE JUNGLE BOOK.  Probably my favorite part is the serious tone this movie takes. While director Jon Favreau keeps this one family friendly, it is not overly silly or nonstop funny as a lot of the “family” animated films are these days.  While there are certainly humorous moments in the film, for the most part, this JUNGLE BOOK is a serious adventure.  It even contains some rather dark moments.

When Bagheera tangles with Shere Khan to protect Mowgli it’s an exciting and rather vicious sequence.  For those of us who grew up with the 1967 version and wondered what it would be like if Bagheera actually fought Shere Khan, this film provides the answer.

bagheera vs. shere khan

To protect Mowgli, Bagheera the Panther prepares to tangle with Shere Khan the Tiger.

The flashback sequence where we learn what happened to Mowgli’s real father is intense and disturbing.  Likewise, the fate of Mowgli’s wolf father Akela is just as jarring.

Christopher Walken’s King Louie is larger than life and powerfully aggressive.  There’s more King Kong in this interpretation than Louie.  Similarly, Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa the Snake is mesmerizing and frightening.

king louie 2016

Christopher Walken’s King Louie.

The cast is fantastic.  Young Neel Sethi is perfect as Mowgli, and all the voice actors here do a terrific job.

Ben Kingsley makes for a majestic Bagheera, matching Sebastian Cabot’s effort in the original.  Even better is Idris Elba as Shere Khan.  He turns the tiger into an absolute villain in this one, making Shere Khan lethal and scary.  George Sanders voiced the tiger in the 1967 film, and he gave the character an elegant gentlemanly villainy.  Anything remotely sophisticated is gone here.  Elba’s Shere Khan is less a proper Bond villain and more like someone you’d meet on THE WALKING DEAD.  He’s not a nice guy.

shere khan

Shere Khan.

Lupita Nyong’o is phenomenal as Mowgli’s wolf mother Raksha, while Giancarlo Esposito made me forget his icy portrayal of drug kingpin Gus Fring on TV’s BREAKING BAD and provides a dignified voice for Mowgli’s wolf father Akela.  Scarlett Johansson is spot-on as the menacing and mesmerizing snake Kaa, and Christopher Walken, in what is probably my favorite performance in the movie, makes King Louie a scene-stealing simian who seems like he walked off the set of the recent PLANET OF THE APES reboots with Andy Serkis.  Walken’s Louie is much more monstrous than the Louie from the animated version.

Emjay Anthony, who played Jon Favreau’s son in Favreau’s CHEF (2014),  and who I also enjoyed in the surprisingly good horror movie KRAMPUS (2015), is very effective as one of Mowgli’s wolf cub brothers.  And Garry Shandling, who passed away last month, provides the voice for Ikki the porcupine.

Of course, Bill Murray probably has the biggest shoes to fill, playing the most iconic character from the animated movie, Baloo the Bear, voiced with impeccable perfection by country singer Phil Harris back in 1967.  While Murray certainly didn’t make me forget Harris, he more than holds his own and all in all does a decent job with the character. It helps that Baloo seems to be a natural fit for Murray.  He even gets to sing “The Bare Necessities.”

baloo

Baloo the Bear

This being a more serious rendition of the story, most of the memorable songs from the animated version by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman do not make it into this film, but a few do.

As I said, Bill Murray’s Baloo does perform “The Bare Necessities,” and some of the other familiar themes do make it into the film as background music, as in the Kaa the snake sequence.  Christopher Walken’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” is the only song that is somewhat awkward.  Walken’s King Louie is just a bit too frightening to accept his breaking into song, and yet there is just something creepy enough about his Kong-like character singing that makes the scene work.

The CGI animation here is top-notch.  The animals all look amazing, especially Shere Khan, who is absolutely frightening.  While the film is available in 3D, I saw it in 2D and it looked just fine.

Jon Favreau does a terrific job here all around, from creating exciting suspenseful scenes to the superb CGI animation.  He also crafts some poignant moments as well, like the tender scenes between Mowgli and Raksha, and the sequence involving Mowgli and the elephants.

Rounding out this solid production is the screenplay by Justin Marks.  It keeps things serious throughout without sacrificing the “family” feel of the tale. So many of today’s CGI animated children’s movies are steeped in adult humor, and while this can be a lot of fun, the adventurous tone in THE JUNGLE BOOK is satisfying and refreshing.

If you’re in the mood for a rousing adventure, a film fit for the entire family, then look no further than Jon Favreau’s exceptional remake of THE JUNGLE BOOK.

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They’ll come to you!

—END—

 

 

 

 

Kevin Costner Is Criminally Entertaining in CRIMINAL (2016)

0

Criminal_2016_poster

When I think of Kevin Costner,  the word “bad-ass” isn’t what comes to mind.

That might change after watching CRIMINAL (2016), the new thriller starring  Costner as a death row inmate who through untested experimental surgery is given the memories of a dead CIA agent.

Why?  Because the agent died before completing his mission, and in order for his superiors to learn the vital information he took with him to his grave, they need to ressurect his memory.  Enter Kevin Costner.

When the movie opens, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is being chased by the bad guys, and he doesn’t make it, which is very bad for the good guys, because Pope was bringing in a computer hacker who had gained control of the U.S. military’s missile launch system.  Pope’s boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) recruits Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform experimental surgery on Pope to transfer Pope’s memories into the brain of another man.

Franks chooses Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a death row inmate and career criminal, because Jericho has a rare brain condition as a result of a childhood brain injury which makes him a perfect candidate for the surgery.  Trouble is, the same injury has also made Jericho an unstoppable unfeeling brutal criminal who doesn’t know right form wrong, doesn’t feel emotion or pain, and basically is Michael Myers without the mask.  Well, almost.

Franks performs the surgery, but Jericho escapes, and now armed with Pope’s CIA agent knowledge and skills, sets out to steal the money that Pope was going to use to bring in the computer hacker.  But when Jericho visits Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and his young daughter, he begins to relive happy memories from Pope’s past and suddenly he’s experiencing emotions, something he had never been able to do before, which changes his outlook on life.

Meanwhile, the hacker is still out there, CIA boss Quaker Wells is going nuts because every move he makes seems to be the wrong one, and the main baddie in the movie, terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) is intent on using Jericho to lead him to the hacker so he can gain control of the U.S. military’s missile launch codes and blow up the world.

And he’ll succeed, unless Jericho, the relentlessly brutal career criminal who’s now armed with CIA agent skills, making him more dangerous than ever, can stop him.  And he wants to stop him for the simple reason that Xavier has irked him.  As Jericho says early in the movie, “You hurt me.  I’ll hurt you worse.”  Well, Xavier put the hurt on him, and for Jericho, that’s enough.

I went into CRIMINAL not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a very entertaining movie, and the biggest reason for this is Kevin Costner.

For me, it’s usually hit or miss with Costner.  Sometimes I enjoy him, and other times not so much.  For example, his recent action thriller 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) I thought was meh, and he didn’t really do all that much for me in that movie.  Yet, he was terrific in last year’s MCFARLAND, USA. (2015), and I also enjoyed him in the two thrillers THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009) and MR. BROOKS (2007).  Of course, Costner’s career goes way back to THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and was followed by a career of hits [DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)] and misses [WATERWORLD (1995)].

Costner knocks it out of the park here in CRIMINAL.  I haven’t seen Coster this good in years.  Part of the fun is it’s a role Costner doesn’t usually play.  As Jericho Stewart, he’s in-your-face abrasive, rough, crude, and incredibly entertaining.  His gritty yet realistic performance is reminsicent of the work of Tom Hardy, who also could have easily played this guy.

kevin costner criminal

Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) takes aim at an enemy in CRIMINAL (2016).

Costner is also supported by a fine cast.  While neither Gary Oldman nor Tommy Lee Jones really stand out or do anything we haven’t seen them do before, they are both very good and their presence certainly helps the movie.  As does Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman herself!) as Pope’s beautiful wife Jill.  Gadot is not in the movie a whole lot, but when she is, it gets that much better.

Jordi Molla is meh as main baddie Xavier Heimdahl.  I’ve seen better villains, and I’ve seen worse.  Likewise, Michael Pitt as hacker Jan Stroop aka “The Dutchman” is also simply okay.

Better than these two are the other women in the cast.  Alice Eve makes her mark in a brief bit as CIA Agent Marta Lynch who for a time is Quaker Wells’ go-to person before she meets an untimely demise.  Even better than Eve is Antje Traue as Elsa Mueller, Xavier’s top assassin.  Traue gives the second best performance in the movie, behind Costner’s, and I really enjoyed her work as Elsa, who was one of the better characters in the movie.  Then again, maybe I just have a thing for sexy assassins.

And while it was nice to see Ryan Reynolds as Bill Pope, his performance was more of an afterthought, since he’s only in the movie for a few minutes.

CRIMINAL also has a really good script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg.  It’s chock full of good lines, mostly spoken by Kevin Costner, and the idea behind the story, transferring one man’s memories into another, was pretty interesting.

I couldn’t help but think of FRANKENSTEIN while watching this movie.  The memory transplant, the brain surgery, the fact that Costner’s Jericho behaves like the Frankenstein Monster, especially how he doesn’t feel emotion and goes about scaring people and beating them senseless every chance he gets.  Plus Tommy Lee Jones’ character is named Dr. Franks, which immediately made my Hammer Films brain think of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Franck at the end of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).

That whole part of the story is really interesting and compeletely worked for me, mostly because Costner’s performance brings Jericho to life.

The other part of the story, the stealing of military secrets and wanting to blow things up, didn’t work as well.  That was all standard action movie fare and offered nothing new.

Director Ariel Vromen does a nice job, especially with the pacing.  This one flew by.   The action scenes were all decent, although none of them were all that spectacular.

By far, the best part of CRIMINAL and the main reason to see this one is Kevin Costner’s completely satisfying performance against type as rough, tough, unstoppable and often insane Jericho Stewart.

It’s Costner’s most entertaining role in years.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: Music By Jerry Goldsmith, PART 2

0

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, the column where we look at lists pertaining to movies, particularly horror movies.  Today it’s Part 2 of our look at the career of composer Jerry Goldsmith.

jerry goldsmith - 2

Jerry Goldsmith

In Part 1, we looked at films Goldsmith scored between the years of 1957 and 1983.

On to Part 2!

And again, this is just a partial list of Goldsmith’s 258 movie credits, concentrating mostly on his genre films.  We continue the list now, picking up where we left off, in 1984.

GREMLINS (1984) – No water, no food after midnight, and no bright lights, but plenty of Jerry Goldsmith music in this horror comedy by director Joe Dante.

SUPERGIRL (1984) – Before the TV show, there was this movie, starring the lovely Helen Slater as Supergirl.  Slater actually appears on the new SUPERGIRL television series as Eliza Danvers.  Pretty bad movie, in spite of the presence of Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, and Mia Farrow.

RAMBO:  FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985)- Following up on his work on Sylvester Stallone’s FIRST BLOOD (1982), Goldsmith provides the music again in this bigger and badder sequel.

LEGEND (Director’s Cut) (1985) – Ridley Scott’s fantasy fairy tale about a youth (Tom Cruise) battling a demon (Tim Curry).  Goldsmith’s music appears only in the re-issued director’s cut.  Tangerine Dream provided the electronic music in the theatrical release.

INNERSPACE (1987) – Dennis Quaid gets miniaturized and injected into the body of Martin Short in this action comedy by director Joe Dante, a variation of FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966).

RAMBO III (1988) – completes the original  Sylvester Stallone Rambo trilogy.

LEVIATHAN (1989) –  Underwater monster adventure starring Peter Weller and Richard Crenna.

WARLOCK (1989) – Horror fantasy starring Julian Sands as a— warlock.

STAR TREK V:  THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) – Goldsmith’s second trip to the STAR TREK universe, after scoring the first movie in the series, STAR TREK – THE MOTION PICTURE (1979).  This is the one directed by William Shatner and it’s usually on fan’s “worst of” lists when talking about the movie series, but other than some silliness early on, this one isn’t half bad and actually gets better as it goes along.  1989 was another busy year for Goldsmith as he wrote the music scores for four movies this year.

TOTAL RECALL (1990) – Provides the music for this Arnold Schwarnegger vehicle about a man with a virtual identity crisis on Mars.  Directed by Paul Verhoeven.  Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick.

THE VANISHING (1993)- Abduction thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges.  Not as good as the original Dutch/French version of THE VANISHING (1988), the film on which this was based.

THE SHADOW (1994)-  Alec Baldwin is The Shadow.  Meh.

THE RIVER WILD (1994) – Thriller with Meryl Streep protecting her famly from a pair of baddies on a raging river.  Kinda exciting back in the day.

THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996) – Adventure tale starring Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer about the hunt for two maneating lions.

STAR TREK:  FIRST CONTACT (1996)- Second and best of the STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION movies has Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of his Enterprise crew taking on their arch enemies, The Borg.

star-trek-first-contact-movie-poster

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Classic thriller about police corruption in 1950s Los Angeles.  Starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kim Basinger.

STAR TREK:  INSURRECTION (1998) – Third Next Generation STAR TREK film and by far the quietest of the series.  Picard and company discover a Federation plot against a peaceful planetary people, and that’s not okay with them!  Like watching a mediocre episode of the series. No sense of cinematic urgency at all.

THE MUMMY (1999)- Big budget re-imagining of Universal’s THE MUMMY by writer/director Stephen Sommers.  Starring Brendan Fraser, this one plays like an Indiana Jones flick rather than a horror movie.  Fun, but as a horror film, it’s ultimately disappointing.

the-mummy-movie-poster

THE HAUNTING (1999)- Dreadful remake of the 1963 film THE HAUNTING, itself based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House.  With Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and Bruce Dern.  Pretty awful.

HOLLOW MAN (2000)- Speaking of pretty awful, this re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN starring Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue is as awful as a horror movie can get.  Directed by Paul Verhoeven.

STAR TREK:  NEMESIS (2002) – Final Next Generation STAR TREK film and one of its best, although that’s not saying much since the STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION movies were never as good as the STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION TV show.  This one features Tom Hardy and Ron Perlman in the cast.

LOONEY TUNES:  BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Goldsmith’s final feature film music score, this goofy movie features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and friends intermingling with live action actors, including Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, and Timothy Dalton.

The movies listed here and in Part 1 of this blog post are only a partial listing and do not include all of Goldsmith’s remarkable 258 music score credits.  In addition to these movies, Jerry Goldsmith also wrote the music for many TV shows including THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-61), THRILLER (1960-62), THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68), POLICE STORY (1973-79), THE WALTONS (1972-81), STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-94), and STAR TREK:  VOYAGER (1995-2001), to name just a few.

His was a long and varied career, and if you watch lots of movies, you can’t help but be familiar with his music, as his career spanned five decades.

Jerry Goldsmith passed away on July 21, 2004 at the age of 75 after a battle with cancer.

Jerry Goldsmith, February 10, 1929- July 21, 2004.

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: Music by Jerry Goldsmith, Part 1

1

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists about movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at genre movies scored by Jerry Goldsmith, and there are a lot of them.

Jerry-Goldsmith

Jerry Goldsmith

Looking back at Jerry Goldsmith’s career, it’s amazing to see just how many horror and science fiction films he wrote the music for, and how memorable these scores are.  There are so many, in fact, that I’ve divided this column into two parts.

Here’s a partial look at his prolific career, concentrating mostly on his genre credits:

BLACK PATCH (1957) –  Jerry  Goldsmith’s first film score, a western written by tough guy actor Leo Gordon.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) – provided the music for this taut nuclear war thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March.  It’s DR. STRANGELOVE without the laughs.

THE SATAN BUG (1965)- Goldsmith’s first genre credit, the science fiction thriller about germ warfare

PLANET OF THE APES (1968) – This Jerry Goldsmith score remains one of my favorites.  The unusual music here really captures the feel of the Ape world and adds to the “madhouse!” emotions which Charlton Heston’s Taylor has to endure at the hands of his captors.  Classic.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969) – Science fiction film based on the short story collection of the same name by Ray Bradbury and starring Rod Steiger.

THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971) – Obscure horror film with Alan Alda as a pianist who finds his soul in the hands of a scheming satanist.

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)-  Goldsmith goes ape again as he scores the third film in the series, a creative flick in which apes Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) travel back in time to present day Los Angeles.

THE OTHER (1972) – classic 1970s horror movie scripted by Tom Tryon.

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD – (1975) – 1970s horror flick starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neil, and Margot Kidder.

THE OMEN (1976)- the big one, probaly Goldsmith’s most powerful score, and the only one for which he won an Oscar.  Still a very scary movie today, and Goldsmith’s music is a major reason why.

Omen-poster

LOGAN’S RUN (1976) – classic science fiction film from the 1970s starring Michael York and Farrah Fawcett.

DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) – Much-hyped science fiction movie about survivors in a post-apocalyptic world starring George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent was a major flop upon its release, as it was completely overshadowed by another science fiction release that same year, a little film called STAR WARS (1977).

COMA (1978) – Horror thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton about sinister goings-on starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas.

CAPRICORN ONE (1978) – another major flop from the 1970s, this thriller about a fake space mission to Mars featured a strong cast which included Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson (remember when he was that likable former football star who went on to make movies?), Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, and Telly Savalas.

DAMIEN:  OMEN II (1978) – Goldsmith’s back at it again, composing yet another horrific score in this OMEN sequel that, while nowhere near as good as the original, remains highly entertaining today.  Starring William Holden and Lee Grant.

THE SWARM (1978)- One of the worst movies of the decade and certainly one of the worst “disaster” movies ever made.  This tale of a swarm of killer bees attacking the United States was directed by Irwin Allen who must have been punch drunk over the success of his previous hits THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) when he made this turkey.  With an “all-star” cast which included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, and Richard Chamberlain, and many many unforturnate more.  It’s hard to believe that this storyline– deadly killer bees– used to be considered real and scary.  I can’t believe I actually saw this one at the movies!

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978) – Excellent thriller about a Nazi hunter (Laurence Olivier) on the trail of a fanatical Nazi (Gregory Peck) with plans to resurrect the Third Reich.

MAGIC (1978)- The Anthony Hopkins horror classic about a ventriliouost and his evil dummy.  1978 was a busy year for Jerry Goldsmith, as MAGIC was the sixth film he scored that year!

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1979) – Period piece fun with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland robbing a train in Victorian England.  An underrated gem by writer/director Michael Crichton.

ALIEN (1979)- Goldsmith just keeps on rolling here with his chillingly effective score for this science fiction classic which launched the career of Sigourney Weaver.

STAR TREK:  THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – Goldsmith’s score for the first STAR TREK movie is my personal favorite.  Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and the rest of the Enterprise crew hit the big screen for the first time with mixed results.  It’s highbrow science fiction to be sure, but it’s all so slow paced.  This one continues to grow on me over the years, but I loved Goldsmith’s music from the get-go.  Sure, his iconic new theme went on to become the main theme for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but that’s not what I love about this score.  It’s all rather dark and ominous, a powerful score that remains the finest music score in the STAR TREK universe.

star trek motion picture poster

THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)- the final film in the OMEN trilogy, and by far the weakest, even with a young Sam Neill cast as the adult Damien.

OUTLAND (1981) – Interesting science fiction movie with Sean Connery playing a Marshall on a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon tangling with some baddies without help from its inhabitants.  It’s HIGH NOON (1951) in space.

POLTERGEIST (1982) – A big hit in 1982, I’ve never liked this horror vehicle by Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.

FIRST BLOOD (1982) – provides the music for Sylvester Stallone’s first foray as Rambo.

PSYCHO II (1983) – provides yet another very effective music score in this long awaited sequel to the Alfred Hitchcock classic, once again starring Anthony Perkins as the twisted tormened Norman Bates.  It’s certainly not PSYCHO (1960) but this thriller by director Richard Franklin really isn’t all that bad.  Vera Miles also reprises her role from the original.

TWILIGHT ZONE:  THE MOVIE (1983) – Muddled big screen treatment of classic Rod Serling TV series, a real head-scratcher when you consider the talent involved – Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg each directed a segment and yet this film still is a clunker.

And that’s all the time we have.  Tune in for Part 2 of THE HORROR JAR:  Jerry Goldsmith when we look at the second half of Goldsmith’s career.  Coming soon!

To be continued—.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER MOVIES – LIST SOME TV SHOWS HE SCORED

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

0

Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.  It’s on the Hammer Film THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960).  Enjoy!

—Michael

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll poster

When Hammer Films struck gold with their horror hits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), remakes of the iconic classics FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and DRACULA (1931) it was for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was each film made changes to the original versions that blew audiences away.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Peter Cushing shocked  audiences with his villainous portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, and in HORROR OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee terrified viewers with his explosively violent portrayal of Count Dracula.  For some reason, in their subsequent remakes, Hammer wasn’t able to duplicate these impressive improvements, and so, while their handsome productions would continue to look good and genuinely entertain, they never seemed to regain that edge which their first two remakes possessed.

Take THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) for example.  This is yet another very good looking Hammer Film, directed by their top director Terence Fisher, and it even features Christopher Lee in a supporting role, but at the end of the day, while modestly entertaining, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL remains vastly inferior to the versions which came before it, the 1932 version DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in which Fredric March won an Oscar for his performance in the lead dual role, and the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Spencer Tracy.

The gimmick Hammer uses here in TWO FACES is that when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he doesn’t become a hideous looking monster but an extremely handsome gentleman.  Yet, in spite of his looks, Mr. Hyde is still a sinister being.  Now, this tweak to the story in itself is rather interesting, and I have no problem with it.  However, the problem here isn’t the tweak, but the fact the the evil Mr. Hyde in this movie, played by Paul Massie, pales in comparison to the previous dark interpretations by Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

Both March’s and Tracy’s performance remain disturbing today.  While I like both performances and both versions a lot, I’ve always given the Tracy version a slight edge because Tracy instills such an abhorrent evil in his Hyde that I still find this movie difficult to watch, even today.  I always feel like I need to shower after watching it.  The way he torments Ingrid Bergman’s Ivy is horrifying and unpleasant.

Paul Massie doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of either March or Tracy with his performance as Mr. Hyde.  He’s even worse as Dr. Jekyll.  Spencer Tracy makes Dr. Jekyll such a heroic figure it’s almost impossible to believe that Mr. Hyde could emanate from him.  Massie’s Jekyll is a boring bearded scientist who speaks and looks like he’s spent the last several years living in a cave.

Paul Massie Mr. Hyde

Paul Massie as a handsome Mr. Hyde

The script by Wolf Mankowitz doesn’t help matters.  As Hammer Films often did, the story is simplified, and characters condensed.  Instead of having Jekyll and Hyde deal with both a wife and a mistress, in this version he only has a wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who happens to be someone else’s mistress!  Yep, she’s having an affair with the unscrupulous Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).  Now, not only is Allen sleeping with Jekyll’s wife, but he’s also living off Jekyll’s money, as he keeps asking for handouts which he doesn’t pay back, and Jekyll is fool enough to keep paying him!

As you can see, Jekyll in this movie is sort of a clueless dolt, and he’s not particularly sympathetic. Worse yet, when Mr. Hyde comes along and decides he’s going to steal Kitty away from Allen, he’s a miserable failure at it!  Some evil villain!  Sure, eventually he exacts his revenge against these two, but compared to March’s and Tracy’s Hyde, this guy’s a pussycat.

Sadly, the story here is all rather boring, and the characters don’t help.  Both Kitty and Paul Allen are unlikable, Dr. Jekyll is a sad sack who deserves his fate, and Mr. Hyde is as ineffective a villain as Wile E. Coyote!  None of these folks have much to do.  The only thing on Hyde’s agenda here is disrupting the adulterous relationship between Kitty and Paul Allen, and he’s not terribly successful at it.

Director Terence Fisher who usually crafts at least one memorable scene in each of his films fires blanks with this one.  And the pacing is dreadfully slow.  For example, one of the first scenes is a long drawn out scene of exposition dialogue between Jekyll and one of his colleagues that seems to go on forever and really gets the film off to a molasses-like start.

Christopher Lee fares the best here with his supporting role as Paul Allen.  First of all, it’s a rare time that Lee isn’t playing the villain, the hero, or some pompous snobby type.  He’s a handsome cad here,  who prides himself on how much fun he can have at other people’s expense, and when he first meets Hyde, the two naturally become friends, until later when Hyde turns against him.

christopher lee two faces of dr jekyll

Christopher Lee in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

It’s also a chance to see just how handsome Christopher Lee was.  When we think of Lee we think of red bloodshot eyes and hissing fangs, but without his Dracula make-up, he was quite the handsome man.  He’s rarely looked as dashing as he does here in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

Lee also gives the character of Paul Allen some depth.  He gives the guy an undercurrent of conscience.  He doesn’t like Hyde the more he gets to know him, nor does he really treat Kitty all that badly.  He genuinely seems to have feelings for her.  In a strange way, Paul Allen may be the most likable character in the movie.

Another fun part about THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is a young Oliver Reed shows up in a pre-THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) performance in an unbilled bit as a bouncer.   He gets to confront both Hyde and Paul Allen before being promptly thrashed by the both of them.  It’s fun to see Lee and Reed in the same scene.

But other than Lee’s performance and Reed’s one scene, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about concerning THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.  The whole film plays like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE LITE.  And that’s really the biggest problem with this movie.  It doesn’t come close to duplicating the effectiveness of the previous JEKYLL AND HYDE movies.  It doesn’t contain the powerhouse performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, nor does it have the same disturbing story the previous versions tell.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is as good looking and well-produced a Hammer Film as any, but in this case, without anything extra special to lift it above the prior versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson tale, it’s simply not enough.

And that’s because in this movie the two faces of Dr. Jekyll are neither heroic nor monstrous, and as a result not at all memorable.

—END—