Movie Project #32 and #33: JFK [1991] and The Untouchables [1987]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

JFK [1991]
JFK: Director’s Cut [1991, dir. Oliver Stone]
In Oliver Stone’s JFK, damn near everyone is to blame for the assassination of our 35th President — the CIA, FBI, Mafia, LBJ, Castro, the Dallas Police Department, and Southern anti-Communist radicals. These targets are all linked together by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). The film follows his obsession with the case and his desperate attempts to uncover possible conspiracies.

Whether or not any of the theories presented in the film are true is irrelevant because JFK is simply a masterclass in the art of storytelling. So many different threads are successfully weaved in and out, and once you go down that rabbit hole, there’s no turning back. Our country will never truly know who all was involved in the shooting, but considering the fallacies in the “lone gunman” argument, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film held more truth than the government’s own Warren Commission.

For a film in which the director’s cut encompasses a whopping 206 minutes, time sure does fly by. Part of that is because the mystery regarding the assassination itself is so riveting, but a large part can be attributed to an absolutely stellar cast. Costner anchors the film, but just take a look at some of the other big names involved: Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, Jack Lemmon, Walter Mattheau, Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, John Candy… Every single one of them delivers a memorable performance, all crucial to the plot in some fashion.

The film’s length is what put me off from watching it for so long, and that’s a damn shame. JFK still has me thinking to this day, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it near the top of my project at the end of the year. 9/10

The Untouchables [1987, dir. Brian De Palma]
The Untouchables [1987, dir. Brian De Palma]
Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables is a real crowd pleaser. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s got a sharp script courtesy of David Mamet, an Oscar-nominated score from the legendary Ennio Morricone, and it’s stacked with memorable setpieces featuring an all-star cast. Set during 1920s Chicago, the film follows the famous Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his group of “untouchables” (including a tough Irish bastard played by Sean Connery) as they seek to take down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and his illegal bootlegging operations.

There’s a lot to like here, and it starts with the characters. Ness is a straight-laced agent, but there’s something admirable about his dedication to the law. His righthand man, the local beat cop played by Connery, is a real highlight, providing a certain energy to balance out the dry Ness. De Niro isn’t given a whole lot to work with as Capone, unfortunately, though there is one unforgettable scene where he does his best Babe Ruth impression with a baseball bat (except not on a baseball, if you know what I mean..).

Since this is a De Palma film, it is beautifully shot, and it makes brilliant use of its Chicago setting. In arguably the film’s most famous scene, a staircase inside the Union Station is used as an homage to the famous Odessa Steps sequence in the silent classic, Battleship Potemkin. Although the climax is a bit too over the top for my liking, on the whole The Untouchables is a highly entertaining film that still holds up today. 8/10

Movie Project #31: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Action/Adventure
Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody
Runtime: 127 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I had watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom pretty much back-to-back, but over a year has passed since then. Perhaps my general disdain for Temple of Doom had something to do with it — after that subpar effort, I was skeptical that the third entry could achieve the greatness of the original. Little did I know that I would enjoy the hell out of the finale, which in some way even surpasses its legendary beginning.

Set in 1938, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), now teaching at Barnett College, is informed that his father, Henry Jones, Sr. (Sean Connery), has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail. Knowing that his father must be in trouble, Indy travels to Venice, Italy to meet with a colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody). After a thrilling trip through rat-infested catacombs, the duo learn that Mr. Jones was abducted by the Nazis and is now held in a castle near the Austrian-German border. This soon becomes a globe-trotting endeavor in which Indy races to find both his father and the Holy Grail, all while fending off those evil Nazi bastards.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

At this point, it’s Indiana Jones 101, but the Last Crusade is most enjoyable thanks to its near-perfect casting. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery have terrific chemistry, and they are a lot of fun to watch together. Although Connery is only twelve years older than Ford, he looks much older in the film, and he does a great job adding comic relief to the non-stop adventures on screen. I’ll take him over Short Round or Willie any day. Old favorites Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) make welcome returns, and the new love interest Elsa is enjoyable as the icy cool blonde.

The Last Crusade has a number of memorable moments as expected. Two obvious highlights are the aforementioned trip through the catacombs, and the epic tank chase en route to the Holy Grail. Also, who can forget the absolutely ridiculous (and awesome) cameo from Adolf Hitler? This is a film that revels in its over-the-top adventures and has a good time doing so.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989]

I feel I would need to revisit Raiders of the Lost Ark to determine which I liked more, but to say I enjoyed the Last Crusade would be an understatement. This film blew away my (admittedly reserved) expectations, and it’s one that I feel I may enjoy even more on subsequent viewings. Now, the question is, dare I risk tainting these memories by watching the fourth movie?