Tag Archives: Donald Sutherland

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The final installment of the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay – Part 2, received relatively little fanfare compared to the releases of the previous films. Though it is probably fair to say that the interest dwindled after Catching Fire due to many audiences feeling the series had become “too dark,” it wasn’t really until after Mockingjay – Part 1 that the general fan base seemed to disappear entirely.

For me, the issue with the Hunger Games film series is relatively simple: it is neither brutal enough nor committed enough to what the essence of the Hunger Games story is.

I read all of the books in the Hunger Games series, and remember that I felt a similar disinterest about the final book as I did with the final film. It just seemed that the idea had run its course by the end of Catching Fire, and that anything that followed the second book’s publication was just a feeble attempt to bring in more money and to wrap up a story that didn’t particularly need more wrapping.

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From Hell (2001)

Executing a Writer Series on Alan Moore would seem especially self-defeating. The idea is possibly even offensive to the man himself, he having gone to great lengths to distance himself from the film adaptations of his comics. He’s had his name stricken from credits and movie posters, declined any input or involvement throughout production and beyond, and even claims to have never seen any of the film versions of his stories. Furthermore, the dude literally writes comics in such a way that they are inherently resistant to any other medium. He doesn’t do this just to be a jerk, but rather to show what comics can do that other mediums cannot.

And From Hell is the perfect example of that, both in its original comic form and in comparison to the 2001 Hughes Brothers film. Most know Moore for his most popular works Watchmen and V for Vendetta, for his brilliant Batman/Joker book The Killing Joke, for creating original characters like John Constantine and breathing new life into previously-thought-useless ones like Swamp Thing. If you’ve read From Hell, though, you know what Moore is truly capable of as a writer.

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Don’t Look Now (1973)

1973 was a hell of a year at the movies. Bruce Lee kicked ass in Enter the Dragon, Roger Moore debuted as Bond in Live and Let Die, and smalltown California got its romantic due in American Graffiti. There was Sydney Pollack‘s The Way We Were, Sam Peckinpah‘s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Robert Altman‘s The Long Goodbye. Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick announced themselves as filmmakers to be reckoned with upon the respective releases of Mean Streets and Badlands, and Michael Crichton made cinematic history with technological advances in Westworld. Then there’s The Sting, which I’m always willing to defend in a battle to the death as Greatest Film Ever. But these are more than just great movies — these are unique and fresh-seeming efforts, influential to this day because they all pushed the envelope.

And though the horror genre received more than a few landmark films that year — The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, etc. — Nicholas Roeg’s grief-stricken terror Don’t Look Now might be the scariest. It’s certainly the most engrossing. Envelope-pushing apparently wouldn’t cut it for Roeg and Company, as the incredibly intense Venice-set thriller does more to explode the envelope into a zillion tiny bloodstained pieces. The story follows John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) in the months following the accidental drowning of their daughter Christine. Paralyzed by anguish, the couple retreat to Venice. Soon, they encounter a pair of women claiming to have a connection to the deceased Christine.

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Backdraft (1991)

I’m thinking of a movie. It came out in 1991. In this movie, a young hotshot investigator is faced with a particularly gruesome series of crimes. Stumped, the investigator seeks the help of a criminal already incarcerated for similar but unrelated crimes. The criminal is clearly a devious maniac, and his help is contingent on a cat-and-mouse game of psychological cabaret. He helps solve things in a roundabout way, but only after the investigator gives up personal feelings about the crimes. This movie features Scott Glenn in a fairly major role.

If you hadn’t seen Backdraft as the header for this review, you might have said The Silence of the Lambs. Either way, you’d be right — all of the above criteria fits with both films, strange as it seems. There’s no shortage of suspiciously-timed blockbusters that have a great deal in common — see Illusionist/Prestige, Tombstone/Wyatt Earp, Truman Show/EdTV, Antz/Bug’s Life, etc. — or just operate on a similar premise or gimmick, like the one-man-in-one-location flicks Buried and 127 Hours. But while Backdraft and Silence of the Lambs operate in fairly different territory, the similarities are far more numerous than those of the kindred spirits listed above. This can only mean one thing: an unfathomable conspiracy, deadly and ancient, marshaled and brought to bear for the purpose of ending civilization as we know it.

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The Great Train Robbery (1978)

If the worth of a film can be measured in the height of the protagonist’s hat, then The Great Train Robbery is one of the finest cinematic endeavors in history. Look at that thing! More than once I thought of this:

Even if we strike that particular criteria, Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery is still one of the most unique and enjoyable entries in his long and storied career. We’ve discussed Crichton’s popular status as a “sci-fi writer” before, positing that although The Andromeda Strain and Coma and Jurassic Park certainly number among his finest works, Crichton also defied the genre to which he’d been assigned by the popular media on more than one occasion. In no single script is this more apparent than in The Great Train Robbery, adapted from his own 1975 novel, and the reason why isn’t simply because there’s no science fiction involved.

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Ordinary People (1980)

Halfway through Ordinary People, there is a scene in which high schooler Conrad Jarrett’s parents are taking family portraits. His mother and father take turns posing with their only son while his grandparents run the camera. Conrad awkwardly folds his arms, not knowing whether to smile. Father flashes a genuine grin, truly relishing the moment. When it’s Mother’s turn, the two stand together uncomfortably. Father’s trying to take the perfect picture, but Mother doesn’t know how to show Conrad affection, and her fake smile is growing tired. Father takes too long with the camera, Mother gets increasingly frustrated, Grandparents are talking over everyone as usual, and suddenly Conrad explodes. He’s had enough. Not so much with the photo, but with his mother’s inability to stand next to him and smile. Everyone freezes, except Mother. She carries on like nothing happened, hoping to fade back into normality like another ordinary person.

It’s a perfect representation of the family’s dynamic, though not the only one. Ordinary People is made up of small moments like these where characters aren’t saying how they feel, partly to keep up appearances, and partly because they don’t actually understand how they feel. In his directorial debut, Robert Redford proves to be an actor’s director, finding the ticks and gestures that characterize these humans better than any line of dialogue would. This is a movie about a family’s lack of understanding, of each other, yes, but mostly of themselves. They fidget, they pace, they stare blankly, lost in thought. They don’t understand why they feel and act the way they do, so they look to blame each other. After all, Conrad once screams, “It’s gotta be somebody’s fault or there ain’t no goddamn point.”

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Murder by Decree (1979)

It can be a strange thing these days: some actors either play a role so many times or play it so effectively once that it becomes nearly impossible to fill the shoes, impossible to recast the role or to even imagine recasting the role. The former scenario – where an actor owns a role by performing it over multiple films – is more and more common now that the shared universe and neverending saga models are actually viable. Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman had the advantage of being the first to play Tony Stark and Wolverine in their respective franchises, but it’s still damn difficult to imagine what those cinema characters will look like ten years from now once Messrs. Downey and Jackman age out of the parts.

The latter camp – those who own a role after only a single performance – is more interesting, at least when the role we’re considering is that of Sherlock Holmes. The great deerstalker-capped detective has been played by hundreds of actors onscreen, notably by the likes of Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, Roger Moore (in Sherlock Holmes in New York), and the aforementioned Downey Jr. in the most recent feature adaptations. Peter O’Toole voiced the character in a series of animated shorts in the early ’80s, Ian McKellen will portray him in 2015’s Mr. Holmes, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sexy Holmes in the BBC show Sherlock. Jeremy Brett’s decade in the role spanning four separate series is certainly one of the most interesting turns – Brett’s health declined noticeably as each series progressed, and his time in the role ended up charting a tragic bearing through his final years.

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MASH (1970)

Among plenty of other achievements, MASH is (allegedly) the first major studio film to make use of the word “fuck”. While not necessarily a proven fact depending on your definition of “major studio”, the employment of the word is the perfect illustration of the important and innovative way MASH used dialogue. A large portion of Robert Altman’s filmography is made up of movies that are filled to the brim with sharp wit and fast banter, and MASH is arguably the finest example.

Donald Sutherland stars as Hawkeye Pierce, surgeon in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, prankster and goofball extraordinaire. Hawkeye, along with cohorts that include characters played by Tom Skerritt and Elliot Gould, is a lover of all things mischievous and manages to cause trouble even when he is blissfully unaware of doing so. This is war, of course, so people lose good friends and die themselves during the endless futilities of battle – in a Catch-22 sort of way, MASH uses its relentless humor as a way to illustrate this futility in highly satirical fashion, with Hawkeye and Co. essentially laughing in the face of meaningless death because what else can you do? In a Catch-22 sort of way, it works like a charm.

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