K&M RETRO REVIEW: “The Untouchables”

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“The Untouchables” hit theaters on June 3, 1987. It was a little over a month away from my 16th birthday and I still remember my unbridled enthusiasm for the movie. I would perk up with every TV spot. I read the movie novelization. I read “The Untouchables: The Real Story” by Eliot Ness. I watched the old Robert Stack television series (what few chances I had in a small rural town). In other words seeing this movie was a big deal at the time.

I can’t count how many times I have watched it since. I can say that after paying it a visit for the first time in a while, it still excites me. Director Brian De Palma’s Prohibition era gangster picture pulls from an assortment of different inspirations. De Palma certainly infuses it with a specific visual style. At the same time the film features several classic filmmaking and storytelling touches. It was a big success. It did well at the box office and at the Academy Awards. It grabbed four Oscar nominations winning one for Sean Connery’s supporting work.

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Kevin Costner plays Eliot Ness, a young and eager Prohibition agent in 1930 Chicago (the role was originally offered to Mickey Rourke). He is assigned the seemingly impossible task of taking down mob boss Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Capone owns most of the city through violence, bribes, and liquor distribution. Ness flounders his first few liquor raids and borders on being a laughing stock around town.

Ness catches the eye of a seasoned cop named Jimmy Malone (Connery) who is fed up with the mass corruption running through the system. Malone pushes Ness to go further and to be willing to get his hands dirty if he wants to stop Capone. The two add a young academy trainee and expert marksman George Stone (Andy Garcia) and Washington bureau accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) to their team. They begin to make dents in Capone’s organization eventually earning the nickname “The Untouchables”. But can anyone be called ‘untouchable’ in De Palma’s corrupt and violent Chicago?

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Even at almost 30 years-old “The Untouchables” hasn’t lost a bit of its excitement or intensity. De Palma and screenwriter David Mamet deliver a fluid, high energy story that weaves through rampant police corruption and bloody gangland violence. And there is certainly some bloody violence. At times the film flows with a classic gangster movie vibe. But then De Palma will broadside us with a scene of jarring violence which feeds the film’s unique tone.

The presentation is top notch. It was brilliantly shot by Stephen H. Burum and several of Chicago’s historical locations were used. The settings, wardrobes, and set designs are impeccable. The Grammy Award winning score from the great Ennio Morricone is simply superb. Who can forget the deep piano accompanied by the haunting wail of a harmonica? Like so much else in the movie, Morricone’s score is truly phenomenal.

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And how about the cast? A young Kevin Costner is the perfect fit for an earnest and determined Ness. De Niro hams it up to epic levels. Of course he goes really, really big, but he is a ton of fun. And then you have Sean Connery who gives one of the best performances of his impressive career. He’s surly, he’s tough, and he has a ton of charisma. Garcia is really good as the soft-spoken cop in training and Billy Drago is gloriously evil in his version of Frank Nitti. The cast is fabulous from top to bottom.

High expectations can often be a death knell. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with “The Untouchables”. It more than delivered when I finally saw it during the summer of 1987. It was nice to see that it still holds up after all these years. Some have picked the film apart, pointing to everything from Mamet’s script to Connery’s accent. Neither were an issue for me. Instead I see this as a fabulous bit of entertainment that hasn’t aged a bit and is unquestionably one of Brian De Palma’s best.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

2015 Blind Spot Series: â€śGoldfinger”

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I could probably fill half of my Blind Spot series lineup with James Bond films. I’ve just never been what you would call a big 007 fan. That said I do love the Craig films and a couple of Brosnan’s, but I’ve never felt compelled to give the older Bond films much of a chance. In an effort to do that I thought “Goldfinger” would be a good place to start. In fairness I have seen much of the film but never all of it and (obviously) never in one sitting. Yet I have heard so many good things about it especially from Bond aficionados who know and love the franchise a lot more than I do.

“Goldfinger” is the third film in the Bond series and the third of Sean Connery’s six Bond films. Watching Connery work it is easy to understand why many consider him to be the best Bond. “Goldfinger” is also recognized for its many firsts. It was the first 007 film categorized as a blockbuster. It’s budget equaled the previous two films combined and the movie’s promotion heralded it as a big box office draw. “Goldfinger” was also the film that made the extensive use of gadgets a fixture. It was also the first James Bond film to win an Academy Award and it was well received by both critics and audiences. The film would also influence the series in many other areas such as the title credits sequence and overall production quality. In many ways “Goldfinger” changed the standard of what a Bond film was to be.

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The story finds Bond lounging it up at a fancy Miami Beach resort, but soon he finds the true reason he was sent there and it wasn’t for vacation. At the same resort is Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), an obsessed gold smuggler. 007 is tasked with observing Goldfinger and finding out how his smuggling operation works. Bond’s mission takes him London, Switzerland, and bluegrass Kentucky. At each stop he finds himself getting a little too close to his objective and Goldfinger always seems one step ahead of him. But as 007 begins to piece together the inner workings of Goldfinger’s operation, he discovers a much bigger and more sinister plot.

Half of the fun in watching “Goldfinger” involves the characters Bond meets along the way. First there is Goldfinger himself. At first I wasn’t totally convinced in Fröbe’s portrayal but director Guy Hamilton never uses Fröbe beyond the actor’s capabilities. The big surprise was learning that the voice of Fröbe, who spoke practically no English, was dubbed. It’s a clever trick that is brilliantly pulled off. There is also Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Goldfinger’s enforcer and right-hand man. He’s a stout strong arm known for is lethal bowler hat. Silly and preposterous for sure, but he is also entertaining and a lot of fun.

Then of course there are the Bond girls. The stunningly beautiful Shirley Eaton meets Bond in Miami and gives us one of cinema’s most iconic images. Tania Mallett comes along next and aside from her shaky acting, she is a mysterious character that did little to serve the plot. But then you have Honor Blackman as the cool, confident, beautiful, and provocatively named Pussy Galore. Easily one of the most famous Bond girls, Galore had a tougher side which made her a lot more than the typical eye candy. For the rest of her career Blackman would always find herself connected to this classic character.

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“Goldfinger” is absurd and it times in sanely over-the-top. But at the same time it never falls into the cheesy category that some of the later Bond films would. I never had a problem just going along with the craziness of the plot or the way things unfold. There’s a fine line there and “Goldfinger” navigates it beautifully. That’s not to say there weren’t moments where the story pushes believability too far, but that’s forgivable when you’re being so entertained. The film doesn’t allow you to concentrate on its absurdity. The pacing is so crisp and the direction so calculated. It’s also a beautiful film to look at. Some of the locales are breathtaking and the film utilizes them well. But I was even more impressed with some of the clever camera techniques that truly made the film feel spectacular.

In a nutshell “Goldfinger” is a really good movie and I can understand why Bond fans hold it in such high regard. For those who are not fans of the suave secret agent, well this is unquestionably a Bond film so take that as you will. But consider this, as a lukewarm fan of the franchise, I had a blast. Connery is superb, the action is well done, and the story is good crazy fun. The film was surrounded by lawsuits both prior to and during development so it’s a surprise it got off the ground. Thankfully it did and in doing so it gave audiences a classic 007 movie. Without a doubt this is Bond done right.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

5 PHENOMENAL MOTORCYCLE MOVIE SCENES

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Have you ever stopped and thought about how many great motorcycle movie scenes there have been over the years? I’ve never owned one but I’ve always thought motorcycles were cool especially when our favorite movie stars are speeding, flipping, and jumping them in ways only possible in the movies. So why not look at 5 Phenomenal Motorcycle Movie Scenes? Now this was a tough list to put together because I always like to include a little variety. But there are some iconic motorcycle scenes that I hate to leave off. So here they are. Now I know people will find some popular choices missing therefore I’m not calling this the definitive list. But I have no trouble calling these five motorcycle movie scenes absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “THE GREAT ESCAPE”

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Steve McQueen was one tough dude. He also had an affection for fast vehicles and maybe that’s one reason his motorcycle scene from “The Great Escape” is so good. McQueen, decked out in full Nazi soldier garb, makes his way by motorcycle into a small German occupied village as he tries to sneak out of Nazi territory. There he is discovered which leads to an amazing chase through the rolling Bavarian meadows. The gorgeous scenery is one thing, but watching McQueen handle the bike with Nazis in pursuit is exhilarating. Very little stunt work was needed. McQueen was a skilled motorcycle rider and he even played the Nazis pursuing him in several shots. The sequence climaxes with an amazing jump over a barbed wire fence (this time done by a stuntman). It’s a great scene from a great film.

#4 – “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”

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There is a wonderful motorcycle sequence in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Indy (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery) make a wild escape after being captured by the Nazis. The pair tear off on a motorcycle and sidecar with five Nazis on bikes right behind them. This is a typical Indiana Jones action scene and I love it. They bust through checkpoints, joust with an oncoming Nazi biker, and cause some of the wildest motorcycle crashes you’ll ever see. But as you would expect from an Indy film, humor is a key ingredient to making the scene work. It’s funny enough seeing Sean Connery whizzing around in a motorcycle sidecar. But watching Indy’s childlike exuberance when he takes out a Nazi versus his dad’s scowling show of disapproval is just hilarious.

#3 – “SKYFALL”
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I love it when I am able to put a newer movie on one of these lists and I have no reservations with including “Skyfall”. Much like “Casino Royale” this film starts with a bang as Bond (Daniel Craig) is pursuing a mercenary who has killed an agent and stolen a hard drive. The chase eventually ends up on motorcycles as the two speed through the crowded Istanbul market streets. From there they go to the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar before ending up on a moving train. This motorcycle chase sequence is utterly insane and a lot of that can be attributed to the profoundly good cinematography of Roger Deakins. This is a pure edge-of-your-seat adrenaline rush and its easily one of the best motorcycle chases of all time. Don’t believe me? Just check it out!

#2 – “SHERLOCK, JR.”

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I feel for anyone who hasn’t experienced a Buster Keaton film. He was a true master of filmmaking and physical comedy. For those unfamiliar with his work, “Sherlock, Jr.” is a beautiful starting point. This 45 minute gem is absolutely hilarious and features some of Keaton’s greatest stunts. It also gives us one of cinema’s greatest motorcycle sequences hands down. In this scene Keaton finds himself sitting on the handlebars of a motorcycle. He doesn’t notice the driver is knocked off after hitting a big bump and he zips through a series of insane near-miss obstacles with no one steering the bike. This is truly jaw-dropping cinema. He flies through traffic, skims across a collapsing bridge (while it’s collapsing mind you), and almost gets hit by a train in one of the film’s most amazing shots. Give this silent film a watch. I promise you, the motorcycle sequence with blow you away!

#1 – “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II”

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Many people didn’t care for “Mission Impossible II” but I enjoyed John Woo’s more stylized and action-packed picture. One of the reasons I liked it was the wild and explosive finale. In it Tom Cruise hops on a Triumph motorcycle and flees from a big group of baddies in SUVs followed by the terrorist leader on a bike of his own. Cruise jumps onto bridges, rides through explosions, and gets in a shoot out while going 90 mph. And of course the big showdown comes down to motorcycle versus motorcycle. Woo’s well known visual techniques of moving camera shots and slow-motion gives the sequence an over-the-top kinetic energy that I thought was great. “Mission Impossible II” certainly wasn’t a perfect movie, but its big motorcycle finish is just phenomenal.

Now let your voices be heard. See a pick of mine you agree or disagree with? Let me know. Also, be sure to share your favorite motorcycle movie scene.

THE THROWDOWN – Sean Connery vs. Daniel Craig

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Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects, pit them against each other, and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and more. I’ll make a case for each and then see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

With November’s release of “Skyfall”, the 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, I thought it would be good to do a 007 Throwdown. Since the 007 franchise spans so many years, there have been an interesting array of actors who have taken on the role of James Bond. I decided to make this the old versus the new. Sean Connery versus Daniel Craig. Both actors have cemented themselves into Bond lore and rightfully so. But this is all about who is the best. As always you decide with your votes. Who is the best James Bond? Is it Sean Connery? Is it Daniel Craig? Is it Connery’s suave and slick old-school charm or is it Daniel Craig’s tough and gritty new era Bond? Vote now!

Sean Connery VS. Daniel Craig

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Daniel Craig ushered in a new moodier and edgier era of James Bond and I have loved it. Craig has the style to sell the ladies man superspy angle that the series is known for. But he also brings a toughness and physicality to the role that gives the character an entirely fresh and new feel. This was never more evident than in the first sequence of Craig’s first Bond movie “Casino Royale “. What an introduction to today’s Bond. While many have had issues with his second 007 picture “Quantum of Solace”, I found it thoroughly entertaining even with its flaws. But he was back in top form with this year’s “Skyfall”, a brilliantly crafted spy thriller that mixed traditional Bond with the Craig interpretation. I’m all onboard with Craig in this role and I hope he continues for as long as he fits the part.

Sean Connery could be considered the Godfather of the James Bond series. He helped launch this wildly popular franchise in 1962 with “Dr. No”. He would go on to make six 007 pictures between the years of 1962 and 1971. He would even return for one more stint in 1983. There were a lot of doubts when they cast Connery but they proved off base. He was fabulous as Bond and the role catapulted him into stardom. He brought a suave and sexy sophistication to the role but he could be a tough cookie as well. More importantly, Sean Connery was instrumental in launching and making this adored James Bond franchise into the huge success that it is today.

So, the ball is now in your court. Who is the better Bond? Is it the classic Sean Connery or the new kid on the block, Daniel Craig. There will only be one winner and you decide who it is. Vote now!

5 PHENOMENAL WORLD WAR 2 FILMS

How on earth do you narrow a list of top World War 2 movies down to just five? Since the war itself, there have been so many high quality films from across the globe that focused on this troubled time in our world’s history. When trying to narrow down this list, I wanted to make sure that the war was a key character in the story and not simply the backdrop. Several classic films such as “Casablanca” are set in wartime but the war isn’t central to the picture. But I didn’t want to restrict the list to only combat centered movies. So while the war is a key ingredient in the films I chose, combat doesn’t have to be the main focus. These five films are war pictures that not only show the action of the battlefield but the horrible effects and atrocities of World War 2. As always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these World War 2 films are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “THE PIANIST” (2002)

The Pianist” is a painful yet moving film about a Jewish-Polish pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman. The movie covers the Nazi invasion and eventual occupation of Warsaw, Poland as well as the subsequent Warsaw Uprising by the Polish resistance. We follow Szpilman and his family as the Nazi’s invade. We see them confined to the horrible conditions of the Jewish Ghetto. We even see the Nazis begin shipping out Jews to the nearby death camps. Szpilman’s struggle to survive isn’t always easy to watch. There are some genuinely heart-wrenching and disturbing scenes that still stick to me to this day. But the entire film is done responsibly and it packs such an emotional punch that you’ll never want to forget this dark time in our worlds history. Adrien Brody won the Best Actor for his portrayal of Szpilman and it was well-deserved. It won numerous other awards and remains one of the most powerful World War 2 films out there.

#4 – “SAVING PRIVATE RYAN”  (1998)

A World War 2 movie from 1998, “Saving Private Ryan” was Steven Spielberg’s hugely popular film that also received several Oscar nominations. Spielberg’s movie has been praised for its intensely realistic portrayal of combat during the war. The intensity of the battle sequences mixed with the enormous attention to detail gives the movie a heightened realism that’s hard to forget. The story captures the extraordinary emotions which are fueled by both the camaraderie and the loss of soldiers in battle. We see it’s effects on the men and we see the effects on their family. A sensational cast led by the always diverse Tom Hanks lay the story out for us with honesty and grit. And the opening 30 minutes which features the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day will go down as one of the most piercing and powerful scenes in movie history. “Saving Private Ryan” is a movie that calls us to remember a war we should never forget and Spielberg’s accomplishment should never be forgotten as well.

#3 – “THE LONGEST DAY” (1962)

“The Longest Day” may have the greatest ensemble cast in the history of movies. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert, Roddy McDowall, Sal Mineo, Rod Steiger, and so many more star in this large-scale depiction of D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. The movie looks at D-Day from all sides, the Americans, the British, the French Resistance, and even the Germans. The attention and effort put in “The Longest Day” is evident. The movie was influenced by contributors from all sides of the war including those who fought on June 6, 1944. At almost 3 hours, the movie goes to great lengths to look at all that went into the planning and execution of that gutsy and dangerous invasion. Great performances and several classic scenes help make “The Longest Day” one of my favorite war films of all time.

#2 – “SCHINDLER’S LIST” (1993)

Steven Spielberg’s brilliant film “Schindler’s List” is one of the most devastating movies you’ll see. But it’s also an example of filmmaking at it’s best and, much like “The Pianist”, it looks back at a horrific time in our world’s history that we should never forget. The film revolves around the true life story of Oskar Schindler, a money-hungry German businessman who arrives in Krakow after the Nazi invasion in hopes of making tons of money exploiting the war. Instead we see a remarkable personal transformation. But the film should be most remembered for it’s realistic portrayal of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Spielberg’s use of black and white instead of color and his filming technique gives the movie an almost documentary feel. Also his careful attention to detail and honest depictions of the horrors that took place make the film even more potent. “Schindler’s List” is a monumental achievement even though it’s one of the most difficult movies to watch.

#1 – “FLAME AND CITRON” (2008)

I can see where it would surprise some to see a more recent Danish picture at the top of my list of World War 2 movies. “Flame and Citron” is a movie many have probably never heard of but everyone should see. It’s an enthralling film about two Danish resistance fighters who carry out hits on Nazi officers , key Nazi targets, and Nazi sympathizers during the German occupation of Denmark. It’s loosely based on true events and is told from a unique perspective that really grabbed me. Thure Lindhardt and the wonderful Mads Mikkelsen are brilliant as the secret assassins and Christian Madsen’s direction is top-notch. “Flame and Citron” is a gritty and unashamed look at the war through the eyes of a persecuted people who were willing to fight back. It’s a movie that’s flawlessly executed (no pun intended) and that reveals a side of the war that was completely new to me. It’s an incredible movie and one that I can’t recommend enough especially to those who love war films.

See something on my list you disagree with? Did I leave your favorite World War 2 movie off? Please take time to share your comments or post your list of the best World War 2 movies. The more comments, the better the discussion.