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

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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.

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

The Aviator – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 42: The Aviator

The_Aviator_Poster

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

the-aviator-still

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.

aviator3

… 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…

@BornToPootle

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.