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.

Fort Apache 03

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).

M8DFOAP FE005

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

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The Hudsucker Proxy – 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 Absence of Malice, and I’m happy to say I bear it no malice.

The Choice

We’re definitely coming to the end of Newman season. I reckon we’ve got another one or two in us before we move on. It’s my turn to choose, and I was sorely tempted to pick The Color of Money, which is likely to be the film we end Newman season with (so we can move into Cruise season!). But to be honest, both Tim and I have been a bit down in the dumps of late and needed some cheering up. For me, it’s a combination of not enjoying my job, the political nightmares on both sides of the Atlantic, the stress of moving house, and the lingering sense of malaise I’ve never managed to shift for long. Now, having not seen The Color of Money, I don’t know that it would definitely cheer me up. Last time we saw Newman play Eddie Felson it was not exactly a laugh riot. So I picked a film I knew was a stone cold cheerer upper.

A film that is bookended by people throwing themselves out of a 44th storey window (45th including the mezzanine).

I picked The Hudsucker Proxy.

Hudsucker 07

The Hudsucker Proxy and me

I really like Coen Brothers films. This is not an unpopular opinion or illicit confession. Even the couple of Coen films I haven’t really enjoyed (The Man Who Wasn’t There and Intolerable Cruelty) have been watched a couple of times just to be sure. The rest is pretty much all gold.

The Hudsucker Proxy used to be regarded as something of a black sheep, critically less well regarded than much of their output. I think that’s changed over the last decade or so, and quite bloody right. It’s been two or three years since I last watched it, but I can’t imagine my view will have changed much… We’ll see.

Funnily enough this film is, so far, the only film we’ve tackled in CRFC that Tim and I have both seen together. We went to the NFT to see it in 2008, and it happened to coincide with the week of Paul Newman’s death. So we went in to the cinema thinking of it as our tribute to his career. At the time I’d only really seen Hudsucker, Butch Cassidy and The Sting; it’s going to be nice to watch it again in the context of so many of his other performances.

IMDb says

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam. 7.2 stars.

I says

It’s really good, gang.

Hudsucker 01

Me and Tim pictured just after watching Hudsucker

The rhythm the Coens have in their comedy films is just sensational. The repetition of words, the dialogue looping back when some background character gets stuck wanting to make a point and everyone else has moved on… It’s absolutely pitch perfect in Hudsucker. A couple of weeks ago we watched A New Kind of Love, which was an attempt at a screwball comedy that just seemed anachronistic for the 60s and didn’t work at all. Here, 30 years later is a period-set screwball  that absolutely nails it. It’s part Billy Wilder, part Looney Tunes.

I did vaguely remember the film going slightly off the boil, and indeed I think it probably does. But they keep you waiting. The first hour and a half or so is just brilliant scene followed by brilliant scene. There’s the board of Hudsucker Industries bickering about how to make money following Waring Hudsucker’s death and two characters constantly looping back to how many storeys Hud fell (44, no 45 including the mezzanine). There’s naive business graduate Tim Robbins staring at an incomprehensible jobs board that changes every half second but still has nothing for a fresh face (rope braider? Need experience. Cat Meats Tester? Must be experienced). There’s Robbins’ induction into the manic postroom, a riff on that other Newman classic Cool Hand Luke’s prison induction scene. There’s Paul Newman himself, playing a completely unlikeable character for once as the schemer-in-chief who engineers Robbins’ dope becoming the new CEO to depress stock prices.

And then when you’re reeling from all that in the opening twenty minutes, we cut to a newspaper office. And there’s John Mahoney (Frasier’s dad) talking as fast as he jolly well can while Bruce goddamn Campbell and a variety of character actors look on and wisecrack.

Hudsucker 02

It’s only bloody Bruce Campbell!

And then in walks Jennifer Jason Leigh’s reporter, the fastest talking, wisest cracking of them all and steals the whole film right there. I’d stake my Pulitzer on it.

Hudsucker 05

You’d look this smug if you were stealing the film too

Sure, the last quarter slows down a little, but by then things have been rattling along so quickly that the breather is almost welcome.

The film is stuffed full of brilliant character actors, as we’ve come to expect from the Coens. John Polito turns up for one scene as an irate businessman (and no-one does irate quite as well as Polito. His rant at the beginning of Miller’s Crossing is all the evidence needed). Presbo from The Wire is a jaunty lift operator full of bad taste gags about Hudsucker’s demise. There’s a brief VO from John Goodman.

Hudsucker 03

Is this peak Coen?

Steve Buscemi runs a beatnik juice bar. In a way it feels like peak Coen, but it isn’t obnoxiously self-referential. You never get the sense that these actors are wheeled in to do a turn.

Hudsucker 06

Ah, no, HERE we are.

Is it my favourite Coen brothers film? For all the heady heights it hits, I don’t know that it is. What about O, Brother Where Art Thou?, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis, No Country For Old Men? Don’t make me choose…

Finally, this is yet another outing for Newman’s naked torso. Any bloody excuse!

Hudsucker 04

What a guy.

The Verdict

Should be called The Hud-doesn’t-suck-er Proxy, right? “You get it buddy? It’s a pun, it’s a knee-slapper, it’s a play on-”

Endlessly quotable.

Coming Attractions

Tim’s up next. Will he pick The Color of Money and send us into the sunlit uplands of Tom Cruise season? By his own admission, he does like to be troublesome…

@BornToPootle

Absence of Malice – 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…

Last up was A New Kind of Love, which featured the old kind of misogyny.

The Choice

Funnily enough we actually took a week off from CRFC to cleanse our palates after A New Kind of Love. We watched most of Meatballs, starring Bill Murray. It was bloody awful, but as it wasn’t a part of CRFC it kind of did the job and I was looking forward to Newman again. It was Tim’s turn to pick, and he went straight for Absence of Malice without much dilly dallying.

Malice 01

Absence of Malice and me

It’s another Newman film I hadn’t heard of prior to combing through his filmography for this. I keep almost calling it Absolute Power, but that’s a Clint Eastward film we watched during Gene Hackman season. From a very brief look at the IMDb page for Absence of Malice I was also put in mind of The Verdict which we watched a few weeks ago. Neither particularly set me on fire but they were both solid enough. So I went in expecting some kind of grizzled legal thriller.

IMDb says

Absence of Malice (1981): When a prosecutor leaks a false story that a liquor warehouse owner is involved in the murder of a union head, the man’s life begins to unravel. 6.9 stars.

I says

This wasn’t really anything like either Absolute Power or The Verdict in the end, but similarly solid enough. Where I was most wrong was that the thrust of the film isn’t about a legal battle. As the IMDb blurb suggests, Newman’s liquor importer is tagged as being of interest in a murder inquiry because the feds think he knows people who know people. They’re putting the squeeze on. But the meat of the film is about the leak itself. The story appears in the press, with Sally Field’s reporter the patsy who fell for the feds’ leak. Newman wants to know her source, but her journalistic integrity means she won’t say. As Newman’s business is affected and his best friend has her darkest secret dragged through the press he comes up with a way of getting back at all those involved.

 

Malice 02

There’s a plucky reporter if ever I saw one

These days films that revolve around the press tend to be positive – the reporters in Spotlight are the heroes, The Post is all about the triumph of journalistic integrity in the face of political pressure. It makes sense in a time of unprecedented (in my lifetime at least) assault on the free press by authoritarians the world over. But of course there are many problematic elements of a free press – look at what’s going on at the moment with the weird sustained campaign against Meghan. Paul Newman apparently had his fair share of false stories – he seemed gleeful that this film was sticking it to the press, saying, “I enjoyed kicking the beejeezus out of the press in Absence of Malice.” His view was clearly from his own borne of his personal experience: “I would say that 90% of what people read about me in the newspapers is untrue. Ninety percent is garbage. [Reporters] are expected to come up with something sensational every night of the week to keep their readers’ noses buried in the pages, and, well, you tell me. If nothing’s happening, what do you do? Well, in their case, they make it up.”

Malice 03

Grumblegrumblegrumble

Sally Field and Paul Newman make an engaging pair to pin the film around, and it’s a nice surprise to see Bob Balaban in something other than a comedy. It’s all pretty good, if not scintillating stuff. We’ve seen a few Sidney Pollack films in CRFC; Tootsie’s been the best of the bunch, but this sits nicely alongside Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor and The Firm.

Malice 4

Serious Balaban

 

The very best thing about this film is the story about Newman and Pollack during filming. Both fancied themselves gourmet chefs (only one has a salad dressing line, mind) and so pretty much every night they’d have a cook-off, with Sally Field judging. After a little while she got fed up with all the rich food and just craved hamburgers.

Oh wait, no, the best thing about this film is Wilford Brimley turning up in the last quarter and stealing the film out from everyone else.

Malice 5

Wanted for scene stealing

The Verdict

Decent stuff, but if you’re looking for a brilliant exploration of the press you can’t go wrong with the final season of The Wire. Funnily enough both this and The Wire were written by former journos, so expect a ring of authenticity at least.

Coming Attractions

It does feel like we’re coming towards the end of Paul Newman season. It’s the longest one we’ve done, and while there are still a fair few that are at least a little tempting, perhaps it’s time to move on. Of 56 eligible films, we’ve seen (or decided we don’t need to rewatch) 28. Half way! The Color of Money will be the last film we tackle before moving on to Tom Cruise season. Will I pick that? Or should we rewatch the Coen Brothers’ wonderful The Hudsucker Proxy first? We’ll have to wait and see…

@BornToPootle

Hombre and A New Kind of Love – 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 a LOT of Paul Newman films. The last one was The MacKintosh Man, a solid, relatively forgettable, thriller

The Choice

We may be over 20 films into Paul Newman’s filmography at this point, but there are still some choice morsels to try. I’ve decided to cover two together here, so it’ll be a little more in depth than the 10-film binge in the last post. MacKintosh Man was my choice, so Tim stuck true to form with a Western and I followed it up in petulant form with a rom-com. There’s a reason I’ve lumped these two together, which may become apparent…

Hombre posterNew Kind of Love poster

Hombre and A New Kind of Love and me

I hadn’t heard of either of these before thoroughly searching through Paul Newman’s filmography. Westerns are very much more Tim’s bag than mine, so I wasn’t holding out great hopes for Hombre. I was looking forward to the change of pace of A New Kind of Love though – perhaps it would be that great kind of CRFC film that we would ordinarily have overlooked, but turns out to be amazing – like Muriel’s Wedding. Even just a stylistic breath of fresh air would be something to admire.

IMDb says

Hombre (1967) – John Russell, disdained by his “respectable” fellow stagecoach passengers because he was raised by Indians, becomes their only hope for survival when they are set upon by outlaws. 7.4 stars.

A New Kind of Love (1963) – The fashion industry and Paris provide the setting for a comedy surrounding the mistaken impression that Joanne Woodward is a high-priced call girl. Paul Newman is the journalist interviewing her for insights on her profession. 5.9 stars.

I says

Hombre did not start well, though possibly that was down to my own confusion so much as anything else. As the IMDb blurb says, Paul Newman’s character has been raised by Native Americans, and when we first meet him it very much looks like he’s wearing ‘redface’. For the first twenty minutes or so I thought the character was meant to be Native American, rather than a white boy who’d been adopted and assimilated.

Hombre 01

Newman at the start of Hombre

As the film wore on*, and Newman’s John Russell comes back to white society his skin tone lightens a little. Now, everyone in the film is various shades of tanned and sunburnt, so I’m not sure how much that played a part in things. And I’m really not clear on whether the implication is meant to be that John Russell darkened his skin himself in an attempt to fit in better.

Hombre 02

And after he’s come back to ‘civilisation’

Either way it was an uncomfortable distraction.

That aside, Hombre had a pretty good setup. Rather than being a sprawling western it’s a fairly tightly focused piece. After all the intros a small group set off on a stage coach, are attacked and then have to try to make their way back to civilisation while the attackers pursue them. I wasn’t hugely swayed by it, but it’s head and shoulders above The Left-Handed Gun, the other Newman Western we’ve tried recently.

Hombre 03

What I haven’t mentioned is Martin Balsam cast as a Mexican…

A New Kind of Love didn’t fare quite so well. Although the film was made in 1963, the script had been doing the rounds since the 50s – apparently Billy Wilder was trying to get a version off the ground starring Yul Brynner. It shows. The film feels very dated from the off, not helped by a setup that’s pretty reminiscent of Designing Woman (that we saw back in Gregory Peck season). Would that it had an ounce of the wit of that film (which admittedly was sparse enough). It is aching to be a 40s screwball comedy.

Paul Newman’s sports journalist is a womanising boor. Joanne Woodward’s boyish fashion designer has sworn off men.

New Kind of Love 01

The boor and the boy

By the middle she’s changed her mind. He hasn’t. By the end she’s still changed her mind. He… kind of hasn’t. Initially I thought that this was to do with being a product of its time – meaning the 50s rather than when it was actually made in the 60s. I mean, it came out the same year as Hud which deals with an unlikeable Newman main character in a far better way. But then I thought about screwball comedies like His Girl Friday, made 23 years earlier, which had a more progressive outlook and decided that no, it’s just a very bad film. The fact that it was written, produced and directed by the same person should have been a warning. It doesn’t descend to the depths of McLintock! at least, but it’s a hearty avoid.

New Kind of Love 02

Beauty and the boor

There are several flights of directorial fancy that I’m sure would have been nixxed had the director not also been the writer and producer. Woodward visiting a fashion show is intercut with Newman visiting a strip club. The models/strippers are shown side by side in similarish outfits. The first time it’s a ‘huh’ reaction. The second less so. The third fourth and fifth become a bit wearing. Then Maurice Chevalier sings for some reason, Woodward has a vision of a saint, and we are treated to a series of fantasy sequences of Newman and Woodward sparring n love as sportspeople. All the while I was wondering… why?

New Kind of Love 03

This made about as much sense in context

It’s a shame, as part of the fun of Newman season has been finding out about his relationship with Joanne Woodward and seeing how often they worked together. We’ve seen her previously in Paris Blues, The Long, Hot Summer and The Drowning Pool, and there are plenty more they were both in.

So why have I lumped these two together? Paul Newman was politically very progressive. He was listed as one of Nixon’s leading enemies, was heavily involved in Democratic fundraising and philanthropy. He was, in fact, the leading philanthropist in the US in the 20th century in terms of amount given compared to amount earned. His line of salad dressings donate all proceeds to his summer camps for disadvantaged children. He was an all-round decent sort. And yet both of these films gave me the heebie-jeebies by current political sensibilities. Sometimes films are time capsules and can attitudes can be easily viewed as of their time. Somehow with these two it was less easy to do that.

The Verdict

This New Kind of Love doesn’t seem destined to catch on, hombre.

Coming Attractions

We’re still Newman agogo. Perhaps we’re starting to wilt a little, but there are plenty more films which are at least a little interesting… Fat Man and Little Boy, Absence of Malice, The Color of Money, Somebody Up There Likes me, Hudsucker Proxy (always worth a rewatch). Will we get to all of them? We’ll see…

If there are any Newman films we’ve not covered yet that you’d strongly recommend, do please let me know!

@BornToPootle

*The quote about this phrase from Harvey just popped into my head. “The evening wore on. What a wonderful phrase. The evening wore on.” I bloody love Jimmy Stewart.

How many Newmen? Paul Newman season in The Chain Reaction Film Club

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the progress of our Chain Reaction Film Club, but it is still chugging away. As Tim and I have been busier we’ve become more reliant on devoting a season to a specific actor. For the last few months that’s been Paul Newman – I’ve already posted about 9 Newman films we’ve watched, so rather than tackle each of these new ones individually I’ve rounded up the next 10 in one glorious batch!

The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

Long Hot Summer

If it’s shirtless Newman you want (and let’s be honest: it is) then this is the film for you. He’s a bad boy, an accused barn-burner, drifting around Southern USA. Of course he starts getting involved with the local bigwig’s daughter, and when that local bigwig is Orson Welles trouble ain’t far behind… It was a good watch, but suffered slightly by comparison to the previous watch – Sweet Bird of Youth. In that film Newman plays a bad boy drifter in the Southern USA getting involved with the local bigwig’s daughter… And as legendary as Orson Welles is, Ed Begley’s performance in Sweet Bird of Youth is much more memorable (and Oscar-winning).

The Young Philadelphians (1959)

Young Philadelphians

If it’s shirtless Newman you want… Ok, there’s going to be a theme here. This was my choice, as we’d had a few Newman-as-bad-boy films in a row and I fancied seeing scholarly lawyer Newman. This is an excellent example (as a few films are in this run) of seeing characters fall almost instantly in love, or lust, with Newman’s character, and it being completely believable purely on the strength of it being Paul frickin’ Newman. No extraneous acting required. He’s whip-smart in this as a young lawyer working his way up through society, and there’s a hoot of a scene between him and Billie ‘Glinda the Good Witch’ Burke.

The Verdict (1982)

Verdict

Gosh, this one has really not stuck in the mind. From a pair of bad boy Newman films to a pair of lawyer Newman films. Only this time it’s 1982 Paul Newman, not 1959 Paul Newman. He’s a down-at-heel ambulance chasing lawyer who likes a drink and playing pinball in the local bar. A former colleague throws him an easy medical malpractice case, but rather than take a settlement Newman decides it’s time to salvage his career and self-respect. Or so says the IMDb blurb. There’s a not-great role for Charlotte Rampling as a sort-of love interest, and it’s always nice to see James Mason – here as the upmarket lawyer Newman is up against. A fine Newman performance perhaps, but this is not one for the ages.

Paris Blues (1961)

Paris Blues 1

Where to go after bad boy Newman and lawyer Newman? Why it’s jazz trombonist Newman of course! Made in 1961 this film focuses on Newman’s trombonist (Ram Bowen, indeed!) and Sidney Poitier’s saxophonist living in Paris where there’s less racism than the US (and so jazz can flourish). This really does have a doozy of a reaction from Joanne Woodward at seeing Newman for the first time (in real life they were married by this point), though he’s more interested in courting Diahann Carroll at first. The progressive racial politics are toned down slightly from the book on which it’s based by all accounts, which is a shame. There’s still a lot to recommend though, including a great musical section where Louis Armstrong kicks off a jazz battle royale. There’s also a character called Mustachio being played by an actor called Moustache.

The Left Handed Gun (1958)

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Oof. This casts Newman as Billy The Kid, but is pretty poor all round. They do a nice enough job of getting Newman to pose for one of the famous pictures of Billy, but really there’s not a lot of interest, and the performances are pretty shonky. There was, in the original stage version, apparently a hefty homosexual subtext, but that’s unsurprisingly been stripped from the film and leaves it all a bit limp and pointless.

Hud (1963)

Hud

We’re back on firmer territory here. Newman is a bad boy once again, an egotistical son of a hard-working rancher. He’s a bad influence on his dead brother’s son. The standout performance though is from Patricia Neal, who is sensational as the rancher’s hired help. Check out this scene for some pretty hefty sexual chemistry between her and Newman: https://youtu.be/HnGtIxzYNUY

Criminy crumbs.

The Hustler (1961)

Hustler

Newman is ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, pool hustler extraordinaire. Tired of conning small timers out of a few bucks, he takes on champion Minnesota Fats for a big payday… This is good, solid stuff. Newman playing an unlikeable jerk works so well because Newman himself is so likeable. George C Scott’s Bert Gordon is a supremely oily fixer. I’m not sure I see the need for a long-belated sequel, but we’ll get to The Color of Money at some point I’m sure, and as it netted Paul Newman his only best actor Oscar(!) I imagine it’s pretty plucky.

Slap Shot (1977)

Slap

Paul Newman starring in a George Roy Hill film? Oh yes please!

Oh. Wait. No. No thanks.

Newman plays the captain of an ice hockey team that can only find success by playing foul and beating up opponents. Some sports films work well even if you don’t care much for the sport involved (Rush is a recentish example), but I don’t think Slap Shot falls into that category. There are also a LOT of homophobic slurs which, to a degree, is a down to it being a product of its time and I guess reflecting the way people in the sport spoke at the time. But I found it quite unpleasant. In older films it’s often possible to overlook that kind of thing as we progress towards a more tolerant society (are we still progressing? It’s getting hard to tell, sadly). I found it harder to overlook it here for some reason.

The Drowning Pool (1975)

Drowning pool

An absolute bog standard thriller. Newman returns as Lew Harper, who we previously saw in the utterly bog standard thriller ‘Harper’. Sadly this time around there’s no crazy 60s dancing, but there is a young Melanie Griffith. I saw this one relatively recently, but it’s already faded into ‘generic private eye thriller’. If that’s your kind of thing then it might be diverting, otherwise there are definitely better Newman films to be watched

The MacKintosh Man (1973)

MacKintosh

An absolute bog standard thriller. Sound familiar? Only this time it’s a British thriller, rather than an American one so there’s a bit of difference. This would make a suitable sequel to The Ipcress File, and roughly matches the quality of that film’s sequels. Newman is a spy, tasked with getting himself arrested to infiltrate a group planning to bust a communist defector out of prison. Once again, it’s always nice to see James Mason make an appearance, but he really doesn’t have much to do here. The plot moves along, but the passage of time doesn’t really sink in as it could during the prison section – it feels like 15 minute shave passed when it’s actually 15 months. But again, if you like 70s thrillers this is a solid enough example .

Oh, and at some point I stopped counting, but trust me, Newman is shirtless at some point in every single one of these films, even if I couldn’t find an image to prove it in every case.

What next? Well there are plenty more interesting-sounding Paul Newman films, so I think we’re going to carry right on!

Sweet Bird of Youth – 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 finished up our Robert Redford season with The Sting, which is still rather good.

The Choice

It was back to the warm embrace of Paul Newman, and I had first pick. We’ve already tackled a few Newman films as part of CRFC – The Sting of course, plus Butch Cassidy, Pocket Money, Harper, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Prize and Torn Curtain. I had a look through his filmography and had to stop myself getting too overwhelmed. Limiting myself to just his 50s and 60s output I had a list of ten films I was pretty keen to try, but one stood out above the others – Sweet Bird of Youth.

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Sweet Bird of Youth and me

Sweet Bird of Youth is an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. I’ve not seen it on stage or read the play (and his plays are worth reading, not just seeing – his stage directions are wonderful; here’s an excerpt from the stage directions of A Streetcar Named Desire: ‘Her delicate beauty must avoid a strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth.’). A few weeks back we watched The Chase, which I described as being a sub-Tennessee Williams melodrama. Ever since I’ve been hankering after a bit of the proper stuff, and so here we are. Other than its provenance I know nothing about it going in.

IMDB says

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962): Drifter Chance Wayne returns to his hometown after many years of trying to make it in the movies. Arriving with him is a faded film star he picked up along the way, Alexandra Del Lago. 7.4 stars

I says

Well this was exactly what Doctor Melodrama ordered.

Sweet Bird 01

Ain’t nothing mellow about this drama

  • An Oscar-winning performance as a controlling patriarch from Ed Begley (not junior)? Tick.
  • Faded star with all the airs and lack of graces you might expect? Tick.
  • Son stewing with emasculated rage? Tick.
  • Lovelorn daughter waiting, but not hoping, for the return of her troubled sweetheart? Tick.
  • Town that’s wired like a powderkeg and ready to blow? Tick.
  • Paul Newman as a drifter who likes taking his shirt off? DOUBLE TICK.

It’s a brilliant, heady trip below the surface of a small town, secrets being revealed like scabs being picked off a wound. The central relationship between Newman’s drifter (Chance Wayne, would you believe) and Geraldine Page’s glamourpuss Alexandra Del Lago is steamy in a way I wasn’t quite expecting for 1962. It’s where those Newman gifs come from.

Sweet Bird 02

Ed Begley is delightfully horrible as the town bigwig, particularly in a tense scene with his long-term mistress, and a young Rip Torn is his perfectly malevolent brat of a son.

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Ed Begley chewin’ scenery and slappin’ dames

The whole thing is heavy like a late summer sun, exactly the way Tennessee Williams should be. Except… (SPOILERS AHEAD)

While some aspects were more daring than I expected, the censors took the explosive ending and turned it into a blank. In the film, the lovelorn daughter’s pregnancy and illegal abortion is changed to venereal disease leading to a hysterectomy. Still pretty hard stuff for the early 60s. But then at the very close of the film Chance Wayne is beaten up and told never to return, as “no woman is going to want him now…” He’s been whacked in the face a couple of times, but is otherwise pretty unaffected. In the play… he’s castrated. Bit stronger, right? And it unfortunately completely deflates everything that’s come before, everything that has been building to this pivotal, unspeakable moment.

Still very much worth watching though, as up until that final moment it’s pitch perfect.

The Verdict

A great effort, but a shame it didn’t quite have the balls to go all the way. Impotent at the climax. A bit limp at the end. You get the idea. Now for a NEW CATEGORY:

Paul Newman Shirtless-o-meter

10/10

Sweet Bird 03

Yes, technically there’s a shirt in the picture, shush.

Coming Attractions

I’ve still got a long list of Newman films just from two decades of his career that I want to see, but will Tim humour me with one of them or pick something a bit more recent? We shall see…

@BornToPootle

The Sting – 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 All is Lost, which is pretty much how I felt while watching it.

The Choice

We’ve been in a Robert Redford season for a fair while. Now, there are still a few films of his we’d like to tackle, but it also feels like the time to move on and perhaps circle back for another pass. With that in mind we had a bit of a think about where we wanted to go next (meta-gaming!).

Most of the ‘seasons’ we’ve tackled have been based around a male star (Sarandon Season being the only exception so far), so a Jane Fonda season was quite tempting (and gave us a few options to pick from to start it off). But… we got into Redford after a brief Paul Newman season. So perhaps this whole thing could merely be an interlude in a longer Newman season… Also, Tim really fucking loves The Sting.

The Sting 01

The Sting and me

I think I’ve only seen it once before. I saw it after having seen Butch Cassidy, and although I enjoyed it my overriding memory is that it’s a poor relation. But then my memory of Butch Cassidy was slightly harsher than it needed to be too, so all bets are off. In recent years I’ve thought about The Sting more because of this brilliant hit piece on some terrible copywriting than anything else. So I’m looking forward to reappraising.

IMDB says

The Sting (1973): Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con. 8.3 stars.

I says

I’ve been a bit hard on Robert Redford recently while we’ve been slogging through some of his more mediocre films. We haven’t watched All The President’s Men as part of CRFC, which is a flat-out doozie. Butch Cassidy and The Great Waldo Pepper seem like distant memories. But the thing is, Robert Redford is fine. He’s horrendously handsome, like tooth-achingly good looking. His charisma bubbles over. I suppose someone like Ben Affleck is probably a good touchstone. He’s fine. I find myself not that interested in much of his work, but occasionally there’s something that crosses over.

The Sting 03

What an uggo.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sting. We start off following Newman’s small-time con artist who gets in a little too deep. Eventually we’re introduced to Paul Newman, an old hand at the big-time con. And then, when they’re setting up their big score, we see the magic. Paul Newman must pretend to be a boorish drunk at a high-stakes poker game. And there it is. Robert Redford is a distant memory as Paul Newman shines. It’s like if Ben Affleck was acting opposite… I dunno, Paul fucking Newman.

The Sting 04

Drunk Paul Newman is best Paul Newman

Redford has the lion’s share of the screen time here, but this is the Paul Newman show. In Butch Cassidy they felt a bit more evenly served, Butch and Sundance sparking off each other wonderfully. Here they’re kept separate a lot of the time, and it’s Redford who suffers. I mean, he’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. He does a bang-up job. And the film is great too, zipping along nicely. But when it’s all over I just want to watch the scene of Paul Newman being a boorish drunk over and over again.

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“Handsomest man in the room, raise your hand!”

He’s an absolute master.

The Verdict

If forced to only watch one of the Newman/Redford films again, I’d pick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But I hope I’m not forced.

Coming Attractions

Well. That’s definitely it for Redford season. Paul Newman has charmed me utterly, and despite watching a few mediocre ones in our first Newman season, I’m feeling pretty excited about delving into his back catalogue again.

@BornToPootle

All is Lost – 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 Sneakers. There was sneaking.

The Choice

There’s almost a dogged resignedness hitting us now. We’re 6 films into our Redford season, and have tackled 11 in CRFC in total. There are still more Redford films we want to watch, but the fatigue is starting to set in. Fatigue and the niggling thought that actually… we don’t like Redford that much. Don’t get me wrong, he’s in some very good films but is Redford what’s good about them? I’m not certain it always is. So bearing that in mind I chose a film with no-one in but Redford – All Is Lost

All is lost 01

All Is Lost and me

I meant to see this at the cinema. It feels to me like it came out last year, but somehow it’s almost 5 years old already… Anyway, all I know is that it is Redford, alone, on a boat. And things don’t go well. And it’s proper “alone on a boat”, not with a few supporting actors turning up at the beginning and end. 100% Redford. And I seem to remember it being very favourably reviewed at the time, so I had some hopes. Would they be dashed on the rocks, or will All Is Lost sail into the top tier? Let’s find out…

IMDB says

All Is Lost (2013): After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. 6.9 stars.

I says

I’ve been convinced for a little while that if you really boil storytelling down to a very basic concept you’ll still be able to get something engaging. All I think you need is a character overcoming obstacles. There’s a lot of stuff you can (and probably should) add on top, but I’m pretty convinced that an audience will root for a character if we see them being smart or plucky enough to overcome some obstacles. Particularly where those obstacles are big obvious things like the sea trying to kill you.

So this film was a bit of a disappointment. On the surface, it is purely a character overcoming obstacles. There are some hints of backstory, but not really much. There’s no goal other than survival. There is simply a man on an increasingly rickety boat and a hostile sea. And yet…

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Man. Rickety boat. Hostile sea. Tick, tick and tick.

Perhaps it’s that the obstacles were too big, the overcoming almost always being a putting-off rather than an actual overcoming? Perhaps it was that Tim and I came up with a series of brilliant inventions that would have saved the day that surely any sailor would always carry on board… and then it turned out they do all actually exist and, indeed, sailors do all carry them. Just not this ‘resourceful’ one.

Perhaps I’m just not fussed by boats?

Perhaps I’m wrong and we do need something more than just character and obstacles being overcome?

All is lost 02

“Go on, give us a wave!”

I prayed for the ocean to swallow this foolish man up… SPOILER COMING…

When finally he sank into the briny depths I rejoiced. Until he was rescued.

The Verdict

Mopey dick.

Coming Attractions

Well, the fatigue may have set in but as there were no other actors in All is Lost it looks like we’ve got at least one more Redford film to go!

@BornToPootle

A Game and a Nomination

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front of late, but it’s for good reason (for once). I’ve been doing some of yer actual genuine, bona fide, ye olde creative writing.

I’ve entered my new (third) game into Spring Thing, which is a more informal kind of contest than IFComp (and thanks to all who played Ostrich in that last year. If you didn’t, it’s available here if you fancy giving it a go). I would encourage everyone to have a play of a few (or all!) the games and see what’s what.

My game is The Devil and the Mayor. You play as a devil summoned Up Top to make deals with humans and help them damn themselves even more than they already are. It’s a lot lighter than Ostrich, closer in tone to my first game, Understudied. So expect a fair bit of silliness and the option for escalating mayhem.

If and when you have given it a go, feel free to let me know what you think in the comments here or over on Twitter.

The other thing that’s been going on is with my short film, The Accident. You can read a bit more about that particular chestnut here, but the tl;dr version is: it’s an 8 minute black comedy which I wrote and co-starred in alongside Kellie Higgins, who also directed it. The other weekend was the first public screening at the finale awards gala night of the Crystal Palace International Film Festival. A world premiere, if you like. But wait, there’s more…

The Accident has been selected for the Unrestricted View Film Festival taking place later this month. When the brochure was published I scrolled through a few short film evenings trying to find when The Accident would be showing… and then I found it. It’s on the 27th April, showing in an actual cinema, and it’s on a programme of award-nominated shorts. Quite what award it’s been nominated for I don’t yet know but I’m pretty happy about that.

So, normal service resuming with some CRFC posts in the not too distant future. And I might even treat you to some videogame content following a brilliant trip to EGX Rezzed last week.

Sneakers – 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 Chase. The 1966 film, not the TV game show. It was full of simmering sexual tension and racism. The TV game show, not the 1966 film.

The Choice

We’re deep in the Redford forest now and it’s getting hard to find our way out. We should have left a breadcrumb trail. But what’s that behind that tree? Why it’s All Is Lost! And behind that rock? Oh, there’s Electric Horseman. And a wild Brubaker just flew overhead… But now what’s this snuffling through the undergrowth? Tim’s heading towards it… It sounds slightly familiar… could it be? It’s… Yes, it’s Sneakers!

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Sneakers and me

I’d seen Sneakers before, albeit a long time ago. Perhaps it was the first time it was shown on TV in (presumably) 1993 or thereabouts. I don’t remember much about it at all if I’m honest. Faint memories of Robert Redford… unsanctioned spy stuff… A Belushi perhaps?

Before the rewatch I expected it to be a solid, glossy, relatively unremarkable thriller. Was I right? Let’s find out…

IMDb says

Sneakers (1992): A security pro finds his past coming back to haunt him, when he and his unique team are tasked with retrieving a particularly important item. 7.1 stars.

I says

When we started this film club we tackled a fair few early 90s thrillers – stuff like Chain Reaction itself, The Net (urgh), and The Fugitive. While the latter still holds up pretty well, I don’t think time has been that kind to films of the era. Over the intervening couple of decades Tarantino’s (sometimes painful) influence on dialogue has been subsumed, and tension has ratcheted up time and again.

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Horny, Schlubby, Family-y, Leadery, Savanty

In some ways I think this film suffers more by comparison than others. Robert Redford leads a team of plucky outcasts (ex CIA family man Sidney Poitier, horny young guy River Phoenix, schlub Dan Ackroyd – whoops, not a Belushi – and blind savant David Strathairn) in a corporate spying outfit. We meet them doing a bank job, but wait! It wasn’t really a bank job! Twist! They had been hired by the bank to test their security.

 

A new job falls into their lap courtesy of a government agency, but all is not as it seems and soon enough Redford and co are in danger. A few twists, a few turns, but it all plays out in a fairly standard manner. So why has this film suffered in particular? There’s one scene that’s a prime example. As the film nears its climax the gang have to pull off a heist. Redford has to break into an office and steal something, but there’s a catch. Amongst the many security devices to foil is one that is movement triggered. Any movement over a certain speed will trigger the alarm. Cue training montage etc etc. Four years later Mission Impossible would come out and absolutely nail that kind of tense heist scene in a way that still makes it an oft-spoofed scene over 20 years later. The world of action thrillers moved on in 1996, and Sneakers was very much left in the dust.

It’s not only that – the script is trying a little too hard to make the gang slightly wacky. Jokes are overworked and so a film that should zip along gets bogged down. There’s a thankless role for Mary McDonnell as Redford’s former girlfriend (wonder if she’ll stay ‘former’? Hmmmm) co-opted into their heisting and tasked with seducing poor ol’ Stephen Tobolowsky’s nerdy computer dater. Weirdly, McDonnell reminded me a little of Maggie Gyllenhaal who would eventually play her daughter in Donnie Darko. That’s some canny casting.

Time hasn’t been kind to some aspects of Sneakers, but in other areas it has fared better. Spoilers coming… The central maguffin is a device that can hack into all US systems, and there’s a nice moment where Ben Kingsley (playing Redford’s former partner in crime who was imprisoned and thought dead) declares that world war three will be fought with information and it is already playing out.

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The annual Redford/Kinglsey staring competition was the actual inspiration for the film

And at the very end the NSA wants to hold on to the device to spy on other agencies… There’s some foreshadowing of the mass surveillance revelations over the last few years, and the election-meddling that seems likely to be a more and more prevalent form of covert international influence.

My favourite part though? Timothy Busfield’s different looks for pretending to be a government agent vs mafia (ish) goon:

The Verdict

Believe it or not, it’s a solid, glossy, unremarkable thriller. But, like its central star, it’s starting to show its age…

Coming Attractions

We’re so deep in the Redford forest that it’ll be some time before we’re out. I’m tempted to bring us back into the present with All Is Lost, or to 1967 for the film that was his big break – Barefoot in the Park.

Looking at his filmography, we’ve so far watched 11 Redford films as part of CRFC. Removing TV movies, series, shorts and VO only roles, Redford has been in 44 films. So we’re already a quarter of the way through… Just sayin’.

@BornToPootle