Sunday, August 25, 2013

Happy 83rd Birthday, Sean Connery!

He's my favorite living actor, and he's retired. It sucks to be going to movies nowadays and not be able to look forward to Sean Connery's next big vehicle. I remember going to see Finding Forrester in theaters in 2000 with my grandfather (a Sean Connery look-a-like) and treasuring it as if that would be a year-long tradition. Then something really horrid called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out 3 years later, and that was it for Sir Connery: He'd had it with Hollywood (thanks a lot, Stephen Norrington!) and was quitting acting. It made me sad to learn he was done. I remember how, from 2006-2007, I mounted a relentless campaign on IMDB in hopes of making sure Connery ended up somehow in the fourth Indiana Jones movie, and how crushed I was when he turned down the offer in favor of continuing his enjoyment of retirement. Interestingly, when he himself finally saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, his opinion of it was right on the money: "Did I see the latest? I thought it was rather good. Rather long."

It's difficult to explain why Connery is my favorite actor. I guess every man wants to be him. Sure, not everything he's said in the past reflects well on men; his pro-slapping comments in that infamous Barbara Walters interview are just painful, though I do at least understand what he was trying to get at. I think the problem with those comments was not so much that he suggested slapping as an approach to insanity, so much as that his comments were directed only at women getting slapped and nobody else. Had he said that it's okay for PEOPLE EVERYWHERE to perhaps get slapped once in awhile in order to get calmed down, his points would have been better-taken, I think.

But enough about slapping.

In honor of the lad's 83rd birthday, I'll list each Connery vehicle I've seen in chronological order and say what I think of each of 'em. There are a lot of goodies here.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

This was the first Connery movie I ever saw. Which is fitting, since it's the earlier film in his career that I've seen as well. One of Disney's best live-action films (it was directed by Robert Stevenson, who later went on to direct Mary Poppins), it's got leprechauns, big Irish landscapes, a ghoulish banshee and a wonderful lead performance by Albert Sharpe as Darby. As a child, I didn't instantly take a liking to Connery's character, Michael -- perhaps because, hey, I was just jealous that he got to romance someone as hot as Janet Munro. But Connery at the very least earned my respect in the film's climactic bar fight with the oafish Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), a fight he initiates by reminiscing about what a leprechaun king once advised him to do: "If I were you, I'd poke the blackguard in the face."

The Longest Day (1962)

Not a fan of this movie, (I once debated its depiction of D-Day with Tom Carson and Craig Simpson), but Connery makes a memorable appearance in one scene, jumping out of a Higgins boat and yelling a goofy line: “Come out, ya dirty slobs! FLANAGAN'S back!”

Dr. No (1962)

What's better than Ursula Andress' mangoes? Sean Connery, in his first appearance as Bond, singing "Underneath the Mango Tree" to get her attention. I actually found this 007 flick pretty forgettable and only saw it once, but the screen sure fires up whenever Connery and Andress are together onscreen.

From Russia with Love (1963)

Another 007 flick I only saw once, but I remember it being one of the better ones. Connery's fight on the train with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) is unforgettable. Shaw and Connery, duking it out... what more testosterone could you ask for in a movie!??

Marnie (1964)

The first great, truly matured performance of Connery's career is his portrayal of the charming, if morally-dubious, Mark Rutland in this: Hitchcock's most fascinating modern movie, if not quite his best. I've seen this movie twice, and each time it messes with my emotions. Connery and Tippi Hedren have amazing chemistry together, but I always feel like a bad person for always been happy that Mark and Marnie end up together. For one thing, Mark cures Marnie of her insanity by basically raping her as a form of shock treatment -- which, for all we know, he probably enjoys. It's all the more troubling when you think about Connery's comments in the Barbara Walters interview. Knowing how much trouble he got into by suggesting slapping as an antidote to insanity, imagine how fast his career would've sank if he had suggested rape -- that's what Hitchcock seems to be doing in this movie, after all. Whatever you think of Marnie, it sure does encourage interesting discussion.

Goldfinger (1964)

Naturally, this is the Connery 007 flick that I've watched the most. Some say it's his best. Some even say it's the best 007 flick of them all. Can we all at least agree that it's pretty damned good? Under the direction of Guy Hamilton (John Huston's assistant director on The African Queen), this is the movie that proved the 007 series was worth continuing. Roger Ebert's Great Movies piece is a must-read.

The Hill (1964)

When I reviewed this film for the blog 3 years ago, it took all my strength to watch it twice. It's quite simply the most harrowing movie about the military ever made. If Hitchcock was the one who proved that Connery could be a subtle antihero, then Sidney Lumet was the one who proved that Connery was an actor with Oscar-calibur talents. He could convincingly play a character pushed over the edge into madness. This movie is in my school library, and I'd watch it for the sake of Sidney Lumet (RIP), but I'm afraid to revisit it. It's intense.

Thunderball (1965)

When I watched this 007 flick as a preteen, I liked it; when I tried watching it again in college, I turned it off after the first half hour. It's duller than I remember.

You Only Live Twice (1967)

As for this 007 flick, the only thing I remember about it was that the opening scene was set in space. That's it. I remember nothing else. Not even this^^ scene, which you would think would stick in a teenager's memory. Guess not.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

On certain days, this, not Goldfinger, is my favorite 007 flick. A lot of 007 fans hate it and say it's one of Connery's worst outings in the series; I say such fans are nuts. This movie is just-plain fun. And no wonder: Guy Hamilton came back from Goldfinger to direct it. It's dopey, but so what? You could hardly ask for a more entertaining Bond. Bruce Cabot from King Kong has a memorable death scene, sausage-king Jimmy Dean is there to witness it (Bert Saxby!?? Tell him he's fired!), Jill St. John is a hot Bond girl... but seriously: it's all about Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) and Connery's witty reply to her introduction: "But of course you are."

Zardoz (1974)

I could just feel my own manly code of honor being threatened when I first saw this movie as a teenager. "Goddamn it John Boorman," I thought, "you do NOT make Sean Connery run around in a movie wearing nothing but a red speedo!" I was very disgusted by the whole thing as a teenager, but once I reached college age, I caught parts of it again on the Fox Movie Channel and found myself  enjoying it in all its ludicrousness. I'd watch it again in a heartbeat, if only so I could appreciate it more.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

This was the first Sidney Lumet movie I ever saw -- following his Lifetime Achievement Oscar -- and probably not the best introduction to the man's career as a director, let alone his collaborations with Connery. I remember being bored stupid by it. I don't know if I'd appreciate it more today, but I doubt it; it's weak tea compared to what Connery and Lumet achieved with The Hill. And in retrospect, the twist ending is fairly predictable. I do remember liking Albert Finney's portrayal of Poirot, though.

The Wind and the Lion (1975)

Every time I see this movie, I admire parts of it but am largely disappointed in its bad pacing, its lack of focus and squandered opportunities. Connery's portrayal of the Raisuli is magnificent, but the movie surrounding him is not; John Milius missed a huge opportunity by not making the heart of the film the similarities between the Raisuli and Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith), a la The Godfather Part II. Instead, the film alternates uncomfortably from Roosevelt's scenes in the White House to scenes of implied romance between Connery and Candice Bergen that finally never quite blossom into anything meaningful. The battle sequence are well-done, there's a witty cameo by John Huston, and this is probably Milius' most interesting title as a director... but that's not saying much.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Okay. This might very well be the greatest of all of Connery's films. Not necessarily his best performance, but arguably the best movie he ever starred in. Few directors make films this exciting, this beautiful very late in his careers, but that's exactly what John Huston accomplished with The Man Who Would Be King: silence his most ferocious critics and effectively ending years of his own bad box-office luck with a grand, sweeping Hollywood masterpiece. This movie has everything. Adventure. Fortune. Glory. Tragedy. Connery's Danny Dravot and Michael Caine's Peachy Carnehan are two of the most appealing characters ever to lead a Hollywood movie. The chemistry between these two stars is unbelievable. Their adventures are breathtaking. Their downfall is devastating. John Milius could've learned a thing or two from his old mentor Huston about how to balance spectacle with emotion; maybe then, The Wind and the Lion would have been somewhere near the high level of this film. When Connery, as Danny, takes that finally walk across the bridge, you just want to cry out for him. A classic.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Forgettable. I saw this on AMC years ago, and AMC is probably not the best channel to watch a long war movie, but this movie isn't much. I don't really remember Connery's scenes. I like Richard Attenborough, but I wish he and Connery could've worked together on something a little more fruitful.

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

People never talk about this movie today, but I think it's underrated. Good old-fashioned fun, with memorable rapport between Connery and Donald Sutherland. I haven't seen it since I was a teenager and if I watched it today, I might find it less-interesting, but it's certainly entertaining, and the fact that Michael Crichton (yes, that Michael Crichton) directed it is no small feat in itself. My favorite scene is when Connery is put on trial, and is asked by the judges why he would ever do such a foolish thing as rob a train. His deadpanned response: "I... wanted the money."

Time Bandits (1981)

Not being the biggest Terry Gilliam fan, I only saw this once, but I remember liking Connery's scenes as King Agamemnon... whatever they were.

Five Days One Summer (1982)

Fred Zinnemann's majestic final film is one that I plan to write about for this blog someday -- hopefully, real soon, if I can clear enough time for myself. This film was a huge flop when it came out, and it's obvious that after Zinnemann's death in 1997, people essentially stopped talking about it and Warner Bros. never even bothered to give it a DVD release in the U.S. I don't want to go into too much detail, because I'm sure I'll save it all for a future review, but to put it briefly: This is one of my favorite movies, flaws and all. Zinnemann somehow makes characters out of mountains. The main storyline involves a dubious relationship between Connery's Douglas and Betsy Brantley's Kate, and Lambert Wilson plays the young mountain-climbing guide who grows suspicious of them, but ultimately Zinnemann orchestrates a message that the personal problems of three people don't really amount to a hill of beans up in the Alps. Some of the mountain-climbing sequences are truly terrifying. As he did in Marnie, Connery plays a control freak of young women, but this time, such macho tendecies are actually taken to task instead of glorified. I really do hope this film will eventually get the respect it deserves; Zinnemann poured so much of his heart and soul into it, and Connery, too.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Diehard 007 fans hate this movie even more than Diamonds Are Forever, but for me, it's always been a guilty pleasure. It's a remake of Thunderball, but way more entertaining thanks to Irvin Kershner's solid direction; if he doesn't quite bring as much grace to this movie as he did to The Empire Strikes Back, well, no matter. It's still a lot of fun. There's something amusing about seeing an aging Connery romancing Kim Basinger. And don't even get me started on Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), who might've been the first villainous femme fatale I ever became infatuated with as a preteen.

The Name of the Rose (1986)

Here it is, folks: My pick for Connery's best performance ever. He plays William of Baskerville, the most badass monk who ever lived. I haven't read the Umberto Eco novel this is based on, but I trust that Jean-Jacques Annaud and Gerard Brach knew what they were doing by streamlining it down into a dark, gory, sexy, compelling, masterfully-done thriller. This is another one I hope to write about for the blog someday, although -- unlike Five Days One Summer -- it's actually developed a pretty healthy cult following, probably because of the sex scene between Valentina Vargas and a young Christian Slater. Which is part of the movie's appeal, no doubt. But this movie is all about Connery. He dominates. Deservedly, he won a British Academy Award for it. William of Baskerville might be the role which (other than 007) he was born to play.

The Untouchables (1987)

This is an effortlessly-watchable movie and I've seen it probably half-a-dozen times, but it's not one of my favorite Connery vehicles -- or even one of my favorite Brian De Palma films. The limits and conventions of the David Mamet script keep it from being the powerful mob picture it could've been. Still, as an action movie, it's rock-solid, and Connery is one hell of a great Jimmy Malone. Some people say the Academy Award he won for his performance was a career Oscar, which may be true, but that doesn't mean it was undeserved.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Unsurprisingly, this is the Connery movie I've watched the most, and I never tire of it. I'd recommend you watch it, but let's face it: you already have. Henry Jones is a tailor-made part for somebody with Connery's sensibilities. "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne. 'Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky'."

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

One of the best genre pictures of the 90's. The pleasant thing about The Hunt for Red October is that even though it's anti-Communist, it is not anti-Russian; the portrayal of Connery's Ramius is sympathetic, and one can enjoy the movie without Tom Clancy's right-wing politics getting in the way. Part of this is due to John McTiernan's careful, professional direction. If you listen to his DVD commentary during Ramius's confrontation with the ship's political officer, McTiernan mentions the pained expression on Connery's face when, as Ramius, he's going to have to murder the political officer for the sake of his mission to defect to the U.S. Any doubts about Connery playing a Russian are automatically forgotten once the movie begins. He disappears remarkably into the role.

The Russia House (1990)

I read the John le Carre book before watching this, and although it takes certain liberties with the text, I remember being very happy with it. Just as he did with his adaptation of Thomas Keneally's The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, director Fred Schepisi cuts right to the chase -- in this case, the love story between Connery's Barley Blair and Michelle Pfeiffer's Katya. Unlike the book, this movie has a happy ending, but was done in such a way that I found myself wanting it to end happily, which, I suppose, shows how involved I was. An underrated, under-appreciated gem.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Probably the most gratuitous last-minute cameo in a movie ever, but it's impossible to imagine this fun movie without it. Come to think of it, I wish director Kevin Reynolds had worked with Connery on another movie; Connery certainly would have been a more effective lead in Waterworld than Kevin Costner. Come to think of it, he would have been a better Robin Hood in *this* movie than Costner; I say this knowing Connery already played Robin Hood in the earlier Richard Lester movie from the 70's, which I haven't seen in its entirety.

Medicine Man (1992)

I rented this once when I was a preteen, and don't remember much about it except that Connery played some environmental activist who got into fights with people threatening the rain forest. I know it was a huge flop and that critics didn't take it seriously, but I couldn't tell you why. I would kind of like to revisit it, since it was another collaboration between Connery and John McTiernan, and because at the time I saw the movie, I didn't know who Lorraine Bracco was (Goodfellas was a few years away in my future), and her performance had made no impression on me for that reason. Or maybe it was because her performance wasn't good. Or maybe even Connery's. I don't know.

Just Cause (1995)

Awful movie. It starts off with a great scene between Connery and Ruby Dee that makes you think it's going to be a film stressing an anti-death penalty message, which it does for awhile -- that is, until its atrocious conclusion, when it decides to go for a Witness for the Prosecution-style twist ending instead. There's something uncomfortable about a movie that champions the execution of black criminals, especially considering that this movie was released around the time of the O.J. Simpson trial. Connery is fine, as are Laurence Fishburne and Ed Harris in supporting roles, but Kate Capshaw probably gives the worst performance of her career as Connery's wife. Interestingly, a very young Scarlett Johanson plays their daughter.

First Knight (1995)

Gee whiz, 1995 sure wasn't a good year for Connery, was it? As always, he gives a good performance -- in this case, he's King Arthur -- and Julia Ormond is fine as Guinevere, but Richard Gere as Lancelot is the very definition of the term MISCASTING. What annoys me about this movie is the mockery it makes of the Arthurian legend. Yes, Lancelot and Guinevere had an affair, but in the original tale, they were all roughly the same age; in this movie, Jerry Zucker stacks the decks against the character of King Arthur from the moment he cast somebody of Connery's age. Basically, Zucker implies that Guinevere's affair with Lancelot happened not because Lancelot seduced her, but because Arthur comes across to her like a tired, sexless old man by comparison (more like a father to her than a husband). At any rate, I probably wouldn't have minded so much if Lancelot in this movie had been just as appealing as Arthur. But that's where the problem of casting Gere came in. He simply doesn't hold a candle to Connery.

Dragonheart (1996)

What's more awesome than Sean Connery as a dragon? Not a whole lot. Watching this movie, it sounds like he was having a lot of fun providing the voice for the dragon Draco; when Dennis Quaid's character sneers that he kills dragons "for pleasure," you can just hear Connery's wicked delight in Draco's response: "Perhaps less pleasurable and more costly than you THINK!" Dopey, but enjoyable entertainment.

The Rock (1996)

Probably the only Michael Bay movie I can sit through, even if I don't care much for it. "Your best!?? Losers always whine about their 'best'. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen!"

Entrapment (1999)

Although this was only the second Connery movie that I ever saw, after Darby O'Gill and the Little People -- yes I saw it before any of his 007 flicks -- this is without question the movie that made me a Sean Connery fan. I guess what drew me to his performance in Entrapment was the way his character, Mac, comes across; apparently, even when you reach your 60's, you can still be charming enough to romance a sexy babe like Catherine Zeta-Jones. And seriously: talk about the most random screen couple in modern times. Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones!?? Amazingly, their chemistry in this movie absolutely works thanks to Jon Amiel's assured direction. He makes the movie all about Connery and Zeta-Jones' characters, Mac and Gin, how they're constantly double-crossing each other and then simultaneously falling for each other. Count this as another movie that I plan to review someday for this blog, if I ever have time. And remember: "Rule #2: Never trust a naked woman."

Finding Forrester (2000)

Growing up as a teenager, this was one of my favorite movies; I watched it again recently, and it's held up pretty well. In retrospect, it's probably not one of Gus Van Sant's greatest films; it follows the exact same formula of Good Will Hunting and lacks the fire and energy of Drugstore Cowboy and Milk. F. Murray Abraham essentially plays the same bad guy to Connery's good guy that he played in The Name of the Rose, but this time the villainy is heavy-handed, his character far too racist and over-the-top to be truly believable. But what finally makes this movie work is the camaraderie between Connery and Rob Brown, who I've always said would make a great Jim in a Huckleberry Finn remake. You really do believe Jamal Wallace would go to somebody like William Forrester for writing advice, and quotable Internet memes aside ("Punch the keys, for God's sake! Yes... YES!!!!! YOU'RE THE MAN NOW, DAWG!"), this movie inspires me to want to write more often. Considering what he did afterward, it doesn't mean much to say it, but this was Connery's last top-notch achievement as an actor.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

I missed this in theaters, and never did realize how lucky I was until I saw it on DVD. It's such a mess of a movie, with not a lot going on in terms of story and even less in terms of characterization. Which is a true shame, since Connery is really quite a good Alan Quatermain. If only they had built a meaningful film around his performance. This movie fails for a number of reasons. The plot is incomprehensible. The literary adaptations are laughable. Tom Sawyer, action hero? Dorian Gray, invincible as long as he doesn't see his own painting? It's like no thought went into any of it. Before this movie, Connery reportedly turned down The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings for not "understanding them," but then chose to be in this movie despite not "understanding" it, either. Yeah... that's because *nobody* did. A waste of money, waste of talent, and especially, a waste of time for Connery. Working with director Stephen Norrington allegedly pissed Connery off so much that it made him quit acting in movies for good, and the fact that this was his last movie is painful on so many levels.

Sir James Bond: From Russia With Love (2006) - Video Game

I never beat this video game, but I remember having fun playing it until getting to a super-hard level in which you're supposed to steer a boat underground without getting shot. Connery was brought back to be the voice of Bond, and although he clearly doesn't have the voice of the strapping young man he once was, it was good to hear him as Bond one last time. Particularly his delivery of a key line that was used in the original movie: "Things are turning up rather nicely."


A Fine Madness (1966)
The Molly Maguires (1970)
The Anderson Tapes (1971)
The Offence (1972)
Robin and Marian (1976)
Cuba (1979)
Outland (1981)
Wrong Is Right (1982)
Highlander (1986)
Family Business (1989)
Rising Sun (1993)

Happy 83rd Birthday, Sean Connery. If you can, please return to Hollywood for at least one more movie. A good one, this time. You're the man now, dawg.