Sneakers – The Chain Reaction Film Club

The Rules

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

Previously On…

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

The Choice

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

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Sneakers and me

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

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

IMDb says

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

I says

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

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Horny, Schlubby, Family-y, Leadery, Savanty

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Verdict

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

Coming Attractions

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

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

@BornToPootle

Muriel’s Wedding – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 77: Muriel’s Wedding

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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

The Three Musketeers – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 72: The Three Musketeers (1993)

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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.

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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