Chain Reactions Galore

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Chain Reaction Film Club entry, but rest assured it has been carrying on in the background. Last time I posted about it we’d just tackled Animal Kingdom. Here’s how the chain has continued – I won’t put in a slavish entry for every film, but a few broad strokes.

From Animal Kingdom we linked to Kinky Boots via Joel Edgerton. It’s a somewhat different tone (Australian crime family to British drag queen shoe manufacturing), and although Joel and Chiwetel Ejiofor put in decent performances it never quite rises above a sort of Full Monty lite. I started drafting a post about it, but it just descended into a rant about how unfair it is that Idris Elba is always mooted as the first black James Bond but Chiwetel seldom is. He’d be excellent. So that’s you told. Apropos of nothing, my other half saw Chiwetel, Bill Nighy and Andrew Lincoln in Joe Penhall’s play Blue Orange years ago. What a cast.

ejiofor

From Kinky Boots to Inside Man to… Bond?

Using Chiwetel Ejiofor we moved on to Inside Man, a 2006 Spike Lee joint that was perfectly enjoyable. Though now I write about it a couple of months down the line I’m actually struggling to remember much about it. Chiwetel was underused though, I remember that much. Oh, get ready for a spoiler… I absolutely loved the bait-and-switch tension the title gave the film. As it deals with a bank heist the instant assumption is that either the cops or the criminals have a man on the other side. But for once that’s not quite what’s going on… I can’t remember another film that built tension purely from its title. Also, the way Jodie Foster says Baron De Rothschild is worth the entry price.

The big cheese in Inside Man was played by Christopher Plummer, and so I decided to tackle his Kipling. The Man Who Would Be King (1975) is one of those films that everyone else seemed to see repeatedly on lazy Sundays growing up, but I didn’t goddammit and I think I missed out. Michael Caine and Sean Connery are the ne’erdowells who decide to take over a country and somehow manage it until their own greed plays against them. It’s a top watch, despite Connery’s repeated ‘we two Englishmen’ lines being spewed in his Scottish accent.

Man who would be king

Nothing to see here, just two Englishmen, oh yes indeed.

Following that I was up for a season of either Connery or Caine films, and we plumped for the latter. So over the course of a few weeks we tackled Zulu (which I did see on lazy Sundays growing up, and was not quite as problematic as I feared it might now be), Gambit (1966 – an incredibly well played twist early on), The Ipcress File (it must surely rate as one of the most British films ever made, and certainly features some of the best passive-aggressive paperwork) and two of its follow ups – Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain (the law of diminishing returns applies).

Ipcress

Britishness is most definitely afoot. And ahead. And ashoulder.

Finally, having started the season with a war epic, we finished with the same. 1969’s all-star Battle of Britain which was worth watching purely for the scene of Edward Fox parachuting into a greenhouse. Here, I’ll save you a couple of hours, watch this.

Making a wonderfully fresh-faced appearance in Battle of Britain was Ian MacShane and so I poopooed the likes of Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier’s weighty filmographies and plumped instead for The Last Of Sheila.

Last of Sheila

Swearengen. Mhm.

It’s a sort of whodunnit cat and mouse affair about a film producer going on a cruise to uncover which of his chums killed his wife in a hit-and-run. Strangely enough it was the only the only film either of its co-writers ever scripted. And who were those writers? Why Psycho’s Anthony Perkins and composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim! Apparently they used to host murder mystery treasure hunts for their celeb chums and it spun out of that.

It’s surprisingly good and nicely twisty, however there is one deeply strange thing in it. The game the producer plays is to give each of his guests a card with a dark secret on. Over the course of a week the game is meant to be deciphering who has which card. The secrets don’t correspond to the person who has the card, but they are of course, a secret harboured by one of the other guests. Raquel Welch’s diva character is devastated when it’s revealed that she shoplifted a coat early in her career. However when it is revealed that James Mason’s character is a child molester there is no comment. It’s mentioned a couple more times in the film and, despite the fact that one of the other characters was around him when she was a child, no further comment is passed. It is completely shrugged off. Now, this was in the 70s and we’re living in a post-Saville world, but even so surely it wasn’t something to be glossed over. On the plus side, James Mason’s voice is gloriously James Masony.

From his dulcet tones in The Last of Sheila we pivoted to an occasionally German accented James Mason in The Boys From Brazil. I’m a big fan of Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, and while this wasn’t on that same level it was still enjoyable. Laurence Olivier and Steve Guttenberg are Nazi hunters (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), and uncover Dr. Mengele alive and well in Panama. But an evil scheme is afoot… Olivier was nominated for an Oscar for it but Peck’s performance was apparently lambasted by critics at the time. Seeing it for the first time now, I’d argue that Olivier’s performance almost ruins the film and Peck is excellently monstrous.

Boys from Brazil

Peck is excellent, Mason is just enjoying the holiday.

So good was Peck in fact, that I struggled to pick just one film for the following week. But eventually I settled on Cape Fear – the 1962 version. He does actually appear in the 1991 version too so we may well get to that shortly. I know the Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons very well, though it seems like that’s more of a riff on the 90s version. I worried that Sideshow Bob’s version of Max Cady’s evil revenge story might soften Cape Fear a bit, but my gosh was I wrong. Robert Mitchum is incredibly horrible, and despite some censoring and the removal of references to child rape from the script, it’s really clear what his plan is. Peck is a muscular counterpoint to Cady and the testing of his almost inflexible moral core creates brilliant tension. One of the best we’ve seen in the 90 films we’ve tackled since the starting point of Chain Reaction.

Cape Fear

Sideshow Bob Mitchum

Phew. That’s caught me right up to speed. It’s Tim’s choice this week and I’m hoping for another Peck film. I had about 8 or 9 on my Peck shortlist without even looking at any Westerns or war films. And most importantly I could name the season ‘The Pecking Order’, so presumably we have to do it now. Got a favourite Gregory Peck film? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!

 

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Animal Kingdom – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 78: Animal Kingdom

Poster for the 2010 Australian movie Animal Kingdom

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 Muriel’s Wedding and it was one of the best we’ve had so far in the CRFC.

The Choice

Like last time it came down to a binary choice. On the one hand Animal Kingdom (2010), a gritty crime drama. On the other, Children of the Revolution (1996), a comedy about Stalin having an illegitimate Australian heir. I was mainly considering the latter to compare with last year’s excellent The Death of Stalin (plus it seems fairly positively reviewed and has Geoffrey Rush, F Murray Abraham and Sam Neill in). Then I watched the trailer and… it was Animal Kingdom all the way.

The Link

Dan Wyllie

Actor Dan Wyllie in Muriel's Wedding

Dan Wyllie in Muriel’s Wedding

He was one of Muriel’s deadbeat siblings last time, and seems to be something if a mainstay of Aussie film and TV. I’ve not seen him in anything else, but as he’s one of a couple of cast members who could link is to Animal Kingdom, it’s time for a second bite of Wyllie.

Animal Kingdom and me

I’ve always been a bit scared of Animal Kingdom, if I’m honest. I don’t gravitate towards gritty crime stuff at the best of times (there are a LOT of seminal British gangster films I’ve never seen), and this is Australian. And in my head Australian films tend to have an extra layer of grit, an extra twist of the knife.

Proposition

This is the image that springs to mind when I think “Aussie cinema…”

The Proposition always sticks in the mind as an example, but it’s true of the first couple of Mad Max films too (fyi I will not hear a single word against Mad Max Fury Road, but that’s a different topic for another day). Muriel’s Wedding demonstrated this too, tackling topics a UK or Hollywood film about Abba and weddings would not go to. And last year’s It Comes At Night, directed by Animal Kingdom star Joel Edgerton, fits the bill too…

So although I’ve only ever heard great things about it, Animal Kingdom scares me.

IMDB says

A seventeen year-old navigates his survival amongst an explosive criminal family and the detective who thinks he can save him. 7.3 stars.

I says

Well I don’t know what I was so worried about. It’s not exactly a light hearted romp, mind, but there’s a lovely sensitivity to Animal Kingdom that balances out the subject.

Animal Kingdom 005

James Frecheman and Dan Wyllie

When the opening scene was of J (James Frecheman), a teenager, calling paramedics to attend to his ODed mum, who had died, I’ll admit I felt a little bit justified in my fear. That said teenager is then inducted into his extended family who specialise in armed robbery didn’t help. A family being molested by police who are, by all accounts, itching to shoot first and plant evidence later…

Animal Kingdom 002

GRIT! SO MUCH GRI- Hang on…

But the violence, when it comes, isn’t lingered on. There’s a spray of blood from off camera here, a gentle panning away there. J doesn’t have to see the worst of it, and we’re not made to either. So J is hauled in for questioning by Guy Pearce’s tired cop we still have sympathy for him holding out. He’s not a saint himself, and the family have shielded him from the worst brutality.

Animal Kingdom 003

Grumblegrumble Gritty Moustache grumblegrumble

Let’s just pause and have a chat about Guy Pearce for a second. After Memento he was bona fide leading man material. He’s hunky, he’s interesting. And yet he rocks up in strange roles. The weatherbeaten cop here, the tacitern lead in The Rover, Weyland in Prometheus. He hasn’t gone down the star route, whether by choice or the ins and outs of the hollywood system. But he is consistently interesting and just slightly weirder than you expect (without being a stone cold oddball). I think Robert Pattinson might have taken notes from his career trajectory.

Anyway, J’s uncles are a combination of inspiring (cheers, Joel Edgerton), maverick (cheers, whatseryername from the 300 sequel), and creepy (cheers Ben Mendlesohn). His girlfriend’s family are a great contrast, a clear family unit but not saccharine. And over it all Jackie Weaver’s matriarch presides. She’s a Lady Macbeth figure with the hard edges tucked away so far that you forget all about them. And when she brings it, it’s in such a matter of fact style that it’s all so perfectly natural.

Animal Kingdom 004

Something real gritty might be happening, careful

I liked The Rover, David Michod’s follow up film, very much too. Critics made loads of smug puns that sort of spoiled some plot stuff, so if you’ve not seen it do give it a watch, but don’t read too much about it first.

The Verdict

I am less scared of Australian films than I was before, but no less impressed.

Coming Attractions

We could stay paddling around in Australian waters, but with Joel Edgerton and Jacqui Weaver having made a number of international films maybe we won’t… It’s Tim’s choice, so who knows where we’ll end up.

@BornToPootle

Muriel’s Wedding – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 77: Muriel’s Wedding

Muriel 001

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…

Snogging boys out the back of the Yeoman, confusing feelings for Jamie Theakston, oh and the film Velvet Goldmine. It’s one of my favourite posts in the CRFC saga so far, so please check it out if you haven’t already.

The Choice

It was up to Tim and he managed to narrow it down to The Dark Knight and Muriel’s Wedding. One we’ve both seen (him repeatedly) but are always up for a rewatch, the other is an Australian film about a lady getting married… So that’s what we picked!

The Link

Toni Collette

Muriel 003

Usually I’d use an image from the previous film here, but I just don’t wanna

Well I didn’t know she was Australian, so it’s true that every day is a school day (though not sure that’s on any curriculum. And, well, she’s fab generally, isn’t she. Whether it’s an off kilter indie or a Hollywood romcom she tends to bring the goods. She’s never been one of those actors I get properly excited about and would see something purely because of (take a bow Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell, alongside whom she starred in The Way Way Back), but I’m usually pleased to see her.

Muriel’s Wedding and me

This falls into the heard-of-but-never-seen category. Some would say that it also falls into the chick-flick category to which I would say a number of things (my wife is studying for an MA in gender studies so I’d copy some long words out of her textbooks), but the upshot would be that I think that’s a singularly unhelpful genre label and normalises the idea that other genres are for men. So. There’s that.

It’s also forever tied up in my head with the film Let Him Have It about the last person to be hanged in the UK, purely because I heard them both advertised on Capital fm around the chart show, albeit a couple of years apart. I imagine they’re quite different.

M8DLEHI EC010

Muriel’s Beheading would’ve been a great pun. If only the UK had employed the guillotine.

IMDB says

A young social outcast in Australia steals money from her parents to finance a vacation where she hopes to find happiness, and perhaps love.

I says

Genres labels are stupid. They come with so many preconceptions for starters. Take ‘goth’ as an example. There’s the black clothing, the make-up, the scowling and the listening to Sisters of Mercy… and while some of that may be accurate (or certainly was for me), that’s never the whole of it.

On a Friday night at the Yeoman (second week in a row I’ve been able to shoehorn that pub in. I’d ask for a commission if they hadn’t closed 18 years ago) our goth gang would gather and drink Smirnoff Ice until we were wobbly. Then on particularly special nights Dancing Queen would come on the stereo and up would go one of our number, up on to a table, and a dancing queen he would be.

Muriel 004

The Kentish Yeoman, Tunbridge Wells, circa 1998. Around 11pm.

Which is to say that whether you’re a goth, emo, hardcore punk, grime obsessive or whatever, Abba know their way around a tune.

So finding out that the backbone of the film was the music of Abba was not exactly off putting. If you’re drunk and Abba are playing and you’re not dancing then you are doing it wrong. Or you’re too drunk and everyone should get out of vomit range.

I’m going to leap into spoiler territory now, but for a film about a wedding-obsessed social misfit looking for love after making a break for the big city, jesus christ does it go to some dark places. My initial reaction as the credits rolled was to say that you could tell it wasn’t an American film. The Hollywood version wouldn’t have the balls and the indie version wouldn’t have the charm. To juggle life-changing disability, suicide, selfish main characters, dance routines and sex slapstick and come out with a coherent charming and moving film is really quite incredible.

Toni Collette’s Muriel goes through the whole standard hollywood character arc in the first act of this, from retiring shrew to ballsy extrovert with a rebellious best friend in tow. And then the film has the nerve to keep going, to show where she goes next and the ramifications of her actions on those around her. Some of them have it coming, some of them not so much. But the film doesn’t pull those punches.

Muriel 005

Rachel Griffiths is The Best.

This is one of the earliest credits for both Collette and Rachel Griffiths (as one of cinema’s best best friends) and it is not hard to see why they have both gone on to long successful careers. They are really rather good in it, and work brilliantly together too.

So. It’s a chick-flick. About Abba and weddings. And I loved it.

Muriel 002

Toni Collette doing an impression of me watching Muriel’s Wedding.

But I imagine that’s apparent.

The Verdict

If you are not on your feet cheering during the Waterloo routine then I put it to you that you are, in fact, dead.

Muriel 004

An all-time great scene. Really.

Coming Attractions

Lots of Aussie actors to pick from, a few of whom have crossed over into American cinema too. I might try and keep it down under for now though, just for a bit of a change.

@BornToPootle

Velvet Goldmine – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 76: Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Velvet 001

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 tackled Ride With the Devil, Ang Lee’s empathetic take on the American Civil War.

The Choice

This time it was on me, and I narrowed it down to the bare essentials before making my final choice.

Pleasantville (1998) via Tobey Maguire because… I’ve been meaning to watch it for years.

The Newton Boys (1998) via Skeet Ulrich because… I really should see a third Skeet Ulrich film.

Outlander (2008) via Jim Caviezel because… it’s got aliens and vikings in, I’m only human!

The Village (2004) via Celia Weston because… an M Night Shyamalan film might at least be fun to dislike.

Safe Men (1998) via Mark Ruffalo because… it’s got Sam Rockwell in it and I will watch him in anything.

And the winner… Velvet Goldmine (1998) via:

The Link

Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Velvet 002

Turns out I’ve been lucky enough not to see him in that much. Ah, I miss those innocent days. I mean, he’s clearly very pretty, he looks like a Frank Quitely comic book character, all bee stung lips and such… but… well, I’ll talk about it below.

Velvet Goldmine and me

Sometimes we come across classics in CRFC and it’s a little embarrassing to admit I haven’t seen them (I didn’t start blogging this until after we watched The Godfather, thank christ). Other times there are films which, if they’re not stone cold classics, they are at least so incredibly pertinent to my interests that my not-having seen them beggars belief.

I got into glam rock when I was in my early teens, mainly through T Rex and Sweet. Then in my late teens and early 20s I was in a goth band with definite glam leanings. We preened, we were thin white dukes all (ok, thin white oiks), and I had the best silver mock snakeskin coat the world has ever seen.

Velvet 003

I miss this coat

And as all this was happening, Velvet Goldmine came out. My best friend and bandmate saw it at the time and told me I had to see it.

And for some reason I didn’t.

IMDB says

In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.

I says

Hum.

And that’s the hum of someone unsure of what they thought rather than someone humming along with a tune.

It’s definitely not what I expected, which can be both blessing and curse. And realising that it was directed by Todd Haynes, he of the Dylan biopic in which 7 diverse people play Dylan at different times of his life should have been a clue (really must see He’s Not There at some point).

Velvet 004

Not Bowie

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Bowie-alike Brian Slade (though different enough following lawsuit threats apparently); Christian Bale is a journo who had a formative experience at a Slade (oh, I see what they’ve done there) gig 10 years ago and is now doing a where-are-they-now piece about the vanished star; Ewan McGregor is Iggy Pop-alike Curt Wild. That one. I’ll watch the Iggy one please.

Velvet 005

Not Iggy

And I think that was my main feeling – I couldn’t give a monkeys about Meyers or Bale in this, Ewan McGregor’s Curt Wild was so much more fun and charismatic (and likeable) that the others sort of paled (even more than the make-up). He was a lot Iggy, a bit Jim Morrisson and, according to Courney Love, a bit Kurt Cobain. It’s a strong mix. Rhys Meyers on the other hand, fresh from last weeks appearance as some sort of bizarre vampire in 1800s America, seems to be playing a bizarre vampire in 1970s London. Is he a bizarre vampire in everything? I’ve not seen The Tudors but can picture bizarre vampire Henry VIII all too clearly…

It did make me think a bit though. Not about what it wanted me to think about, mind, whatever that was. No, it struck me that it was made in the late 90s when there was a sudden surge (or it seemed like it at the time) of experimenting with sexual orientation. Out the back of the Yeoman on a Friday night you’d have to be blind to miss boys snogging boys and girls snogging girls, and this in Tunbridge Wells. People were professing their bisexuality all over the shop. I had some confusing feelings about Jamie Theakston for god’s sake. And Velvet Goldmine reflects that atmosphere back and says yeah, it was right there in the 70s too (though there did seem to be a conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia in places which was somewhat… troubling).

Velvet 006

I mean… Hunky, yeah?

And now that we’re living in a time when sexual orientation and gender identity are big mainstream topics my main thought is that I hope it sticks this time. It’s been bubbling away in subcultures for so long that I really do hope we’re at the point where it isn’t all forced back underground and cloaked behind euphemism. It’s there behind the hippies, glam, punk, new romantic and on and on and on. It’s always been there, now perhaps we can discuss it sensibly and publicly accept that it has indeed always been there. Always will be there no matter what happens in the grand scheme of things. It feels like we’re really close this time, laws have been made after all and mainstream gay and trans icons abound, but events across the pond are showing how quickly things can be undone…

Getting back to the film for a sec, most damningly I didn’t come away from it humming any tunes. And that’s unforgiveable. There’s a decent version of Gimme Danger courtesy of Ewan’s Curt Wild. And Placebo turn up to give 20th Century Boy a decent outing (but come on, unless you piss about with it 20th Century Boy is always going to be 100% banger). For all Cadillac Records‘ flaws I was singing Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf songs for days afterwards. I still find Sing Street’s Riddle of the Model popping into my head (seriously, go and watch Sing Street if you haven’t already. And watch it again if you have). The Blues Brothers is held together by the strength of the songs… and that’s where Velvet Goldmine falls flat.

Come to think of it, The Blues Brothers might be a good comparison. Both have a sort of hyper reality that keeps becoming quasi music video. Both deal with forgotten musical heroes in a way… Wikipedia tells me that Velvet Goldmine closely parallels Citizen Kane, but I’m saying The Blues Brothers is the one to compare it to. And I know which of those gets me singing…

The Verdict

If you’re after Citizen Kane allusions I’d recommend the episodes of The Real Ghostbusters and Pinky and the Brain instead.

Coming Attractions

It’s Tim’s choice. I hope it doesn’t involve a bizarre vampire.

@BornToPootle

Ride With The Devil – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 75: Ride With The Devil (1999)

Ride 02

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…

Cadillac Records was last up, and I theorised that the two ways to tell whether a music biopic was worth it’s salt were a) would you rather have watched it than spent the duration listening to the music itself, or b) has it put the music in a new context that affects your enjoyment one way or the other. Cadillac Records fell at both hurdles, unfortunately.

The Choice

There was no shortlist this week – after looking through some filmographies Tim knew he wanted to go to Ride With The Devil next.

The Link

Jeffrey Wright

Ride 03

Wright as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records

He turned in a muscular performance as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records last time. I’ve seen him in a few bits and bobs over the years, but always in quite minor roles, so I’m pleased we’re getting a second helping. Tim’s a fan of his, and on the strength of last week’s film alone I can see myself becoming a fan too. It doesn’t exactly hurt that his Twitter account is a very sassy resistance feed:

Ride 01

Ride With The Devil and me

I wanted to see this when it came out. I wanted to see this at various points when it was on TV in the early noughties (goddamn I hate that that caught on as the nickname for the decade). I’ve had a copy on a hard drive recorded from TV for about 10 years. And yet…  for some reason I never have managed to find the time. Apart from being directed by Ang Lee, concerning the American civil war and being one of only two films I’m aware of Skeet Ulrich being in (Scream is of course the other) I know very little about it.

IMDB says

During the American Civil War, two friends join the Bushwhackers, a militant group loyal to the Confederacy.

I says

Well here we go. The American Civil War has come back into general discussion recently (possibly in the US it’s never out of general discussion) thanks to the debates about the confederate flag and statues of confederate generals and such. As a rank outsider, the general view I’ve always assumed is that Confederates = want slavery, Unionists = want abolition. Or to put it another way, Confederates are the bad guys. Now I know it’s not as simple as that and am certainly not going to spend this blog writing a secondary school essay on the causes of the American Civil War, but I hadn’t previously realise that this film centred on Confederate troops. I say troops, but they’re more like a guerilla cell within Union territory.

Ride 04Skeet and the Tobester (as I imagine their local radio morning show would be titled)

Toby Maguire and Skeet Ulrich are the friends who join the Bushwhackers following Ulrich’s father being murdered by Union soldiers and his house being burned to the ground. They get up to such shenanigans as dressing up as Union troops to inveigle their way into a group and then open fire on soldiers and civilian supporters alike. We see that bad stuff has been done to them, and they go right on and do bad stuff back. Things get a bit more interesting when they shack up in the woods for the winter with Simon Baker’s George Clyde and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), a slave whom Clyde freed – not by buying his contract but by gifting the money to buy the contract to the slave himself.

As they remain cooped up, things seem to become more savage among the Bushwhackers. People are collecting scalps. The Union army is closing in. And in the meantime singer/songwriter Jewel is coming and going with food parcels and kisses for Skeet Ulrich. Incidentally, I’ve looked it up and I don’t think Skeet is short for anything. Imagine that.

There’s a feeling that the boys are tired of the fighting, but more than that it becomes increasingly apparent, though not trumpeted loudly still, what is being fought for. And it becomes increasingly uncomfortable for Daniel Holt, who is well and truly bonded with Clyde and the others. Black bodies are being burnt in the street and drunken Bushwhackers make a grab for him, forgetting he’s on their side. It does a good job of balancing sympathy for the characters without expecting us to sympathise with the cause. I’ve never been a huge Tobey Maguire fan though, which didn’t shift with this film. I saw Molly’s Game at the cinema a couple of days later, which would have blown any remaining fondness for Tobey away anyway (I know, the character in Molly’s Game is fictionalised, but by how much?). A film focusing more solely on Jeffrey Wright’s character might have been more my cup of tea.

Ride 06

That’s right, I’m about to shoehorn in a Firefly reference. Because any excuse.

I got quite interested in the Civil War last year, as I finally read Killer Angels, one of the books Joss Whedon cites as a big influence on Firefly (yes, that’s the only reason I read it, wanna make something of it?). That’s a dramatic retelling of the immediate build up to Gettysburg from the points of view of various Union and Confederate soldiers and has a similarly good balance between character and cause. Because it had such a tight focus on one specific battle, I ended up watching a documentary series on Netflix to give a bit of context. If you haven’t already seen Ken Burns’ Civil War then I would strongly recommend giving it a go. Suffice to say, war is hell.

Two final points on the film. Firstly, Ang Lee knows his way around a frame. There are some really beautiful shots. Secondly, my least favourite element was Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character who seems to be a malevolent dick throughout purely for the sake of it. Towards the end he seems to be morphing into the vampire Lestat, which unfortunately reminded me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And there’s no need for that.

Ride 05

I’ll give you the choice I never had… 

The Verdict

Mainly interesting and compassionate, occasionally exciting and nasty, sometimes cheesey and forced. And then a vampire turns up.

Coming Attractions

Will I discover a third Skeet Ulrich film? Will I make Tim watch the dance sequence from Spider-man 3 (spoiler: no. No I will not. Because I would also have to watch it again)? Has Jewel been in any other films? We’ll find out next time…

@BornToPootle

Cadillac Records – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 74: Cadillac Records

 

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 Talk Radio, which I still find myself thinking about. One of the good ones.

The Choice

State and Main (2000) – Third or fourth time on the shortlist so it’ll happen one day…

A Midnight Clear (1992) – I’m definitely going to try and work back to this at some point, but it sounded a bit depressing (although fitting) for our Christmas watch.

Point Break (1991) – Yes, I really should have seen this shouldn’t I…

Wall Street (1987) – Yes, I also really should have seen this shouldn’t I…

And the winner… Cadillac Records (2008)

The Link

Eric Bogosian

I wrote about him a bit last time, so I won’t bore you with repetition. I was pleased to find out that he plays a radio dj in Cadillac Records though, which made me think I should tighten up the CRFC rules – maybe we should only link via an actor playing a character with the same job…

Cadillac Records and me

I don’t remember hearing much about it at the time. The film is about Chess Records, bastion of the blues. If I had heard about the film then I might have been quite tempted, as I’m a fan of American (and British) folk and roots music. Although mostly Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger albums at the point the film came out, I have more recently got into Howlin’ Wolf in a big way. Actually that’s thanks to the game Watchdogs, which features a soundtrack of Chicago-centric music. It’s a fun way to curate a soundtrack it turns out.

Anyway, we have a rather mixed relationship with based-on-real-life films here at CRFC so I picked it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation…

IMDB says

Chronicles the rise of Chess Records and its recording artists.

I says

That’s a terrible blurb from IMDb. If you don’t know anything about Chess Records, it tells you nothing. And it sounds like it could be a documentary, with talking heads repeating the same old platitudes and wry anecdotes. Oh well.

The film is more accurately a retelling of Leonard Chess’ rise from backwoods dive bar owner to head of his own record label championing black musicians in 40s, 50s and 60s Chicago. That’s a more appealing proposition by far, particularly when you factor in Adrian Brody as Leonard Chess.

Let’s start with the most important thing in any music biopic: how they handle the songs. This was strange because I was convinced that most of the time the stars were miming to the original tracks. This seemed particularly apparent with Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James (played by Eamonn Walker and Beyonce respectively). It struck me as particularly odd to hire Beyonce and then only get her to mime along, so in some ways I wasn’t surprised when the credits rolled and it turned out the cast had in fact been singing themselves. Just in some cases the syncing seemed really off.

I never quite know how I feel about actors singing the tunes versus miming over the originals. Where a film is as about the music as this one is it seems churlish not to let the original music shine through, but that can then feel like you’re watching a professional karaoke video. Joaquim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon had a good bash at Johnny Cash and June Carter in Walk The Line a few years back, but I spent the whole film wanting to listen to Johnny and June themselves… I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of going about it, as I’d feel a bit distracted either way. Oh well, sucks to be me, I guess.

The bulk of the film centres on Chess and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright – who really did seem present in the musical numbers), and I think  focusing solely on this would have been a more interesting film. There’s a tendency with real-life-based stuff to try and tell the whole story, and that’s something you can do in a book or longform TV show but not as successfully in a film. Introducing Howlin’ Wolf for a bit of tension, Etta James for some big emotional bits and Chuck Berry for a little comedy is fine, but the whole shebang stretched almost to bursting. It’s not helped by a framing device of Willy Dixon (songwriter behind many of Chess’ big hits, and played by Cedric the Entertainer) adding some narration to the beginning and end. He was such a background presence during the film itself that it was quite a shock when he popped up again.

On the subject of Chuck Berry, he’s played by Mos Def here. I’m one of that handful of people who quite liked the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy from 2005. And I really liked Mos Def in it. He impressed me again here, with a sparkling wit, believably inspiring presence and great versions of some of Berry’s songs.

I made the classic blunder of looking up how closely the film resembles the truth, and to date that hasn’t improved any of the CRFC films. Timelines are problematically skew wiff, deaths of real people become malleable things used more for metaphor than for any realistic sense of a person’s life ending, hugely important people are erased from history… The more biographical films I see the more I appreciate Tarantino’s choice for the ending of Inglourious Basterds.

So here’s the real test of any music film, would I rather have spent that 2+ hours of the run time just listening to an album of the label’s greatest hits? And yes, in this case I would have. To be honest I could listen to Howlin’ Wolf’s Spoonful (written by Willy Dixon) for 2+ hours on a loop and have a jolly good time of it. Has it recontextualised the music for me? Not massively. And, crucially, I can’t trust its recontextualisation (totes a word) because it has distorted reality so much.

The Verdict

As is so often the case with biographical films, it was… fine. Messy and frustrating in places but with enough heart and, importantly, good tunes to pass the time adequately. But maybe just look up an album or two and have a good listen instead while reading Wikipedia.

Coming Attractions

Tim’s up next, and he’s a big Jeffrey Wright fan. Adrian Brody is in a lot of heavy films I should have seen (Hello The Pianist!) and a lot of terrible films I never want to see (Goodbye Predators!). Isaiah Whitlock Jr turns up briefly, so perhaps we’ll be heading off with The Bunk… And Beyonce adds a few options, though I will veto Goldmember as if my life depends on it.

@BornToPootle

Talk Radio – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 73: Talk Radio

Talk Radio 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. 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 Three Musketeers. The 90s one. Why do we put ourselves through these things? It’s all for love.

The Choice

There wasn’t a shortlist this time as Tim decided to play his cards close to his chest. So the lights dimmed, the credits rolled and I discovered we’d be watching…. Talk Radio (1988).

The Link

Michael Wincott

Talk Radio 04

Plays villains you say…?

He’s the badassest villain in The Crow, he’s the slightly rubbish right hand man of the villain in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Three Musketeers, he’s the dead-too-soon captain in Alien Resurrection… And presumably some other things too. He’s got a voice and cheekbones to die for, I know that much.

What will he be up to in Talk Radio? If I had to guess (which I don’t, but will anyway), he’ll be a late night radio show host with some kind of grudge against the main character. He’ll be a nemesis, but not as nemesis-like as (let’s assume) the station owner. There’s always a villainous station owner.

Talk Radio and me

I’ve heard of it, but little more than that. It falls into a mass of broadcasting films that I don’t know well enough – Broadcast News, Network, A Face In The Crowd and I think a couple of others. Presumably there are others, otherwise that’s an embarrassing quartet to muddle up.

I used to listen to talk radio a fair bit while going through a lonely patch in my early/mid teenage years. I still remember Queenie from Margate calling up Adrian John for a natter every night on Radio Kent, so that’s the dramatic benchmark I’ll be holding this film up to.

But I bet there’ll be a villainous station owner.

IMDB says

A rude, contemptuous talk show host becomes overwhelmed by the hatred that surrounds his program just before it goes national.

I says

Well this was a nice surprise. Eric Bogosian is a late night talk show host on local radio. Station manager Alec Baldwin has big news for him… as of next week he’ll be syndicated nationally, but will his signature rudeness cut the mustard with the powers that be, and just who is he pissing off on the other end of the phone?

Talk Radio 02

Eric Bogosian taking his late night calls very seriously

This was based on Eric Bogosian’s play, and it shows. Most of the action happens over two show broadcasts, and the snippets we see outside those moments – added in for the film – seem very much tacked on. For largely all happening in one room with a static protagonist the film fair zips along and manages to keep a surprising amount of energy. Oliver Stone directed, and I think I normally associate him with a deal of ponderousness. Not so much here.

Eric Bogosian. Who he? Apart from looking like the missing link between Jeff Goldblum and Elliot Gould he didn’t seem familiar as an actor. I read one of his plays when I was auditioning for drama school and hunting for monologues so I’ve always assumed he was a playwright. Knowing what I do about the creative industries it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has many feathers to his cap, but somehow it always does. It’s like being surprised Bradley Walsh has an album out. No, wait, it’s nothing like that.

Funnily enough the play I looked at for drama school didn’t yield any useful monologues. As I watched Talk Radio it occurred to me that this would have been a much better play to read… until I remembered that I had been looking for monologues for a playing age of 18-25. Talk Radio would suit me now at my, ah, more mature age.

Important things to note:

1. There wasn’t really an evil station manager. Alec Baldwin came close but ultimately any undoing was more as a result of Bogosian’s character. Nice to be wrong for a change.

Talk Radio 05

Baldwin on the right with an inadvisable haircut. Or John C McGinley as he’s better known. 

2. The credits list the actors Park Overall and Rockets Redglare. Those are incredible names. Scarcely more incredible is Rockets’ bio on wikipedia.

3. Michael Wincott. Wow. He was reprising his role in the stage version (as were Bogosian and John C McGinley) which is always good to see. I didn’t know he was also a stage actor (usually a given in the UK, not always in the US) but it makes sense. His voice, presence and stillness make a bit more sense in that context. But he is utterly different here to the measured villainous roles I know him from. He’s a street corner Jon Bon Jovi, a big-haired, stoned, hooting gutter punk. And it works very well.

Talk Radio 03

Women want him, men want to be him…

4. SPOILERS!

This is the quickest a film has ever spoiled itself in my recollection. The opening credits roll. The text ‘Based on the play Talk Radio by Eric Bogosian’ appears. Below it also appears ‘And based on The Life and Death of….’ blah blah blah. So. In the opening credits they plant a pretty strong implication about where the plot is going. Sigh.

END OF SPOILERS!

The Verdict

Thoroughly enjoyable with plenty of drama and also a few Queenie from Margate moments. An overwrought ending and dodgy flashback away from greatness though.

Coming Attractions

Plenty to pick from for me. Baldwin, McGinley, Redglare (he’s in Big!), Bogosian and more besides.

@BornToPootle

The Three Musketeers – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 72: The Three Musketeers (1993)

3 Musketeers 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. 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 talked about how much I like Raphael Sbarge. Oh, and we watched Risky Business.

The Choice

My turn to pick and I managed to narrow it down to:

Runaway Train (1985)

After Hours (1985)

Better Off Dead (1985)

Vanilla Sky (2001)

and the victor….

The Three Musketeers (1993)

The Link

Rebecca De Mornay

3 Musketeers 06

Before watching Risky Business last week I wasn’t really aware of her. In fact, judging by IMDb credits the only other thing I’ve seen her in is 2003’s Identity which I don’t particularly remember. In Risky Business she was upstaged, as was everyone else, by Tom Cruise. She was a slightly ethereal presence, but that matched the ethereal Tangerine Dream score. How will she fare in a rollicking adventure?

The Three Musketeers and me

Well that’s a tricky question, isn’t it. The Three Musketeers is one of those stories that’s revived every 10 years or so with a new batch of stars for the ensemble. Exactly the same, but different (as my first headmaster used to enjoy saying). So for me, the Three Musketeers who remain iconic are Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay alongside Michael York’s D’Artagnan.

3 Musketeers 04

The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan

It was on TV regularly when I grew up and I don’t think it’s been bettered. Whether this is a generational thing or if it’s widely thought to be the definitive version I’m not so sure. I suppose Dogtagnan may also have been an influence…

I do also have a soft spot for The Man In The Iron Mask (1998) however, which features (wait for it)… Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovitch and Gabriel Byrne as the musketeers. Not a bad bunch, all told.

The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan

But as far as this particular version goes… I bought the cassette single of All For Love by music’s three musketeers: Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting. I find that slightly mind boggling now. The film came out in ’93, so I would have been 12. At that age I was obsessed with Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, buying a new album by one or the other every week I could afford it. While Bryan Adams had a bit of rock cred, I’m still surprised I bought the single. But I have never seen the film. I’d seen a version with Oliver Reed et al, why did I need one with Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen and Chris O’Donnell?

The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan. Srsly.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have high hopes, but it feels sort of festive as we approach Christmas. A big nonsensey bit of swashbuckling to snooze to on a Christmas afternoon…

IMDB says

The three best of the disbanded Musketeers – Athos, Porthos, and Aramis – join a young hotheaded would-be-Musketeer, D’Artagnan, to stop the Cardinal Richelieu’s evil plot.

I says

Kiefer, Charlie, Ollie and Chris may be the big names up front, but only Tim bloody Curry plays Richelieu! And Michael Wincott is his second in command. Things started to look good pretty early on. But then it just sort of puttered away.

The Three… no hang on… Tim Curry, wahoo.

Charlie Sheen was originally considered as Porthos and I think that would have suited him better – as it is Porthos and Aramis kind of blur into one braggart. In the other versions I mentioned earlier Porthos is Oliver Reed or Gerard Derpardieu. Oliver Platt is a fun presence in things, but he’s harder to believe as a swashbuckler (unless he’s prowling the halls of the West Wing with a cricket bat in hand of course). And Kiefer is doing his best proto-Jack Bauer, but it just made me want to watch a bit of 24 (don’t worry, I quickly disabused myself of that notion).

It’s fine. It’s certainly not the worst film we’ve seen as part of CRFC (by a long shot), but there’s just no real need for it. We’ve had this generation’s version a few years ago with a pretty mediocre cast, so perhaps it’ll be more fun to ponder who I’d cast in a current Three Musketeers than talk about this version any more… Let’s see….

Porthos (braggart, brawler) – Tom Hardy could certainly have a bash at this.

Athos (secretive, drink problem, more of a loner) – Cillian Murphy. Oh those wounded eyes…

Aramis (Pious, but also a ladies man) – I’d love to see Oscar Isaac give this a go. When he smiles the world is a better place.

D’Artagnan (the young firebrand hero) – Maybe just because I’m thinking about Star Wars at the moment, but perhaps John Boyega could be worth a go… Or Ferdia Walsh-Peelo from the incomparable Sing Street – his energy would be infectious in the old duffers above. Have you seen Sing Street? You should see Sing Street.

The Verdict

Well I want to watch my version. Or the Michael York one. What? There’s a version with Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen? Pull the other one mate.

Coming Attractions

It’s Tim’s choice and I’ve given him a who’s who of 80’s and early 90’s Hollywood to pick from, plus a few curveballs. I’d like to see more of Michael Wincott, Tim Curry is always worth a watch and Julie Delpy could take us into some different territory. We shall see.

@BornToPootle

Risky Business – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 71: Risky Business

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 looking for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems, oddities and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

Hackmania 2017 is over, six Gene Hackman films were watched and the winner was… Me and Tim of course, we got to watch six Gene Hackman films. Read about them here and here.

The Shortlist

Timecode (2000)

Risky Business (1983)

Collateral (2004)

Into The Wild (2007)

Once Around (1991)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

The Link

Tom Cruise

Tom’s the one on the right

He’s a funny old one, isn’t he? There are some massive Tom Cruise films I’ve never seen, but plenty I have – Legend, Interview With The Vampire, Born on the Fourth of July, Mission Impossible and A Few Good Men all hit when I was at impressionable ages. He’s never less than solid, he’s seldom more than engaging. Oblivion is dull as ditchwater but he holds it together well enough, whereas Edge of Tomorrow (or All You Need Is Kill, or Live, Die, Repeat) was a surprise pleasure. And boy does he look good running.

Risky Business and me

I know the scene from Risky Business. Well, not really the scene. The shot. I know that shot where Tom Cruise slides into shot in his undies. But that’s about it.

I assume it’s a sort of Ferris Buellery thing, but I haven’t seen that either. The whole 80s American teen thing has never really tickled my fancy. I have seen Breakfast Club, that’s one… and… does Lost Boys count? I saw that once… St Elmo’s Fire? Nope. Pretty In Pink? Nope. Sixteen Candles? Fast Times At Ridgemont High? Weird Science? Noooooooooooooooope.

IMDB says

A Chicago teenager is looking for fun at home while his parents are away, but the situation quickly gets out of hand.

I says

Firstly, and most importantly, someone sound the Raphael Sbarge alarm.

Mr. Sbarge on the right

I didn’t even recognise him, he’s so young in it. My love for Mr Sbarge stems from his dulcet tones playing Carth Onasi in the game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The game itself is fab and directly led to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, and the joys of romancing NPCs in games. Largely down to how frickin’ great Raphael Sbarge’s voice acting was. That game man, that and Fable hooked me back into gaming which has become one of my great pleasures.

Anyway. Just imagine the Raphael Sbarge alarm is going off through the rest of this. Next up, Curtis Armstrong. Sure, Tom Cruise looks like Tom Cruise and is all eyes and grin, but I want a film about Curtis Armstrong’s character. He has moxie, chutzpah and other such words. He looks like a slacker, has moxie and is going to Harvard. He sets everything in motion only for Tom Cruise to slide into the frame in his undies and steal the film away.

What’s that I can hear under the Raphael Sbarge alarm? Why, it’s only the Joe Pantoliano alert!

We last saw Joey Pants in buddy cop romp Running Scared. He played a whiny criminal. And here? A whiny (yet slightly smooth) pimp. You need whiny? Get Pants.

And then I suppose we ought to talk about Tom Cruise… He looks almost no different in this than he did in The Firm, despite the intervening years. And he didn’t look that different in The Firm to how he looks now. That’s some dark magick he’s involved in. He’s Tom Cruise. He turned up fully formed. After the scene where he slides in in his undies he dances around the house, ending up throwing himself onto the sofa and gyrating. He was always that Tom Cruise – Oprah shouldn’t have been a surprise.

And the film? That ol’ thing? It’s not what I was expecting. It’s almost a teen sex comedy, and it’s almost something quite searing about capitalism. The Tangerine Dream score makes the film seem like it’s meant to be taken more seriously than I thought, backed up by the odd slow-mo shot. Tom Cruise getting a call-girl because he doesn’t seem able to get a date makes it seem like it’s meant to be taken less seriously. It reminded me of Wolf Of Wall Street in an odd way. It’s up to us to find Cruise reprehensible, the film isn’t going to do it all for us. But the camera zooming in on the black of the sunglasses lens / Cruise’s soul did enough to flag up the intentions. In a society that’s teaching kids to commodify everything, of course making a quick buck from pimping out prostitutes follows.

The Verdict

Wolf of Wall Street: The College Years

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next, and I’ve got plenty to pick from. As I mentioned earlier, there are some really big Tom Cruise films I should have seen, but then there’s also Raphael Sbarge… He’s not actually in that many films, appearing more on TV and voiceovers. If I’m in the mood for whininess I’m sure Joe Pantoliano is prolific. And there’s also Rebecca De Mornay, the hooker with a heart of gold in Risky Business, who I don’t think I’ve seen in anything else at all… Who knows!

@BornToPootle

Hackmania – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time we were deep into Gene Hackman’s filmography and I promised Tim and I would continue (catch up if you’re new here – my friend Tim and I are working through films we’ve not seen or are overdue a rewatch linking to each film by a shared actor. At the mo we’re only linking to Hackman films, just because). And so we shall. Welcome to Hackmania 2017!

Film 68: Mississippi Burning (1988)

Mississippi-Burning-14

Some fine smell-the-burning-cross acting

Hackman and a youngish Willem Dafoe are FBI agents investigating the disappearance of three civil rights activists in Alabama. Dafoe is the ranking officer but Hackman, a Southerner who’s gone out and seen a bit of the world, is a loose cannon who don’t play by no rules.

This was an interesting one and I really wish I’d seen it when I was younger. It’s based very closely on real life, but with fictional names sprinkled over the top. And there’s plenty to recommend. However when I read about it after watching I was intrigued, and not that surprised, by the controversy that surrounded its release. I watched this in the same year I’ve watched Selma and Detroit. These films have a major focus on the black figures who were involved. By contrast Mississippi Burning is more of a white folks affair. So in a film dealing with trying to ensure black people were able to have a voice (by making sure they could vote unmolested) it also kind of doesn’t give black people a voice.

The other film we’ve watched as part of CRFC that deals with the civil rights struggle was Crazy In Alabama. It was before I started blogging the entries but is worth a quick mention here. Two intertwining stories: a young white boy befriends a black boy and they spend their summer hanging out until the local sherriff takes exception to the mixing of races and breaks up a party. In the process the black boy is killed by the sherriff and the white boy witnesses it but is too scared to come forward at first. Second story: the white boy’s aunt has decapitated her abusive husband and takes his head with her on a road trip to become a star in LA. It’s a horrendous mash up of coming of age, civil rights, women’s rights, zany comedy and issue-based drama. And once again sidelines the people most important to the story. I was reminded of it last week as well, because Surburbicon does the exact same thing. A Coenesque black comedy uses 50s racial hatred as… set dressing? Something like that. It introduces a serious and all too real threat to a black family to mirror tension in the main knockabout storyline, and barely gives them any lines in the process. I found it to be one of the most baffling and reprehensible things I’ve seen this year.

FILM-SUBURBICON-REVIEW

Suburbicon: the bit that wasn’t in the trailers

All of that is to say that in the context of a Hollywood that regularly sidelines the marginalised in their own story, I can see why Mississippi Burning attracted ire. It’s certainly not as bad as Crazy In Alabama or Suburbicon, but a film lauding the FBI as saviours when they were simultaneously trying to destroy Martin Luther King in real life is a bit much. At a time when we can also watch the likes of Selma, however, I think there is a place for it.

Phew.

Oh, one more thing on Mississippi Burning. The sherriff of the town where this really happened sued the producers (despite names etc being changed). The case was dropped when the studio’s lawyers pointed out that if he wanted to go to court they would have to show the evidence they had that showed the sherriff was in part culpable for the deaths of the activists. Sit. The fuck. Down.

Film 69: The Conversation (1974)

The Conversation 1

Listening in to the great white telephone

I’d been looking forward to this for ages. It’s appeared on the shortlist a few times, gets regularly referenced by critics and film makers alike and generally sounds like a great premise. From IMDb:

‘A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.’

Earlier this year I saw the French film Scribe in the cinema. It deals with a character who is given tapes of bugged phone conversations to transcribe and slowly realises he’s in the middle of a shady conspiracy. It was an ok watch, but didn’t quite live up to the premise. I remember thinking at the time that I couldn’t wait to see The Conversation to see how it should be done and… well… The Conversation was ok, but it didn’t quite live up to the premise.

Scribe

The French Gene Hackman

Were parties really shit in the 70s? My overiding memory of The Deer Hunter isn’t the famous Russian roulette sequence, it’s the interminable party. Likewise The Conversation is going to stick in my mind not for the tense eavesdropping or encroaching paranoia but for the inexplicable party Gene Hackman’s character hosts at his dingy workplace. Maybe Francis Ford Copolla and Michael Cimino were both invited to the same duff party and these films are them cathartically working through the experience. I’d just get drunk in the kitchen and throw up in the garden meself.

The Conversation 2

Bwah bwah bwah bwabwabwabwabwaaaaaah

Gene Hackman plays the sax a few times, and doesn’t even have the decency to play Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. I mean, what’s the point? Ok, so that wouldn’t be released for another 4 years but so what. A very young chubby cheeked Harrison Ford makes an appearance though, which is nice.

The Conversation 3

I could just squish those cheeks!

Film 70: The Firm (1993)

I wrote about The Client during Sarandon Season, and this is one of the other trio of John Grisham thrillers I missed growing up. We’ll tackle The Pelican Brief soon enough I’m sure.

Tom Cruise is a hotshot graduate lawyer with job offers aplenty. He goes to work for a small firm in Memphis who seem to have some shady dealings… with THE MOB!

The Firm 1

Name’s Tolar. Avery Tolar.

Gene Hackman is the improbably named Avery Tolar, a senior partner at The Firm with a devil-may-care attitude. It’s nice to see him playing a character who is having a bit of fun – most of his characters seem dourly irascible, but Avery has a bit of the mischevous spark he showed in Bonnie and Clyde or Scarecrow. Or, uh, Superman.

There was almost an incredible bait-and-switch but sadly my hopes were dashed: when Cruise enlists the help of a private Eye called Eddie, we cut to their office and a glammed up Holly Hunter (who can do no wrong). Cruise asks if he can go in and see Eddie and I was really hoping Hunter herself would be the private eye. A nice little bit of subverting expectations and giving a woman a role other than secretary/wife/prostitute (seriously, those were the only female roles in the film). But no, she’s the secretary to Gary Busey’s private eye. Hey ho. And then to make matters worse she has to give Busey head.

The Firm 2

Holly Hunter I will watch in anything. Gary Busey… not so much.

It’s a perfectly functional film with plenty of head scratching wait-but-why-do-they-not-just… moments that Tim hates. My biggest gripe though was to do with Cruise cheating on his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn). It happens on a business trip with Avery Tolar. Wait, hang on, it’s not Cruise and Hackman getting it on. No, Hackman is getting fresh with a call girl and sends some over to Cruise. Cruise is married though and not a dick, so says no and wanders off. Cue witnessing an altercation between a man and woman, coming to the woman’s aid and, you guessed it, boffing her right there on the beach. What a dick. Photos appear later on, used as blackmail material against Cruise. And then comes the reveal: she was a plant. She used her wiles to ensnare Cruise in a bit of slap and tickle purely so photos could be taken and leverage could be gained. Poor old Tom Cruise is innocent and his marriage saved. Because of course he couldn’t possibly have said no to such a tempting succubus. Wiles were used. Wiles! Urgh.

The firm 3

He’s powerless against her, powerless I say.

That makes six Hackman films on the trot and while there are plenty more tempting ones to try (I’m looking at you March Or Die, B*A*T 21 & Enemy Of The State), The Client is also a pretty good jumping off point to get back to more chain reactiony Chain Reaction Film Club. There’s Tripplehorn, Cruise, Hunter and Busey to pick from plus Paul Sorvino (he played a mob boss would you believe), Ed Harris, David Strathairn and Hal Holbrook to name but a few. It’s Tim’s choice next though, so who knows where we’ll end up.

@BornToPootle