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Sean Connery (#110 of 7)

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Edward M. Pio Roda

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Almost by definition, any festival dedicated exclusively to the treasures, glories, and the occasional folly of the past is likely to be visited by ghosts, and the spirits of the dead are practically a staple at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which held its eighth gathering in the heart of Hollywood this past weekend. The memory of the late Debbie Reynolds, who had made several in-person appearances at TCMFF over the past eight years, was invoked through yet another screening (the festival’s third) of the indisputable classic Singin’ in the Rain, in which Reynolds made her first big Hollywood splash back in 1952, and at a screening of Postcards from the Edge (classic status somewhat more disputable), before which Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, were remembered fondly by Todd Fisher, Reynolds’s son.

Even though he wasn’t represented at the festival on screen, Don Rickles, who passed away on April 6, the festival’s opening day, couldn’t be ignored. Rickles’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Chinese Theater complex, and as I made my way through the usual crush of tourists, desperadoes, and TCMFF pass holders toward my first screening on Thursday afternoon I wasn’t surprised to see the little square of sidewalk devoted to Rickles surrounded by flowers, curious bystanders, and entertainment reporters trolling for soundbites, and even adorned by one fan’s thoughtful memorial: a brand-new hockey puck.

The ghost that made its presence felt at almost every turn of this year’s festival belonged, of course, to TCM’s beloved host Robert Osborne, who died one month to the day before the launch of this year’s festival. Osborne began his Hollywood career in the early 1950s as an actor; his highest-profile moments were uncredited, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances in Psycho and Spartacus. But his heart was never in it, and at the encouragement of Lucille Ball he abandoned acting and combined his love of movies and journalism to concentrate on writing and documenting Hollywood history, eventually becoming the genial, knowledgeable, silver-haired host who won the allegiance of TCM fans worldwide.

Summer of ‘89: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Star Trek V: The Final Frontier</em>

A camera pans across a desert, its cracked ground rife with holes. A miner runs obsessively from one hole to the next. His reverie is broken by the distant sound of a horse galloping. Cut to a cloaked figure shimmering like some dark wraith as he rides toward the miner, slowly growing clearer and more substantial as he gets closer and closer.

This sequence, a visual quote of David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia, is the eerie opening to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the ambitious failure directed by the science-fiction franchise’s star, William Shatner. Though Shatner had already directed nearly a dozen episodes of his other notable TV series, T.J. Hooker, The Final Frontier was his feature directorial debut, a contractual obligation owed him because of a clause that gave him parity with co-star Leonard Nimoy, who had just directed a pair of Star Trek’s most successful films, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home.

Summer of ‘89: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade</em>

“I can remember the last time we had a drink together. I had a milk shake.” So Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) tells his father, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), in one of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s quiet interludes. After narrowly escaping the clutches of the Nazis on their unlikely quest to find the Holy Grail, Indy and his father spend their first private moment together childishly jibing back and forth, each refusing to take responsibility for their non-relationship. It’s the kind of scene that the actors carry off so well that it may prompt one to wish that the filmmakers had dwelled less on action and more on the personal. In fact, Connery’s defensive posturing along with Ford’s wide-eyed but befuddled expressions arguably tell a richer story about these polarized men than the film’s own elongated prologue establishing their bitter kinship.

Of course, the Indiana Jones series is better known for desert caravan chases and crawling bug-infested tunnels than for narrative depth and characterization. Last Crusade attempts to honor that legacy with an action quotient that arguably surpasses both Raiders and the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Missing, though, are the evocative atmospheres and hard-edged-ness of those films. Moreover, most of the action scenes have a trivial and comic tone that arguably diminishes their impact (such as Indy’s magic bullet that flies through three Nazis in a row). Nevertheless, Last Crusade is made with no less technical skill and considerably more emotional weight than the previous outings, giving it a vibrancy and personal touch that easily compensates for its inconsistencies.

15 Famous Fights to the Death

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15 Famous Fights to the Death
15 Famous Fights to the Death

Nearly two dozen teens bite the big one in The Hunger Games, sure to be cinema’s most popular source of adolescent bloodshed. There’s no darker vicarious thrill than watching someone perish on screen, as many an action junkie will certainly tell you. In light of Jennifer Lawrence’s blockbuster standoff against her oppressed peers, we’ve got 15 Famous Fights to the Death, which, together, should sate even the bloodthirstiest film fans.

Casino Royale: It’s Not Moonraker

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<em>Casino Royale</em>: It’s Not <em>Moonraker</em>
<em>Casino Royale</em>: It’s Not <em>Moonraker</em>

“Reboot” is the word reviewers have been using to describe the latest Bond film, and it’s hard to avoid because that’s what Casino Royale is: a shakeup of the tired Bond formula that still uses much of the same programming. You get the sense of the filmmaker’s dilemma; how do you scrub away what’s built up during 44 years of the 007 franchise and still deliver what people expect? The results are mixed but welcome. This movie is not Moonraker. Casino Royale follows what Ian Fleming actually wrote more closely than any James Bond film since For Your Eyes Only.

Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

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Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown
Steadi’s Daddy: An Interview with Steadicam Inventor Garrett Brown

Author’s Note: Since the Steadicam discussion seems to be flowering into something more than an argument about a piece of equipment, rather than change the subject with a totally different post, I’ll stay the course. What follows is reprint of an article I wrote about the history and aesthetics of the Steadicam, built around an interview with the device’s creator, Garrett Brown. It was originally published in the Winter 2005 issue of Film Festival Reporter magazine, which is edited by my friend Scott Bayer, a journalist and filmmaker.

Garrett Brown might be the most influential filmmaker that the moviegoing public hasn’t heard of. Throughout his long career, the 62-year old Philadelphian has been a mostly behind-the-scenes presence in the industry, working as cinematographer, cameraman, inventor and teacher. Yet his impact has been as profound as that of any auteur, star or studio executive, thanks to his greatest invention: the Steadicam, a combination camera and body harness that merged the improvisational freedom of the handheld shot with the elegance of the dolly, and expanded the frontiers of cinema.

In the 30 years since the camera made its debut in director Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biography Bound for Glory—in a still-dazzling shot that began atop a high crane, drifted to earth and then wove through a camp full of migrant workers—the Steadicam has become a star player in some of the most visually and dramatically memorable sequences of the past three decades, sequences that advance the narrative while subtly commenting on the meaning and uses of movie language.

5 for the Day: Death Scenes

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5 for the Day: Death Scenes
5 for the Day: Death Scenes

No explanation required. Here are five, off the top of my head, that really hit me. Scan the titles before you read the synopses. Wouldn’t want to spoil any plot twists, even in movies that are decades old.

1. King Kong (1976): Okay, so you know how this one ends, but still. I realize we’re all supposed to agree not to say anything nice about the first remake, and I admit that maybe I remember it so fondly because I was a kid when it came out, and it was the first Kong I knew. But dear lord, that ape took a long time to die, hollering and gasping, stumbling all over the roof of the WTC with helicopter gunships ripping him up like a Peckinpah hero, geysers of blood spraying everywhere. And then that long, long fall, and WHUMP. Did Dino de Laurentiis actually say, “Nobody cry when Jaws die, but when King Kong die, everybody cry?” Or was it John Belushi?