The Dresser – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 47: The Dresser

Dresser 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

It was The Day Of The Jackal last time, following on from The Duellists. Can we make it three knock-outs in a row?

The Shortlist

It’s my choice this time around. Last time I suggested we might stick with Edward Fox for a while but, in the interests of completeness, I had a look through a few different filmographies. It’s disappointing how much crossover there is between The Day of the Jackal and Run For Your Wife. I’ve seen a little bit of Run For Your Wife. I will never watch any more of it. It really is as bad as you might think, and I don’t mind a bit of whoops-where’s-my-trousers-sorry-vicar farce.

So in the end I kept coming back to Edward Fox and a few film in particular:

The Shooting Party (1985)

I really don’t know much about this, other than James Mason, John Gielgud and Edward Fox star, and it’s set during a shooting retreat just prior to the First World War. I’m thinking a more intense Downton Abbey with all the female roles expunged.

The Jokers (1967)

This is a crime caper written by Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clement, and starring Michael Crawford and Oliver Reed. Hugely tempting.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

It’s three hours long, so keeps being an almost-ran. One of these days…

The Dresser (1983)

Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay star as an aging actor and his dresser. Pretty much all set backstage during one production of Lear. It’s been on my must-watch list for years. So long in fact that I couldn’t help but pick it this time.

The Link

Edward Fox

It’s… Edward Fox. Do keep up. He had an incredible air of detached authority in The Day Of The Jackal, rumpled class in The Duellists, how will he be in The Dresser? I’m guessing louche, but we shall see.

The Dresser and me

Okay, this is one I really should have seen. I trained and worked as an actor for a few years, so should have been lapping up theatre-related films. In fact when I saw – and loved – Black Swan, one of the things I loved most about it was the realistically unglamourous way it portrayed the rehearsal/backstage process. So a film all about the backstage goings on? Surely my soya-meat and drink.

Plus, before The Dresser was a film it was a play. I’ve scoured plays for speeches and two-handers over the years, but somehow, despite knowing the setup of The Dresser, never read it.

And finally, it’s got Albert Bloody Finney in it. I need to see a lot more Finney. He’s an incredible actor, and I could watch him in Miller’s Crossing every day and not get bored. Here he is in all his glory (may spoil the finest scene if you’ve not seen it): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_le4xh-XV3c

IMDB says

An effeminate personal assistant of a deteriorating veteran actor struggles to get him through a difficult performance of King Lear. 7.7 stars

I says

Dresser 2

Crown him King of Actors right bloody now

Well that was a tour-de-force from Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay. My word. They both received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and I can see why. Who won? Robert Duvall for Tender Mercies. Whatever that is. Maybe we’ll tackle it soon.

Anyway, what struck me was this quote from the director Peter Yates:

“If I can make a film which will get more people to go to the theatre, I will feel I have achieved something.”

M8DDRES EC006

I can see what he means, but in a way the film had the opposite effect on me. It put me off the theatre. And that’s not because I didn’t like the film – I loved it. But the reminder of all the sweat and tears and agony that goes into putting a show on highlighted that I’m not sure it’s worth it. For the actor. And that’s probably why I’m not still acting! It’s shown as the herculean effort that it is – heightened by the particular circumstances of Albert Finney’s Sir, and bravo for shining light on the damp, cramped, fractious experience. It’d make for an interesting double bill with Black Swan – show those two to someone who you has ambitions to perform and they’ll give it all up in heartbeat.

The other film Peter Yates directed that year? Krull.

Krull

Incidentally, I was right. Edward Fox was indeed louche as Oxenby. What a cad.

The Verdict

Stunning performances and a handy reminder for me of why I shouldn’t resume life on the stage any time soon.

Coming Attractions

Well. There’s plenty more Fox in the den, so to speak. However… We’re going to see a triple bill of Paul Verhoeven films at the cinema soon – Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers in that order. And those link to each other by shared actors. It’s like they’re crying out to be included in the CRFC. If we can get to Robocop in time…

So, as it’s Tim’s choice, he’s going to have a quick shufti to see how appealing that is…

@BornToPootle

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The Day Of The Jackal – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 46: Day Of The Jackal

Jackal 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s debut film. It’s one of the best we’ve watched so far.

The Shortlist

There was no shortlist this time round. Just a very very long list. Tim struggled so much to narrow it down that he simply didn’t. Here’s what we were considering:

ShortlistShortlist 2Shortlist 3

Yeah. A fair old bit. Fortunately this was a rare case where Tim had strong hankerings for one film in particular, and so the die was cast – he picked The Day of the Jackal.

The Link

Jackal 5

Edward Fox in The Duellists

This time Edward Fox is up. Kind of like Keith Carradine last time, the Venn diagram of films he’s been in and films I’ve seen don’t really overlap. But so many of them either sound interesting or are classics I really should have seen that I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this particular Mr. Fox.

The Day of the Jackal and me

I’ve worked out that it’s unrelated to Carlos the Jackal. I know it involves a hitman. I’m also sure it doesn’t star Bruce Willis sporting a silly moustache.

Jackal 3

Dear god, look at that thing

That’s about it. It’s one of those films that I’ve heard of (and probably nodded sagely when it’s come up in conversation to hide my ignorance) but never seen.

IMDB says

A professional assassin codenamed “Jackal” plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. 7.8 stars.

I says

Jackal 2

The gentleman hitman…

The older I get, the more I realise that all that you really need to make a film, book, play, whatever, compelling is someone overcoming obstacles. The beauty of DOTJ is that it shows us two parallel stories – the hitman and the police. They are each trying to overcome the obstacles that they keep putting in each other’s path. That’s about it. There’s not much in the way of personal backstory – in fact the Jackal himself has no personal investment in the matter at hand other than money and professional pride. It’s amazing how enthralling it is, and an object lesson in less is more.

Jackal 4

… and the down-at-heel cop. It’s a classic combination

My grasp of French history is good enough to know that Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated, and I wasn’t expecting some kind of Inglourious Basterds-esque rewriting of history. Again, because of the simplicity of the setup that’s irrelevant. The moment-to-moment working to overcome obstacles is enough to keep engaged and on the edge of the seat.

Watching it in 2017 one of the things that most struck me was the speed of information. It moved so slowly. Sooooo slowly. At one point police went around the area they thought the Jackal might be staying in and gathered guest information from all the hotels. Then first thing in the morning it was sifted through for likely suspects. One was identified and the police swooped in. Of course this all took hours and hours so he was long gone. These days a few clicks in a database and the jig would be up. I wonder if we’re going to see an increase of things set in period because it’s easier to create obstacles – kind of like how mobile phones never work in horror films; they make escape too easy.

And, on a side note, Edward Fox sports an excellent array of cravats.

The Verdict

A brilliant setup that’s gripping in a way that it feels like we’ve somehow lost track of how to achieve in the intervening decades. Stone. Cold. Classic.

Coming Attractions

This may have been The Day of the Jackal, but we might try and have The Month of the Fox – Edward Fox had quite a few tempting films so I’m probably going to limit myself to his filmography for the next choice.

@BornToPootle

The Duellists – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 45: The Duellists

Duellistsposter

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

It was Tim’s choice and we watched Wild Bill. It was another disappointing Western biopic. Watch the first season of Deadwood instead and be a lot, lot happier.

The Shortlist

Despite my lack of enjoyment of Wild Bill, it had a stonking cast who’re in an awful lot of stuff I either should have seen or want to see. Narrowing it down to just five was heartbreaking enough.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Whilst Walter Hill isn’t in my good books for directing Wild Bill, this looks plucky and was made a lot closer to the brilliant The Warriors.

The Contender (2000)

I was less sure about this one than some of the others, but while trying to narrow the list down I watched a trailer, and it suddenly rocketed up the rankings. Gary Oldman looks brilliant in it, add Susan Sarandon, Sam Elliot and Jeff Bridges to the mix and it’s a goddamn party.

Silent Running (1972)

Mark Kermode bangs on about this a lot in his film reviews and blogs, so it seems like a bit of an oversight that I’ve not seen it. 70s sci fi, Bruce Dern, cute little robots, what’s not to like?

Nashville (1975)

This is a Robert Altman film, and having already covered M*A*S*H and The Player in the CRFC, both of which are excellent, it seems like a sensible choice.

The Duellists (1977)

Ridley Scott’s first film, and the one he made directly before Alien. Another one where I was intrigued by the premise, but hooked by the trailer. So hooked, in fact, that it gazumped Silent Running and became my choice.

The Link

Buffalo Bill

Keith Carradine as Buffalo Bill

Keith Carradine played Buffalo Bill in Wild Bill and he’s one of the two leads in The Duellists. He’s someone who has sort of come out of the blue in the last decade or so for me – in the likes of Dexter, Deadwood (playing Wild Bill this time) and the Fargo TV series. I’ve been more aware of his brother, David, from Kill Bill and Deathrace 2000 so it was a nice surprise to go through Keith’s filmography and find loads of tempting stuff spanning multiple decades. I imagine we’ll get back to more of it soon.

The Duellists and me

I hadn’t heard of it at all, but the premise is great – two soldiers in Napoleon’s army have a disagreement and fight a series of duels over the next 16 years. Ridley Scott isn’t a man who can do no wrong, but there is absolutely no arguing with Alien’s brilliance. None. And this is the film that he made in the build up to it, so close to the peak of his powers, some might say. I have hopes…

IMDB says

A small feud between two Napoleonic officers evolves into a decades-long series of duels. 7.5 stars.

I says

duellists

They’re not highwaymen, but they are definitely dandy.

My hopes were well-founded.

Lovely long shots of misty fields with duel combatants warming up while cows and sheep look on? Tick.

Period-accurate clothes, haircuts and fighting styles (apparently – it’s certainly the only excuse for the haircuts)? Tick.

Pete Postlethwaite playing a barber with no lines? Tick.

Keith Carradine duellists

It’s a strong look.

Here’s an interesting thing, though. The film is about two Frenchmen in Napoleon’s army. Pretty much all the characters are French. Almost all the actors are English, and using English accents. So far so consistent. The two leads, Keith Carradine as the calm, sensible d’Hubert and Harvey Keitel’s permanently furious Feraud, have American accents. That’s liveable withable. Every now and then D’Hubert shouts ‘La’, though. As in ‘There’, but in French. It’s a puzzling choice, but not exactly the end of the world.

Harvey Keitel The Duellists

Bursts of sudden violence? Feraud’s yer man.

The sword duels are wonderfully choreographed, with bursts of sudden violence, sudden politeness and long moments of weighing up moves. It reminded me of the wonderful duel in Zatoichi. Then there’s a mounted duel and hide-and-seek pistol duel too just in case sword aren’t exciting enough.

The whole thing is a brilliant study in the rules of honour, and how bloody ridiculous they are/were. It’s based on a Joseph Conrad book, which in turn was based on reality. The names have been changed though – take note Wild Bill (I’m still bitter about that). In the film there are five or six duels. In reality there were around 30. And neither of them died. They were either incredibly equally matched duellists, or awful.

The Verdict

One of my favourites of our film club so far. That Ridley Scott is one to watch – you heard it here first.

Coming Attractions

Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel are in a fair old bit between them, but the supporting cast is chock full of notable British thesps like Edward Fox and Alun Armstrong. It’s going to be Tim’s choice and I think I’ve destroyed him with options once more!

@BornToPootle

The Most Unsettling Thing I’ve Ever Read

I’ve lost a little bit of my writing mojo of late, probably for a few reasons – I’m working in two different jobs so it’s harder to get into a routine of writing; my commute has changed and is less conducive to writing; I’ve been learning Japanese which has taken up a part of my brain that I think writing used to take up… and there are probably more reasons besides. Anyway, to try and get back in the groove I bought a couple of books on esoteric subjects. Most of my stories revolve around magickal goings on in an otherwise ordinary setting, and there’s nothing like having a read of people actually doing (or thinking they’re doing) that stuff to help get inspired. But I discovered something really horrible.

Previous contenders for ickiest things I’ve read are probably sections of Timothy Taylor’s incredible The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death (well worth reading as long as you have a strong constitution) and, in fiction, Poppy Z Brite’s Exquisite Corpse (less worth reading). I used to keep a copy of the latter in my bag at school and try to get my friend Barry to read a section where a serial killer scoops out the lungs of a victim described in erotic detail.

For the new batch of books I went to Treadwell’s, an esoteric bookshop near the British Museum (so close to where John Dee’s scrying mirror, amongst other things, resides).  I came out with two slim volumes: a primer on chaos magic rituals, and a sort of autobiography of a ghost healer. It’s the latter that has caused me concern.

Autobiography isn’t quite accurate, it’s actually a series of short recountings of times the author investigated or healed ghosts. He was a man of the cloth, and his healings involve performing a Eucharist.

Some of the healings are on the vague side – in one case the author sits down in a cottage that keeps having its electrics turned off, and thinks with the homeowner about who might have lived there in the past. Maybe someone used to sit out the front (where the electrics are), and maybe they were an elderly woman and maybe people thought she was a witch. Just to be clear, this wasn’t researched, they just thought about it and extrapolated. And then performed a Eucharist for the imagined witch, and lo, all was resolved. Others are more detailed though and based on reportings of historic happenings.

And then I came to the anecdote in question. A military base. Some Satanic goings on. The chaplain had been arrested because two young girls had reported him for spanking them. What then follows is, in a nutshell, a confession from one of the girls that she was sexually abused by her father and the Chaplain. And the author smugly recounts how he was able to quash her story as a fabrication.

It’s told so briefly that there’s next to no reasoning given for the outcome. Simply that the second girl couldn’t corroborate her story. Given that the perpetrators would be likely to try and cover their tracks, that’s not the sturdiest reasoning. The anecdote ends by saying that the Chaplain in question was moved elsewhere 6 months later because of all the ‘tittle tattle’ about the case. Moved on, covered up, and free to continue.

And that’s it. There are no horrendous details of what went on. Just the impression that the author helped abuse continue. It’s really shaken me up. Perhaps at some point it’ll provide the basis of a villain in something I write, but to be honest I’d rather not have it in my brain at all.

The book is Healing the Haunted by Dr Kenneth McAll, and based on my experience with it I would strongly recommend not buying it.

 

Wild Bill – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 44: Wild Bill

Wild bill 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last time we watched Streets Of Fire on the big screen at the Prince Charles Cinema. It’s one of the few films that would have been improved by being a musical.

The Shortlist

Colors (1988)

Night Shift (1982)

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

Hollywoodland (2006)

Wild Bill (1995)

Rumble Fish (1983)

 

The Choice

A relatively long shortlist this time round, and it was, by all accounts, tricky to narrow it down to seven. There were great lists to be had just from Willem Dafoe or Diane Lane’s filmographies. This time around neither of us remembered seeing any of the choices, and they’re a varied bunch.

Night Shift is a comedy about a brothel in a morgue starring Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton! Colors is a tough cop film set in gangland LA, with Sean Penn the hot-headed rookie to Robert Duvall’s experienced cop.

I didn’t go to see The Lincoln Lawyer at the cinema because I wasn’t really a fan of Matthew McConnaughey. Fast-forward a few years and I have a massive man-crush on him, so totally up for this.

I’ve been meaning to see Rumble Fish and Hollwoodland for years. Eddie and the Cruisers stars Michael Pare, so I’d love to see if he’s any better in it than he was in Streets Of Fire.

And then there’s Wild Bill, a Western biopic. I’ve been underwhelmed by both biopics and westerns recently, and especially by a western biopic.

So of course that’s the film Tim chose.

The Link

Wild Bill 03

Diane Lane in Wild Bill

Diane Lane is the shared actor between Streets Of Fire and Wild Bill. In Streets Of Fire she’s a rock singer who gets kidnapped by a biker gang. She’s also in Rumble Fish and The Outsiders, both of which involve gangs and came out around the same time as Streets…

I haven’t actually seen her in that much, apart from Judge Dredd (the Stallone one), Trumbo and Man Of Steel, all of which I’ve tried to forget. She’s one of those names that I’ve always been aware of though. She didn’t have that much to do in Streets Of Fire, so I’m hoping Wild Bill might give me a bit more of a feel for her style.

Wild Bill and me

I don’t know much about this film, other than I almost shortlisted it myself before. It’s directed by Walter Hill (Warriors, Streets Of Fire) and stars Jeff Bridges which is pretty enticing. And it’s a biopic of Wild Bill Hickock. That’s about it…

As far as my knowledge of Wild Bill Hickock that’s at a similar level. In the TV show Deadwood (my gosh I love Deadwood) I remember he dies relatively early on. Shot in the back during a card game. And I’m pretty sure he joined a circus for a bit… Well hopefully even if the film isn’t great I’ll be able to learn a little more about the man himself – much like The Aviator recently.

IMDB says

The early career of legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock is telescoped and culminates in his relocation in Deadwood and a reunion with Calamity Jane. 5.9 stars.

I says

Wild Bill 04

The man himself

Well then. I’ve now watched the film and done a little bit of research. And I am Not Happy. Here’s an overview of the film (spoilers, but honestly I’m saving you a couple of hours of your life):

Wild Bill goes to Deadwood. A young man there is abusive towards him. Turns out years previously that Bill had a relationship with a woman who had a son from a previous marriage. They split, amicably. The woman’s life went downhill. The woman’s son blamed Wild Bill for his mother’s state and, guess what? He’s come to Deadwood to set things straight. After much to-ing and fro-ing the young man hires some goons, then can’t quite go through with it. Bill kills said goons but lets the young man live and buys him a drink. Young man shoots Wild Bill in the back.

Fine. Whatever. It wasn’t brilliantly told – the flashbacks were heavy handed – but was functional.

However. That’s not how it went down. The chap that killed Wild Bill in reality was someone who was angry about losing to him at cards the previous night. So the central pillar of the film is just a load of guff. At that point you might as well change some names and fictionalise the whole shebang and maybe we could all have a bit more fun.

The film is based in part on the book Deadwood, and in part on a play called Fathers and Sons. It’s the latter which is I think where this fictionalised version of events comes from. There’s an almost interesting scene in the film when the young man and his goons burst into a saloon where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are, and then… it’s a bit of a stand off. The young man could kill Bill, but doesn’t quite have the gumption. They stay in deadlock all night, before the man and his goons flee. That’s when Bill chases after them before bringing the boy back to the bar.

And that, as the whole film, could be quite interesting (if it stopped purporting to have any resemblance to reality). Turns out I think that’s what the play was. All the set-up and flashbacks in the film distract from this interesting and potentially tense night.

So I watched a mediocre film and came out actually knowing less about Wild Bill than I knew going in. Crumbs.

And Diane Lane? A relatively thankless role as Miss Perfect in flashbacks. What the hell did she ever see in Wild Bill? Or this script?

A final thought – Wild Bill was 39 when he was shot. I pointed out in my Wyatt Earp post that Doc Holliday died at 36. It was a shit old life in the West.

Wild Bill 02

The Dude himself

The Verdict

“You ought to know better than to touch another man’s hat,” says Wild Bill in the film. But apparently it’s fine to mess around with another man’s life story.

Coming Attractions

Loads of interesting people in this – not just Jeff Bridges and Diane Lane (plenty of her films on the longlist sounded worth a watch), but John Hurt, Keith Carradine, Ellen Barkin and Bruce Dern.

One thing is clear though: I won’t be picking a biopic. Or a western.

Although I do still have a hankering for Tombstone…

@BornToPootle

Streets Of Fire – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 43: Streets Of Fire

Streets of Fire 03

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

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

The Shortlist

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

Streets Of Fire (1984)

The Choice

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

The Link

Streets of Fire 02

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

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

Streets Of Fire and me

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

I’m trying hard not to get too excited.

IMDB says

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

I says

Streets of Fire 04

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

Streets of Fire 06

Here’s the chorus of Nowhere Fast:

‘You and me we’re goin’ nowhere slowly

And we’ve gotta get away from the past

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

But we should be goin’ nowhere fast’

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

Almost.

Streets of Fire 01

It almost makes sense…

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

The Aviator – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 42: The Aviator

The_Aviator_Poster

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

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

The Shortlist

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

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

Trespass (1992)

The Aviator (2004)

Chaplin (1992)

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Basquiat (1996)

The Choice

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

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

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

The Link

Ian holm

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

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

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

The Aviator and me

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

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

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

IMDB says

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

I says

the-aviator-still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just hope I remember it slightly more this time.

aviator3

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

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

The Fifth Element – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 41: The Fifth Element

Fifth element 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

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

The Shortlist

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

The Fifth Element (1997)

That’s the lot.

The Choice

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

The Link

Brion James

Brion James in The Fifth Element

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

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

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

 

The Fifth Element and me

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

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

IMDB says

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

I says

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

Fifth element 02

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

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

Coming Attractions

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

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

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Silverado

Film 40: Silverado

Silverado 01

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously on…

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

The Shortlist

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

Bringing Up Bobby (2011)

Big Night (1996)

Silverado (1985)

Planet Terror (2007)

True Romance (1993)

Rush Hour (1998)

The Choice

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

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

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

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

Silverado and me

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

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

IMDb Says

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

Silverado 03

I Says

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

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

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

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

Silverado 02

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

Coming Attractions

Lilu Dallas Multipass.

Autowash.

Big badaboom.

It’s going to be the Fifth Element.

@BornToPootle

The Chain Reaction Film Club: Wyatt Earp

Film 39: Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film almost every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

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

The Shortlist

The Big Picture (1989)

Cast Away (2000)

Terminal (2004)

Absolute Power (1997)

Frailty (2001)

A League of Their Own (1992)

Tombstone (1993)

Wyatt Earp (1994)

The Choice

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

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

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

Wyatt Earp 2

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

Wyatt Earp and Me

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

IMDb Says

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

I Says

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

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

Doc Holliday

He’s your huckleberry… probably

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

Coming attractions

Ok. Full disclosure.

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

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

@BornToPootle