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.

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Traffic – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 48: Traffic

Traffic 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 Dresser which definitely did not make me want to act again. It definitely did make me regret not seeing The Dresser before however.

The Shortlist

There was a lot of wringing of handsand gnashing of teeth this week. I mentioned last time that we’re off to see a triple bill of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers shortly, and that, as it’s Tim’s choice, he would have a quick investigation of how possible linking from The Dresser to Robocop in just one film is. Turns out it’s possible!

However we were also considering adding in a cheeky extra film before the triple bill (yes, we spend too much time watching films and talking about watching films, what’s it to you?) so there were suddenly options.

With minutes to spare Tim decided we’d link direct to Robocop, leaving us two options – Traffic (2000) and Chaplin (1992). The war on drugs or a silent comedy icon.

I’m quite a fan of Chaplin, predominantly for Robert Downey Jr’s performance, but I’ve seen it a couple of times and we’ve been let down by biopics recently… So Traffic got the final nod as the vegan cheese pizzas browned in the oven.

 

 

The Link

Albert Finney. What a guy. I mentioned my love for Miller’s Crossing last time, but I shall dwell on it a little more. These days it’s pretty widely known, but just in case you aren’t aware, here’s a fun bit of trivia. Albert Finney plays the head of the Irish mob in Miller’s Crossing. He’s an honest sort of crook with no time for messing around (unless giving the high hat to Jon Polito in possibly the finest opening scene in film history counts as messing around).

Finney 1

He’s a man’s man.

Anyway, at one point Gabriel Byrne’s character bursts into the ladies’ room at Leo’s club to raise hell with his squeeze. All the women scuttle out, appalled by the man’s presence in their domain. And one of the women that scuttles out? Albert Finney in drag.

Finney 2

He’s a man? Man…

 

Traffic and me

When Tim suggested Traffic I did a bit of googling. After a few days I vaguely thought I might have seen it around when it came out – maybe at the cinema. Could I remember any of it? Nooooope. Not necessarily a great sign, but perhaps I was getting it muddled up with a different film about drug cartels.

IMDB says

A conservative judge is appointed by the President to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron’s wife attempts to carry on the family business. 7.6 stars.

I says

 

So having just watched it I can confirm I did indeed see it at the cinema in 2000. I think. Maybe. Ok, I’ll level with you, I have no idea. I really don’t remember it.

EXCEPT FOR…

The plot about Michael Douglas’ daughter. He’s the US’s new Drug Czar getting ready to ramp up the war on drugs. She’s a student who gets hooked on crack, runs away and sells her body for drug money. Taken in isolation I think I saw a version of her story in a terrible play for schools in 1993. Shit, I think I wrote it in a workshop in 1993. It’s the archetypal Young Person Gets Involved In The Drugs descent story.

traffic-4.jpg

Drugs = bad

As the IMDb synopsis suggests, the film is a series of separate yet related stories and we flit between them all. The image is drenched in yellow when we’re in Mexico (the plot strand which isn’t actually mentioned in the IMDb synopsis), blue when we’re in Washington. There’s a hazy, dreamlike feeling to the whole mashup. Partially that gives the feeling that you’re watching it stoned. Partially that gives the feeling that I won’t remember whether I’ve seen it AGAIN.

Traffic 2

Mexico = yellow

What it really made me want to do though, is rewatch The Wire. In fact, if you watched 10 minutes of The Wire followed by 10 minutes of Breaking Bad followed by 10 minutes of The Wire etc etc etc then you’d have a similar, but far superior, experience.

Or, if you want some Benicio del Toro/Mexican border action then Sicario from last year has you covered with the most tense traffic jam I’ve seen in a film.

Final bit of trivia – I noticed that they thanked The West Wing for their set in the credits. Now I just want to watch The West Wing instead…

Traffic 3

Set = West Wing.

 

 

The Verdict

I had seen it, I didn’t remember it. Now I’ve seen it again, I won’t remember it again. I’m not sure the holistic view idea worked in a 2 hour film. In a 4 season TV show however… Jackpot.

Coming Attractions

Robocop. Total Recall. Starship Troopers. One night. And that’ll take us sailing past the 50th film in the Chain Reaction Film Club too! Celebrations incoming…

 

@BornToPootle

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

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

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.

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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