Streets Of Fire – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 43: Streets Of Fire

Streets of Fire 03

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.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Aviator, a Howard Hughes biopic that reaffirmed my ambivalence towards biopics.

The Shortlist

There’s only one film on the list this time:

Streets Of Fire (1984)

The Choice

A mutual friend of mine and Tim’s suggested we catch this at the cinema as part of CRFC, and having looked it up briefly, there was no way we could refuse.

The Link

Streets of Fire 02

Willem Dafoe’s face is just amazing. What’s even more amazing is that he has succeeded in playing some non-villain roles with that face. And he’s been great in them too – Sgt Elias in Platoon is the obvious one. But then it turns out he’s a stage actor, with links to experimental theatre groups, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he can do pretty much anything.

His filmography highlights his love of experimenting too – there are the big things like Platoon, Spider-Man etc. But then there’s the weirder stuff too – Nymphomaniac, Antichrist, The Last Temptation Of Christ. It’s hard to think of another actor who’s career spans such a broad range of projects, from kids’ animation to erotica to Hollywood blockbuster to arthouse indie.

Streets Of Fire and me

Never seen it, never heard of it. A cursory glance tells me it’s from the director of The Warriors, which is exciting. The Warriors is ace. And Jim Steinman is involved, which makes me think of Meatloaf and later era Sisters Of Mercy. And I like that very much. There are also biker gangs.

I’m trying hard not to get too excited.

IMDB says

A mercenary is hired to rescue his ex-girlfriend, a singer who has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang. 6.7 stars.

I says

Streets of Fire 04

Let’s be very clear up front: Streets Of Fire is not very good. Not very good at all.

Michael Pare as Tom Cody is just awful, and unfortunately is the lead. It’s not that he’s wooden, he aspires to wood. That’s not the end of the problems though. The editing is jarring, the action stilted, the costumes mind-bending. It makes very little sense.

And yet…

It starts with the words: ‘A Rock and Roll Fable.’ Swiftly followed by ‘In another place and another time’. And then the Jim Steinman-penned Nowhere Fast starts. The film takes place in a kind of 50s/80s hybrid place that could be a city, could be the whole of the world. When the main characters drive from one place to another it goes from day to night and back to day again. Two of the leads are ex-military and it’s clear there have been wars recently. Everything has a burnt out look about it.

It has a certain style. It’s the first draft of something great. It’s Mad Max Fury Road made by amateurs.

Which is weird because by this point Walter Hill had already directed six films, including The Warriors and 48 Hrs, so plainly he knew what he was doing.

There are stories from the casting that mean things could have been very different – Tom Cruise was the first choice for the lead, but accepted a different role just before being signed up. But then again the role of the plucky mechanic McCoy, the standout performance in the film from Amy Madigan, was written as and intended for a man (interesting, but not surprising, that the only decent female role in the film was meant for a man).

They originally wanted a Bruce Springsteen song to close the film, but two days to the deadline and the rights didn’t come through. They then approached Jim Steinman to write a couple of songs in a couple of days, and I think that was a blessing. Steinman’s songs are as over the top and histrionic as any of his output with Meatloaf. The closing song is called ‘Tonight Is What It Mean To Be Young’ for god’s sake.

Streets of Fire 06

Here’s the chorus of Nowhere Fast:

‘You and me we’re goin’ nowhere slowly

And we’ve gotta get away from the past

There’s nothin’ wrong with goin’ nowhere, baby

But we should be goin’ nowhere fast’

Great, slightly silly, stuff. And that’s what the film is like. The music sets the tone. Why is evil biker Willem Dafoe wearing fishing waders? Why does he walk back into the fire? Why is Bill Paxton… like that? Why does Tom Cody right hook his sweetheart? Listen to the music and it all starts to make sense.

Almost.

Streets of Fire 01

It almost makes sense…

The Verdict

Terrible… but enticing. While the film is clearly going nowhere, at least it’s going nowhere fast.

Coming Attractions

We’re back to normal service now. It’s Tim’s choice and he’s got a surprisingly good cast to choose from: Dafoe, Diane Lane, Ed Begley jr, Grand Bush, Paxton… And in 2008 a sequel to Streets Of Fire came out, also starring Michael Pare… just sayin’.

@BornToPootle

The Aviator – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 42: The Aviator

The_Aviator_Poster

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.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. And it made me feel young again.

The Shortlist

Once again we’re bending things slightly and attempting to get to a specific film. We’re going to see Streets Of Fire at the cinema and want to include that as part of the CRFC. So it’s my choice and we need a film which has shared actors with both The Fifth Element and Streets of Fire.

Turns out that’s quite a small pool (I have discounted a few that looked bobbins, fyi).

Trespass (1992)

The Aviator (2004)

Chaplin (1992)

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Basquiat (1996)

The Choice

I’ve seen Chaplin and The Aviator before; I’m well up for a Chaplin rewatch – I remember Robert Downey jr’s performance being sensational – and I only watched The Aviator in fits and spurts while doing other things so need to reappraise properly. Tim has seen Lucky Number Slevin recently so I guess I’ll have to watch that on my own time.

Trespass stars both Ice T and Ice Cube which makes me happier than it should. It sounds like a very standard actiony thrillery thing but there’s the lingering sense we can do better. Basquiat is a more unusual choice – neither of us are particularly keen on modern art, but the cast is pretty exciting…

In the end the lure of Di Caprio and Scorcese won me over. Time to take a proper look at The Aviator.

The Link

Ian holm

The man knows how to rock a bow tie. Ian Holm in The Aviator

Ian Holm is the common ground between The Fifth Element and The Aviator. I listed his performance as one of the key things that makes The Fifth Element so great – he has an almost childish naivety that makes for some excellent comedy. It’s sometimes hard to remember that he’s the same man that gave me nightmares by spewing that horrible white porridgy stuff in Alien. He’s never just a safe pair of hands, he always seems to bring something more to a role.

It’s a shame that I’ve never seen him on stage, as I think he’d be spectacular. I can envisage him and Anthony Sher fighting over similar roles… Actually, having had that thought I’ve looked up his stage career – after a bout of stage fright in 1976 he has apparently only returned to the stage a handful of times. Oh to have seen his Lear in 1997!

The Aviator and me

As I mentioned above, I have seen this before but without really paying it proper attention. The only thing I really remember is Cate Blanchett’s accent.

I’m a big fan of the Leo/Marty pairing. I’m not generally a fan of crime films for some reason, but The Departed has become one of my favourite films. I loved Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street too. The physical comedy that Scorcese gets out of Di Caprio in the latter is sensational.

The film is about Howard Hughes, I recall that much. Hughes is one of those names that I know more from pop culture spoofs than anything else – Mr Burns’ Spruce Moose, Tony Stark’s look (more recently Tony Stark’s dad’s look)… To be honest I get him a bit muddled with Howard Hawks. But then I get Eva Braun and Ava Gardner muddled too, so what do I know? Actually, having googled a bit it turns out that Hughes and Hawks co-directed at least one film. So that doesn’t help me much.

IMDB says

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. 7.5 stars.

I says

the-aviator-still

This is how we started the film: optimistic, eyes to the horizon…

Well IMDB is right, it’s certainly a biopic depicting the early years yadda yadda yadda.

It’s a sumptuously made biopic depicting yadda yadda yadda. The costume budget alone was 2 million dollars.

It’s also an interestingly shot biopic depicting yadda yadda yadda. The colour of the film changes to reflect the film colourisation techniques of the 20s to 40s.

And Cate’s accent (playing Katherine Hepburn) is brilliant. She’s a hair’s breadth away from being in The Hudsucker Proxy, which is almost the highest level of praise I can heap on anyone.

It’s hard to get excited though. Maybe if I were more interested in aviation? But the sight of Hughes obsessing and spending millions pursuing his passion is a bit… dull. And when the inevitable downturn comes around the 90 minute mark it feels like it could all be wrapped up in 20 minutes. But somehow there’s another hour and twenty to go.

Di Caprio is fine, he’s clearly perfecting that intense, wounded stare that’s served him well over the last decade and a bit – he almost seems to vibrate with internal rage or sorrow. The supporting cast is as fantastic as one might expect – Ian Holm is in excellent quasi naive form as a scientist out of his depth in a memorable breast-measuring scene. The likes of Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin and Frances Conroy give everything a boost too.

Maybe it’s a biopic thing. If I’d chosen Chaplin perhaps I’d be saying exactly the same – fine performances but ultimately not very affecting. But I’ve come out of it knowing more about Hughes than I knew going in. And from a bit of cursory googling it looks like they haven’t taken too many liberties with the truth.

I just hope I remember it slightly more this time.

aviator3

… and this is how we ended it. It was a hot day, alright?

The Verdict

Unlike the Spruce Goose, the film never really takes flight. But with 11 Oscar nominations to its credit, maybe it’s just not quite to my taste.

Coming Attractions

We’re heading to the cinema! Streets Of Fire at the Prince Charles Cinema to be precise. Because my world needs more Jim Steinman. Everyone’s world needs more Jim Steinman. It’s possible I’m also going to the Bat Out Of Hell musical in a couple of weeks…

@BornToPootle

The Fifth Element – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 41: The Fifth Element

Fifth element 01

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.

Previously On…

Last up was Silverado. It was jolly good fun indeed. The kind of film the word ‘rollicking’ was invented to describe. Even Kevin Costner had a good go, bless ‘im.

The Shortlist

It’s a very short shortlist this time. Here it is:

The Fifth Element (1997)

That’s the lot.

The Choice

We decided a few weeks ago that we wanted to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. And so here we are. We’re not going to make a habit of this sort of thing, as the free flowing nature of the CRFC is part of the appeal. But more on that later.

The Link

Brion James

Brion James in The Fifth Element

Brion James is the shared star. Despite being uncredited in Silverado (most of his part was left on the cutting room floor apparently), he made a notable impression. He’s one of those great character actors that’s in an awful lot of stuff (over 170 credits on IMDb), but often on the sidelines or as a villain. I know him best from either The Fifth Element itself or as Leon in Bladerunner, but I’m keen to get back to more of his work in future choices.

This is sad – he died in August 1999 at just 54. Also in August 1999 he said the following in an interview:

“I think now, in my 50s, with Robert Duvall, Albert Finney and Gene Hackman, those guys are getting up there in their 60s, it’s my time. And I’m making sure that I push myself into their slot. So, my best work’s coming.”

 

The Fifth Element and me

I missed The Fifth Element on the big screen. I was 16 and into sci-fi, so I’ve no idea what I was thinking. I seem to remember the press was fairly negative about it, but that wasn’t something I paid much attention to. I just didn’t go to the cinema that much then. Idiot.

Somewhere around 18 months later (I thought sooner, but just double checked some dates) I was in Our Price in Tunbridge Wells, where I’d end up working for a couple of years after leaving school, and saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Fifth Element in a 2-for-£12 deal on VHS. Money changed hands, I went home and watched them, and fell absolutely in love with The Fifth Element (and, for a long time, Milla Jovovich). I’ve watched it fairly regularly since, though not for a good five years or so. Does it hold up? Let’s find out.

IMDB says

In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr Zorg at bay. 7.7 stars.

I says

I’m going to break this up into four elements of the film. And then another. A fifth… element.

Firstly, and most importantly, if you ever play a drinking game while watching the Fifth Element, and one of you has to drink when someone says Korben, the other on Dallas, pick Dallas for the love of god. I chose poorly. It’s all plain sailing until Chris Tucker turns up and has lines such as “Korben Korben Korben Korben my man.”

Secondly, when doing a bit of research for this I noticed that Milla Jovovich was nominated for a Razzie for her performance. A RAZZIE! I spotted that before the rewatch, and wondered whether my teenage hormones had blinded me. I remembered her being pitch-perfect. Happy to confirm I was correct (unless my thirty-something hormones are blinding me). Milla is the absolute heart and soul of the film, and grapples with the made-up language, action set pieces and preposterous costumes with expertise.

Thirdly, yeah, there’s some weird stuff. A LOT of characters ogle Milla. Like, a lot. It’s not that much of a surprise that the director, Luc Besson, started production of the film in a relationship with the actress who played Diva Plavalaguna, but ended it in a relationship with Milla. His hormones were quite clearly raging too. And of course she is the most manic pixie dream girl of them all. And yes, I’m sure the Supreme Being needed to be given a make-up box. Though I suppose you could argue that that says something about the priest’s inexperience with women.

Fourthly, I could watch Ian Holm and Gary Oldman in this until the cows come home. Particularly Ian Holm. He is an absolute delight.

Fifthly, it’s just fantastic. The music, a kind of weird big-beat vibe, is somewhat dated, but everything else is absolutely fresh. The world reminds me a little of Brazil – everything’s full-to-bursting. People show up for one line and deliver characters you want whole spin-off films about. It’s telling that just this week the long-awaited sequel to the game Beyond Good and Evil was unveiled in a CGI trailer, and it’s clearly inspired by the world of The Fifth Element. 20 years on and it’s getting better and better. Except Tricky. Tricky is terrible.

The Verdict

Fifth element 02

Leeloo Dallas Multipass! Autowash! Dot! It’s a b- a b- a b-! Big badaboom! Chicken good!

Apart from the music (and Tricky), it’s a timeless masterpiece. It’s a joy, from beginning to end.

Coming Attractions

Okay okay okay, so you know earlier where I mentioned we weren’t going to try and get to specific films any more? Well The Prince Charles Cinema is showing Streets Of Fire on the 16th, and a mutual friend of mine and Tim’s has mooted an outing and suggested making it part of the CRFC. So I kind of said yes.

That means we need to find a linking film between The Fifth Element and Streets of Fire and squeeze in a viewing this week. It’s definitely do-able, but there are only a few viable options…

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Silverado

Film 40: Silverado

Silverado 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost 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.

Previously on…

Last time we watched Wyatt Earp, in which Kevin Costner spent three hours ten minutes running up behind people from out of shot and clubbing them over the head. And occasionally shooting them. And being generally grumpy. It was a laugh riot.

The Shortlist

This is unusual in that we’re trying to get to a specific film for next week. So rather than take my pick from the filmographies of Costner, Hackman, Quaid, Madsen, Rosselini, Sizemore (who has 30 projects currently in development, who knew!) and a bar-room full of notable character actors, I can only choose things that will be a direct conduit to The Fifth Element. So bearing that in mind, here’s the shortlist:

Bringing Up Bobby (2011)

Big Night (1996)

Silverado (1985)

Planet Terror (2007)

True Romance (1993)

Rush Hour (1998)

The Choice

I had two main conflicting thoughts here. Tim doesn’t like doing things by halves, so when it’s his turn to choose he looks through the entire filmographies of pretty much everyone. And any film he hasn’t heard of he’ll read about. I’m slightly more laissez-faire, and if there’s a lot of choice at a glance I won’t get too bogged down in the bit-part players.

Given that the next choice is already made for us – The Fifth Element – it means he doesn’t have to waste his life spend the time doing this. So I could pick something that would otherwise have given him nightmares because of the incredible casts, and help ease his blood pressure. Alternatively, isn’t that a waste of a great cast? Why pick Big Night, and then not let him use Stanley Tucci or Tony Shaloub? Silverado has a ton of great names in, as does True Romance.

Even Bringing Up Bobby, which neither of us had ever heard of, has a brilliant cast – it’s Famke Janssen’s directorial/writing debut so I imagine there are a few favours going on.
So, like the song says, it’s tricky. I’ve seen True Romance and Planet Terror before. Tim’s also seen Rush Hour and Silverado. But all of these are on the table for a rewatch….

Ultimately I narrowed it down to Silverado and Big Night, and, seeing as we just watched a disappointing Lawrence Kasdan western starring Kevin Costner, I opted for Silverado. It’s a Lawrence Kasdan western starring Kevin Costner.

Silverado and me

Whilst I’d heard of Silverado, up until I added it to a shortlist a couple of weeks ago I thought it was a classic-era Western. A John Wayne or James Stewart vehicle. Or maybe a musical – there’s something about the name that wants to be sung.

But it’s neither of those, it’s an 80s film with Kevins Kline and Costner, John Cleese, Jeff Goldlum and a raft of other notables. There are three or four shared actors with Wyatt Earp (the official link I’ve picked is Jeff Fahey), and for The Fifth Element it’s Brion James.

IMDb Says

A misfit bunch of friends come together to right the injustices which exist in a small town. 7.2 stars.

Silverado 03

I Says

Like Wyatt Earp last week this was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. He also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and oh boy am I pleased that Silverado is closer to the latter than the former. Where Earp was ponderous Silverado is light as a feather. There’s a blend of comedy and action very reminiscent of Indiana Jones, with Kevin Kline stealing the show as a Jake Gyllenhaal-resembling grizzled-yet-optimistic gunslinger (though there’s stiff competition from Linda Hunt’s saloon matriarch).

The action does take over in the second half, and the comedy all but vanishes. There’s excitement and fun though. Jailbreaks, posses, John Cleese playing a sheriff with an English accent – there’s a lot going on.

The main draw is our quartet of do-gooders picture above – Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner. In Wyatt Earp Costner was a wooden plank. Here he’s an explosion of energy, a great counterpoint to the more traditionally terse Scott Glenn. What happened in those 9 intervening years to rob Costner of that sense of fun?

Now, this is weird. This film was on the shortlist as I saw it had one shared cast member with The Fifth Element – Brion James. I double-checked on the day we were due to watch it, and spotted that he was listed as ‘uncredited’. Following a bit of frantic googling it looked like he did indeed have some lines – originally his part was larger, but it mostly ended up on the cutting room floor. Turns out he was in two or three scenes with a chunk of dialogue in each. And yet uncredited. Bizarre.

Silverado 02

Here’s Brion James, most definitely in the film!

There are other telltale signs of more lost to the edit – Rosanna Arquette’s character is somewhat shoehorned in as a not-quite love interest. Jeff Goldblum, Cowboy pimp chic aside, makes an uncharacteristically bland impression. But if some elements were lost to keep the pace sprightly then it was probably a sensible choice.

The Verdict

A ripping cowboy yarn, and one I wish I’d seen sooner.

If you’re in the mood for more Kevin Kline it’s worth checking out the version of Pirates of Penzance he starred in – here’s a taster.

Coming Attractions

Lilu Dallas Multipass.

Autowash.

Big badaboom.

It’s going to be the Fifth Element.

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Wyatt Earp

Film 39: Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost 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.

Previously On…

Last week was Apollo 13. It was never going to be less than fine with that cast and director, and indeed it was not less than fine. It wasn’t much more either… This time around it’s Tim’s choice.

The Shortlist

The Big Picture (1989)

Cast Away (2000)

Terminal (2004)

Absolute Power (1997)

Frailty (2001)

A League of Their Own (1992)

Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp (1994)

The Choice

The Big Picture is a Christopher Guest film which stars Kevin Bacon and neither of us had heard of. I’m still puzzled as to why Tim didn’t pick it. Having confessed my youthful disdain for Tom Hanks last week it may not be that much of a surprise that I haven’t seen Cast Away or Terminal, the former of which has been on shortlists a couple of times before. Absolute Power is probably the film that we’ve shortlisted most without yet picking… we’ll get there! Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood facing off against each other has a certain appeal.

I read about Frailty in Bill Paxton’s obituary and it’s been on my radar ever since. Tim felt it would be a bit dark for such a warm sunny evening. And then there’s A League Of Their Own. Tim keeps shortlisting it and I’m scared he might actually choose it one day.

Tombstone we’d both seen before but fancy a rewatch. Wyatt Earp seems like it covers the same territory, but takes three hours over it. And so, our film-watching time being limited, Tim chose the three hour version.

Wyatt Earp 2

Val Kilmer, Sam Elliot, Kurt Russell and…  Oops, wrong film. This is actually Dennis Quaid, Linden Ashby, Kevin Costner and Michael Madsen

Wyatt Earp and Me

I don’t recall being particularly aware of this at the time. As far as three hour westerns starring Kevin Costner go, I saw Dances With Wolves once and have never felt the lack of more. So I haven’t specifically avoided this film, but, as you can probably tell, it’s not one I would have picked.

IMDb Says

Wyatt Earp is a movie about a man and his family. The movie shows us the good times and the bad times of one of the West’s most famous individuals. 6.6 stars.

I Says

Two weeks ago we watched Sunset, which starred James Garner as a twinkly-eyed older Wyatt Earp in 20s Hollywood. My verdict was that it didn’t overstay its welcome. The same can’t be said of Kevin Costner’s three hour plus biopic.

I don’t know much about Earp – I’ve seen Tombstone but only really remember Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday purring ‘I’m your huckleberry’. Given a bit of time I reckon all I’ll remember of this film is Dennis Quaid’s Doc Holliday. Even if he sounds like Hoggle from the Labyrinth in one scene. Doc Holliday is the Mercutio in this story, the one everyone really wants to be rather than the staid hero.

Doc Holliday

He’s your huckleberry… probably

And about that hero. I’ve not revisited a 90s Costner film since… I guess the 90s. How did he rise to such prominence? He’s so wooden – there must have been some kind of mass delusion. Something in the water.

The first hour and a half of the film features all the traditional story beats – starting with young Earp wanting to run off to the Civil War we get the inciting incident, the mid point shift, the dark moment, the resolution… and then… we do it all over again. There’s a scene 30 minutes in of a house burning down. 40 minutes in we get a flashback of the house burning down. How could they have trimmed that running time down, I wonder?

The supporting cast is pretty good and features the standard variety of face furniture you’d expect in this sort of thing. It’s all very nicely shot too. There’s more of an attempt at grittiness than I was expecting, but post Deadwood it has to be more than an attempt to really register. Suffice to say that all is not OK after the O.K. Corral shootout.

Also, Adam ‘Jayne Cobb’ Baldwin turns up. And him dressed in cowboy clothes just makes me want to watch Firefly gorram it…

The Verdict

Exactly as good as one would expect a three hour plus film about Wyatt Earp starring Kevin Costner to be.

Having now done a little research I was gratified to see Costner won a Razzie for his performance. Not only that, but he left Tombstone to work on this and tried to block distribution of Tombstone. Guess which fared better at the box office? I’ll give you a clue, it was the one without Kevin Costner in.

Coming attractions

Ok. Full disclosure.

For the first time we’re actively trying to get to a specific film. That’s not our usual modus operandi and it feels slightly shameful in a way. But screw it, we’re going to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. We’re both fans and neither of us saw it on the big screen (oh, I should point out that we watch CRFC films on a rather lovely HD projector, so we get a quasi- cinematic experience).

On that basis the next film, my choice, needs to link to The Fifth Element. Will narrowing down the options like this mean we’re stuck with a turkey? We shall see!

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Apollo 13

Film 38: Apollo 13

Apollo poster

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name.

Previously on…

We tackled Sunset last week, the Bruce Willis/James Garner silent-era Hollywood romp the world didn’t really need.

The shortlist

The Cotton Club (1984)

Get Crazy (1983)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Breach (2009)

Nobody’s Fool (1994)

Twilight (not that one – this one’s from 1998)

The Choice

This was agonising, and I’m sure I’ll be coming back to all of these and more that I longlisted. Tim is determined to get me to watch Running Scared, so he pushed for The Cotton Club as both star Gregory Hines. Twilight (not that one) has an incredible cast – Sarandon, Newman, Hackman, The West Wing’s John Spencer – but neither of us had ever heard of it. Get Crazy is an early 80s film about a Jagger-like rock star played by Malcolm MacDowell – and it’s well regarded; how could I not pick that? And the pairing of Paul Newman (again) and Bruce Willis in Nobody’s Fool is Exciting. Fuck it, Paul Newman on his own is exciting. I’d never seen Apollo 13 though, and when Tim announced he’d  never seen it either, suddenly it seemed like a big omission… And so Apollo 13 was chosen.

Apollo 13 and me

apollo 13 film

This is exactly the kind of film I instigated the film club to get around to watching. It’s a big, popular, well-regarded film that somehow I’ve never actually sat down and watched. I used to have an aversion to Tom Hanks – something about his voice needled me – but I’ve been a convert for the best part of a decade now. I liked space as much as any teenage boy in 1995, but that wasn’t enough to sway me at the time – it’s not exactly lasers-and-aliens space is it? And ever since, well, I just don’t remember considering watching it at any point. I’ve thought of it like a korma on an Indian restaurant menu. Sure, I’ll like it, but what about that one with the strange name that I’ve never tried before… So here goes: Hanx, Bacon, Paxton, Sinise and an explodey spacecraft. Ignition!

IMDb says

NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy. 7.6 stars.

I says

Having now seen and read about Apollo 13, it could have been a lot worse – Brad Pitt turned a role down to star in Se7en. John Travolta was approached to star but turned it down. John Travolta also turned down Forrest Gump. What an even more fucked-up world we could be living in.

Anyway. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon are lost in space but Ed Harris and Gary Sinise are going to bring them back. With that cast it was always going to be fine, wasn’t it. And with Ron Howard directing it was always going to be fine, wasn’t it. And it is. It’s fine. There’s some over-egging of the pudding with overblown music and an ill-advised what-if fantasy. But there’s also lots of clearly well-researched detail and tense obstacle-overcoming.

It does suffer from the Titanic-effect – I knew the fate of the astronauts going in, so it’s all about the journey. And that journey is, well, fine. I’ve read through an interview with one of the astronauts now, and while he was positive about the film and its representation of events, it was also clear there was a lot of exaggeration going on – he made the point that every single thing that the astronauts on Apollo 13 did to get home was something that had been either simulated for or done before. Still tense and scary as hell for them, of course. There are signs of other added tensions – Kevin Bacon’s character seems weirdly ostracized by the others and almost set up to be the closest thing to a bad guy before redeeming himself. It felt like an unnecessary extra layer, though perhaps there’s some basis for it in the reality.

Apollo real

The verdict

It took flight, but didn’t quite stick the landing.

Coming attractions

It’s Tim’s choice next, and I’ve crippled him with options again. Kevin Bacon is famously unconnected film-wise. Reading all the Bill Paxton obituaries a few months ago (sigh), we both made a note of a few films to check out, perhaps now will be the time… And with Paxton and Xander Berkley present we could rewatch either Terminator or Terminator 2. OR BOTH. Or banish the bitter taste of Alien Covenant with Aliens. Add Hanks, Sinise, Ed Harris and a Mission Control full of notable character actors and the sky’s the limit.

Oh, and Tim ended up watching Mission To Mars after I left last week, which we had shortlisted (I gave him permission to go ahead as I wasn’t keen on getting back to it for CRFC). His feedback – there was significantly more shouting at the screen than while watching Sunset. We did indeed choose wisely.

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Sunset

Film 37: Sunset

Sunset

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name. The full list is here.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Player, which starred all of Hollywood circa 1992. It was a justifiably well-regarded romp through the sleazy side of film production that, car-phones apart, had aged very well indeed.

The Shortlist

Mission to Mars (2000)
Fifth Element (1997)
Sunset (1998)
Silverado (1985)
Brooklyn’s Finest (2009)

The Choice

This week was Tim’s choice. The only shortlisted film we’d both seen was Fifth Element. It’s one of my favourites, though it’s been a few years since I last watched it. Given that we were due to watch the chosen film in the week of the 20th anniversary of Fifth Element’s release I lobbied hard for it. Tim was more keen on Mission To Mars, but I just about managed to dissuade him. I have a bad feeling about it… Sunset however features Bruce Willis and James Garner – and so the choice was made.

Sunset 02

Sunset and Me

Never heard of it before. Not a clue. Zip. Zilch. I was hoping for an overlooked gem…

IMDb says

Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp team up to solve a murder at the Academy Awards in 1929 Hollywood. 5.7 stars.

I says

Bruce plays an actor at the tail end of the silent era. He specialises in playing cowboys and wearing snazzy trousers. James Garner’s Wyatt Earp is brought on board a film production for no particular reason. Malcolm McDowell is the studio head with dark secrets. There are some hookers and hearts of gold. Blake ‘Pink Panther’ Edwards directs.

A shonky tone and mis-cast Willis hampered this one a bit. Some not particularly great physical comedy carried on into scenes that were seemingly supposed to be tense and serious. Willis’ actor was dressed like a dandy and remonstrated with Wyatt Earp for stealing his limelight, but otherwise was the standard Willis – a bit hangdog, a bit wise-cracky, equally handy in a fight or dancing the tango. In fairness, it did rollick along at a fair old pace and McDowell’s villain was good and villainy.

The Verdict

It didn’t outstay its welcome, but neither did it excite. I can see why Sunset rarely sees the light of day.

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next, and there are a lot of options. McDowell is in a huge amount of (mostly terrible) stuff. There are some Bruce Willis actioners I’ve never bothered with (Armageddon, I’m looking at you). A detour into James Garner cowboy country would be fun – he even played Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun in 1967, so that might be fitting. The supporting cast have a lot of clout too, so it’s going to be a struggle.

Also, I could just get us back to Fifth Element…

The Chain Reaction Film Club: The Player

Film 36: The Player

The Player 01

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name.

So where are films 1 – 35?

Good question! You can find the full list of films here. I’ve been meaning to blog about it from the start but… haven’t been. If I have the time I’ll fill in the blanks.

Previously on…

There’s been a bit of a gap thanks to me being off on holiday. Last time we watched The Tall Guy, a Richard Curtis comedy that isn’t as fondly regarded as his more recent stuff. It was good fun, especially when Emma Thompson was on screen. And made me want to see Griff Rhys Jones’ ‘Whoops, Hamlet.’ Just a shame that doesn’t exist. This time around it’s my choice…

 

The shortlist

Jeff Goldlum

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Morning Glory

Jurassic Park

Chain of Fools

The Player

The Fly

Silverado

 

Emma Thompson

Last Chance Harvey

In the Name of the Father

Peter’s Friends

 

Geraldine James

Made in Dagenham

 

The Choice

From the shortlist I’d only previously seen Jurassic Park (a lot) and The Fly (once, a long time ago). Neither me nor Tim are fans of Wes Anderson, but do like a bit of Bill Murray, so Life Aquatic was a front runner for a while. Eventually though I narrowed it down to The Player and Silverado. Both have incredible casts for the next pick. Tim is already a fan of Silverado, but hadn’t seen The Player, and so the choice was made. Tim is also easily flummoxed by big casts full of options for the next film, so that may have influenced my choice a little.

The Player 02

The Player and me

Tim Robbins is a favourite thanks to an early appreciation for Bob Roberts, Shawshank (obviously) and The Hudsucker Proxy (which I’ve seen more times than any other Coen Brothers film now that I think about it). I like Robert Altman too – though he’s one of those directors who I always think I’ve seen more of than I actually have. So why haven’t I seen it?

It’s a film about Hollywood. I know Hollywood is fond of films about Hollywood, but I’m not really. Whether it’s a fear of self-indulgence, worry that I just won’t get the references (Hail Caesar suffered from this in particular) or just not being that interested in the realities of the film industry there’s not much that entices me. It’s either all backslapping or spleen-venting. So I imagine that’s a part of why I haven’t sought it out before, despite being aware of it. My understanding prior to watching was that it fell more into the spleen-venting camp than the backslapping one. Was I right?

IMDb says

A Hollywood studio executive is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected – but which one?

I says

Yup, definitely more spleen-venting, but has a lot of fun while doing it. Tim Robbins is the Hollywood exec who  spends his days rejecting scripts and suggesting tooth-achingly cheesey amendments to what might otherwise have been interesting projects. He’s wary of his position at the studio, particularly as a new hire is brought in, and things take a dark turn when he starts receiving death threats with increasing regularity…

This is definitely in the top tier of films we’ve watched in the Chain Reaction Film Club. From the opening 7 minute tracking shot (during which characters discuss great opening tracking shots) to the Hollywood ending, The Player managed to make for an interesting character drama and an enjoyably vitriolic look at one side of the film business.  I’m sure there’s lots of exciting technical stuff going on (I spotted a lovely shot that begins on Burt Reynolds and chum chatting, zooms in to the table behind them where our main character sits down and has a conversation and ends by zooming back out to Burt still deep in conversation.

And that cast… It’s an absolute who’s who of Hollwood circa 1992. Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Rod Steiger, Harry Belafonte even!  The only oddity was seeing so many people playing themselves then Whoopi Goldberg turning up playing a character rather than herself. It took a while to work out who was a character and who wasn’t.

The plot was engaging and, if not ultimately that satisfying, sacrificing that for the point it was making about the industry seems fair enough. The other day I read a piece about studio execs rejecting pitches that were secretly famous French nouvelle vague classics (a marketing stunt, but hey ho) which chimes nicely with this film.

Tim Robbins is both naïve and conniving, a great choice of actor for an unlikeable role. This felt like a proto American Psycho – released at almost exactly the same time as the book – and they’d actually make for an interesting double bill. The studio machinations, and particularly the way they talk about scripts, still feel very relevant.

The verdict

Definitely an overlooked (by me) classic

Coming attractions

It’s Tim’s choice next, and he effectively has all of Hollywood to pick from. Brion James is a good shout for the next link (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch), as is Bruce Willis (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch). All being well the film club will take place on Wednesday and I’ll update as soon as possible afterwards.

 

 

 

Witcher, Skyrim and Fable – Feeling like a part of the world

I’ve been revisiting Witcher 3 recently, specifically the Blood and Wine dlc. It really is rather good – if you haven’t downloaded it I’d highly recommend you do, and if you haven’t played Witcher 3 go do that right now. No spoilers here though, so maybe you could read on first…

I used the word ‘revisiting’ in the first sentence very specifically. Playing Witcher does feel like visiting somewhere. To use a gaming cliche, it feels like a living, breathing world. But there’s nowhere near the level of interactivity of Fable 2. What’s that? I get to talk about Fable 2 some more? Well ok then…

Fable 2 is, hitherto, my favourite example of feeling like part of a gaming world. I’ve written about it before, repeatedly. Sorry. You’re able to use various emotes, from posing to growling to farting, which the people of Albion respond to in different ways. Some of them find burping disgusting, some find it funny. And depending on how you’ve behaved on your travels they may have a different response altogether. And if you’re fat they might call you Pie Eater. I love it. Witcher doesn’t have this though. On the surface, Witcher seems to have more in common with Skyrim than Albion. 

I find Skyrim to be a frustrating place. At the beginning of the game the responses you receive make a sort of sense. You’re a nobody and by and large people are standoffish towards you. But my character pursued the mage guild quests. He worked his way up the ranks to become the Dean of Winterhold College. The Dean. The head honcho. The wielder of the largest wand. His staff most definitely had a knob on the end. And yet. The way people greeted me, even in the college itself, didn’t change. I was still being hailed with the same stock lines about my honeyed words, being looked down on as a stranger. Skyrim is so immersive in many ways and really jarring in as many others.

The Witcher, like Skyrim has a pool of stock reactions with which the populace greet you. Every now and then there’s something a little more personal, but by and large there’s distrust. Fear. Hatred of the outsider. The lines may be better acted, but it seems similar to Skyrim. Last night I wandered past a village, and the whole populace were dancing around a fire. Some kind of fete was going on. I stumbled down the hill, eager to take part, but I couldn’t. Geralt doesn’t have those verbs. In Albion my hero could have danced around the fire, but Geralt and the Dragonborn have to look on and wonder. 

But then I realised. Geralt feels much more a part of the land than the Dragonborn does. And it’s very much because he is an outsider. He is sneered at by passers by, called the Butcher of Blavikenand much worse. And he always has been. He looks distinctive. Word spreads. He is a mutant and people have their opinions of that sort. Because Geralt feels like as much of an outsider as the player does, the world of Witcher 3 feels real.

Ok, I know I promised no spoilers, but since starting this piece I’ve played a little more and there’s something from the main quest that’s pertinent. So skip the next para to avoid SPOILERS.

There’s a moment when Regis asks Geralt whether, if he could start from the beginning again, he would want to become a Witcher or whether he would rather live a normal life. And the player gets to choose the response. It’s a great question and cuts right to the heart of this topic. Is Geralt satisfied with being the outsider? Is the player? Cursed to hear the same petty insults wherever you go, to never be allowed to join the dance… It’s probably the longest I’ve thought about a response in Witcher? The answer? To me, Geralt would want to be a Witcher again. He still feels like a part of the world, even if he is apart from most of it. And he gets to hang out with some pretty nifty sorceresses, so it’s not all bad.

End of spoilers.

It’s the synergy of player feeling and character feeling which enhances what is already an excellent game, and it’s in part the lack of that which has left me slightly cold (ahaha) about Skyrim (full disclosure: I’ve completed the main quest and more beside, and started a second character – so it’s not entirely without merit!).

Fable 2 and Witcher 3 are my favourite examples of immersive game worlds, but please recommend some more to me – it’s plainly something I respond to!

@BornToPootle

Films of 2016 – a pattern emerges…

Last year I saw more films in cinemas than I’ve seen in a year before – it’s quite a nice personal record to break (without specifically trying to I hasten to add), and I still missed some films I was pretty keen on. All in all I saw 55 films in cinemas in 2016, a full list can be found here if you’re interested.

While the real world was becoming less and less palatable, I thought the cinema was a jolly good place to hole up – it was a pretty good year all told, with not a single film walked out of. And the top five? The
order is pretty flexible except for the top spot:

1.      Sing Street

2.      Under The Shadow

3.      Green Room

4.      Your Name

5.      10 Cloverfield Lane

This year I’ve noticed a pattern in my choices, which is something I haven’t really been aware of before. Sing Street is, plot-wise, an unremarkable feel-good schoolkids-form-band tale. Under The Shadow and Green Room are pretty standard horror set-ups (though of wildly differing kinds). Your Name is a teen body-swap fantasy. These are all very well-worn set-ups or tropes. The general plot beats by and large aren’t that surprising (though there’s a twist in Your Name which I didn’t see coming at all). 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t fit quite so well into an archetype, but neither does it exactly re-invent the wheel.

This was a year where I really responded to genre being
embraced. All five films grip hold of genre preconceptions and use them to best advantage. They hone all the best elements of the films they remind me of or call back to or flat-out reference and then take them on that step further. They seem like they were made with a genuine love of their genres. Even just out of my top five this is apparent. Hell Or High Water is in my top ten of the year and was a love letter to a kind of Thriller that doesn’t seem to make waves much any more. Nocturnal Animals was also fantastic, with about 80% of the narrative being a pretty standard revenge thriller – albeit one featuring the two best male performances of the year.

Whether this is something changing in my tastes, a quirk of the year’s finest films, or just me trying to find a pattern in an end-of-year list, remains to be seen. I imagine I’ll see a similar number of films in 2017 so I’ll refer back to this in a year’s time.

In the meantime, happy cinema-ing and let me know what your favourite film of the year was.

Oh, by the by, Sing Street and Green Room are on Netflix right now so I’d strongly recommend watching them if you haven’t seen them already. Let me know what you think. 

@BornToPootle