Tag: george c. scott

The Rescuers Down Under


The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Better than the original is almost every way, Hendel Butoy and and Mike Gabriel’s imaginative “The Rescuers Down Under” does not waste a second to dive head-first in its terrific Australian Outback adventure. How could it spare a moment when its running time is just above an hour and ten minutes? It is a movie aimed for children—but not solely for them—that is filled with rousing energy, good-natured jokes, genuine moments of peril, and a cast of memorable characters each imbued with a specific personality.

In under five minutes, it is established that the picture’s goal is to make the audience smile. A boy named Cody (voiced by Adam Ryen) is friends with the local animals and they inform him that a rare golden eagle has been trapped atop a cliff and in need of rescue. A wonderful flying sequence follows which truly captures the magic of being up in the clouds, wind all around, with a majestic vista of the land below. And in the middle of this magnificent, wonderfully animated sequence, the material takes the time to show how the boy and the eagle, named Marahuté, relate to one another.

A masterstroke: Unlike most of the animals we come to meet, Marahuté does not speak. And so animation and the music are required to be on point when it comes to showing specifically what Cody and Marahuté are thinking or feeling during their tender interactions. The picture is adventure overall and yet it is filled with small moments of creatures simply connecting with one another. It is not afraid of slow, quiet moments. When they do come around, they are highly effective—as if they’re critical moments of inhalation before another comic or chase scene.

The villain comes in the form of a poacher named McLeach and he is voiced with dark humor by the inimitable George C. Scott. He has a pet salamander—a reliable source of humor—named Joanna who is not very smart but loves to eat eggs. I enjoyed that every time McLeach and Joanna are on screen, their presence evokes a certain level of menace—appropriate because the screenplay does not shy away from pointing at the fact that they kill in order to survive. McLeach, in particular, is so despicable, he is not above kidnapping and trying to murder an innocent boy in order to achieve his goals: to get rich and to get rid of witnesses.

Another outstanding decision is the voice casting. Eva Gabor voices Bianca and Bob Newhart voices Bernard, the Hungarian and United States representatives of Rescue Aid Society, respectively. Miss Bianca and Bernard volunteer to rescue Cody once word reaches New York City that a boy had been kidnapped. Gabor enhances the refined elegance of Miss Bianca and Newhart injects an earthy and warm quality to Bernard. Together, they make a cute couple without the screenplay relying on the usual romantic tropes. To get to Australia, they recruit an albatross named Wilbur—voiced none other by the legendary John Candy. Yes, he makes Wilbur, already adorably animated, even more huggable. Naturally, Wilbur gets plenty of one-liners.

“The Rescuers Down Under” does not only provide energy, it proves proficient in shaping it depending on the specific mood of scene. There is a sequence here in which we spend time with caged animals desperate to escape their prison. Notice the difference in energy when we first meet them and how it changes once their personalities are revealed. The film is not simply a parade of cute animation; it is firing on all cylinders in order to provide wonderful entertainment with all the high and low points of a memorable story that has something important to say about animal rights and our duty to care for our environment, our planet, our home.

The Hustler


The Hustler (1961)
★★★ / ★★★★

Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and his manager, Charlie (Myron McCormick), tour all over the country to challenge billiard champions for high-stakes games. Eddie’s latest opponent, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), has a reputation for being one of the very best, undefeated for the past fifteen years. Things are looking up for Eddie until an observant gambler named Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), drinking a glass of milk now and then, begins to watch the match.

Based on the screenplay by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen, “The Hustler” is a surprise because it manages to make a very dry sport interesting. Just how does the film able to pull this off? Since the camera focuses on the behavior of the players combined with what occurs on the pool table, it is able to offer something unique.

People respond to challenges in different ways and the filmmakers are aware of this. Each time a cue hit the cue ball, there is split second in which the audiences are able to see how the balls disperse. Interestingly, there is not one complete shot of a cue hitting the cue ball until all the balls stop moving. Once a turn is over, it is almost immediate that the camera focuses on the characters’ reactions, from how proud they are of the shot to the worry that creeps in like a thunderbolt when a slight error is made.

Balls follow the rules of physics but human emotions do not. The duel between Eddie and Minnesota Fats is very involving which almost sets an impossible standard for the rest of the picture. When Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a fellow alcoholic, at a bus terminal, I liked that it does not come across completely romantic. Their flirtation is executed with a certain rhythm, a dance which recalls the feeling of Eddie and Minnesota Fats circling the billiards table. However, when the couple end up living in the same apartment, the breezy pacing hits the break. Perhaps the screenplay wishes to make the point that not much good can come out of two current alcoholics living in the same place.

Eddie’s interactions with the woman is the antihero’s turning point, but I kept wishing for him to finally get back on the saddle and play. This is a problem because the character arc is the point of the film, not necessarily the pool matches. It is redeemed slightly, however, by scenes between Newman and Scott which contain very sharp dialogue. Gordon admits to Eddie that he believes Eddie is born a loser even though he has undeniable talent. Gordon, having a knack for business, proposes that if they worked together, the road to success would be theirs for the taking. My curiosity was piqued in terms of which man is really taking advantage of whom.

As foolish as Eddie becomes after he drinks glass after glass of J.T.S. Brown bourbon, his determination to make money remains as strong as Gordon’s. The symbiosis between the two is parasitic and the screenplay elegantly peels the layers of their motivations until the final pool match. Money is what the main characters are constantly, blindly after. The excitement of gaining or losing it paints a portrait of addiction.

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis and directed by Robert Rossen, the redemption in “The Hustler” is not only appropriate, it is earned despite the protracted middle section. While the big moments provide reference points for the drama, the small moments define them.

Taps


Taps (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

Cadet Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) had been recently promoted to major by General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) who was in charge of Bunker Hill Military Academy. Moreland looked up to the general and wished to prove he was worthy of the promotion during the upcoming school year. But when General Bache announced that the school was in its final year because the land had been sold, Moreland and the other cadets seized the campus and wouldn’t stand down until their three demands were met. Based on the novel “Father Sky” by Devery Freeman and directed by Harold Becker, “Taps” aimed to explore rebellion in a military milieu but its arguments were too black and white for it to be more than superficially interesting. I paid special attention to Moreland because he defined honor as adopting a stance and seeing it through no matter what the cost. He was a good guy with friends like Cadet Captains Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) and David Shawn (Tom Cruise), but his actions weren’t always practical. He believed he was doing the right thing by defending their school, which was essentially their home, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the needs of his fellowmen. He knew the concept of sacrifice but he didn’t fully understand how to implement such a concept wisely. He straddled the tricky stage between being a young civilian and a soldier. However, there were a plethora of missed opportunities for the main character’s beliefs to be challenged and ultimately make us think. There were a few awkward scenes when Moreland and Dwyer, roommates, would walk in on each other, give one another fierce looks but never speak. Perhaps their conversations didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. If so, it made me wonder why such head-scratching scenes made it to the final product. A meaningful conversation between two friends was exactly what the film required especially with the events that transpired in the film’s final five minutes. Even mundane conversations would have given their characters dimension. Both teenagers were smart and they respected each other. Having commonalities and eventually highlighting their differences would have provided extra tension aside from the fact that the real military was right outside the gates of the academy. Cruise’ bellicose character was not used efficiently. We were supposed to take him seriously but he was always present whenever the material needed comic relief. There was no evolution in his character so his actions toward the end felt too forced. “Taps” rested on conflict that we could see: the tanks and more experienced soldiers at the gate, the helicopters that hovered above, and the worried parents talking over the loudspeaker. The students’ rebellion was a personal matter, one even acknowledged the strike as their own war, but their inner turmoils weren’t fully explored. Like the military men on the other side of the gate, as audiences, we were kept mostly on the other side.

Patton


Patton (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off with General George Patton Jr. (George C. Scott) delivering a speech about war and the importance of winning being embedded in the American culture with the gigantic United States flag on the background. It was probably one of the most patriotic scenes I’ve seen portrayed on screen, but at the same time I felt that the picture was making fun of itself. The scene aimed to establish our main character: He was intimidating because he was obsessed with discipline and excellence. His reputation as being one of the feared generals, especially by the Nazis, was well-earned because he was an uncompromising man. Fear sometimes generates respect. The film was beautifully shot. In war pictures, I find it uncommon that I notice the environment because, to me, at least with the more recent war movies I’ve seen, the environ is simply a template where we get to see bombs exploding like there’s no tomorrow. But in “Patton,” I found the second scene outstanding because it featured a peaceful landscape in the Arabian desert where American soldiers’ bodies laid lifeless as Arabian people stole the soldiers’ clothes and other belongings. Again, there was the theme of duality. On one hand, it was sad to see those dead and rotting soliders. On the other hand, we could look at the Arabian people and see that looting was their chance for survival because they obviously didn’t have much. The film is different than other war movies. With “Patton,” we don’t follow any soldier in the battlefield or realize any of his personal struggles. It simply followed the general during his glory days as he tried to compete against British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates), attempted to outsmart German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler), his probation because he slapped a soldier around for complaining about being afraid of the sounds of war, up until he regained his footing in the military. Throughout his journey, we learned so much about him such as his passion for poetry and penchant for history. The latter was his strength but at the same time it was his weakness. His enemies who didn’t know much about history often lost but those who were knowledgeable thought Patton was predictable and almost pretentious. Naturally, his strongest enemies were the ones who were just as smart as him. No one can argue against Patton’s biggest weakness being his mouth. He had no filter; he didn’t think he needed one so he was prone to saying the most inappropriate things during the most inopportune time. “Patton,” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and partly written by Francis Ford Coppola, won seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor) not only because of its epic scale but also because of its small details that made this biopic all the more personal.

A Christmas Carol


A Christmas Carol (1984)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) hated Christmas. When someone greeted him “Merry Christmas!” with joy and enthusiasm, he glared back at them in an attempt to bring down the merriment a couple of notches. Then he would reply, “Humbug!” as he walked away begrudgingly, leaving the greeter in utter disbelief. The only thing missing was Scrooge actually stealing people’s Christmas presents and he could pass as The Grinch. In order to show him the error of his ways and achieve redemption, the ghost of Scrooge’s former associate (Frank Finlay) visited him on Christmas Eve. The ghost informed Scrooge that the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Angela Pleasence), Present (Edward Woodward) and Christmas Yet to Come (Michael Carter) would pay him a visit so he could examine what he missed in life for being such a grouch toward everyone he encountered. Based on Charles Dickens’ short story, I was actually reluctant to see this film because, even though I had not yet seen any adaptation of the same story, I’ve watched countless spoofs to the point where it felt like I knew all key elements in the plot. The film caught me completely by surprise because the acting was strong, the story was interesting and moving, and, despite some of the special and visual effects being a bit dated, the big picture felt timeless. I was even more surprised when I found out later that it was a made-for-TV movie. Scott’s acting stood out to me because I was convinced with his gradual evolution from a penny-pinching blackhole of unhappiness to someone who made an effort to be liked. To his surprise, he might even be a natural at it. The scene I enjoyed most was when the Ghost of Christmas Present took Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s (David Warner) home and learned that Tiny Tim (Anthony Walters), Bob’s son, was not only a cripple but the fact that he was dying and it might be his last Christmas. It was an important scene not only because it was the point where I became convinced I was watching not just a run-of-the-mill Christmas movie, but also because Ebenezer finally allowed himself to feel and accept that he had been wrong, not necessarily about his attitude toward Christmas (which I thought was secondary anyway–not everyone had to accept Christmas), about the way he unfairly judged and treated others. Directed by Clive Donner, “A Christmas Carol” is a highly enjoyable film with a great message. Despite the fantastic elements, Ebenezer’s journey–sometimes funny, sometimes scary, sometimes sad–was believable.

The Changeling


The Changeling (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★

Initially, I thought this was going to be a ghost story like the truly horrific “The Shining” (which I was excited for), but toward the end it ended up being more like “The Ring” (which I wasn’t as excited for). Directed by Peter Medak, “The Changeling” was about a man who loves to play the piano (George C. Scott) and his grief for losing his wife and daughter. After about four months of their death, with the help of a friend (Trish Van Devere), he decided to move in to a creepy historical mansion to work on his music and to move on from the tragedy. However, the house would not let him work or heal because it would make strange noises, play the piano when he left the room, open the door ever so slowly as he composed music, and throw his daughter’s ball down the stairs… even after he seemingly got rid of it. Those truly scary moments (aided by a haunting soundtrack) made this film worth watching. However, I did not enjoy the last third as much because it reminded me of “The Ring” (even though I enjoyed that movie). Granted, this was made first but the whole well being buried under a house was too much of a distraction for me so it definitely took me out of the experience. If I were to pick a favorite scene in this picture, it would hands down has to be the séance scene when Scott, the medium, and others finally made contact with the ghost. It was done in such a scary manner which reminded me of the exorcism scene in “The Exorcist.” I tried not to blink in fear that if I closed my eyes, something would suddenly appear in a dark corner in the living room (I saw the movie with all the lights out). I’ve heard all too often that this is not known by many, especially my generation. I think it definitely deserves to be seen, especially the fans of horror films, because it was able to generate genuine scares without sacrificing the story. This is a very good haunted house picture that could have been as good as “The Shining” if it had been longer (perhaps a tour of the deeply atmospheric house?) and the whole bit about the well was eliminated. But then again I’m just being picky about the difference between “good” and “great” (to warn those who are expecting “The Shining”-level filmmaking). Don’t get me wrong, this is still a must-see.