By Marc S. Sanders

In Legal Eagles, Robert Redford plays a promising district attorney named Tom Logan, who becomes ensnared by Debra Winger, playing a private defense lawyer named Laura Kelly.  Laura is representing Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah), a mysterious, but alluring twenty-something accused of stealing a priceless piece of art.  Murder eventually comes into play.  Romance does as well.  Unfortunately, none of it works in what should have been a charming comedy from director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs).  The casting is solid.  The script is not.

When this film was released in 1986, Robert Redford looked like the best option for the standard romantic comedy, to lead the fraternity of male actors eventually to come by way of Billy Crystal and Tom Hanks.  Debra Winger was well known with a collection of Oscar nominations for more serious subject matter.  However, she has always possessed that smart yuppie look; aggressive, professional, and ready for love.  Redford and Winger make a perfect pair.  The flirtations between the actors’ characters in Legal Eagles work quite successfully.  The regret is that a flat, boring mystery for them to tackle is always getting in the way. 

During Chelsea’s eighth birthday she is presented with a painting by her renowned artist father at a lavish party.  Later that night, a fire ravishes through their apartment.  Her father perishes in the flames and the painting along with other priceless pieces of art were thought to go up in flames.  Jump eighteen years to present day 1986, and Chelsea insists to both Laura and Tom that some of those paintings, including her father’s gift to her were stolen before the fire occurred.  Suspects are interviewed.  Danger gets in the way and so on.

The problem with this initial set up is that this conundrum is pretty stale.  It doesn’t offer enough to keep me interested.  What do I care about a stolen painting?  Moreover, I could care less about the fate of Daryl Hannah’s character.  She’s designed to be the standard Olan Mills Photography glamour model of the 1980s, and she is most certainly beautiful, but she is written with as much dimension of what a thumb tack does when you push it into a wall.  She just sticks there. 

There are some usual suspects for the lawyers to pursue like Terence Stamp, an interesting character actor by reputation.  Regrettably, his art dealer portrayal is not written with much logic.  The two lawyers follow him to a warehouse and find themselves in danger when Stamp traps them inside with a ticking time bomb that will not only kill them but destroy his immense collection of assets and records.  Why go through all this trouble?  You’ve got some of the most valuable, sought after pieces of art tucked away in here. 

Brian Dennehy is a cop who welcomes himself into the story and the “intuitive lawyers” happily accept his trust when he offers his file on the fire investigation from eighteen years prior.  He just turns up at random, odd moments.  Do Tom and Laura even think to wonder why this guy is so interested in assisting them all of the sudden?

What really sends Legal Eagles off the rails though is a step away from the narrative so that Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah can be caught in bed together.  This serves no purpose.  It’s a scene that screams of a producer demanding this happen to sell movie tickets and it betrays the intelligence any of us would expect of a sharp-witted New York City District Attorney.  Even more absurd is when Redford and Hannah are awakened the next morning, she is arrested for murder.  So the lawyer sleeps with the client, but no concern regarding ethics is ever questioned.  As well, Winger’s character just delivers an eyeroll response to Redford’s error in judgment, but the two continue to work in flirtatious harmony.  That doesn’t offer much respect for the aptitude of Winger’s character.  She should be repulsed by this transgression.

Legal Eagles contains more charming and mature humor than Ivan Reitman was recognized for by this point in his career.  It’s a yuppie ‘80s film.  I only wished for a more insightful pursuit and storyline for Redford and Winger to be focused on while they fall for one another amid the scenic backdrop of a bustling New York City. 

Daryl Hannah looks like she’s in another movie altogether.  Yes, she sleeps with Redford’s character, but I don’t think Hannah has more than five lines of dialogue exchanged with either Winger or Redford.  She’s expendable here.  You practically forget that she’s the accused client the lawyers are working to exonerate.

The value of the missing painting is hardly stressed upon.  The motive for murder really isn’t either.  There are not one or two fires in the film, but rather THREE!!!! Did the craft of invention just stop after page one of the screenplay? 

From a marketing standpoint, based on casting alone, this film had such potential.  The movie features some of the best working talent going for it.  Sadly, it gave all the players nothing to do, and what little was done lacked any kind of foresight or wit.

On the subject of Legal Eagles, my motion stands.  This movie is inadmissible in court!


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough
CAST: Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Maximilian Schell, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and MANY others
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “A Movie Set During an Historic War”

PLOT: A detailed account of an overly ambitious Allied forces operation intended to end the war by Christmas of 1944.

In September of 1944, in an attempt to land a finishing blow to Germany following D-Day, Allied forces launched Operation Market Garden, a bold offensive that would drop over 30,000 soldiers behind enemy lines.  The objective was to capture and hold three strategic bridges in the Netherlands, over which a massive column of British tanks would then roll straight into the Ruhr, the heart of Germany’s industrial complex.  Neutralize the Ruhr, and taking Berlin would be inevitable.  However, as with so many other simple plans in history, multiple factors led to the operation getting bogged down at the third bridge, and after massive Allied casualties, the offensive was abandoned.

Based on a bestselling novel by Cornelius Ryan (who also wrote the novel The Longest Day), the movie of A Bridge Too Far resembles the actual Operation Market Garden, not just in appearances, but also in its ambition, scope, and ultimate failure to achieve its goal.  However, as a pure combat movie, I give it credit where it’s due.

First off, look at this cast.  There had not been an assemblage of so many of Hollywood’s leading men since 1962’s The Longest Day (“42 International Stars”, that movie’s posters proclaimed).  Naturally, most of the actors are pitch perfect in their roles, with one glaring exception.  Whoever thought Gene Hackman was just the right guy to play a Polish general was either desperate or foolhardy, or both.  Hackman is a talented actor, without question, but his attempt at a Polish accent is a MAJOR distraction from whatever he’s saying.  Every once in a while, it even pulls a disappearing act, not that it matters.

ANYHOO.  The all-star cast.  To offset the lengthy running time, the story is told in semi-episodic fashion, which makes me wonder if someone hasn’t thought about rebooting this movie as a Netflix/HBO/streaming miniseries.  I’d watch it.  Within each of these episodes, it helps if we remember right away that Michael Caine is the leader of the tank column, Sean Connery is heading up one of the ground units, Anthony Hopkins is holding the bridge at Arnhem, and Elliot Gould is the cigar-chewing American trying to get a temporary bridge put together, and so on.  It’s a rather brilliant way of using visual shorthand to keep the audience oriented during its nearly three-hour running time (including an intermission at some screenings).

There is one “episode” featuring James Caan that has literally – LITERALLY – nothing to do with the plot.  He plays an Army grunt who has promised his young captain not to let him die.  After a grueling ground battle, Caan finds his captain’s lifeless body and, after improbably running a German blockade, holds an Army medic at gunpoint, forcing him to examine his dead captain for signs of life.  I read that, unlikely thought it may seem, this incident really did happen as presented in the film (more or less).  All well and good.  But what does it have to do with capturing bridges?  I’m sure the story is in the novel, but the movie takes a good 10-to-15-minute detour from the plot to follow this bizarre story.  Did director Richard Attenborough think we needed comic relief or something?  I remember liking that story as a kid, but watching it now…is it necessary?  Discuss amongst yourselves, I’ll expect a summary of your answer at tomorrow’s class.

I want to mention the combat scenes in A Bridge Too Far.  First off, I never served in the armed forces.  Well, never in combat.  I was in the Air Force for about a week.  (Well, Air Force boot camp in Oklahoma for about a week…LONG story.)  So, my observations of the combat scenes are less about historical accuracy and more about how they compare to other films.  While some of the combat portrayed is rightfully horrific in its own way – the river crossing in those ridiculous canvas boats, the slaughter of the paratroopers, the seemingly endless holdout at Arnhem – a lot of the combat, particularly the tank shelling and the skirmishes at Arnhem, is…I have to say, it’s kind of fun to watch.  There’s something, I don’t know, charming about it all.  It reminded me of how I used to play with my army men and Star Wars figures, or how I used to run around with neighborhood friends wearing plastic helmets and pretending we were “good-guys-and-bad-guys” while throwing dirt clods at each other and making fake explosion noises.  It was movies like A Bridge Too Far that shaped my young impressions of what wartime combat was like, and whether it was realistic or not was irrelevant.

Anyway, enough nostalgia.  Here’s the sad truth: A Bridge Too Far, despite its thrilling combat and all-star cast, falls short of delivering a truly meaningful war film.  There are half-hearted attempts to drum up some dramatic impact with scenes in a makeshift field hospital and a speech in Dutch from Liv Ullman wearing her best “isn’t-war-awful” expression, but for some reason those scenes fall flat.  (I did like the “war-is-futile” scene with that one soldier who runs out to retrieve the air-dropped canister, only to discover…well, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a good scene.)

After writing almost 1,000 words, I’m no closer to explaining why A Bridge Too Far falls short.  It’s still an entertaining watch, but I’ve really got to be in the mood for it.  It’s rather like reading a historical novel that isn’t particularly thrilling like a Crichton or a Clancy, but it does deliver some eyebrow-raising information.  It doesn’t hit me in the heart, but it does feed my brain.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in the long run, but if movies are about stirring emotions, I must say: A Bridge Too Far is no Saving Private Ryan.

(Sure, I probably could have just said that instead of writing this long-ass review, but where’s the fun in that?)


Best line or memorable quote:
“Remember what the general said: we’re the cavalry. It would be bad form to arrive in advance of schedule. In the nick of time would do nicely.”

Would you recommend this film?  Why or why not?
Ultimately, I would recommend it to film buffs who have not yet seen it.  If nothing else, it’s an interesting time capsule movie.  This would be the last time for a VERY long time that anyone would attempt to make an epic film with a truly all-star cast.  …come to think of it, I can’t think of a major, epic drama since A Bridge Too Far with an actual A-list cast.  Can you?


By Marc S. Sanders

Sydney Pollack is such a hero of Hollywood filmmaking. He was a terrific actor and a better director. As Three Days Of The Condor opens I got completely engrossed in its simple, yet frightening set up.

Joseph Turner (Robert Redford) arrives at his office where he works day to day as a “book reader.” He chats a little with his colleagues, jots a few notes down, and steps out the back door to pick up lunch for everyone. When he returns, he finds the entire office staff has been shot to death. This seems like a common day in the life of an Everyman, until it’s not. Alfred Hitchcock capitalized on this motif over and over again.

Turner makes a phone call and is asked for his code name, but before he reveals he’s known as “Condor,” he asks a very good question to the man on the other end of the line. Why is it so important that Turner reveals his code name, but the man he called doesn’t feel the need to share his own?

Having recently watched the film adaptation of The Firm with Tom Cruise, made almost twenty years after this film, I can see that Sydney Pollack knows how to not only build suspense very, very quickly but also how to maintain it too. Still, in both films the complications of the why and how become overbearing. With Three Days Of The Condor, it’s best to just watch the tight editing and well drawn characterizations all the way from Max Von Sydow as a disciplined assassin to John Houseman as the elder authority who relaxes himself with his tweed suit and bow tie behind a large table as the problems unfold. Cliff Robertson is Higgins, the contact for Turner. He’s serviceable in the part.

The entire first hour of the film is perfection; taut and gripping as we uncover what purpose Turner as a book reader serves, and for whom. The second hour found me feeling less engaged, regrettably. To aid himself, Turner kidnaps a woman shopping in a sporting goods store. Faye Dunaway plays Kathy Hale. He forces Kathy to take him back to her apartment where he hides out. Never would it occur to me that these two characters over the course of a day and a half would fall for one another and make passionate love. This is not that kind of movie, and yet there it is. Some producer must have said “Fellas, we’ve got Dunaway and Redford on screen. This is a no brainer.” Faye Dunaway is fine in the part. I bought that out of desperation Redford would hold her at gun point and force her to help. But, c’mon! Really? They gotta bang each other too????

As for the plot behind killing people, the film doesn’t work its way into car and foot chases. It relies on its wording. The problem for me is that Turner works it all out himself. There’s little reference back to earlier moments for an audience to connect the dots along with the hero. So when Turner realizes one of the motivations is in regards to oil trading, I was trying to figure when anyone said anything about oil to begin with. Revelations just seem to be pulled out of a rabbit’s hat at times. They could have said people had to be murdered because the price of milk went up by fifty cents, and that would’ve held about just the same amount of weight as oil. What ABOUT oil????? Nothing ever needed to be so explicitly discussed here.

Part of the fun sometimes in Hitchcock films, for example, is simply seeing the man unexpectedly on the run and then watching how he outwits his adversaries. Harrison Ford does that in The Fugitive. Tom Cruise did it in The Firm. Cary Grant did it plenty of times with Hitchcock. In this film, however, I never felt there was any need to explain. Once it tried to grow a brain, I thought sometimes less is more, because now I’m stuck feeling frustratingly confused amid a lot of convoluted mumbo jumbo, on top of an out of left field, unsubstantiated love sequence.

Three Days Of The Condor was one of the best, edge of your seat suspense stories I’d seen…until it wasn’t.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo go to sleep in The Last Castle, a prison movie of no consequence directed by Rob Lurie.

They go to sleep. So naturally, I go to sleep.

Redford plays Three Star General Eugene Irwin (a real tough guy name!) sentenced to a military prison. It’s where we have to accept that Gandolfini as a “ruthless” Colonel Winter controls his inmates with an iron fist. (Iron? Aluminum Reynolds Wrap is more like it.). That’s what the Netflix or TV guide description might tell you.

Watch the film however, and you’ll nary see anything terribly harsh from Gandolfini, much less will you see anything triumphant from a run of the mill Redford. Exactly what is the problem these two guys have that motivate the General into a forever-to-get-there uprising against the prison? These guys never appear to be enduring much of a harsh reality.

Amid the concrete walls, basketball is played with glee, rocks are carried to and fro and bets for cigarette winnings are proffered. I don’t get it. What’s wrong with this, and why is Gandolfini regarded as such a dick about it? This Colonel Winter is no Tony Soprano. That’s for sure.

I think it’s in Redford’s contract that dirt must never grace his boyhood good looks and his neat blond hair style remain preserved even when he’s running through 7 foot flames to rescue Ruffalo from a downed helicopter. (Psst, that’s the most exciting—that’s the only exciting—part of the film.)

The Last Castle is not a good movie.

As the allegorical chess play between the opposing leaders carries forth, much flexibility is offered to both sides to plan accordingly for the final battle. This is too neat and too pretty for a prison mutiny uprising. It’s real convenient that there are only rubber bullets in the guards’ rifles. That way it’s safe for everyone to play in the sandbox a little longer past curfew.

Don’t believe me about all this? Then answer me this question:

Where in the hell did Redford’s band of prisoners find the time, resources and covert opportunity to construct a building tall SLING SHOT STRAIGHT OUTTA BRAVEHEART OR LORD OF THE RINGS to chuck boulders with? I mean how the hell would you even hide such a thing when you are locked in a prison? It ain’t under the mattress. That’s for sure.


By Marc S. Sanders

Anthony and Joe Russo direct one of the best action pictures of the last 20 years as they pit the heroic patriot against weaponized SHIELD planes, trap him in an elevator with 15 strong arm men to take on singlehandedly, and most especially the dude dressed like the American flag goes up against a mysterious figure that possesses a highly weaponized steel arm. Best yet, none of these sequences pertain to the story so much as they frame it.

Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers aka the first title character, and he’s even better this time around. Captain America: The Winter Soldier hearkens back to the thematic 1970s conspiracy theory features like The Parallax View with Warren Beatty and Three Days Of The Condor with Robert Redford as Cap first finds himself on one side of an important debate for our modern times. When is too much warfare enough? How far must we go to serve as a means of protection? Evans appears as if he’s researched the strong position held by his character, and he’s believable in his mindset. Is the motive out of fear, or power, or could it actually just all be for protection? He’s convincing in his character’s argument. Naturally, if he can’t agree with the powers that be, he’ll find himself on the run with allies like Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as the supercool Falcon.

Johansson is given much more to work with as she trades “Buddy Cop Movie” wits with Evans as well as helping him with his dating scene. She also offers up some sharp intelligence to a promising complex former KGB/spy. It’s about time she get her own film in the series. She’s overdue. (Well…now we all know how that turned out.)

It’s especially appropriate that Redford himself is recruited as Secretary Alexander Pierce. Redford plays puppet master for a film that offers the biggest altering twists the MCU has offered up to this point. To handle the role requires an actor with a history to his career and since Redford has dabbled in films of this nature, he fits right in. He must have been especially pleased to accept this role recognizing the layered angles to a script provided by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley.

Sebastian Stan returns with an astonishing turn as his character Bucky. When all the surprises are revealed by him, your pulse will likely not have come down following a thrilling highway shootout.

Lastly, credit must be given to Samuel L Jackson. This film offers the most for his Nick Fury character to play with. Fury finds himself on the wrong end of an argument that leads to a shocking betrayal and sabotage. Jackson’s roles often fall into the same routine of timing and delivery, screaming “mother effing” frustrations. It’s often lovingly joked about but it gets tiring too. Here however, he’s given a chance to be the victim of a brutal attack and deal with an aftermath. It’s the best material written so far for the Nick Fury character.

The Russo brothers, not normally known for big budget extravaganzas, surprised audiences with a well-executed film that offers suspense, extensively choreographed action sequences and great characterizations all around. They have identified Captain America as the soldier of morals, but moreover they recognize where he stems from. The Brothers certainly haven’t forgotten that he’s really a 95-year-old man at the time of this story. That sets up some good laughs. The adventure of the picture is top notch and thankfully it primarily all takes place in daylight where nothing is strategically hidden and appearing as shortsighted work in dark photography. The Russos know how to pinpoint exactly where Cap needs to throw his shield, what it should bounce off of, and how the hero should get it back. Everything here is top notch.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier only gets better with repeat viewings, and you really don’t even need the other MCU films to follow its trajectory. It’s worth watching at any given moment.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford directed a huge, glossy looking misfire of a political thriller in 2007 with a film called Lions For Lambs, written by Matthew Michael Carnagan.

Preachiness is never fun when it labors on for an hour and a half. I don’t care if it’s Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep or even Robert Redford doing the preaching. If these powerhouse celebrities called me up and asked if they could come to my house for coffee and talk, and when they got there, all they did was spew in circles a political platform of “right and wrong” and “why” and “don’t” and “can’t” and “yes and no,” I’d call the police and have them arrested. Time for you to leave, Meryl! Tom, it’s been real.

In 2007, during the late half of Bush 43’s second term, questions of war with the Middle East was at the forefront during a post 9/11 age. Redford, with Cruise producing, thought it’d be interesting to show three different stories (actually two long winded conversations set around desks, and two stranded soldiers) occurring. A political professor (Redford) tries to open the eyes of a student (Andrew Garfield) with great potential but no drive to make a difference. A Republican Senator (Cruise) sets up his own interview with a liberal leaning reporter (Streep) to boast of a new secret mission he’s championing, and two special forces ops are left stranded (Michael Pena & Derek Luke) in the cold of Iraq, the most interesting of three narratives.

Carnagan’s script goes in circles and it’s likely the politics he questions all lean left. Yet the conversations (Redford & Garfield; Cruise & Streep) become just a lot of back talk. A character makes a point, and the other character makes a counter point. I was hoping for a line like “Meryl, you ignorant slut!” Where are we going with all of this?

The soldiers are the mission planned by the Senator that has now gone awry and follows their outcome as they are left wounded and surrounded by Iraqi forces in the snowy darkness. We learn they were students of the professor who wanted to make a difference by enlisting in the Army. See the connection now; the very thin uninspired connection?

Here’s something for ya. In case, you can’t recognize easily enough, Redford dresses his characters in either shades of Red or Blue. Nice touch with Garfield’s frat boy wearing a RED Hawaiian shirt while Redford has the BLUE denim button down. Cruise gets the shiny RED coffee mug for a prop. Does the film have to be THIS transparent? If so, couldn’t the dialogue have been as well?

Lions For Lambs talks A LOT and tells me nothing. Streep’s reporter is a disappointment. Yet Redford portrays her as noble. She loathes the platform of the Senator she just interviewed and is adamant about not writing the quite revealing story he just laid out for her. How can she be that way? She’s a reporter!!!! Tell the truth. Inform the public, even if it’s not pretty, and yet Redford will have a viewer believe it is righteous of Streep to figuratively break her pencil and unplug her computer while she gripes to her editor in chief. No! This is an absolute betrayal of journalistic integrity. What is Robert Redford, the once producer and star of All The President’s Men, thinking here???

You wanna talk about betrayal? The final moments with Streep really had me puzzled. She takes a thought-provoking cab ride that drives past the Capital, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, and The White House (right, dab, in front of it no less). Reader, I’ve been to Washington DC a number of times as recent as this past summer. Where the hell is this cabbie driving to, and what route was he taking????


By Marc S. Sanders

Psychiatry is regarded as a stigma within the world of Ordinary People.

Robert Redford’s Oscar winning directorial debut centers on a troubled high school student named Conrad (Timothy Hutton in an Oscar winning role) who finally gets the gumption to see Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch) following a suicide attempt brought on by the guilt he carries when he could not rescue his older brother, Buck, in a stormy boating accident. His parents, Beth and Calvin (Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland), accept this action with differing viewpoints.

For Beth it’s shameful and unnecessary to see a doctor. Her stance is made all the more clear when her own mother frowns upon this, especially with this doctor being a Jew. On the other hand, Calvin looks at it as an opportunity for a breakthrough. This doctor could really be good for Conrad. Beth is embarrassed when Calvin has a few drinks at a neighborhood dinner party and shares these developments with some friends.

For a WASP community, seeing a psychiatrist is not regarded well. It shows that Beth’s image of a perfect lifestyle is tainted. Any problems they have should be resolved in the home. What never occurs to Beth, however, is the resentment she fails to hide for her second son. There’s nothing breaking through Beth’s exterior to allow her true feelings to come out. By contrast, Conrad gradually lets his inner struggle loose and the film shows that it helps, as challenging as it could be.

In 1980, the prior year’s Best Picture winner was Kramer vs Kramer. Three years later it would be Terms Of Endearment. Hollywood was recognizing an audience’s interest in the domestic life. The Vietnam War was now in the past. Reagan economics were taking over and middle-class America seemed to be doing well. Redford’s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel with a screenplay by Alvin Sargeant showed what was happening behind closed doors. Dramatic moments occur and they can offer a terrible shock in the moment but as days move on, so does everyone around you. You make efforts to do so as well, but you’re still weighed down by that one moment of loss.

Redford directs Hutton with quiet moments of anguish. Quick cut flashbacks offer a glimpse of what’s running through Conrad’s mind. Fortunately, it doesn’t run too long and upstage Hutton’s performance. Timothy Hutton is astonishing with his twitches and stutters and struggle to simply sit still. His blank stare of his blue eyes covey his deep depression. When a girl classmate takes notice of him, you feel the remedy of his sessions starting to make a difference. Where his mother refuses to recognize his need for love, someone else does and you feel better about yourself as well.

There’s always a reason to live. Dr. Berger reminds Conrad of that. Judd Hirsch is right for his role against the waspy wealth of Conrad’s upbringing. He encourages a “not giving a shit” attitude to how people perceive Conrad. We all want a mother’s love, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We want to be accepted at school. That might not work out either. With his sloven stature and chain-smoking manner, Hirsch is very convincing in reminding Conrad to say it’s okay to tell someone to fuck off, and most importantly to stop punishing himself for saying it.

Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland work incredibly well at conflicting with each other while also convincing us that before this terrible accident they likely complimented one another perfectly. Yet, as the film explains, life gets messy. The question is how best to respond when the mess appears and stays with you. Conrad finds the benefits in seeing a therapist like Dr. Berger. Beth will hear nothing of the idea. A magnificent scene done with one tracking camera comes out of nowhere while Beth and Calvin are playing golf with relatives. A slight mention of their son by Calvin gradually explodes into what really sets Calvin and Beth apart from one another. All of their sub conscious thoughts explode on a crowded golf course in front of the community they’ve absorbed their history and marriage within. Redford gets the best beats out of his actors because the shields that maintain their personas will only hold for so long. It’ll break down at a time when it’s never opportune or convenient. This scene occurs near the end of the film as we see Conrad’s recovery, while Beth and Calvin are still mired in both individual and shared heartache and resentment. It’s a crescendo moment that the film builds to for these characters.

Within film discussions, Ordinary People is often sadly regarded as the film that once again denied Martin Scorsese of a well-deserved Oscar (for arguably his greatest work Raging Bull). I don’t think that’s fair, however. Some might say Ordinary People may be dated. However, now that I’ve finally seen the film, I can’t deny it’s importance. Mental health has become more apparent through all kinds of different social classes. Yet we still hide ourselves, and are encouraged to shelter ourselves under a facade of happiness. That can’t always be true for any of us. We, as humans, all suffer. We all feel pain or embarrassment or sadness. If anything, a piece like Ordinary People reminds us that we are all typical, and must succumb to dealing with issues far beyond our mental capacity at one time or another.


By Marc S. Sanders

Sydney Pollack’s Out Of Africa might seem like a whirlwind romance if you’re only looking at the top billed names of the cast, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, but it’s much more than that. It’s an education of the African continent beginning in 1913 when World War I was on the brink, and the British monarchy appeared to become territorial of its lands.

Karen Blixen (Streep) is a Danish Baroness who marries a Swedish nobleman, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) out of simple convenience. She plans to begin a cattle farm outside of Kenya to manage with Bror. To her unfortunate surprise, Bror has invested her monies in harvesting coffee on the land, which is much more difficult to produce at the altitude where they settle. Bror is also not so concerned with growing to love Karen and would much rather hunt on safari and be a womanizer, while welching off of Karen’s enterprise.

Karen grows to love Africa with its wildlife, as well as the local people whom she does not object to them squatting on her property. She provides medical aid and schooling for the children, too.

Karen also encounters the dashing adventurer, Denys Finch Hatton (Redford). Denys comes in and out of her life where he welcomes her on expeditions that are up close with lions and rhinos. He also takes her in his biplane to get God’s perspective of the lush scenery, a major centerpiece of the film. Denys, however, is not concerned with offering the full commitment Karen seeks. He’s happy to carry on with his safari treks only to return on occasion.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, Pollack’s film gives plenty of time and footage to absorb gorgeous landscape views of Africa from above and across the plains. The cinematography is on par with some of the best I’ve ever seen in a motion picture, compliments of David Watkin. The colors of sky with green, brown and yellow landscapes are breathtaking. Sunsets are spectacular with Redford’s silhouette in the foreground. Herds of cattle consisting of oxen, gazelles and lion feel so up close and personal. The production design of Karen’s home and coffee farm are also noticeably authentic. The home feels comfortable.

Out Of Africa is based on the stories told from Isek Denisen, Karen’s pseudonym. Like many of these sweeping epics, I find that I need to get accustomed to the nature of the film first. Dialects, when done authentically like Streep always strives for, are challenging for me to understand initially. The African people are hard to understand at times. As well, this is a period picture in a territory that I’m mostly unfamiliar with. So, I find that I have to adjust to the habitat and culture of the characters. Frankly, the first half hour or so was a little tough for me to stay with the picture. Once I got my footing with the film, though, I could not get enough. I felt terrible for Karen when she contracts syphilis. I was truly annoyed with how the Baron treats Karen with such disdain. It’s also heartbreaking when Karen and Denys are in disagreement with one another, simply because I loved the chemistry between Redford and Streep. Later setbacks feel tragic, especially as you feel like you’ve traveled through the progress and impactful differences that Karen affectionately made for Africa and its people.

Out Of Africa is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. It’s another example of a film where the setting is as much a character as the leads who carry the story. Sydney Pollack and his crew, which includes grand horn and string chords from Oscar winning composer John Barry present a captivating story that also feels rich in a documentarian point of view. A restored copy of the film on a large flat screen TV is a must see.


By Marc S. Sanders

People talk too much.

Ten minutes into Alan J Pakula’s film, that’s all I can think about. William Goldman’s dialogue heavy script pounds away at depicting Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s uncovering of the Watergate break in, and it shows that simply, people talk too much. So much so that just a stutter or a name in passing conversation will dig the hole deeper and deeper towards self-incrimination, and that of other accomplices. Once a source trips up, then a good reporter can pounce.

Names, dates, slamming doors, rotary phones, typewriters and papers fly fast and furiously during Pakula’s film and that’s what upholds the breakneck pace of the investigative journalism. In a film like this, a crime is depicted and investigated, only the words are the real weapons.

I don’t find All The President’s Men to be a history lesson in the corruption of Nixon’s administration. Rather, I only see what was necessary for Woodward & Bernstein to truthfully prove the corruption took place. The reporters, played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, seem to run on endless adrenaline of coffee, cigarettes and fast food effectively showing their drive while donning loose ties, wrinkled shirts, and crumpled notepads amid unkept desks and apartments. It’s visually convincing. A story like this doesn’t sleep, nor does it take a vacation. A story like this makes a viewer feel like he/she is still up at 2am, catching a cab to meet a shadowy source in a haunting parking garage; thanks Hal Holbrook for Deep Throat (“Follow the money.”).

Redford has a great scene where Pakula never stops running the camera on close up for over six minutes. All that Redford is doing is dialing, and talking on the phone while maintaining two different conversations. I don’t know if this moment happened in real life but I imagine the best reporters in a pre internet phase had to hold out for opportune times like this to fall into their laps. The cut does not end and Pakula was instinctively wise to do that. The scene itself serves that harrowing pace. Less is more in a moment like this. Props to Redford for maintaining the statuesque momentum.

Equally so, Hoffman has a couple of good moments with Jane Alexander (his eventual costar in Kramer vs Kramer.). She beautifully depicts a victim of intimidating threat, and Hoffman must tread carefully with his questions by strategically letting himself into her home, puffing on a cigarette, sipping cold coffee, speaking softly and eventually getting out his notepad as she gradually breaks down her shell. Alexander doesn’t make it easy and so their scenes work so well in taut suspense of low whispers.

Nixon’s cohorts really are not the antagonists here. In essence, Goldman’s script (based on the reporters’ published book) welcomes the challenge of acquiring factual reporting as the overall conflict. This is best represented by Jason Robards’ portrayal of Post Editor Ben Bradlee. Robards won an Oscar, and he so deserved it. He wouldn’t give “Woodstein” a break until the truth willed itself out by the proper means that are necessary. He’s intimidating in the role but he’s open minded enough to not ignore the young reporters’ instincts. I love watching his scenes; the way he commands an office from a chair with his feet up or fidgets and writes with his red pen. When his boys finally get a solid piece, Bradlee’s character breaks for one moment to knock on a desk and clap his hands as he walks away from his men. They got it. He didn’t relent, and they finally got it. I love that moment. Simply marvelous.

All The President’s Men remains a favorite film of mine. The dialogue moves so fast that after seeing it a number of times I still haven’t connected all the dots, and yet that’s what I appreciate about it. I see something new every time.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford’s 1994 masterpiece deserves much more recognition than it ever got.

Here, he produced and directed a stellar cast that showed how America was always in it for the competition and for the glory and for the fame and naturally for the money.

Redford opens his film with a car salesman describing the regal elegance and perfection of a 1957 Chrysler convertible. It’s a gorgeous car. Then the potential buyer turns on the radio. The car isn’t so fascinating anymore as a news announcement reveals that Russia beat the United States into space with its launch of Sputnik. All America has now is just a car.

Opening credits roll and the next American sensation is presented, “21,” the most popular show displayed on the greatest invention, a home television set. However, the show is all a lie, and yet by the end it’ll survive along with its network, NBC, and its wealthy sponsors.

Quiz Show foreshadows the cost of fame and attention. It’s a wonderful sensation until it’s stripped away in personal disgrace. John Turturro (how did he not get an Oscar nomination?) is Herb Stemple, the champion, nerdy schlub who is growing tiresome among producers and audiences. He is forced to take a dive and be replaced by the handsome Charles Van Doren played Ralph Fiennes, a member of one of the country’s most intellectually gifted families. The difference in appearance is obvious. So is the desire for a change in programming. What’s obvious is how the two men are exploited as pawns for gain in corporate America. Cheat, but if you call it television, what harm is there really?

The harm falls in public perception. Disgrace comes to these men, and worse, to their families. It mirrors modern stories like Harvey Weinstein, Joe Paterno, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer.

It’s a very calm film that debates the ethics of these men and necessities to uncover the truths and reveal the falsehoods.

Redford only gets aggressive in his period settings and I’m thankful for it. Nothing looks out of place, including the large enthusiastic grins of a 1950s American viewing audience dressed elegantly and innocent. Even nuns and pajama clad children are invested in “21.” This clean cut appearance will soon fade , however, after the quiz show scandal dies down.

Ugly lies and denials were committed against Redford’s beautiful backdrops. Therein lies the necessary conflict of another fascinating story.

Was this country ever innocent?