Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Looper, by Rian Johnson, 2012

Most Hollywood science fiction movies kind of come and go.  I mean, look back at the 90's, they came out all the time, but only a handful of them are even remembered, and even fewer fondly.  The ones that stick around are the smart, thoughtful ones with vividly imagined worlds and thought-provoking ideas.  Not far into Rian Johnson's latest film, Looper, I realized that this is going to be one of those movies that science fiction fans are still watching and talking about 30 years from now.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a man employed by organized crime to kill people sent back from the future.  They pay him well, with the understanding that sooner or later, he will have to "close the loop", by killing his future self.  Things go awry when his future self (Bruce Willis) gets the drop on him and escapes.  Now Joe must---

Jim!  We have to hurry!

What?  Who are you?

Don't you recognize me?  I'm the you of 2042.

Oh my god, it is you, me.  Why are you here?

I came back to warn you that 30 years from now, nobody is watching or talking about Looper. 

Oh no!  How can this be?

It's our fault.  It's our review, Jim!  It was so poorly written that President Honey Boo Boo had the movie outlawed.  Real Steel is being played 24 hours a day on 3-D supertelevisions around the globe.

NOOOOOOOO!!  I have to stop this horrible future from happening.  But HOW?

There's only one thing we can do...

What...?  What are you doing with that gun, future me?  No.. NO!

I'm sorry, young me, it's for the good of the future...


He... he shot me... then disappeared... that must... mean... I'm not going to... make it.  Only... time... for one last act.  Must click... Publish... tell the people... about... LOOPER... never forget...  Tell my wife I...

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Master

The Master, by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most talented and interesting writer/directors working today.  His choices of subject matter for his films are always fascinating and provocative, be it the rise and fall of the porn industry in the late 70's and early 80's in Boogie Nights, or the greedy and sociopathic oil tycoon in There Will Be Blood.  In his latest film, The Master, Anderson explores the founding of a cultish new belief system on the rise in the 1950's, specifically through its charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a new recruit, a mentally unbalanced drifter (Joaquin Phoenix).

The drifter, Freddie Quell, is truly a mess.  We learn much about him in the early scenes.  Among other things, we learn he had an absent father and an instutionalized mother, he's clearly suffering from PTSD after fighting in the Pacific, and is prone to violent outbursts.  He concocts and guzzles beverages out of any chemicals he can find, including paint thinner, ground up prescription drugs and whatever other forms of brain damage are lying around.  But more than anything, he just longs for a real human connection, something Freddie is tragically incapable of.

The Master, AKA Lancaster Dodd, just sees Freddie as a project.  They're drawn to each other for very different reasons.  Freddie truly tries to believe in what Dodd espouses "The Cause", but his fractured mind just can't connect with it.  What he really wants is a father figure who will show him some real affection.  Dodd wants to use Freddie as the ultimate proof that his various tests, mind games, and parlor tricks can change a man.  It's very hard to tell where Dodd's sympathy ends and his manipulations begin.  Everything he does seems to be a ploy to exert his control over this poor square peg.  He's cold and calculating, unless he feels he's losing Freddie, then he's all buddy-buddy.

As expected in Anderson's films, the performances in The Master are all around incredible.  Hoffman, Phoenix, and Amy Adams (as Dodd's wife and devoted follower), all give performances worthy of Oscar nominations.  They may not win this year, but at the very least, I think Phoenix deserves it for his total transformation.

The cinematography is beautiful too, of course.  Anderson is continuing further down the stylistic road he began with There Will Be Blood.  This second leg of his career appears to be less Altman and Scorsese, waaaaaay more Kubrick.  Lots of one-point perspectives.  There are shots so beautifully composed in The Master, I must have gasped or something, because my wife told me she actually heard me reacting to them.

Also, as unsettling and creepy as Paul Thomas Anderson's movies can get, they're often strangely hilarious as well.  The Master is no different.  It's loaded with bizarre, funny moments, such as Dodd's love of Kool cigarettes, an explosive scene between the two of them at a jail, or a scene where Dodd is embarrassingly called out by a skeptic (possibly the most important scene in the movie).  These touches of humor are always underscored with a hint of menace or sadness, but they do provide some much needed levity to a very, very dark story.

I've heard a lot of criticism directed toward The Master saying that it looks great and the performances are great, but it fails to "gel" or come together in the end.  I wasn't even sure what I thought, as the credits rolled.  I suppose it's a little less pointed than some of his other work, but I would argue that some of the best movies out there are as good as they are because they didn't "gel".  We talked about The Master for a couple of hours after seeing it, analyzing every little moment, picking it all apart, trying to figure out the director's intentions behind the oblique parts.  I don't see a lot of movies that challenge the viewer to do these things, and it makes me appreciate them more when I do.

The Brother from Another Planet, The Town

Hey, everyone!  I'm almost to my October movies.  I just have a couple short reviews here, (and I mean short) and a couple of reviews catching up on new releases, and then it's pretty much just horror for the remainder of the month, and probably spilling well into November, too.  I love this time of year!

The Brother from Another Planet, by John Sayles, 1984

This is an interesting movie.  The Brother from Another Planet is the story of an escaped alien slave who flees to earth and finds his way to Harlem, while the men in black (who are white aliens posing as immigration officers) try to track him down.

The alien is played by Joe Morton, best known (by me, anyway) as Dyson in Terminator 2.  He has difficulty speaking in human language, so he remains mute for the whole movie, but Morton still conveys a lot in his silent performance.  He's gentle, and curious about humans, and all their flaws.  A lot of people take a shine to him even though he doesn't talk.  He has a knack for fixing electronics like TVs and arcade games.  He has few alien features, just weird three-toed chicken feet and a removable eyeball that he can use as a camera.

Anyway, The Brother from Another Planet is pretty good.  It's got a low budget, but there aren't a lot of effects, so it's not distractingly cheap.  It's a neat little science fiction allegory for the state of race relations in the 1980's, and it has a heart and a social conscience.

The Town, by Ben Affleck, 2010

I missed out on The Town a couple years ago when it was a big mainstream success and all that.  It's not really the kind of movie I'd typically be interested in, but a combination of crazy good word of mouth and my excitement over seeing Argo finally caused me to cave.  And you know what?  I'm glad I did.  It's a solid and satisfying movie all around, even though we've seen much of it in other movies before.

Ben Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, the leader and mastermind of a ring of Boston bank robbers.  They take the manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage in the opening heist, and Doug lets her go without hurting her.  He knows that his unstable best buddy Jem (Jeremy Renner) will kill her if she can identify them, so Doug keeps tabs on her, and they strike up a relationship.  Now Doug must keep Claire safe, keep Jem in check, dodge Jon Hamm and the FBI, who are hot on his trail, and plan and execute his next heist under their noses, all while experiencing deep reservations over the life of crime he's chosen for himself.

Affleck really knows what he's doing, if you're wondering.  He had a good script in his hands (which he helped write), surrounded himself with a great supporting cast and crew, and directed the hell out of this thing.  The heists are smartly executed and exciting, the characters are all around interesting and engaging, with layers of conflict between them.  Jeremy Renner steals the show, but everyone is good.  Yes, I would say that Affleck has given his career a second leg that will have much more staying power than his Bruckheimer years.  And good for him. 


Well, I kept them both mercifully short today.  I've just been so busy!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Teenage Wastelands: Wild in the Streets and G-a-s-s-s-s

Wild in the Streets, by Barry Shear, 1968

In the mid to late 60's, it was becoming clear: for the first time, the youth were calling the shots.  There were more teenagers than ever, thanks to the post World War II baby boom, and they were making sure their voices were getting heard, through protests and pop culture.  It was only a matter of time before this was addressed in a movie.

Barry Shear's Wild in the Streets is a darkly satirical take on the idea of teenagers taking power.  It stars Christopher Jones as Max Frost, a rebellious, but highly intelligent young man who runs away from his parents (but not before taking a few swipes at their prized possessions), and starts a new life of sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  He forms a band, who are also his entourage and think tank, and together, they begin fighting to lower the voting age to 14, by writing hit songs motivating an army of teenage fans to organize and revolt.  Once Max gets what he wants, though, it's not enough anymore, so he keeps pushing for more, and the world quickly turns into a dystopia.  It's basically a crazy dark version of this comic book.

Wild in the Streets pushes all of its ideas to their furthest extreme, and doesn't pull punches.  I think it's aged very well, too.  It's dark and extremely cynical, and it doesn't make any effort to make even the protagonist likeable.  There are no good guys in this movie, and that makes it even more fun.  The soundtrack is pretty good, too.  Usually fake bands in movies don't have good songs, but Max's band has some really good stuff, including one song that became a hit in the real world, "Shape of Things to Come".  Also, the editing in Wild in the Streets got a well deserved Oscar nomination.  It has a great ending, too.  The last line is laugh out loud funny.

G-a-s-s-s-s, by Roger Corman, 1971

G-a-s-s-s-s is kind of like Wild in the Streets if it was stupid.  I mean, it's actually kind of enjoyable, but it's not making any kind of big political statement or anything.  It's about what happens if a mysterious gas is released that kills off everybody over the age of 25.  While the smart teenagers in Wild in the Streets would have probably been ready to take over and pick society back up, Roger Corman's youths are probably more realistic: they spend most of the movie goofing around.

Corman was clearly less interested in making a statement than he was in making a movie that teenagers will shell out their cash for.  It doesn't stand the test of time nearly as well as "Wild", and it wasn't intended to.  It's loaded with pop culture references many of which flew right over my head.  This is a movie for the kids of 1971, not the kids of 2012 or any other time.  He obviously didn't foresee the home video market.  G-a-s-s-s-s has a soundtrack by Country Joe and the Fish, which is not bad, but it doesn't have the punch that the original songs in the other movie had.  It also, like many Roger Corman films, has a cast of several young actors on the rise, including Bud Cort, Cindy Williams, and Talia Shire.

One bit that I liked was that when the end of the world comes, the kids all sort of split into their high school cliques.  When everybody is looting, the jocks steal all the meat.  Later, we learn they're all dying of poor nutrition and want the vegetables that the hippie kids are growing.  I thought that was pretty clever.

I would never trash on Roger Corman.  I love the guy.  He directed and produced lots and lots of stinkers, a bunch of decent, fun movies, and once in a while, a real gem of a film would squeeze through.  G-a-s-s-s-s is not one of the gems, but it's one of those decent fun movies.  It's often doubled with Wild in the Streets, and I can see why, but Wild in the Streets is the superior film by a wide margin.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Comedies from Epic to Intimate: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, How to Steal a Million, The Puffy Chair

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming, by Norman Jewison, 1966

Back in the 60's, it seems like they were trying to kick off a new subgenre: comedy epics.  That's a pretty tall order.  Most of the best comedies are short and smaller in scale, packing in the laughs and getting out without wearing out their welcome, and keeping the focus on a few main characters.  Norman Jewison's Best Picture nominated Cold War comedy, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming has a great premise and starts off strong, but ultimately collapses under its own massive weight.

A Soviet submarine gets grounded just off the coast of a small New England island.  A group of men (led by Alan Arkin in his movie debut) are sent out to find a boat to get themselves unstuck.  They soon cross paths with a local family (Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, and a couple of kids) who become unwilling participants in their plan.  Eventually, word spreads, and through a huge game of telephone, the word is that a Soviet Invasion is imminent and the entire town is into a panic and forms a mob.

Norman Jewison is a very good filmmaker (see the excellent original The Thomas Crown Affair), and 'Russians' was skillfully made, but it was just too big and too long.  It had all these wacky townsfolk, like Jonathan Winters as the police chief, and an unnecessary love story thrown in between a Russian and an American girl.  The delivery of the film's message of peace and unity between the USA and Russia is done in an overly sentimental way.  The best parts of the movie were the scenes between Reiner and his family, and Arkin and his men.  I loved Reiner's insecurity, as his manhood is questioned through his son's disappointment that he didn't shoot anybody.

There was a great, smaller movie to be found in there, with the exact same message, and without all the setpieces and stunts and mob scenes and superfluous characters.  I'm not opposed to the epic comedy, Blues Brothers is amazing, even at 2 1/2 hours, but it also has lots of great music and action to ease the lulls in between the laughs.  This movie has some very good moments, and might be worth checking out sometime for Reiner and Arkin's performances alone, but I wouldn't go too far out of my way to see it, if I were you.

How to Steal a Million, by William Wyler, 1966

I don't know how this happened, but until I saw How to Steal a Million, the only William Wyler film I'd seen was Ben-Hur.  Well, Ben-Hur is Ben-Hur, but this is pretty good, too.  It's a whole lot of fun and really smart.

As the title suggests, How to Steal a Million is a heist movie, a romantic heist comedy to be exact.  It stars Audrey Hepburn as Nicole, a (gasp!) wealthy socialite, whose rich father, sweetheart though he is, earned all his money as a master art forger.  It's a family trade.  Nicole meets an art thief (Peter O'Toole) who has broken into her home and smooth talks her into driving him back to his own place.  When she finds out that a statue forged by her grandfather on loan to a museum is about to undergo an inspection, Nicole recruits the thief into helping her plan a heist of the statue in order to prevent her father from being exposed as a fraud.  Then they fall in love.

How to Steal a Million is clever, funny, has a great script, and good performances by all the leads.  Peter O'Toole is especially awesome as the suave art thief, Simon, and he has great chemistry with Hepburn.  The heist is really well put together, and involves simple but effective tactics like throwing a boomerang to trip an alarm.  There's a great twist toward the end that I didn't see coming at all.  I love a good heist movie, and How to Steal a Million more than qualifies.

The Puffy Chair, by The Duplass Brothers, 2005

I think I've gone on record on this blog in saying that I really like what the Duplass Brothers do.  They make these intimate, emotional comedies, that focus way more on character than plot or set pieces.  I dug the hell out of Cyrus, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and Safety Not Guaranteed (which they produced but didn't write and direct).

The Puffy Chair is Mark and Jay Duplass' first film, made for a microbudget, with heavily improvised dialogue.  I guess it's considered a part of the "Mumblecore" movement, but I don't really have much of an understanding of what that means.  There's not really any mumbling in this.  It stars Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton as a couple in a doomed relationship who, along with his deadbeat brother, drive across the country to deliver a vintage chair that is an exact replica of the one in their house growing up to their father for his birthday.  And you know, things happen on the way, like road trip movie things.  And relationship things.

I actually like these guys better now that they mix more comedy into their movies, but you can see the beginnings of their style and humor taking root in The Puffy Chair.  There's a hilarious and uncomfortable sequence where Mark Duplass tries to sneak his girlfriend into a cheap motel room.  It goes wrong in a painfully realistic manner. 

The Puffy Chair is worth looking into if you're a fan of the Duplass Brothers' other films, but if Jason Segel or Jonah Hill are your reasons for watching those, you should probably look elsewhere.  Though, I guess if you're a fan of The League, you might be interested in this, since Duplass and Aselton are stars of that show.  As epic and expensive as The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming was, The Puffy Chair is the complete opposite, and I definitely prefer my comedies better this way. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Mikogami Trilogy: The Trail of Blood, The Fearless Avenger, Slaughter in the Snow

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know me and old samurai movies.  I love them all.  The ones by the masters from the 50's and 60's are great pieces of art, and the ones from the 70's were often bloody, stylish, grindhouse flicks.  I can't pick favorites between the two.  They have samurais so they're all great.

In this entry, I'm looking at a trilogy of revenge films from the early 1970's, by director Kazuo Ikehiro, known as the Mikogami Trilogy. 

The Trail of Blood (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kiba wa Hikasaita), by Kazuo Ikehiro, 1972

The first film introduces us to Jokichi Mikogami, a fierce ronin mercenary.  At the beginning, he wanders into an inn, feverish.  While he's there, a gang of Yakuza jerks bust in and try to rape the girl, but Jokichi steps up to defend her, cutting the boss, Kyubei in the forehead.  He vows revenge and they take off.  Jokichi and the girl (sorry, names are tough when there's no Wikipedia for the movie I'm reviewing) soon fall in love, and he gives up his violent life in exchange for a peaceful one.

Three years later, Jokichi is still living with the girl, and they have a young son.  He gets a job opportunity, but must travel through the territory of the gang that still hates him to get there.  He promises not to fight them, and to keep his head down and get home alive.  Of course, he runs into them, and they hold him down and start bashing his pinky and ringfinger off with the hilt of a sword.  It's a pretty gruesome scene, even though the fingers are obviously fake.  When Jokichi can't stand it anymore, he swipes a sword off one of the guys, and instead of attacking them, he quietly slices off his two fingers, returns the sword, and thanks them as they all stare in shock.  Holy crap!

Unfortunately, Jokichi arrives home too late.  They already murdered his wife and son while he was away.  Aaaaaaand cue vengeance.  Jokichi finds out which bosses were behind the brutal act, and in true samurai tradition, becomes an unstoppable killing machine in order to bring them down.  He always has his wife's red belt around his waist, and he ties sharp little spikes to the tips of the remaining three fingers of his mangled hand and uses them as claws.  HELL YEAH.

It's a pretty standard revenge movie, actually, but very well executed and fun to watch.  Yoshio Harada is totally cool as Jokichi Mikogami.  There's also a mysterious one-eyed helper character named Hurricane Isaburo, but unfortunately, we never end up learning what his deal is.  The score is that weird but awesome funky music that pervaded 70's samurai movies such as the Lone Wolf and Cub series.  He even has sex with his lover with funky saxophones playing in the background.  Of course, this is an ongoing series, so he doesn't find all three bosses in this movie, he just faces off against the guy whose head he cut at the beginning (and all his men, of course).

The Fearless Avenger (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Kawakaze ni Kako wa Nagareta), by Kazuo Ikehiro, 1972

The second film in the trilogy, The Fearless Avenger, is kind of the weak link of the three, but it's still pretty good.  This time around, Jokichi continues his relentless quest for vengeance, even walking right into a meeting of all the gang bosses and attacking them up front.  All this serves to do is get them angry, of course.

The main part of the story is about Jokichi being assigned by one Yakuza boss to protect another boss' runaway daughter and return her to him.  Of course, things end badly, and of course, Jokichi ends up butchering another army of guys.  This goes without saying.

The Fearless Avenger is lean and mean at only about 75 minutes, not including the 5-minute recap of the first film at the beginning.  It's still good, and there are some pretty surprising twists in the story, but it doesn't have a lot of character development for Jokichi, who had this great origin in the first film, and in this film just kind of spins his wheels.   I loved the final showdown, in a rocky river, with Jokichi submerging his sword arm underwater so his attackers can't see where he's pointing it.

Slaughter in the Snow (Mushukunin Mikogami no Jokichi: Tasogare ni Senko ga Tonda), by Kazuo Ikehiro, 1973

That title makes a pretty hefty promise, doesn't it?  Slaughter.  In the snow.  And let me tell you, it lives up to it.  Slaughter in the Snow is by FAR the bloodiest movie in the series.  It's also the best one, and I'm not saying that just because of the geysers of blood spraying out of chests, though that is a factor.

After the horrible events of the first two films, Jokichi has pretty much tossed aside all semblance of humanity.  As the movie opens, he just sits by his fire, quietly eating his pheasant, as a gang of bandits attacks and attempts to rape a poor girl.  He doesn't even look their way until they get in his face.  The girl follows him, despite his attempts to brush her off.

Soon, a similar scene plays out differently, as Jokichi witnesses a man save a girl from a gang without thinking twice.  Jokichi soon meets the man, an assassin named "Windmill" Kobunji, who is suffering from consumption.  He uses throwing knives with deadly accuracy, and throws them by twirling his arm like a windmill.  He's right upfront with Jokichi that he's already been paid a hefty retainer to kill him.  Despite this, they have a mutual respect for each other, and decide to travel for a while before they duel.

The strange, layered relationship between Jokichi and Kobunji is at the center of the movie.  When a bunch of men seek vengeance on Kobunji, Jokichi just sits back to watch the battle, reasoning that if they kill Kobunji, it's one less problem for him.  But when Kobunji begins coughing up blood during the battle, Jokichi steps in and scares the guys off, then takes the suffering assassin back to the inn where they met and helps nurse him back to health.

The reason I liked Slaughter in the Snow so much is the depth and complexity of the characters.  It's about Jokichi reacquiring a conscience.  The girl he rescued even calls him on his hypocrisy: He won't save a helpless girl being attacked by rapists, but now he's saving this guy who wants him dead?  I don't think Jokichi could even explain his reasoning, but I think it brought him back from the void.

The movie is also only 75 minutes long, and all the more intense for it.  The blood is a sharp red on the snow white scenery.  Kazuo Ikehiro must have liked the way red on white looked, because he pours it everywhere.  Slaughter is also the most visually stylized of the series.  Lots of really cool editing tricks and cinematography. 

There is a downside, though: The word "trilogy" is misused here.  A trilogy is when three movies tell a complete story.  Just because there are three Austin Powers movies doesn't mean it's the "Austin Powers Trilogy".  This is not the full story, and was clearly meant to continue for at least one more movie.  Jokichi never completes his vengeance on the third gang boss, and I guess he never will.  But still, Slaughter in the Snow is a great movie, even standing on its own.  I would recommend all three, but the third is by far the coolest.

Rope of Sand, The Gold Rush, Two-Way Stretch, When Eight Bells Toll

Rope of Sand, by William Dieterle,1949
So, here's the problem with being as far behind as I am in reviewing the movies I watch.  Most of the time, I watch good movies and I remember them and still have stuff to say a couple weeks later when I get around to writing about them.  Occasionally, I don't like a movie, and I can usually remember my gripes pretty well. too.  But then there's the occasion where I watch a movie that's just kind of OK.  Forgettable, even.

I guess I should have taken notes while I was watching William Dieterle's adventure film Rope of Sand, because I can remember very little at this point.  It didn't wow me.  Burt Lancaster stars as a guy in Africa who is hiding some diamonds he found from an evil diamond company.  They hire a lady to seduce it out of him and ummmm, I can't remember.  Peter Lorre is in it, and I always like him.  Claude Rains, too.  The movie is fine in the moment as a diversion, I don't recall NOT liking it, but if I'm any indication, it doesn't really stay with you.  Dieterle also directed The Devil and Daniel Webster, so he's still alright in my book.

The Gold Rush, by Charles Chaplin, 1924
Well, OK, I blew it on that last one.  Let's see if I can't do a little better this time.

As forgettable as Rope of Sand was (I even just now blanked on the title, no kidding), Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush is that much more memorable.  It's quite simply Chaplin's Little Tramp character in the gold rush.  Not the gold rush in California in the 1840's, the one in the Yukon at the turn of the century.  The Tramp finds himself trapped in a cabin with a couple of nasty guys, then finds himself in a town, in love with a local girl.  Lots of great physical comedy bits ensue.

My favorite bit was while Chaplin was stuck in the cabin during a blizzard with the two guys.  The two guys are fighting each other over a rifle while The Tramp hides.  No matter where he goes, though, the fighting men always turn so that the gun is pointing directly at him.  It's really funny stuff, in that great, timeless kind of way.  There are also some excellent practical effects involving the cabin being suspended on an icy cliff.

I usually lean toward Buster Keaton when it comes to silent comedies, but I'm not opposed to Chaplin.  He was an immensely talented comic and director.  I haven't actually seen a lot of Chaplin's films, and none of them since, I don't know, Intro to Film in college?  I should look into him a bit more.

Two-Way Stretch, by Robert Day, 1960
Two-Way Stretch is not a great comedy by any means, but it has a great premise and is worth watching if you're a fan of Peter Sellers.  That premise?  It's about a group of crooks living comfortably in prison, who hatch a scheme to break out, pull a heist, and break back into jail before anyone notices they're gone.  Unfortunately, a new warden arrives and tightens things up in the prison, so now they have to sneak around him.

It's a pretty clever premise, no?  The movie is just decent.  I do remember it better than Rope of Sand, which is apparently my new reference point now.  I liked Sellers, and my favorite jokes were early in the movie, when they show just how comfortable life for these prisoners is.  You know, I don't say this about many movies, but Two-Way Stretch would actually be a pretty good candidate for a remake.

When Eight Bells Toll, by Etienne Perier, 1971

Hey now, this is pretty awesome.  When Eight Bells Toll was initially intended to be a competitor with the highly successful James Bond series.  Of course, it didn't stand a chance, but you know what?  It's actually closer to a true 007 story than the Bond movies were at that point.

A young Anthony Hopkins, not long after his debut in A Lion in Winter, plays secret agent Phillip Calvert, on a mission to investigate a hijacked ship carrying a bunch of gold.  It's a fairly standard spy movie, but Hopkins is awesome in it.  He's suave and charming, and badass when necessary.  He even snaps a guy's neck in a pretty awesome way.  He has great dialogue, too.

In 1971, Diamonds are Forever came out, easily the lamest Bond movie yet (at the time, I mean, it may have been surpassed since).  Things had gotten campy and over-the-top ridiculous.  Of course, it was highly successful.  When Eight Bells Toll came out, it didn't do nearly as well, despite the fact that it was far superior.  It feels like a cool, low-tech spy movie (I prefer 'em low-tech), along the lines of the first 007 film, Dr. No.  It's totally worth watching.  In fact, of these four movies, it's the one I recommend the most.  I know The Gold Rush is a masterpiece, but When Eight Bells Toll is one of those little hidden gems.