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FOWLER’S FLIX 02.23.15: OSCAR BLUES

A trio of astronauts won't play NASA's game of fraud in the underrated CAPRICORN ONE.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - While so many pseudo-cinematic prognosticators were busy updating any and every available social media outlet with their useless Academy Award cheers and jeers, not really having any horse in the race, I instead decided to take a look back at some Oscar has-beens, never-weres and shoulda-beens that have recently been reissued on Blu-ray, if only to offer a little bit more of a personal perspective on the night that Hollywood pats itself on the back a little more aggressively than usual.

One title that, when originally released, was immediately bestowed as an instant classic is 1981’s On Golden Pond (Shout! Factory). The ensemble of Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn and Jane Fonda was an early 80s casting dream come true, but, over the time, the film has seemingly just faded into black. And it’s a real crying shame because it holds up today just as well as it did 30 or so years ago.

Having never seen Pond before, I had no expectations, but the story of an elderly couple’s (probable) last summer on their vaunted vacation spot is a real slow-burn page-turner, with the chemistry of Fonda and Hepburn the glue that keeps the picture emotionally together. While by today’s standards, the story of their relationship would be almost melodramatic overkill, the addition of Jane Fonda as their erstwhile bitter daughter dropping off her soon-to-be stepson (Doug McKeon) with them is the true meat of the matter and the bond these three outcasts form to create a makeshift family does more than tug at the heartstrings—it outright snaps them.

Fonda and Hepburn justifiably won Best Actor and Actress Oscars for their troubles, but the film lost its nod for Best Picture to the also-seemingly forgotten Chariots of Fire. It was a fair race, especially in a year that included Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds and Atlantic City.

Shakespearian adaptations have always been a dime a dozen, but few have honestly reimagined and repurposed the bard’s work—while remaining wholly faithful, mind you—quite like Kenneth Branagh has, especially with his gritty, near action-flick take on Henry V (Shout! Factory), another recent re-release that was a new view for me.

Directed by and starring Branagh, his take on the King is an evocatively passionate one, with Henry leading his people into a brutal and bloody battle to conquer France. While previous adaptations tend to be single spotlight affairs, loaded with speeches and monologues and soliloquies, this version goes one step further by adding enough action that would keep any 6th grader forced to do a book report on it wide awake to get the paper turned in just in time.

Henry V lost both Best Director and Best Actor nominations, but managed to score a golden statue for Best Costume Design which, hey, at least it’s something, but, still, it was an ominous precursor to a career full of Academy snubs for Branagh, most notably for his damn near perfect adaptation of Hamlet and his dead-on inhabitation of Sir Laurence Olivier (who had also portrayed Henry V on film, natch) in My Week With Marilyn.

While Olivier won (and lost) his fair share of Oscars, perhaps the biggest surprise of his career was the nomination for his essay of elderly Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman in Franklin J. Schaffner’s blocky adaptation of Ira Levin’s schlocky sci-fi tome The Boys From Brazil (Shout! Factory). His performance—stacked up against Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengele—is far more nuanced and moving than it really has any right to be, treating the material with a far more dignified repose than it deserves.

The aforementioned Nazi hunter Lieberman has spent his life tracking down the last of the Third Reich to great success. Meanwhile, in South America, those remnants have formed a conspiratorial community, with their new final plan for planetary domination ready to roll: unleashing around a hundred Hitler clones into an unsuspecting world. Sure, it’s a silly thriller, but I can only imagine how much more different it would be perceived today if Olivier had won the Oscar instead of Jon Voight in Coming Home. Maybe that would have been the gravitas it needed to give sci-fi and other genre fare the push to be included in the Awards, and not just in the special effects category.

Finally, after the Red Dirt-ready conspira-tainment of The Boys from Brazil, I couldn’t help but not mention one such case as 1978’s Capricorn One (Timeless Media Group). Depicting the fraudulent manned landing on Mars and the ensuing government takedown of those that won’t comply with the lie, it was quite a deft thriller that truly should’ve gotten a little bit more respect.

Between the 70s all-star cast (Elliot Gould! James Brolin! Hal Holbrook! OJ Simpson!) and the very convincing special effects (it’s easy to see how Hollywood can fake a moon-landing with the right budget), Capricorn One was nominated for a few Saturns, but was totally ignored by the Academy at a time when the world needed its cynicism the most.

Guess the story of Hollywood frauds faking a space-career just hit way too close to home with the filmmaking royalty of the time. Here’s to hoping for the eventual remake—both the film and the Mars landing.

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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