The Amateur 1981 ****


Reputed to be in development as a reboot for Hugh Jackman for a good few years now, Charles Jarrott’s The Amateur is a tense, effective revenge thriller than makes the best of its mix of cold-blooded espionage and hot-blooded anger. A sense of righteous grievance is harnessed by a shocking opening as a terrorist gang storm the American embassy in West Germany and execute an American (Sarah Kaplan) while being filmed by live-tv crews. Widower Charles Heller (John Savage) is no secret agent, his speciality is mathematics and decoding messages, but when the CIA intelligence forces that he works for don’t respond for political reasons, Heller takes things into his own hands by infiltrating Eastern Bloc spy-networks in the hope of finding who killed his wife. This is all rather more plausaible that usual, Heller uses his ability to hack into the CIA files to find declassified information and force the CIA to offer him some grudging support by blackmailing them; The Amateur makes a virtue of its savvy view of dirty black ops. Christopher Plummer, Marthe Keller and Arthur Hill are all names familiar to genre fans, and Robert Littell’s screenplay ducks many of the clichés expected. The Amateur seems to have been taken out of the system for some reason; just for fun, below is included a link to purchase a DVD for a cool $100 plus. Why that should be so high is an interesting question; The Amateur does a violent but professional wet job that should have left more of a cultural imprint than it did.

All The Money in The World 2017 ****

allthemoney2It feels like Ridley Scott’s take on the John Paul Getty kidnapping has never been mentioned without a comment on Kevin Spacey and his replacement with Christopher Plummer after the initial shoot was completed. That’s a pity, because the central focus of a film should not be about an actor who doesn’t appear. Plummer does such a good job as Getty, a billionaire who lives so frugally that he washes his own socks in the sink of his hotel room, that no explanation is required for his casting. Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg are both solid as the kidnapped boy’s mother and the security guard who helps her get her boy back, but it’s a director’s film. Scott conjures up Italy in the 1970’s with great style, and there’s several tense sequences that have just the right Poliziotteschi feel. It’s a real shame that All the Money In the World ended up turning audiences off due to marketing disasters; it’s Scott’s best film in 20 years.


The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964 ****

HD TV’s bring new life to old epics; Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire hasn’t look so good since it was released in 1964 to not much love. Restored and freed of grainy pan-and-scan, the huge size and scale of the production is revealed, with the set for Rome still inspiring awe. The box-office failure may be attributed to the lacklustre central performance of Stephen Boyd, filling a role that both Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas passed on. But the support is A-list all the way, with James Mason, Alec Guinness and Christopher Plummer all nailing their characters with bite, and Omar Sharif and Sophia Loren taking care of the glamour. The final act ties the film in neatly with the action of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator; for anyone seeking a different take on the reign of Commodus, Mann’s sprawling, vivid epic is a neglected benchmark for thoughtful, epic cinema.

Starcrash 1979 ****

Starcrash3_individual_filmThe very idea of a 1080p or Blu-ray quality version of Starcrash is something bizarre; at the highest definition, it still looks like five different films stitched together. But what films? There’s a Star Wars rip-off, with typically 1978 spaceships, lazers and robots. There’s a Flesh Gordon/Barbarella sex-comedy, with Caroline Munro’s outfits suitable for kids of a certain age. There’s cod-Ray Harryhausen stop motion including weird giant statue, and there’s insane support from Joe Spinell as a galaxy emperor, David Haseelhoff as a Han Solo type, and notably from Christopher Plummer, who gets to deliver an incredible closing speech that aptly summarises the complete farrago what’s just unfolded. A wonderful mess on a par with Luigi Cozzi’s similarly bonkers The Humanoid, Starcrash is the ideal film to zone out and just go with it, whatever it is.

The Man In The Chair 2007 ***


There’s not much in director Michael Schroeder’s CV to suggest he was capable of pulling off an off-beat valentine to the movies like The Man in The Chair; the director of Cyborg 2 pulled off a career high when he pulled together an accomplished cast including Christopher Plummer, Robert Wagner and M Emmet Walsh as a group of Hollywood veterans who get together to help young aspiring LA film-maker Cameron (Michael Angarano) realise his dream. Schroeder over-eggs the flashy style of the direction, but coaxes strong performances from his cast, particularly Walsh who has a nice scene in which he discovers the value of the internet in a public library. Wagner also has a strong turn as a mogul who funds the enterprise, but Plummer takes centre-stage; his performance here as Flash is arguably better than his Oscar-winning turn in Beginners.

The Man Who Would Be King 1975 ****


John Huston belied his early promise to make some right rubbish before his 1970’s career rebirth; The Man Who Would Be King is one of his best, a rollicking adventure yard from the pen of Rudyard Kipling, a passion project for Huston who had tried to get it on screen for several decades. In 1975, he got a dream cast, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine as Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan, plus Christopher Plummer as Kipling himself. The tall tale pitches the two soldiers who become gods amongst the natives during British rule in India. The Man Who Would be King questions notions of white superiority, but also finds time for plenty of star-powered entertainment; in a pre-Indiana Jones world Huston’s film is about as big and brassy as period adventure gets.

Somewhere In Time 1980 ***


A notably entry in the minor sub-genre of time travelling romance, Somewhere in Time is written by Richard Matheson and displays his usual respect for genre tropes. Christopher Reeve is writer Richard who becomes fascinated with a picture in an old hotel; he travels back in time via self-hypnosis to romance Elise (Jane Seymour) in 1912, and set in motion an impossible romance. Somewhere between Chris Marker’s sublime La Jetee and The Time Traveller’s Wife, Jeannot Szwarzc’s film in an unashamed weepie, well played and with a sumptuous John Barry score. William H Macy makes his debut here.

Murder By Decree 1979 ***


The concept of Sherlock Holmes solving the Jack the Ripper murders is an enticing one, fully developed in Bob Clark’s unfairly forgotten 1979 film. Perhaps the shooting of Alien on the stage next door heralded the different kind of thrills audiences were looking for; Murder By Decree’s pleasures may seem stuffy in comparison, but they’re genuine. Christopher Plummer plays Holmes straight as a die, with James Mason an argumentative Watson. Approached by a group of local businessmen whose trade has been decimated by the prostitute murders, Holmes and Watson uncover a conspiracy with the help of Donald Sutherland as a psychic, Frank Finlay as Inspector Lestrade, and a few other well-placed stars. While the model-work is poor, the acting is first class, and the conspiracy notion later featured in From Hell; whatever liberties Clark’s film takes with history are secondary to a ripping yarn, told with deadly seriousness.

Hanover Street 1979 ***


Harrison Ford was an unlikely star; watching his interviews at the time of Star Wars, he doesn’t look entirely convinced that this acting lark is for him. Working with writer/director Peter Hyams, Ford is beginning to develop his charisma in WWII drama Hanover Street, and unashamedly slushy romantic melodrama in which Ford was a late replacement for Kris Kristofferson. Ford plays David, and American pilot who falls in love with Margaret (Lesley-Anne Down), with he husband Paul (Christopher Plummer) not up to the job. David gets sent on a dangerous mission, and Hanover Street jumps abruptly from domestic passion to an impressive motorcycle action climax that fits somewhat uneasily. But Hanover Street is a splendidly old-fashioned film, a guilty pleasure for nostalgia fans and soppy romancers alike.

The Royal Hunt of the Sun 1969 ****


Peter Schaffer’s popular plays is adapted for a surprisingly cinematic epic by Irving Lerner, following the adventures of gold-hunting explorer Pizarro (Robert Shaw) and his confrontation with the Inca people, and specifically a battle of wills with their many-feathered leader Atahualpa (Christopher Plummer). Whether Atahualpa is a god or a man is a matter of some debate, and although a deal is struck that allows Pizarro to remove the Inca gold, the friendship between the two men means that the explorer has a heavy price to pay. Disposing of some of the more symbolic production elements of the stage-play, Lerner’s film is both intellectually rigorous and visually splendid, with two very different but equally impressive performances by Shaw and Plummer, the latter throwing himself in at the deep end to create an extraordinary, memorable character.