I wrote a film and you can watch it now

A little while ago I wrote about Just Fucking Doing It and mentioned a short film that I’d written and was making with some friends. Well since then things have been very much happening and I have been very much not blogging about them, largely because I’m an idiot. Anyway, there’s a new development and that means the film is now freely available.

The reason it’s taken so long to make the film public is because I’ve been submitting it to film festivals, and they all insist that films aren’t publicly viewable. I’ve finished with submissions now, so can finally make it public. It’s been a fun, and genuinely rewarding, experience.

Over the course of the last year I submitted The Accident to eight or nine festivals, and it was accepted as part of the Official Selection at three. The World Premiere of The Accident happened in April at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival. The following month saw The Accident selected for The Unrestricted View Film Festival in London. We were nominated for Best Comedy and, in a turn which completely gobsmacked me, we won. Finally, earlier this month The Accident broke America by appearing as part of the Official Selection at the Portland Comedy Film Festival in Oregon.

In the time since making the film, Kellie Higgins, the director/star, has moved to Australia, had a baby and continued making hilarious things. I’ve bought a house, changed jobs and changed back again, and published my first games (here). We absolutely could not have done it without Tom Golding handling the sound and edit, Joseph Brett who rocked up on the day as DoP and was absolutely unfazed by making a one-take film, and Guy Cubitt resurrecting his acting chops and lending us his house to film in.

Kellie and I met in 2007 while both jobbing actors. We were employed as scarers in a notable tourist attraction, paid to cover ourselves in fake blood and do silly, spooky things. It seems appropriate that over a decade later we’d finally work together on our own project and cover ourselves in fake blood all over again.

Here’s The Accident, and here’s to Just Fucking Doing It: https://vimeo.com/327708486

@BornToPootle

Where The Money Is – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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

Previously On…

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

The Choice

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

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

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Where The Money Is and me

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

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

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

IMDb says

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

I says

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

Even shirtless Newman can’t stand to look at Mulroney

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

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

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

At least they’re having fun…

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

Lacking zip, if not a gun

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

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

Somebody Up There Likes Me – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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

Previously On…

There was rumbling in Fort Apache, The Bronx.

The Choice

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

Right…?

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope.

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

Somebody 01

Somebody Up There Likes Me and me

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

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

IMDb says

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

I says

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

 

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

Somebody 04

Stay Puft Marshmallow (New)Man

 

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

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

Somebody 02

There’s a girl…

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

Somebody 03

There’s still a girl…

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

Fort Apache, The Bronx – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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

Previously On…

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

The Choice

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

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

Fort Apache 01

Fort Apache, The Bronx and me

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

Oh great joy, oh endless delight.

IMDb says

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

I says

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

Fort Apache 02

Rubble in The Bronx

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

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

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

Hasselblad/Flextight X5/Transparent

What about everything else?

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

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).

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Fear Grier

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

Oh, and Paul Newman gets his torso out again.

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

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.

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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.

Sweet Bird 04

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.

Sweet Bird 05

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.

The Sting 02

“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