The Chain Reaction Film Club: Sunset

Film 37: Sunset

Sunset

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name. The full list is here.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Player, which starred all of Hollywood circa 1992. It was a justifiably well-regarded romp through the sleazy side of film production that, car-phones apart, had aged very well indeed.

The Shortlist

Mission to Mars (2000)
Fifth Element (1997)
Sunset (1998)
Silverado (1985)
Brooklyn’s Finest (2009)

The Choice

This week was Tim’s choice. The only shortlisted film we’d both seen was Fifth Element. It’s one of my favourites, though it’s been a few years since I last watched it. Given that we were due to watch the chosen film in the week of the 20th anniversary of Fifth Element’s release I lobbied hard for it. Tim was more keen on Mission To Mars, but I just about managed to dissuade him. I have a bad feeling about it… Sunset however features Bruce Willis and James Garner – and so the choice was made.

Sunset 02

Sunset and Me

Never heard of it before. Not a clue. Zip. Zilch. I was hoping for an overlooked gem…

IMDb says

Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp team up to solve a murder at the Academy Awards in 1929 Hollywood. 5.7 stars.

I says

Bruce plays an actor at the tail end of the silent era. He specialises in playing cowboys and wearing snazzy trousers. James Garner’s Wyatt Earp is brought on board a film production for no particular reason. Malcolm McDowell is the studio head with dark secrets. There are some hookers and hearts of gold. Blake ‘Pink Panther’ Edwards directs.

A shonky tone and mis-cast Willis hampered this one a bit. Some not particularly great physical comedy carried on into scenes that were seemingly supposed to be tense and serious. Willis’ actor was dressed like a dandy and remonstrated with Wyatt Earp for stealing his limelight, but otherwise was the standard Willis – a bit hangdog, a bit wise-cracky, equally handy in a fight or dancing the tango. In fairness, it did rollick along at a fair old pace and McDowell’s villain was good and villainy.

The Verdict

It didn’t outstay its welcome, but neither did it excite. I can see why Sunset rarely sees the light of day.

Coming Attractions

It’s my choice next, and there are a lot of options. McDowell is in a huge amount of (mostly terrible) stuff. There are some Bruce Willis actioners I’ve never bothered with (Armageddon, I’m looking at you). A detour into James Garner cowboy country would be fun – he even played Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun in 1967, so that might be fitting. The supporting cast have a lot of clout too, so it’s going to be a struggle.

Also, I could just get us back to Fifth Element…

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The Chain Reaction Film Club: The Player

Film 36: The Player

The Player 01

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name.

So where are films 1 – 35?

Good question! You can find the full list of films here. I’ve been meaning to blog about it from the start but… haven’t been. If I have the time I’ll fill in the blanks.

Previously on…

There’s been a bit of a gap thanks to me being off on holiday. Last time we watched The Tall Guy, a Richard Curtis comedy that isn’t as fondly regarded as his more recent stuff. It was good fun, especially when Emma Thompson was on screen. And made me want to see Griff Rhys Jones’ ‘Whoops, Hamlet.’ Just a shame that doesn’t exist. This time around it’s my choice…

 

The shortlist

Jeff Goldlum

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Morning Glory

Jurassic Park

Chain of Fools

The Player

The Fly

Silverado

 

Emma Thompson

Last Chance Harvey

In the Name of the Father

Peter’s Friends

 

Geraldine James

Made in Dagenham

 

The Choice

From the shortlist I’d only previously seen Jurassic Park (a lot) and The Fly (once, a long time ago). Neither me nor Tim are fans of Wes Anderson, but do like a bit of Bill Murray, so Life Aquatic was a front runner for a while. Eventually though I narrowed it down to The Player and Silverado. Both have incredible casts for the next pick. Tim is already a fan of Silverado, but hadn’t seen The Player, and so the choice was made. Tim is also easily flummoxed by big casts full of options for the next film, so that may have influenced my choice a little.

The Player 02

The Player and me

Tim Robbins is a favourite thanks to an early appreciation for Bob Roberts, Shawshank (obviously) and The Hudsucker Proxy (which I’ve seen more times than any other Coen Brothers film now that I think about it). I like Robert Altman too – though he’s one of those directors who I always think I’ve seen more of than I actually have. So why haven’t I seen it?

It’s a film about Hollywood. I know Hollywood is fond of films about Hollywood, but I’m not really. Whether it’s a fear of self-indulgence, worry that I just won’t get the references (Hail Caesar suffered from this in particular) or just not being that interested in the realities of the film industry there’s not much that entices me. It’s either all backslapping or spleen-venting. So I imagine that’s a part of why I haven’t sought it out before, despite being aware of it. My understanding prior to watching was that it fell more into the spleen-venting camp than the backslapping one. Was I right?

IMDb says

A Hollywood studio executive is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected – but which one?

I says

Yup, definitely more spleen-venting, but has a lot of fun while doing it. Tim Robbins is the Hollywood exec who  spends his days rejecting scripts and suggesting tooth-achingly cheesey amendments to what might otherwise have been interesting projects. He’s wary of his position at the studio, particularly as a new hire is brought in, and things take a dark turn when he starts receiving death threats with increasing regularity…

This is definitely in the top tier of films we’ve watched in the Chain Reaction Film Club. From the opening 7 minute tracking shot (during which characters discuss great opening tracking shots) to the Hollywood ending, The Player managed to make for an interesting character drama and an enjoyably vitriolic look at one side of the film business.  I’m sure there’s lots of exciting technical stuff going on (I spotted a lovely shot that begins on Burt Reynolds and chum chatting, zooms in to the table behind them where our main character sits down and has a conversation and ends by zooming back out to Burt still deep in conversation.

And that cast… It’s an absolute who’s who of Hollwood circa 1992. Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Rod Steiger, Harry Belafonte even!  The only oddity was seeing so many people playing themselves then Whoopi Goldberg turning up playing a character rather than herself. It took a while to work out who was a character and who wasn’t.

The plot was engaging and, if not ultimately that satisfying, sacrificing that for the point it was making about the industry seems fair enough. The other day I read a piece about studio execs rejecting pitches that were secretly famous French nouvelle vague classics (a marketing stunt, but hey ho) which chimes nicely with this film.

Tim Robbins is both naïve and conniving, a great choice of actor for an unlikeable role. This felt like a proto American Psycho – released at almost exactly the same time as the book – and they’d actually make for an interesting double bill. The studio machinations, and particularly the way they talk about scripts, still feel very relevant.

The verdict

Definitely an overlooked (by me) classic

Coming attractions

It’s Tim’s choice next, and he effectively has all of Hollywood to pick from. Brion James is a good shout for the next link (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch), as is Bruce Willis (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch). All being well the film club will take place on Wednesday and I’ll update as soon as possible afterwards.