That’s What They Want You To Think!
Executive Action was released 10 years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and thus is a film by those who remember the day and its aftermath so vividly. Executive Action blends fiction and historical fact into creating one possible scenario to who was responsible for the assassination of JFK, but one which the movie makes feel convincing. The film is a great companion piece to Oliver Stone’s JFK; Stone has stated Executive Action was a basis on inspiration for JFK and it’s not hard to see aspects of JFK within Executive Action. Like in JFK, there is much intercutting of archive footage and black & white flashbacks, while the military like score by Randy Edelman feels reminiscent of John William’s score to JFK.
Much of the film is comprised of engrossing documentary like discussions and presentations, making it like an adaptation of a stage play. Those behind the assassination in Executive Action are a small group of businessmen, political figures and former US Intelligence personnel. They spend much of the movie alone in a mansion and come off as people who are out of touch with common society, nor are they keen on civil rights or minorities. They’re like a secret society and are interested in their own agenda – an elite who believe it’s their duty to pull off an action such as assassinating individuals to preserve their interests; in fact it’s even stated this isn’t the first time any of them have taken part in an assassination; these are businessmen controlling the world. Will Geer plays a stereotypical looking southern businessman who looks a bit like Colonel Sanders, while Burt Lancaster’s menacing performance reminds me of his role of the evil business mogul J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success. These are cold-blooded, emotionless men and the entire film is deliberately acted in low key performances. Whereas JFK is a film driven by emotion, Executive Action is the opposite in this respect.
The film does an effective job at recreating 1963 with the fashions and cars on show and despite the low budget, there are aerial shots of Dealey Plaza with the appropriate cars on the road and a recreation the billboard sign on top of the book depository as it looked in 1963. My only downside to Executive Action is the film’s inconsistent pacing. The middle portion of the film drags as the story becomes less eventful, but the suspense builds up once the day of the assassination has arrived.
Executive Action was made during a period when paranoia/conspiracy thrillers where at their height and right during the Watergate scandal; yet has been swept under the rug of history as it is the type of film which would be easily dismissed by critics for being speculative and other such dirty words. Thus there is a taboo like joy which comes from watching a provocative, somewhat trashy film like this.
I also recommend watching the vintage featurette on the Executive Action DVD. During it the film’s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo states he didn’t believe in any conspiracy theories until he read the Warren Report and a dozen books on the subject and became convinced the president had been killed by bullets from two different angles. Likewise, Burt Lancaster tells of how he became increasingly convinced of a probable conspiracy when doing his research. It goes to show how easy it is to be swayed into believing the JFK conspiracy.
Of the major movie stars of the 20th century, one who has certainly secured his immortality with a succession of highly iconic films is Charlton Heston. Soylent Green was the last of these and the final film of what I like to call the Charlton Heston dystopian sci-fi trilogy along with Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man. Now that we have arrived in the future itself by meeting the timeline of Back to the Future Part II and with the dates of Blade Runner and Soylent Green being not far away let us bask in the dystopian wasteland Earth has become. Ok, maybe not quite.
Soylent Green was Edward G Robinson’s final film from a career spanning over 40 years, and the man is still as complete a pro as he ever was. Charlton Heston may be the main star but Robinson steals the show holding some of the best scenes in the film. Take the scene in which Robinson becomes emotional and cries at seeing beef for the first time in years; it takes a great actor to avoid such a scene becoming comical. Likewise, the interaction between Robinson and Heston is simply a pleasure to watch and his last moments on screen where some of his most affecting of his long career. This is also a role in which Robinson’s real-life personality comes through as a man of high culture and a lover of art. The apartment he shares with Heston is full of books, paint brushes, classical music is often played not to mention his character is Jewish. I do love this little sanctuary they have in a world in which crowds people are sleeping on the stairs outside their apartment. I also get the impression there is something more between them than just friendship? During the movie, they claim their love for each other in an un-ironic nature and speak intimately with each other about their personal feelings. Or is there simply just share a platonic love for each other as friends? Who knows?
There are only two uses of matte painting cityscapes throughout Soylent Green. The film shows how you can really create a believable world through the use of intimate on set shooting. I’m sure a remake of Soylent Green would feature a vast CGI city which would have none of the characters which is presented here. This is not a movie which is made for kids. Towards the end of the film, there are surprisingly horrifying scenes and of course there is the ending; an ending which has been spoiled by pop culture. The ending would have affected me more if I had not known it but are spoilers just a part of life?
The Fountain of Youth
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
Richard Burton hated this movie, calling it a “f***ing bloody, lousy, nothing film”: I must strongly disagree. Ash Wednesday paints a haunting picture of a plastic surgery hospital, with patients walking around like zombies with bandages over their heads in a last desperate bid to be young again. As Keith Baxter’s character puts it “we all simply refuse to accept reality”. One moment during the film is in which a group of patients are playing cards; reminds me of the ‘waxworks’ scene from Sunset Boulevard. Realistic or not, this whole section of the movie is eerie and effective. Even after Elizabeth Taylor has left the hospital there is this continuing sense of unease, as if she has just sold her soul to the devil; helped in part by Maurice Jarre’s music score. The movie’s theme of fading beauty is made all the more poignant since its Elizabeth Taylor of all people doing the role.
The first act of Ash Wednesday features graphic scenes of plastic surgery. Watching the film I didn’t know if they were real or just really convincing special effects. Nope, it turns out it is real footage with skin being cut open and plenty of exposed flesh in close up detail. I do wonder who is actually under the knife in this footage but it is an effectively put together sequence in which I believed Elizabeth Taylor’s character was the one undertaking plastic surgery.
The opening credits of the film feature a series of cut and paste photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda in an effort to make it appear they have been a married couple as they age over the years. Fonda being much older than Taylor in real life, these series of photos feature the two at the same age periods, so a photo of Fonda in the 30’s will be cut and paste with a picture of Taylor from the 50’s. It’s not entirely convincing but is neat to look at.
What I appreciate most about Ash Wednesday is just honest the storytelling is. Taylor’s husband played by Henry Fonda simply doesn’t love her anymore, there is no sexual attraction between the two them and they don’t satisfy each other’s needs anymore; yet he doesn’t come off as a jerk getting these points across. Untimely the two learn to accept this but not without having an understanding of each other and move on with their lives.
Ash Wednesday has yet to ever see the light of day on DVD, remaining VHS only.