Ride With The Devil – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 75: Ride With The Devil (1999)

Ride 02

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…

Cadillac Records was last up, and I theorised that the two ways to tell whether a music biopic was worth it’s salt were a) would you rather have watched it than spent the duration listening to the music itself, or b) has it put the music in a new context that affects your enjoyment one way or the other. Cadillac Records fell at both hurdles, unfortunately.

The Choice

There was no shortlist this week – after looking through some filmographies Tim knew he wanted to go to Ride With The Devil next.

The Link

Jeffrey Wright

Ride 03

Wright as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records

He turned in a muscular performance as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records last time. I’ve seen him in a few bits and bobs over the years, but always in quite minor roles, so I’m pleased we’re getting a second helping. Tim’s a fan of his, and on the strength of last week’s film alone I can see myself becoming a fan too. It doesn’t exactly hurt that his Twitter account is a very sassy resistance feed:

Ride 01

Ride With The Devil and me

I wanted to see this when it came out. I wanted to see this at various points when it was on TV in the early noughties (goddamn I hate that that caught on as the nickname for the decade). I’ve had a copy on a hard drive recorded from TV for about 10 years. And yet…  for some reason I never have managed to find the time. Apart from being directed by Ang Lee, concerning the American civil war and being one of only two films I’m aware of Skeet Ulrich being in (Scream is of course the other) I know very little about it.

IMDB says

During the American Civil War, two friends join the Bushwhackers, a militant group loyal to the Confederacy.

I says

Well here we go. The American Civil War has come back into general discussion recently (possibly in the US it’s never out of general discussion) thanks to the debates about the confederate flag and statues of confederate generals and such. As a rank outsider, the general view I’ve always assumed is that Confederates = want slavery, Unionists = want abolition. Or to put it another way, Confederates are the bad guys. Now I know it’s not as simple as that and am certainly not going to spend this blog writing a secondary school essay on the causes of the American Civil War, but I hadn’t previously realise that this film centred on Confederate troops. I say troops, but they’re more like a guerilla cell within Union territory.

Ride 04Skeet and the Tobester (as I imagine their local radio morning show would be titled)

Toby Maguire and Skeet Ulrich are the friends who join the Bushwhackers following Ulrich’s father being murdered by Union soldiers and his house being burned to the ground. They get up to such shenanigans as dressing up as Union troops to inveigle their way into a group and then open fire on soldiers and civilian supporters alike. We see that bad stuff has been done to them, and they go right on and do bad stuff back. Things get a bit more interesting when they shack up in the woods for the winter with Simon Baker’s George Clyde and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), a slave whom Clyde freed – not by buying his contract but by gifting the money to buy the contract to the slave himself.

As they remain cooped up, things seem to become more savage among the Bushwhackers. People are collecting scalps. The Union army is closing in. And in the meantime singer/songwriter Jewel is coming and going with food parcels and kisses for Skeet Ulrich. Incidentally, I’ve looked it up and I don’t think Skeet is short for anything. Imagine that.

There’s a feeling that the boys are tired of the fighting, but more than that it becomes increasingly apparent, though not trumpeted loudly still, what is being fought for. And it becomes increasingly uncomfortable for Daniel Holt, who is well and truly bonded with Clyde and the others. Black bodies are being burnt in the street and drunken Bushwhackers make a grab for him, forgetting he’s on their side. It does a good job of balancing sympathy for the characters without expecting us to sympathise with the cause. I’ve never been a huge Tobey Maguire fan though, which didn’t shift with this film. I saw Molly’s Game at the cinema a couple of days later, which would have blown any remaining fondness for Tobey away anyway (I know, the character in Molly’s Game is fictionalised, but by how much?). A film focusing more solely on Jeffrey Wright’s character might have been more my cup of tea.

Ride 06

That’s right, I’m about to shoehorn in a Firefly reference. Because any excuse.

I got quite interested in the Civil War last year, as I finally read Killer Angels, one of the books Joss Whedon cites as a big influence on Firefly (yes, that’s the only reason I read it, wanna make something of it?). That’s a dramatic retelling of the immediate build up to Gettysburg from the points of view of various Union and Confederate soldiers and has a similarly good balance between character and cause. Because it had such a tight focus on one specific battle, I ended up watching a documentary series on Netflix to give a bit of context. If you haven’t already seen Ken Burns’ Civil War then I would strongly recommend giving it a go. Suffice to say, war is hell.

Two final points on the film. Firstly, Ang Lee knows his way around a frame. There are some really beautiful shots. Secondly, my least favourite element was Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character who seems to be a malevolent dick throughout purely for the sake of it. Towards the end he seems to be morphing into the vampire Lestat, which unfortunately reminded me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And there’s no need for that.

Ride 05

I’ll give you the choice I never had… 

The Verdict

Mainly interesting and compassionate, occasionally exciting and nasty, sometimes cheesey and forced. And then a vampire turns up.

Coming Attractions

Will I discover a third Skeet Ulrich film? Will I make Tim watch the dance sequence from Spider-man 3 (spoiler: no. No I will not. Because I would also have to watch it again)? Has Jewel been in any other films? We’ll find out next time…



Films of 2017

Thanks to the powers of a Curzon membership I managed to see more films than I’ve ever seen before in cinemas in 2017. Between us, Lyd and I managed a total of 58, three higher than last year’s previous best. Looking back through the full list there are three immediately obvious things:

  1. There were loads of really good films this year
  2. There weren’t any films that will be troubling my top 3 (Harvey, Donnie Darko, Mad Max Fury Road)
  3. Despite seeing more films than ever before, there were still plenty that I wanted to see but didn’t get around to.

So as much for the benefit of jogging my memory as anything else, here’s a bit of a roundup of the greats, the surprises, the not-so-greats and the I-wonder-if-they’re-great-or-nots.

The Greats

After watching a film I try to pretty swiftly update my list and give it a knee-jerk rating. That’s not always the best way to judge a film, but it gives me a nice reminder about my instant reaction to it. Of the 58 seen, I reckon something like 20 or so managed an 8 out of 10 this year – that’s what I mean about it being a good year. Whittling it down to just a handful is hard so I won’t present a simple top 5 (edit: turns out I will attempt a top 3 later on, oh well).


One of the things this year seemed very good at was tension. Dunkirk and Detroit were the big hitters that spring to mind, and in any other year one of them would be the most tense film by a country mile. But this year there were the two of them, and even then there was another film that managed to out-tense them by some margin. It Comes At Night was an absolute masterclass in two things – gut-wrenching tension for every second of its run time, and how marketing can fuck a film up. For some reason It Comes At Night was marketed as a jump-scare horror, but that’s not what it’s like at all. Perhaps it gets bums on seats to do it that way, as jump-scare horror is surprisingly popular, but most of their bums are going to be disappointed if they’re not getting the raucous scare-athon they were after. And you don’t want to disappoint a bum.


2017 was the year that I finally managed to visit Japan, so with unerring timing as well as some excellent Japanese animation in Silent Voice, there were a duo of films released in the weeks before my trip that really didn’t paint a good picture of Japanese history – Age of Shadows and The Handmaiden both used the Japanese annexation of Korea as a backdrop. Both also feature some pretty harrowing torture and are excellent, but the similarities end there.

In non-Japanese animation it was also a great year – Red Turtle and My Life As A Courgette are so utterly different to look at, but I found both deeply affecting and both being pretty short, are likely to make my rewatch list at some point. And I thought brevity was a lost cinematic art.

If, held at gunpoint, I had to pick a top three of the year though, it would probably be Death of Stalin, Lady Macbeth and Good Time.

Death of Stalin

I was expecting the humour of Death of Stalin, but how it managed to take its subject matter simultaneously so serious was a revelation. And Simon Russell Beale finally tearing up the big screen was a long awaited joy. Even if Jason Isaacs summarily upstaged everyone.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth will, if there’s any justice, make a huge star of Florence Pugh. What I feared might be a film stuck full of long shots of countryside that were meant to be portentous or somesuch was actually a much tighter beast with a nasty streak a mile wide. There were still a few shots of countryside, but they were dripping with subtext. A timely re-examination of some costume drama staples.

Good time

Good Time was another top tense film, but it also rattled along, barely staying in one place long enough to let me catch my breath. There’s a fantastic twist about half way through and Robert Pattinson continues to exceed expectations by taking on interesting projects (The Rover, Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars spring to mind) and excelling. Also there was a nice (small) role for Barkhad Abdi who was so fantastic in Captain Phillips. He also rocked up very briefly in Bladerunner 2049 and for me was one of the most memorable aspects of the whole film (more on that later). Let’s have some meatier roles for Barkhad please!

Oh, and Paddington 2 was just beautiful. I was snooty about the first one, but eventually watched it on the small screen and was blown away. The second one is, if anything, even better. Swallow any snootiness and go and be bowled over by loveliness.

I liked Star Wars n’ all, but the internet has volumes written on that so I shan’t trouble you any further with my opinion. But I do love Poe Dameron.

The Surprise

As part of my job I have to watch film trailers again and again and again. I watched various different cuts of The Daddy’s Home 2 trailer over 160 times, for example. One that I saw a LOT of trailers for was Happy Death Day, and I really thought it was going to be utter bobbins. Groundhog Day meets teen slasher is an interesting enough idea, I suppose, but boy did it look duff. And yet, it was one of the most purely enjoyable films I saw all year (see also: Thor Ragnarok). The horror goes out the window after the first half hour or so and it becomes a straight up comedy. It even makes some serious points about believing women when they call out abuse.

The Not So Great

There were 2 (and a half) walk outs this year.

Atomic Blonde didn’t seem like it was going to be my kind of film. I gave it a go because it seemed like a good time to support female- led action films (I didn’t enjoy Wonder Woman much either to be honest, but that was a LOT better than this), Charlize Theron was great in action scenes in Mad Max, and I like James MacAvoy more than I should. It was definitely not my cup of tea.

La La Land. I gave it a go. The opening nearly killed me, then I thought it might settle down a bit. Then they were both just obnoxious and not as good at singing and dancing as people who’re the leads in musicals should be. Lyd has to spend a few minutes watching West Side Story to decompress if the memory of La La Land resurfaces.

Lyd walked out of Bladerunner 2049, but I stuck out the whole ting and honestly? I think she made the better call. It looked beautiful, of course – Roger Deakins is a magician. Lyd left because she couldn’t take the misogyny. And it is really misogynistic. It seemed like it was doing it to make a point, but I don’t think they pulled it off. When I explained the ending to Lyd she laughed and laughed and laughed. I’ve ever been in love with the original, so that probably didn’t help either.

Oh, and we should have walked out of Trespass Against Us, but kept thinking it was about to end. An utter waste of Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender.

The I-Wonder-If-They’re-Greats

I wanted , but completely failed, to see quite a few this year. Marjorie Prime, The Levelling, The Ritual (I think that’s what it was called – British horror of some sort),  God’s Own Country, Call Me By Your Name, Raw and many many more beside. Some of those are ending up in top 10 lists so hopefully I’ll catch up with them at some point.

That’s my tuppence worth. What should I have seen that I missed?


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.


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.


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…



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.

Streets of Fire 06

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.


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’.


The Aviator – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 42: The Aviator


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 Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. And it made me feel young again.

The Shortlist

Once again we’re bending things slightly and attempting to get to a specific film. We’re going to see Streets Of Fire at the cinema and want to include that as part of the CRFC. So it’s my choice and we need a film which has shared actors with both The Fifth Element and Streets of Fire.

Turns out that’s quite a small pool (I have discounted a few that looked bobbins, fyi).

Trespass (1992)

The Aviator (2004)

Chaplin (1992)

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Basquiat (1996)

The Choice

I’ve seen Chaplin and The Aviator before; I’m well up for a Chaplin rewatch – I remember Robert Downey jr’s performance being sensational – and I only watched The Aviator in fits and spurts while doing other things so need to reappraise properly. Tim has seen Lucky Number Slevin recently so I guess I’ll have to watch that on my own time.

Trespass stars both Ice T and Ice Cube which makes me happier than it should. It sounds like a very standard actiony thrillery thing but there’s the lingering sense we can do better. Basquiat is a more unusual choice – neither of us are particularly keen on modern art, but the cast is pretty exciting…

In the end the lure of Di Caprio and Scorcese won me over. Time to take a proper look at The Aviator.

The Link

Ian holm

The man knows how to rock a bow tie. Ian Holm in The Aviator

Ian Holm is the common ground between The Fifth Element and The Aviator. I listed his performance as one of the key things that makes The Fifth Element so great – he has an almost childish naivety that makes for some excellent comedy. It’s sometimes hard to remember that he’s the same man that gave me nightmares by spewing that horrible white porridgy stuff in Alien. He’s never just a safe pair of hands, he always seems to bring something more to a role.

It’s a shame that I’ve never seen him on stage, as I think he’d be spectacular. I can envisage him and Anthony Sher fighting over similar roles… Actually, having had that thought I’ve looked up his stage career – after a bout of stage fright in 1976 he has apparently only returned to the stage a handful of times. Oh to have seen his Lear in 1997!

The Aviator and me

As I mentioned above, I have seen this before but without really paying it proper attention. The only thing I really remember is Cate Blanchett’s accent.

I’m a big fan of the Leo/Marty pairing. I’m not generally a fan of crime films for some reason, but The Departed has become one of my favourite films. I loved Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street too. The physical comedy that Scorcese gets out of Di Caprio in the latter is sensational.

The film is about Howard Hughes, I recall that much. Hughes is one of those names that I know more from pop culture spoofs than anything else – Mr Burns’ Spruce Moose, Tony Stark’s look (more recently Tony Stark’s dad’s look)… To be honest I get him a bit muddled with Howard Hawks. But then I get Eva Braun and Ava Gardner muddled too, so what do I know? Actually, having googled a bit it turns out that Hughes and Hawks co-directed at least one film. So that doesn’t help me much.

IMDB says

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s. 7.5 stars.

I says


This is how we started the film: optimistic, eyes to the horizon…

Well IMDB is right, it’s certainly a biopic depicting the early years yadda yadda yadda.

It’s a sumptuously made biopic depicting yadda yadda yadda. The costume budget alone was 2 million dollars.

It’s also an interestingly shot biopic depicting yadda yadda yadda. The colour of the film changes to reflect the film colourisation techniques of the 20s to 40s.

And Cate’s accent (playing Katherine Hepburn) is brilliant. She’s a hair’s breadth away from being in The Hudsucker Proxy, which is almost the highest level of praise I can heap on anyone.

It’s hard to get excited though. Maybe if I were more interested in aviation? But the sight of Hughes obsessing and spending millions pursuing his passion is a bit… dull. And when the inevitable downturn comes around the 90 minute mark it feels like it could all be wrapped up in 20 minutes. But somehow there’s another hour and twenty to go.

Di Caprio is fine, he’s clearly perfecting that intense, wounded stare that’s served him well over the last decade and a bit – he almost seems to vibrate with internal rage or sorrow. The supporting cast is as fantastic as one might expect – Ian Holm is in excellent quasi naive form as a scientist out of his depth in a memorable breast-measuring scene. The likes of Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin and Frances Conroy give everything a boost too.

Maybe it’s a biopic thing. If I’d chosen Chaplin perhaps I’d be saying exactly the same – fine performances but ultimately not very affecting. But I’ve come out of it knowing more about Hughes than I knew going in. And from a bit of cursory googling it looks like they haven’t taken too many liberties with the truth.

I just hope I remember it slightly more this time.


… and this is how we ended it. It was a hot day, alright?

The Verdict

Unlike the Spruce Goose, the film never really takes flight. But with 11 Oscar nominations to its credit, maybe it’s just not quite to my taste.

Coming Attractions

We’re heading to the cinema! Streets Of Fire at the Prince Charles Cinema to be precise. Because my world needs more Jim Steinman. Everyone’s world needs more Jim Steinman. It’s possible I’m also going to the Bat Out Of Hell musical in a couple of weeks…


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



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.