Filmapalooza 2017! – The Chain Reaction Film Club

I’ve been quiet on the film front lately but fear not, I’ve still been watching them it’s just that I’ve changed jobs and have to actually do a full day’s work now. Curse the lack of surreptitious blogging time!

As I’ve built up a fair old backlog I’m going to burn through them in a few handy (hopefully not too lengthy) posts.

So.

Last time was the 50th (and 49th and 51st) film extravaganza wherein I discovered just how good Starship Troopers still is. Endlessly quotable, fun yet compelling, poking fun at fascists. What’s not to like?

Film 52: Scanners (1981)

Link: Michael Ironside

Ironside

This was a serious gap in my film knowledge, and an odd one at that. I’ve heard it mentioned and referenced so many times that I had built up my own version of it in my head.  And of course that vesion doesn’t bear many similarities with the actual film other than there are explodey head psychics about.

The first half hooked me, but I’ve seldom seen a film so resolutely sunk by the lead actor’s performance. Going from hobo to superspy in the course of the film was always going to be a tough sell, but sadly Steven Lack was exactly, monotonously, the same throughout. You might say he was… Lacking… Oh well.

For what it’s worth, in my made up version the famous exploding head happens live on TV and is a news presenter or similar, and psychics are kept in some kind of walled prison. I think I prefer my made up version.

Film 53: Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

Link: Patrick MacGoohan

McGoohan

McGoohan and The Prisoner.

This was Tim’s choice. I was quite in the mood for some kind of prison escape romp or caper, but the capering and romping are kept to a minimum. I guess Clint Eastwood isn’t that much of a romper unless there’s an orangutan involved. There is some prison escaping though, so tick.

It’s the (pretty much) true story of the only three men ever to escape Alcatraz. The wrinkle is that they have never been recaptured or definitively identified since escape and so there’s a possibility they didn’t make it after all. It’s a solid, dour, straightahead piece uninterested in any unnecessary fun. Which is fine if you want that sort of thing, but I’ll take a caper any day.

Film 54: Running Scared (1986)

Link: Larry Hankin

I mainly know Larry Hankin as Mr Heckles from Friends and the actor playing the Kramer role in the Seinfeld sitcom within the sitcom. He also plays a convict in Escape From Alcatraz, andit turns out he’s been around. In fact he was in a film that Tim has been wanting me to pick since we started the Chain Reaction Film Club (or Thing Thing Thing Thing Thing as Tim usually calls it). He’s big on buddy cop films and big on Gregory Hines, and Running Scared is a buddy cop film starring Gregory Hines so… And the other buddy? Only bloody Billy Crystal!

Having now seen it I can confirm that it is most certainly a buddy cop film starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. They’re engaging and snarky, it’s got an 80s-licious soundtrack, it’s got an 80s-licious attitude to women (seriously, yikes).

Running Scared

Double yikes

It’s for the most part a fun romp (finally, a romp!). But it’s so comprehensively overshadowed by the likes of Lethal Weapon or Beverley Hills Cop that there doesn’t really seem to be any need for it these days. One for historians of the 80s buddy cop genre, I’d say (hey I’m sure they exist. There’s a V&A exhibition about plyywood on at the mo, so anything’s game).

Film 55: Commando (1985)

Link: Dan Hedaya

Well Dan Hedaya in dark slap with a dodgy latino accent was an unpleasant surprise…

Hedaya

Greased up Arnie firing a machine gun topless was a more pleasant surprise. Jesus Christ the size of the man.

ACTOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN SCENE FROM COMMANDO

And the film… it’s Arnie. There are guns. That’s about it. There’s a very peculiar relationship with Rae Dawn Chong’s character that stays platonic but is utterly unbelievable – he kidnaps her for reasons, she shops him to the mall cops, he escapes and she runs away with him. And then keeps going to different places with him for no particular reason. It’s very strange.

We kind of cheated here a little. I was torn between Commando and The Cotton Club (via Gregory Hines), the latter of which has been on the list before. We ended up watching The Cotton Club too, separate to the Thing Thing Thing Thing Thing (crap, that’s catchy). There were a LOT of people in it, and it’s worthwhile for some of the singing (great Cab Calloway impression) and dancing (Gregory Hines’ tap).

Cotton

Strange in a film about a club famous for black musicians that we spend most of the time following white gangsters instead, but given black people weren’t allowed in the club as punters it seems oddly on point. I had a similar feeling towards Wind River recently. It’s a film which ends with a serious message about native American women disappearing, set on a reservation, in which we exclusively follow two white characters.

Film 56: Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2011)

Link: Rae Dawn Chong

I’ve always got this muddled up with Lars and the Real Girl, so nice to actually see one of them and hopefully put that behind me.

Lars

Jeff Who Lives With The Real Girl?

I’ve got a soft spot for damaged slacker characters – my favourite films are Donnie Darko and Harvey – so despite a few reservations (Jason Siegel and Ed Helms are in very few things I have even a passing interest in) this started off well. And if it had ended 10 minutes before it actually finished then I’d feel pretty positive about it. Unfortunately that last 10 minutes undid most of the charm.

Jeff

Lars Who Lives At Home?

I’ve already mentioned that the two leads aren’t in a whole lot I’m interested in, and though we sometimes have different opinions this is something that Tim and I share. So our options were a little limited for what to pick next… except… Susan Sarandon co stars as Jeff’s mother. And, it being his choice, Tim buffed together a shortlist purely consisting of Susan Sarandon films. There were 25 films on the list. Sometime ago we contemplated The Month of the Fox for Edward Fox though we ended up only watching 3 Fox films (The Duellists, The Dresser, The Day of the Jackal – all excellent). This seemed like the perfect time for Sarandon Season. How many did we manage before we were lured away? Find out next time!

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50th Film Spectacular – The Chain Reaction Film Club

I may only have blogged 13 entries in the Chain Reaction Film Club, but we’ve been going for long enough to reach 50 films. What, you’re thinking? Wasn’t the last film number 48?

Yes it was.

Aren’t I jumping the gun then?

Noooope.

To smash through the 50 film barrier we managed to link our way to a Paul Verhoeven triple bill at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s fashionable West End. In honour of the milestone I’m ditching the usual format and going freeform.

Last time up we watched Traffic (2000). It was sort of like a rough draft of The Wire told in just 2 hours. Take the plunge and watch The Wire instead.

The late Miguel Ferrer played a grouchy drug lieutenant and provided our link to the first of the triple bill and film 49 of the CRFC:

RoboCop (1987)

Robocop

Confession time.

I’m 36 years old. And this was my first time seeing RoboCop.

I know, I know, what the hell did I do with my youth? I’ve been pondering that, and I think I kind of bypassed the violent action film phase and went straight to the horror phase. I amassed a nice little collection of the former video-nasties as soon as I was able – the Evil Deads, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Re-animator et al. Over the years I’ve filled in some of the blanks, but there’s plenty I should have seen that I haven’t (and a lot I probably shouldn’t have seen that I have). So yes, RoboCop for the first time in my thirties. Just in case you’re worried, I studiously ignored the remake the other year, you’ll be pleased to learn.

Miguel ferrer

Linking actor Miguel Ferrer, right

First up, Miguel Ferrer was a joy. It’s odd but always feel slightly protective of our linking actors, like me combing through their filmography means we’ve bonded in some way. There’s often a part of me that thinks about putting the CRFC on hiatus while we work through someone’s whole filmography, taking in the good, the bad and the experimental to get a sense of the arc of a career. In Traffic, and most other things I know him from, Miguel had a downbeat, snarky, rumpled quality. By contrast he’s a ball of energy in Robocop, almost a Patrick Bateman kind of figure but having a lot more fun.

And the film? Well ED209 has not aged well. The model shots are painfully obvious. Otherwise, it was a hoot.

Robocop 2

ED209 was a weird wobbling toy

I have mixed feelings about seeing classic films at the Prince Charles. I don’t find the audiences tend to be particularly respectful of the films – there’s a lot of over the top, frequently inexplicable cackling (despite warnings against cackling beforehand) – which I found really annoying at a Labyrinth screening a while back. I got the sense though that I might have enjoyed RoboCop less if I’d seen it without an audience treating it like a comedy – I might have been tempted to take it more seriously. The humour is clearly there, just like it is in other satirical Verhoeven films (more on that later) but having it flagged up as acceptable to find it that funny really helped. Certainly young me wouldn’t have laughed as much. Jolly good fun all told, and I can see the influence it’s had – I saw Neil Blomkamp’s Chappie recently (god that sounds filthy), and there’s a clear debt owed.

The prime baddie in RoboCop was Ronny Cox as an almost moustache-twirling evil-man-in-suit type. Handily, he plays an almost moustache-twirling evil-man-in-suit type in the second of the triple bill and film number 50 of the Chain Reaction Film Club:

Total Recall (1990)

Total_recall

I very much have seen Total Recall before, though not for a number of years. I even started watching the remake because… I guess I must hate myself a little bit. So I remembered the main thrust of the plot, some eyeball popping and, sigh, the three-breasted woman.

The thing that struck me most on this rewatch, particularly coming hot on the heels of RoboCop, was the humour. Where RoboCop had satire at its base, Total Recall just has one liners. It’s like a Bond film, or your stereotypical Arnie film in that regard, and feels like a worse fit for Verhoeven. Arnie kills someone, says something not particularly funny. Rinse and repeat. It’s a formula that I find a bit dull – if you want to make a funny film, make a funny film. Add humour, not shit one liners that feel tonally out of place.

This is going to sound odd, but I find the last act really stressful, and not in the good way. When the air is turned off to the red light district I kind of find the whole thing a chore and want it all to be over. I don’t know why – maybe the instant atmosphere that saves everyone just feels too deus ex machina.

And… women.

In RoboCop Peter Weller’s cop gets transferred to a new precinct and partners with a female cop who we first see kicking the hell out of a suspect. She then proves to be a resilient, feisty officer who can go toe to toe with the best of them.

Total Recall features two feisty women in notable roles who can also do a bit of the old violence. One is a sex worker, the other is being paid to pretend to be Arnie’s wife, including sleeping with him. Most of the other women in the film are sex workers. Hum.

Total recall 2

Great roles for women…

Talking of feisty women though, it’s time for film number 51 and the final film of the triple bill. And they saved the best for last:

Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship_Troopers

Ten years on from RoboCop, but in effects terms it seems like a century. Jesus it’s aged well. Shockingly well. There were a few shots of ships that looked a bit outliney but otherwise it’s golden. Michael Ironside is the link – he loses his arms in Total Recall, only has one arm in this and then loses his legs. He must love working with Paul Verhoeven.

With the satirical newsreel clips it felt like a direct successor to Robocop – so much so that it was a bit of a shame that Total Recall was sandwiched between them. Then there’s the role of women in this futuristic society – there’s a mixed gender sport team, relatively balanced gender in the military recruits, the head of the military (or Chief Sky Marshall) is a woman – towards the end at least. It’s particularly surprising because it’s such a traditional gung-ho masculine fantasy. It’s not all plain sailing, but makes for an interesting starting point.

Starship troopers 2

Those oh-so sharp uniforms…

The film works so well because the society is plainly flagged up as some kind of authoritarian regime – early on Johnny Rico’s father references being willing to take a punishment whipping in a public square, the tone of the news broadcasts is fascistic – and yet by the end I’m always whooping and cheering for the ‘good’ guys in their SS-style uniforms. It’s a masterpiece of manipulation that’s as funny as it is thrilling.

I saw it at the cinema when it came out and was utterly gobsmacked that it was a 15 (it was subsequently bumped up to an 18 on video release). There are body parts and mutilations and scooped out brains galore. These days I’m shocked by some of the stuff that gets a 12A certificate (the opening of X-Men Apocalypse is the most recent example I can think of) but this was the first film where I really considered the rating. Worked in my favour though – I was 16 so may have missed it at the cinema if the BBFC had been more strict in the first place.

StarshipTroopers 3

Body. Parts.

So there we go. One night, three films and we’re over the half century. All this started with 90s actioner Chain Reaction, and here we are at 90s actioner Starship Troopers. The oldest film we’ve watched so far is Bonnie and Clyde from 1967, with the most recent being a couple from 2013. All have been British or American. Hopefully in the next few months we’ll get a bit further back (some of my favourite films are from the 40s, so I’ve certainly got nothing against going further back) and maybe even overseas. Standouts so far? Well The Fifth Element – but I’d already seen that. The Duellists, Day of the Jackal and Mud are some of my favourites. The Net and Renaissance Man by far the worst. You can see the full list here.

And Paul Verhoeven? I haven’t seen many of his other films – not even Basic Instinct or Showgirls. However this year’s Elle was phenomenal so if you missed it at the cinema I’d recommend checking it out when it’s on Netflix/DVD or whatnot.