FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Thunderbirds

By BrianOrndorf

July 26th, 2004

“Thunderbirds” is the big screen adaptation of a 1960s television show that featured marionettes and lo-fi adventure. So how do the filmmakers spruce up the franchise for today’s kids? By replacing all the puppets and using the “Spy Kids” franchise as their guide. A good looking, but ultimately misguided production, “Thunderbirds are go” again, but will the kids care?


Billionaire Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton, in basically a cameo) is the founder of International Rescue, a team comprised of his heroic family who fly around the world in futuristic machines they call Thunderbirds, and save people from harm. When an entity known as The Hood (Ben Kingsley) attempts to hijack the Thunderbirds to use them for his evil plans, the Tracys soon find themselves stranded in outer space. Only the youngest member of the family, Alan (Brady Corbet, “Thirteen”), and his two friends (Soren Fulton and Vanessa Anne Hudgens) are left to save the day, calling in a family friend, Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles), for help.

It’s one thing to turn animated television shows into feature films, like “Scooby-Doo,” where the appeal lies beyond the painted frame, and has the ability to tap into something else. On the other hand, the 1960s series “Thunderbirds” had the reputation of being a mediocre adventure show, only remaining an irresistible curiosity because it was performed entirely with marionettes. So it makes sense to completely drop the puppet element for the new feature film adaptation, right?

Besides potty humor, the biggest irritant found in family films is their often tenacious grip on formulas and trends. It took about ten full years for Hollywood to get “Home Alone” out of its system, and once the “Spy Kids” franchise took off in 2001, forget it; it’s going to be another ten years before we see the last of cute kids using gadgets and tomfoolery to elude trouble. “Thunderbirds are go” again in 2004 purely because of the Robert Rodriguez trilogy, and the filmmakers aren’t too concerned with hiding their theft.

The plot for the new “Thunderbirds” is basically a larger-scale replica of “Spy Kids,” again removing the experienced secret agent adults from the picture for most of the film so the kids alone can rise to the challenge and learn some valuable lessons, as well as use neato gadgets to save the world. It’s tiring to see such larceny, especially when the series itself focused on multigenerational teamwork and family to build adventure. “Thunderbirds” is aimed squarely at 8 year-olds, which in and of itself isn’t an evil thing, but the story could’ve used a fresh coat of paint. However, lackluster director Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: Insurrection,” “Clockstoppers”) just can’t be bothered to color outside the lines even a smidge to add some oxygen to the proceedings, which flirts with pointless slapstick and cartoon sound effects to fill up an entirely too long running time of 85 minutes.

What the new “Thunderbirds” does have in its favor is a considerable budget to sell the often elaborate and beautiful primary colored CGI that litters the film, including the visualization of the Tracys’ secret South Pacific island hideout, which looks lovely. There’s also a dash of grand acting talent to help cauterize the wounds left behind by some of the shrill pre-teen acting found here. Ben Kingsley seems to be having a ball as The Hood, reveling in the film’s highly stylized approach and the chance to make a film that his grandchildren could see. I also enjoyed Sophia Myles’s elegant touch on Lady Penelope, adding a dash of English class to a role that isn’t clearly explained to the audience, unless you’re a diligent student of “Thunderbirds” lore. As Jeff Tracy, either Bill Paxton is doing his best to mimic the marionette style of acting with his wooden approach, or he’s just having a bad day on the job. I couldn’t tell.

Scored with gusto by Hans Zimmer, and featuring a sparkling set design by John Beard, “Thunderbirds” is actually very entertaining when it settles down in full-on adventure mode. But Frakes doesn’t trust himself, and tries too hard to fit the weird motifs of the classic “Thunderbirds” series into a modern family film execution. What’s here is promising, but if the Thunderbirds decide to “go” again, the filmmakers should involve the whole family, the way this story was intended to be.

My rating: C+