Seven Years in Tibet, Shaft (1971), A Shot in the Dark

Seven Years in Tibet (1997) *** Heinrich Harrer is not a nice man. Driven, you might say, but overall not the most gregarious of individuals. His single-minded mission: scale a particularly difficult Alps peak in Austria. Of course, when he does so he abandons his girlfriend and their unborn child, but hey – you have to have goals in life, right? But this isn’t a simple tale of a man finding himself on the mountain. You see, poor Heinrich’s dream of scaling the peak isn’t realized. World War II breaks out and he’s taken off the mountain by Allied forces and imprisoned. He breaks out and attempts to visit Tibet, completely closed off to foreigners. Starving and cold, he eventually gains admittance, and through luck somehow becomes friends with the young Dalai Lama. It’s the relationship between the two of them that changes Heinrich from a bitter, selfish, and self-absorbed young man into a diligent, thoughtful and courageous adult. At the Dalai Lama’s bidding, Heinrich introduces movies to the Tibetans, and he teaches the young spiritual leader all he can about the Western world.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about this true-to-life story is the casting of Brad Pitt as Heinrich. The man with the six-pack abs is not usually the first choice when it comes to the pensive roles, but Pitt pulls off the feat with style and a real sense of class. What’s more, his character’s transformation is gradual and perfectly plausible; it’s not one of those one-minute-he’s-a-jerk, the-next-minute-he’s-a-saint transformations. This isn’t easy for an actor to do, especially one with Pitt’s maligned reputation. Mix in delightful cinematography with sumptuous scenes of Tibet itself, and you got yourself a fine movie. Don’t think of it as overburdened drama, think of it as a spiritual odyssey. The true purpose and nature of this odyssey, however, remains unknown to our protagonist until he visits the ancient city of Tibet.

Shaft (1971) *** Richard Roundtree helped define the role of African American males in the movies during the 1970s. Along with such luminaries as Isaac Hayes, Jim Brown, and Fred Williamson, Roundtree’s tough characters gave a lot of audiences – blacks in particular – someone gritty to root for. “Shaft,” of course, is the movie that really typifies that time period. Roundtree’s John Shaft really IS a tough guy, and in his first film he’s hot on the case of a kidnapped daughter of a local crimelord. This film is just smothered in atmosphere, always important in movies that try to harken back to the days when film noir was the norm, not the exception. Shaft’s stuck between the mobsters who both want to control him and use his services and the police who want to roust him. The race card’s played a few times here, of course, but remember – it WAS 1971, after all. Samuel L. Jackson’s scheduled to reprise the character this year, and I think you can expect the same grit and gusto from the suave Jackson that we saw from Roundtree in the original.

A Shot in the Dark (1964) A Shot in the Dark came out the same year as The Pink Panther, the film that introduced the world to the bumbling French detective Inspector Clouseau. In this second installment, a man has been murdered and all the evidence points directly to the beautiful Elke Sommer (including the murder weapon, which she’s holding as she stands over the body!). Clouseau, of course, insists she’s innocent and that he will prove it! Which just accelerates the process of driving his boss (Herbert Lom) insane. Clouseau, determined that Sommer is innocent, releases her from jail, thinking she’ll lead him to the real culprit. Of course, other people die along the way, and each time Sommer’s put back into jail, Clouseau doggedly releases her. The best part of the film? A scene in a nudist colony, where the bashful Clouseau must find Sommer and talk to her – when the police arrive to investigate yet another murder, they both leave the colony sans clothing. The sight of them driving through the streets of Paris completely nude (although we don’t see anything naughty, of course) is priceless.

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