Fort Apache, The Bronx – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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

Previously On…

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

The Choice

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

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

Fort Apache 01

Fort Apache, The Bronx and me

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

Oh great joy, oh endless delight.

IMDb says

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

I says

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

Fort Apache 02

Rubble in The Bronx

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

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

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

Hasselblad/Flextight X5/Transparent

What about everything else?

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

Fort Apache 03

Wahl and Newman: Acres of chin

Across the board there are strong performances – Pam Grier is fearsome as the drugged up serial killer that kicks the film off by assassinating two rookie cops, and Rachel Ticotin has a particularly harrowing standout moment that I won’t spoil.

Fort Apache 04

It’s less harrowing in colour

For all that though, it falls between two stalls. Parts of the plot (Pam Grier’s role most notably) kind of seem bolted on from a different film. While the dramatic tension of the cops having a bunker mentality as a cop killer stalks the streets is a fairly playbook move and perhaps explains some of the poor decision-making on the part of the cops, it could be fairly well excised without harming the meat of the film (a burgeoning romance between Newman and Ticotin, dirty cops and conscience-wrestling, policing a community on the edge of riot).

M8DFOAP FE005

Fear Grier

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

Oh, and Paul Newman gets his torso out again.

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

@BornToPootle

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

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