Where The Money Is – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

I tried to keep my general disdain for boxing at bay for Somebody Up There Likes Me.

The Choice

With the ball back in Tim’s court, would we finally leave Paul Newman season behind? Steve McQueen appeared briefly in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and I have seen very few McQueen films. Not even The Great Escape, believe it or not. Sal Mineo was great last week too. He died tragically young in what was thought to be a botched robbery, and I’d be very keen to tackle a season of his work. Plus there’s the long mooted Color of Money which we’ve been planning to end Newman season on for weeks.

Bearing all that in mind, Tim picked… Where The Money Is, a thriller from 2000 starring Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino.

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Where The Money Is and me

Neeeeeever heard of it. The only things I knew going in were that it starred Paul n’ Linda, an has an eminently forgettable title.

Linda Fiorentino. That’s not a name you hear much these days. A quick google tells me that her last role was in 2009 in a direct to video movie. In fact, since Where The Money Is she is only credited in two things, both DTV. I recall hearing the scuttlebutt that she was ‘difficult’ to work with, but since the Weinstein (and others) revelations it’s become apparent that ‘difficult’ is frequently code for something else. I don’t know if that’s the case here or not, or possibly like Ken Wahl (who we saw in Fort Apache, The Bronx) she simply decided that the business wasn’t good for her. Or something else entirely.

Whatever it is, this film marks Linda Fiorentino’s last theatrically released film to date and so is interesting purely from that point of view. It also happens to be Paul Newman’s penultimate appearance on cinema screens. Last week we saw his second appearance, now we’re seeing his second to last.

IMDb says

Where The Money Is (2000): Old bank robber Henry, paralyzed from a stroke, is moved from a prison hospital to a retirement home, where Carol is a nurse. She doesn’t believe he’s paralyzed and sees him as a way out of her boring life. 6.2 stars.

I says

The main duo in this, Paul Newman’s Henry and Linda Fiorentino’s Carol, are joined by Dermot Mulroney – the first time he’s made an appearance in CRFC. It made me wonder if there are people who consider themselves fans of Dermot. I’m sure there must be, everyone’s taste is different and special etc etc etc, but I just find it very hard to imagine. To clarify, I don’t mean that he was bad in this, or is bad in general. This isn’t another Jonathan Rhys Meyers situation. He’s just… terribly uninteresting.

Even shirtless Newman can’t stand to look at Mulroney

The reason I’m starting with that is because this entire film is almost a Dermot Mulroney. It oozes bland late-90s aesthetic out of every frame. The plot is slightly undercooked, and despite threatening the occasional interesting avenue of digression manages to stay blinkered on its path. Henry is indeed faking his paralysis (shock!) to try and collect the money his late partner left for him. Nurse Carol is intrigued and looking for excitement. Her boyfriend Wayne (Henry, Carol and Wayne? Even the names are bland!) is a bit of a jerk. Or is he just not in love with her any more? Either way, when he discovers Carol and Henry are planning a heist he mystifyingly goes along with it because the film has steamrollered him entirely with its blandness.

Where’d she come from, where’d she go? Where’d she come from, Fiorentino?

But it’s not quite a Dermot Mulroney of a film. And the reason for that is because Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino are both really good. They don’t elevate this to anything special; it’s not a classic Paul Newman performance for the ages. But they’re both so entirely watchable that the whole thing is enjoyably mediocre rather than crushingly so.

At least they’re having fun…

The film was a box office failure, which isn’t a great surprise. I mentioned that it feels very late 90s, and I think even in 2000 it would have felt a little dated – it doesn’t have (for better or worse) the zip and zing that heist films developed post-Tarantino.

Lacking zip, if not a gun

It doesn’t ever get particularly tense or exciting. It just plods along doing its bland thing, leaving Paul Newman and Linda Fiorentino’s magnetism to do all the work.

The Verdict

After we finished the film, Tim and I had to have a bit of a google to work out the difference between Dermot Mulroney, Dylan McDermot and Dougray Scott. I imagine in a month or so I’ll have to google this film to work out the difference between it and various other late 90s/early noughties thrillers.

Coming Attractions

So far this year we have only watched films starring Paul Newman or Robert Redford. Allowing for few fallow weeks we’ll probably tackle seven more films before 2020… So it seems a mite churlish to break away from Newman before then.

@BornToPootle

Somebody Up There Likes Me – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

There was rumbling in Fort Apache, The Bronx.

The Choice

It was back to my choice, and so finally I chose The Color of Money so we could end Paul Newman season and move on to Tom Cruise. Right?

Right…?

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope.

It occurred to me that we really couldn’t finish a hefty Neman season and not tackle his big break. His first film was The Silver Chalice, which apparently was so bad that he took out adverts apologising for it (and now I reaaaaaaaaaaallllllly wanna see it). But the film that catapulted him to widespread acclaim was boxing biopic Somebody Up There Likes Me. Would somebody round at Tim’s flat like it? We’ll find out.

Somebody 01

Somebody Up There Likes Me and me

I knew a little about this going in. The lead role was originally meant for James Dean, but his untimely death paved the way for Paul Newman. I’m sure Newman’s break would have come soon enough anyway, but it’s a curious twist of fate that his star rose in such a tragic way.

And as mentioned above, it’s a boxing biopic. I don’t like boxing. I don’t like it at all. I haven’t seen Raging Bull (though I did see Jake Lamotta playing the bartender in The Hustler…). I have only seen the first Rocky film. I haven’t seen The Fighter, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby, When We Were Kings or any of the other notable boxing films. But here we are with an almost-guaranteed Newman-half-naked movie and an important one in his filmography, so I felt it was unavoidable.

IMDb says

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956): Boxer Rocky Graziano’s biopic, based on his autobiography, from childhood to his World Middleweight Championship title win at age 28 in 1947. 7.5 stars.

I says

Welp, it’s definitely a boxing movie! Fortunately most of the onscreen pugilism is saved for the climactic bout, and instead we spend most of the film following Newman’s bad boy who just can’t seem to turn a corner as he tumbles from the streets to juvie to prison to the army back to prison.

 

After a few minutes spent getting used to the thick Bronx accent, Newman’s pretty strong in the lead, gamely helped by some great make up as his chiselled face gets slowly puffier when his boxing career takes off.

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Stay Puft Marshmallow (New)Man

 

There’s not a lot in here that’s going to surprise anyone – Newman’s Rocky Graziano doesn’t play by the rules, and falls into boxing purely to earn a quick buck (while on the lam, to bribe an army officer he lamped – he’s not the smartest cat). There’s an abusive father, a doting, distraught mother, a collection of hoodlums (including an excellent Sal Minoa looking for all the world like a young David Krumholtz).

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There’s a girl, and wouldn’t you know it, she doesn’t like boxing. And then, much later than I expected actually, there’s the pressure to take a dive and all the fallout you might expect and might have seen in any number of sporting biopics.

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There’s a girl…

Without Newman in the centre of it, this would be fairly dull stuff, but his energy is always up and he dominates the screen. His face, still beautiful when the black eyes and puffiness starts, was absolutely made for film. It’s strange to see his break coming in a role that’s not quite aligned to many of his classic performances – he’s all instinct and muscle here, not like the lightning-witted Hud, Butch, Gondorff and Mussburger. But Paul Newman could do it all, really. He was the likeable bad boy, the stand up guy, the man who relies on his wits in the moment, and the man who has a hundred long-term plots running in his mind at once. It would be fascinating seeing the intended James Dean version of this, but I can’t see how he could have held the film together more assuredly than Paul Newman does.

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There’s still a girl…

The Verdict

This is the second best boxing film I’ve ever seen! And while that also means it’s by default the worst, that’s not to say it’s bad. There’s nothing that’ll surprise you, but a great central performance an plenty of game support from the rest of the cast makes this more than just a celebration of people hitting each other in the face.

Coming Attractions

I mean… maybe it’ll be more Paul Newman? Who can say? Funnily enough, Steve McQueen has a very brief supporting role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, and appeared opposite Newman again in The Towering Inferno. So we could go off on a McQueen tangent and then wind up back with Newman. Just spitballing, y’know…

@BornToPootle

Fort Apache, The Bronx – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched The Hudsucker Proxy, and it’s still a doozy.

The Choice

Tim and I have an unofficial agreement to end Paul Newman Season on The Color of Money and swap to Tom Cruise for a while. It was Tim’s choice so the decision very much rested with him. We’ve tackled a fair old chunk of Paul Newman’s filmography now, and while there are some well-regarded films left still, I thought perhaps this might be the moment to jump ship before we get stuck in more mediocre territory.

Not so! Tim fancied more Newman, and chose Fort Apache, The Bronx.

Fort Apache 01

Fort Apache, The Bronx and me

I hadn’t heard of this film before scouring Paul Newman’s filmography for CRFC. In fact, having scoured his filmography a few times over the last 6 months or so, it was only recently that I really looked beyond the first two words. I’d been assuming this was a Western. I’m not a massive Western fan (that’s more Tim’s forte), and so the thought of a Western (from 1981, no less) was really not tickling my fancy. But lo and behold, after reading more than the first two words of the title I finally twigged. Turns out it’s a thoroughly depressing-sounding cop film, not a western.

Oh great joy, oh endless delight.

IMDb says

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981): In New York, South Bronx’s main police precinct is nicknamed Fort Apache by its employees who feel like troopers surrounded by hostiles in a wild west isolated outpost. 6.7 stars.

I says

I tried to make myself a little better-informed before writing this; I wanted to watch the documentary Rubble Kings, but unfortunately it seems to have vanished from Netflix. So I will add a caveat now that I really know nothing of The Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s other than The Warriors drew heavily (and stylistically) on some of the gang culture.

Fort Apache 02

Rubble in The Bronx

The reason I wanted to be better-informed is because the film starts with a disclaimer, one that was added as an attempt to mollify the sentiment of residents of The Bronx towards the depiction of African American and Hispanic characters in the film. Spoiler: they ain’t the good guys. Here’s that disclaimer in full:

The picture you are about to see is a portrayal of the lives of two policemen working out of a precinct in the South Bronx, New York. Because the story involves police work it does not deal with the law abiding members of the community, nor does it dramatize the efforts of the individuals and groups who are struggling to turn the Bronx around.

Indeed, a character almost says this verbatim during the film too, but that doesn’t affect the overwhelmingly negative portrait of the area’s Black, Puerto Rican and Latino communities. That’s not to say the police are all saints – to paraphrase a bigot, there are very bad people on both sides. It’s just there aren’t really glimmers of much else from the Bronx residents. So we are where we are… This was felt to be offensive at the time (there were protests at the film’s release – unsurprisingly the prologue was not enough to counterbalance things), and that’s only aged poorly.

Hasselblad/Flextight X5/Transparent

What about everything else?

I’d been expecting an overwhelmingly depressing experience but, while not exactly uplifting, the film does nip along at a decent pace and there are a few flashes of lightness. I could have spent more time with the grizzled desk sergeant Pantuzzi as he out-quips the precinct’s new chief. Newman is excellent (although seems about 10 years too old according to the script) as the more experienced of our two main cops and Ken Wahl is a likeable foil.

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Wahl and Newman: Acres of chin

Across the board there are strong performances – Pam Grier is fearsome as the drugged up serial killer that kicks the film off by assassinating two rookie cops, and Rachel Ticotin has a particularly harrowing standout moment that I won’t spoil.

Fort Apache 04

It’s less harrowing in colour

For all that though, it falls between two stalls. Parts of the plot (Pam Grier’s role most notably) kind of seem bolted on from a different film. While the dramatic tension of the cops having a bunker mentality as a cop killer stalks the streets is a fairly playbook move and perhaps explains some of the poor decision-making on the part of the cops, it could be fairly well excised without harming the meat of the film (a burgeoning romance between Newman and Ticotin, dirty cops and conscience-wrestling, policing a community on the edge of riot).

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Fear Grier

On the other hand, there’s the whiff of the generic about things. In fact it was a court case that had the most damning indictment of the film’s shortcomings. The writer of the 1976 book Fort Apache sued the film studio for ripping off his novel. He argued that “both the book and the film begin with the murder of a black and a white policeman with a handgun at close range; both depict cockfights, drunks, stripped cars, prostitutes and rats; both feature as central characters third- or fourth-generation Irish policemen who live in Queens and frequently drink; both show disgruntled, demoralized police officers and unsuccessful foot chases of fleeing criminals”. But the court ruled that these are stereotypical ideas and so found in the studio’s favour.

Oh, and Paul Newman gets his torso out again.

The Verdict

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, though the racial stereotyping issues that were noted in 1981 sure don’t look any better now. I’m still keen to see Rubble Kings and find out more about what was going on in The Bronx generally at the time though, so count that as a win.

Coming Attractions

We’ve had a few fallow weeks recently, and so with the excellent Hudsucker Proxy and now this being better than expected, I’m starting to feel the Newman love again. We’ll definitely jump ship soon, but maybe not quite yet…

@BornToPootle