Archive for Joseph Sargent

War Stars

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2021 by dcairns

Then There Were Giants is a thing I picked up back when the charity shops were open. I was attracted to it because the director is Joseph Sargent and I like his THE FORBIN PROJECT and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 a lot. It’s also shot by John A. Alonso (CHINATOWN) and I was certainly intrigued by the casting of John Lithgow, Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine as Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

The disc presents itself as a film, but is really a miniseries originally called World War II: When Lions Roared, an equally bad title.

It’s a product I guess of the reckless early days of HD video. It’s extremely cheap-looking. The impulse is to give a history lesson disguised as drama, with famous actors playing famous leaders, with a lot of stock footage to fill in the blanks. Splitscreen is used wildly to link the action occurring in Washington, London and Moscow. I don’t hate splitscreen but it combines with that cheap video look to create something you really can’t watch — like THE HOBBIT in Higher Frame Rate. Well, you can watch it, but only in the same way that you can gnaw your own leg off.

Lithgow is delightful as always but the show’s hagiographic approach, broadly winked at in both titles, robs Franklin D. of some useful humanity. Bob Hoskins tries hard at being Churchillian and does better than you might expect, but not well enough to make you stop seeing and hearing Bob Hoskins, and Michael Caine has never been exactly a man of a thousand voices…

He proves to be a ludicrous Stalin, I regret to say. Since Uncle Joe would have been speaking Russian, doing him in English with a Russian accent is a silly approach, but doing him Cockney would have been, I guess, unacceptable. So he tries his hand at something vaguely Russian, which blends with his undisguisable and familiar tones to summon up the shade of an East End immigrant from Sir Michael’s dim youth, and suggests that it would be lovely to see Caine play such a character, but not Stalin, whose spirit remains stubbornly unchanneled.

Sargent and Caine also did JAWS: THE REVENGE together so maybe their collaboration was jinxed. Maybe if Caine had played “Hoagie” in the JAWS sequel as Stalin, and vice versa, it would have worked better. I assure you it couldn’t be any worse.

The worst of it is, everybody’s THOUGHT about this thing. Stalin is introduced silently, to allow you to get used to the idea. Caine has noted the impassive affect Stalin presents in film footage, and mimics it accurately, his face becoming a mask, as inexpressive as his moustache. Alonso has attempted to subtly differentiate the different continents with lighting. All the good choices look bad and make the bad choices look worse. Blame it on HD, miscasting, and Rio.

The solution for this show would be at the same time easy and impossible — claw back some of the budget by hiring cheaper, less famous actors (maybe Ed Begley Jr and Jan Triska could be promoted). Spend it on celluloid and better sets: don’t waste it on stock footage, unless you have a plan as weird as HOW I WON THE WAR’s to integrate it. Go for stylisation rather than unsuccessfully attempts at authenticity (the House of Commons is basically some tables in this one). I guess they ARE attempting to achieve stylisation with the splitscreen and stock footage, but what they’re achieving is just cheapness.

Play it on empty, black sets.

Stay in closeup as much as possible. Embrace the televisual!

But the makers of this piece probably had to cast big, inappropriate actors in order to get the thing made. After all, I picked up the disc because I recognised the star names.


Posted in FILM, Politics, Science, Television with tags , , , , , on February 21, 2019 by dcairns

The breeze-block-like countenance of Brian Dennehy always comforts me.

Over at The Notebook, an obscure Joseph Sargent TV mini-series.

Sargent is the man. And he directed a film called THE MAN, so that works.


Juice Ex Machina

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 7, 2014 by dcairns


The perfect cocktail recipe — a bit like Bunuel’s but with traditional vermouth, not Angustura bitters. Just one of the helpful life lessons imparted in this film!

I remembered liking COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT — someone recently suggested I revisit it — Fiona has an idea for a movie about artificial intelligence — she hadn’t seen this one since she was a teenager — so it seemed right to look at it again. Probably the last screening I experienced was pan-and-scanned, and it’s a lovely widescreen film with magnificent blocking.


I’m a great fan of Joseph Sargent’s THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and it was exciting to note that some of that film’s best tropes are trotted out here too (strengthening the case for Sargent as artist rather than just journeyman) — we have a nice example of the Fritz Lang cutting that binds together PELHAM, with one scene’s opening shot or line answering a question or completing a thought introduced at the end of the preceding sequence — it is of course entirely right for a film about a superbrain dictator to borrow from MABUSE in this manner. We also have a dynamically, shockingly abrupt ending, though “Never” here isn’t quite as strong as “Gesundheit” in PELHAM — the editor, Folmar Blangsted, having I think gotten overly caught up in an arty splitscreen sequence to the detriment of the character.

Speaking of character — my memory of the film was that all the humans in it were kind of flat, not in a 2001 way (though that movie must have been an influence), where the deliberately low-affect perfs were a bold attempt at authenticity — astronauts MUST NOT be excitable people — but more like THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, where Michael Crichton’s inability to write human beings filtered through into the movie and left us with a rather dowdy, gray set of central figures. But actually COLOSSUS strikes a neat balance between realistically low-key and frustratingly cold — Eric Braeden is simply masterful in the lead, not too endearing, not too frosty, and with enough ironic humour to humanize and ironize the proceedings. We found ourselves just adoring every little thing he did.


Fiona: “Why isn’t this a celebrated classic?”

Also: some lovely Albert Whitlock matte paintings. Jazzy music by Michel Colombier (an unexpected escapee from the universe of Jacques Demy) who interacts with the actors movements around the widescreen frame and the clickings and whirrings of the amusingly antiquated Colossus (it uses punch-holes! bless its silicon heart) in a snappy, syncopated style. The smart script is by James Bridges, and it has to balance the requirements of a thriller with more cerebral concerns — nobody ever seems to strain to close the gap between the two.