The Sting – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched All is Lost, which is pretty much how I felt while watching it.

The Choice

We’ve been in a Robert Redford season for a fair while. Now, there are still a few films of his we’d like to tackle, but it also feels like the time to move on and perhaps circle back for another pass. With that in mind we had a bit of a think about where we wanted to go next (meta-gaming!).

Most of the ‘seasons’ we’ve tackled have been based around a male star (Sarandon Season being the only exception so far), so a Jane Fonda season was quite tempting (and gave us a few options to pick from to start it off). But… we got into Redford after a brief Paul Newman season. So perhaps this whole thing could merely be an interlude in a longer Newman season… Also, Tim really fucking loves The Sting.

The Sting 01

The Sting and me

I think I’ve only seen it once before. I saw it after having seen Butch Cassidy, and although I enjoyed it my overriding memory is that it’s a poor relation. But then my memory of Butch Cassidy was slightly harsher than it needed to be too, so all bets are off. In recent years I’ve thought about The Sting more because of this brilliant hit piece on some terrible copywriting than anything else. So I’m looking forward to reappraising.

IMDB says

The Sting (1973): Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con. 8.3 stars.

I says

I’ve been a bit hard on Robert Redford recently while we’ve been slogging through some of his more mediocre films. We haven’t watched All The President’s Men as part of CRFC, which is a flat-out doozie. Butch Cassidy and The Great Waldo Pepper seem like distant memories. But the thing is, Robert Redford is fine. He’s horrendously handsome, like tooth-achingly good looking. His charisma bubbles over. I suppose someone like Ben Affleck is probably a good touchstone. He’s fine. I find myself not that interested in much of his work, but occasionally there’s something that crosses over.

The Sting 03

What an uggo.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Sting. We start off following Newman’s small-time con artist who gets in a little too deep. Eventually we’re introduced to Paul Newman, an old hand at the big-time con. And then, when they’re setting up their big score, we see the magic. Paul Newman must pretend to be a boorish drunk at a high-stakes poker game. And there it is. Robert Redford is a distant memory as Paul Newman shines. It’s like if Ben Affleck was acting opposite… I dunno, Paul fucking Newman.

The Sting 04

Drunk Paul Newman is best Paul Newman

Redford has the lion’s share of the screen time here, but this is the Paul Newman show. In Butch Cassidy they felt a bit more evenly served, Butch and Sundance sparking off each other wonderfully. Here they’re kept separate a lot of the time, and it’s Redford who suffers. I mean, he’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. He does a bang-up job. And the film is great too, zipping along nicely. But when it’s all over I just want to watch the scene of Paul Newman being a boorish drunk over and over again.

The Sting 02

“Handsomest man in the room, raise your hand!”

He’s an absolute master.

The Verdict

If forced to only watch one of the Newman/Redford films again, I’d pick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But I hope I’m not forced.

Coming Attractions

Well. That’s definitely it for Redford season. Paul Newman has charmed me utterly, and despite watching a few mediocre ones in our first Newman season, I’m feeling pretty excited about delving into his back catalogue again.

@BornToPootle

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All is Lost – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched Sneakers. There was sneaking.

The Choice

There’s almost a dogged resignedness hitting us now. We’re 6 films into our Redford season, and have tackled 11 in CRFC in total. There are still more Redford films we want to watch, but the fatigue is starting to set in. Fatigue and the niggling thought that actually… we don’t like Redford that much. Don’t get me wrong, he’s in some very good films but is Redford what’s good about them? I’m not certain it always is. So bearing that in mind I chose a film with no-one in but Redford – All Is Lost

All is lost 01

All Is Lost and me

I meant to see this at the cinema. It feels to me like it came out last year, but somehow it’s almost 5 years old already… Anyway, all I know is that it is Redford, alone, on a boat. And things don’t go well. And it’s proper “alone on a boat”, not with a few supporting actors turning up at the beginning and end. 100% Redford. And I seem to remember it being very favourably reviewed at the time, so I had some hopes. Would they be dashed on the rocks, or will All Is Lost sail into the top tier? Let’s find out…

IMDB says

All Is Lost (2013): After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face. 6.9 stars.

I says

I’ve been convinced for a little while that if you really boil storytelling down to a very basic concept you’ll still be able to get something engaging. All I think you need is a character overcoming obstacles. There’s a lot of stuff you can (and probably should) add on top, but I’m pretty convinced that an audience will root for a character if we see them being smart or plucky enough to overcome some obstacles. Particularly where those obstacles are big obvious things like the sea trying to kill you.

So this film was a bit of a disappointment. On the surface, it is purely a character overcoming obstacles. There are some hints of backstory, but not really much. There’s no goal other than survival. There is simply a man on an increasingly rickety boat and a hostile sea. And yet…

All is lost 03

Man. Rickety boat. Hostile sea. Tick, tick and tick.

Perhaps it’s that the obstacles were too big, the overcoming almost always being a putting-off rather than an actual overcoming? Perhaps it was that Tim and I came up with a series of brilliant inventions that would have saved the day that surely any sailor would always carry on board… and then it turned out they do all actually exist and, indeed, sailors do all carry them. Just not this ‘resourceful’ one.

Perhaps I’m just not fussed by boats?

Perhaps I’m wrong and we do need something more than just character and obstacles being overcome?

All is lost 02

“Go on, give us a wave!”

I prayed for the ocean to swallow this foolish man up… SPOILER COMING…

When finally he sank into the briny depths I rejoiced. Until he was rescued.

The Verdict

Mopey dick.

Coming Attractions

Well, the fatigue may have set in but as there were no other actors in All is Lost it looks like we’ve got at least one more Redford film to go!

@BornToPootle

Sneakers – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched The Chase. The 1966 film, not the TV game show. It was full of simmering sexual tension and racism. The TV game show, not the 1966 film.

The Choice

We’re deep in the Redford forest now and it’s getting hard to find our way out. We should have left a breadcrumb trail. But what’s that behind that tree? Why it’s All Is Lost! And behind that rock? Oh, there’s Electric Horseman. And a wild Brubaker just flew overhead… But now what’s this snuffling through the undergrowth? Tim’s heading towards it… It sounds slightly familiar… could it be? It’s… Yes, it’s Sneakers!

Sneakers06

Sneakers and me

I’d seen Sneakers before, albeit a long time ago. Perhaps it was the first time it was shown on TV in (presumably) 1993 or thereabouts. I don’t remember much about it at all if I’m honest. Faint memories of Robert Redford… unsanctioned spy stuff… A Belushi perhaps?

Before the rewatch I expected it to be a solid, glossy, relatively unremarkable thriller. Was I right? Let’s find out…

IMDb says

Sneakers (1992): A security pro finds his past coming back to haunt him, when he and his unique team are tasked with retrieving a particularly important item. 7.1 stars.

I says

When we started this film club we tackled a fair few early 90s thrillers – stuff like Chain Reaction itself, The Net (urgh), and The Fugitive. While the latter still holds up pretty well, I don’t think time has been that kind to films of the era. Over the intervening couple of decades Tarantino’s (sometimes painful) influence on dialogue has been subsumed, and tension has ratcheted up time and again.

Sneaker07.jpg

Horny, Schlubby, Family-y, Leadery, Savanty

In some ways I think this film suffers more by comparison than others. Robert Redford leads a team of plucky outcasts (ex CIA family man Sidney Poitier, horny young guy River Phoenix, schlub Dan Ackroyd – whoops, not a Belushi – and blind savant David Strathairn) in a corporate spying outfit. We meet them doing a bank job, but wait! It wasn’t really a bank job! Twist! They had been hired by the bank to test their security.

 

A new job falls into their lap courtesy of a government agency, but all is not as it seems and soon enough Redford and co are in danger. A few twists, a few turns, but it all plays out in a fairly standard manner. So why has this film suffered in particular? There’s one scene that’s a prime example. As the film nears its climax the gang have to pull off a heist. Redford has to break into an office and steal something, but there’s a catch. Amongst the many security devices to foil is one that is movement triggered. Any movement over a certain speed will trigger the alarm. Cue training montage etc etc. Four years later Mission Impossible would come out and absolutely nail that kind of tense heist scene in a way that still makes it an oft-spoofed scene over 20 years later. The world of action thrillers moved on in 1996, and Sneakers was very much left in the dust.

It’s not only that – the script is trying a little too hard to make the gang slightly wacky. Jokes are overworked and so a film that should zip along gets bogged down. There’s a thankless role for Mary McDonnell as Redford’s former girlfriend (wonder if she’ll stay ‘former’? Hmmmm) co-opted into their heisting and tasked with seducing poor ol’ Stephen Tobolowsky’s nerdy computer dater. Weirdly, McDonnell reminded me a little of Maggie Gyllenhaal who would eventually play her daughter in Donnie Darko. That’s some canny casting.

Time hasn’t been kind to some aspects of Sneakers, but in other areas it has fared better. Spoilers coming… The central maguffin is a device that can hack into all US systems, and there’s a nice moment where Ben Kingsley (playing Redford’s former partner in crime who was imprisoned and thought dead) declares that world war three will be fought with information and it is already playing out.

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The annual Redford/Kinglsey staring competition was the actual inspiration for the film

And at the very end the NSA wants to hold on to the device to spy on other agencies… There’s some foreshadowing of the mass surveillance revelations over the last few years, and the election-meddling that seems likely to be a more and more prevalent form of covert international influence.

My favourite part though? Timothy Busfield’s different looks for pretending to be a government agent vs mafia (ish) goon:

The Verdict

Believe it or not, it’s a solid, glossy, unremarkable thriller. But, like its central star, it’s starting to show its age…

Coming Attractions

We’re so deep in the Redford forest that it’ll be some time before we’re out. I’m tempted to bring us back into the present with All Is Lost, or to 1967 for the film that was his big break – Barefoot in the Park.

Looking at his filmography, we’ve so far watched 11 Redford films as part of CRFC. Removing TV movies, series, shorts and VO only roles, Redford has been in 44 films. So we’re already a quarter of the way through… Just sayin’.

@BornToPootle

The Chase – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched Jeremiah Johnson and I STILL have Chandler singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” stuck in my head.

The Choice

The Chase 01

It was my choice this time around. We mutually decided that we’re sticking with Redford for the long haul, so that helped narrow down the options. We’d already discussed wanting to watch Brubaker, Sneakers, and a few others that at least one of us had seen many many years ago. But I wanted something new. By which I mean something old. Redford’s break came in 1967 with Barefoot in the Park, so I selected a film from just before then, when he was just some jobbing actor still. I went with The Chase.

The Chase and me

I’d never heard of The Chase before the Chain Reaction Film Club. And all I knew when we sat down to watch was the IMDB blurb (below) and that alongside Redford it also starred Marlon Brando as a sheriff, and Jane Fonda. Seemed plucky, but why had I never heard of it…?

IMDb says

The Chase (1966): The escape of Bubber Reeves from prison affects the inhabitants of a small Southern town. 7.3 stars.

I says

Expectation gap can be a terrible and a wonderful thing. While I’m sick of films being wilfully mis-sold by their trailers (more on that at the end), it’s also perfectly possible to sometimes just get the wrong end of the stick. That’s what happened with The Chase, and took about half the film for me to catch up.

From the title and the IMDb blurb I thought I knew roughly what I was in for. A convict on the run; a small town sheriff the only man who can catch him; a bit of tension, a bit of action, everything coated in a layer of dust.

The Chase 02

Sheriff Brando… No, YOU tell him his hat is silly

In actual fact The Chase is a sub-Tennessee Williams Southern melodrama, and probably all the better for it (having since looked up the writer, Horton Foote, I feel a bit bad about calling him sub-Tennessee Williams given he’s won the Pulitzer prize. But I do think it gives a sense of the tone).

Yes, Bubber Reeves (Robert Redford) has escaped from prison. And yes, Marlon Brando is Sheriff Calder, the law man on the spot. But for starters it’s set contemporaneously (I think). And Redford is barely in it. Instead we spend an evening in Bubber’s home town which, purely accidentally, is where he’s headed. The town bigwig, an oil man, is hosting a birthday party to which the great and the good are invited, as is Sheriff Calder, who was installed in office by the bigwig himself. But the sheriff isn’t happy that the bigwig has bought his wife an ostentatious dress for the occasion. The sheriff isn’t to be bought so easily…

The Chase 03

Bubber Reeves on the run (and looking surprisingly like Mel Gibson)

PLUS the bigwig’s son Jake (James Fox) is in a marriage of convenience and both parties know they’re merely playing, but bigwig doesn’t understand… and Jake also happens to have always been in love with, and is carrying on an affair with his friend Bubber Reeves’ wife (Jane Fonda).

PLUS the bigwig’s earnest employee (Robert Duvall, would you believe) is also hosting a party, put out that the bigwig never invites him. But his wife is fairly openly having an affair, and happened to tell Bubber Reeves a couple of years ago that Duvall set him up for the first crime he was convicted of.

PLUS another employee of bigwig, the one Duvall’s wife is having an affair with, is married to a drunk and is a racist, just waiting for an excuse to teach a black man a lesson (with his two burly friends in tow, of course).

The Chase 05

Duvall is the life and soul of the party

PLUS there’s an elderly town snoop who… seems to be everywhere at once and know all the secrets.

PLUS Bubber Reeves’ mother thinks Sheriff Calder just wants to kill Bubber, but is arranging to sell her house to the town snoop in order to fund a lawyer. And she really blames herself for whatever has gone so wrong in Bubber’s life.

PLUS Bubber is implicated in a murder during the escape but Calder doesn’t bring in outside forces to catch him, in order to ensure he’ll live.

PLUS… I’m pretty sure there’s more that I’ve forgotten.

But what I mean is there’s a LOT going on here. Simmering sexual frustration, racism reaching boiling point, a town full of secrets that everyone knows really, a powder keg just waiting for notorious wild boy Reeves to come back and light the fuse.

And there’s the slight hole at the centre of all of this. Ten years earlier, Brando could have played Reeves (actually the part would’ve been too small for him I reckon, but it’s a Brando kind of part nonetheless). But Redford… isn’t that guy. It’s funny to think of a time before Redford was a star, before his screen persona, with its limits and its inversions, was etched in the mind. But he’s not a wild man. He’s not a kid that’s always been on the wrong side of the tracks. When his wife finally catches up to him near the end of the film he says something about looking terrible. But he has that chiselled jaw, not a hair out of place and might as well just have taken a bath. He looks like young Robert Redford goddamnit, not a wild con on the run with a troubled history.

The Chase 04

So wild. Such danger.

It’s not enough to spoil the film, but I think it’s part of the reason I’d not heard of it. Cast someone properly dangerous in that role and it could elevate the whole shebang.

Oh, and there’s some INCREDIBLE dancing.

If you’re interested, the two recentish films that win joint Most Mis-sold awards from me are It Comes at Night and Inherent Vice. It Comes at Night trailers made it look like a traditional jump scare horror. In fact it was hellishly tense and horrific, but not a standard popcorn-in-the-air horror. It was one of my favourite films of that year, but I think some audiences were disappointed because they were expecting something else. And Inherent Vice had one of the funniest trailers I’d ever seen. It was great – I still quote it in fact (“molto pancaku!”). But the film is a sluggish, stoned bore.

The Verdict

Perhaps not an overlooked classic, but there’s much to recommend if you can chase it down.

Coming Attractions

We’re sticking with Redford. Expect Brubaker, Sneakers, Electric Horseman and The Sting at the very least before we move on…

@BornToPootle

Jeremiah Johnson – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched 1972’s The Candidate, and it failed to get my vote.

The Choice

It was Tim’s choice this week, and he was pretty clear about his intention to stick with Redford. His shortlist was narrowed down to 1966 film The Chase starring Redford as a convict captured by Marlon Brando’s sheriff, Downhill Racer from 1969 which is about skiing, and Jeremiah Johnson, a Western from 1972.

We’ve recently watched a couple of 1972 Westerns – Pocket Money and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Neither were particularly good. So bearing in mind the law of averages, Tim went ahead and picked Jeremiah Johnson. And that’s why I’ve had Chandler Bing singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” stuck in my head for a week.

Jeremiah 01

The Link

It’s Redford again. See the last few posts for more on him. Here’s a couple of related facts though… Apparently he owned 600 acres of land in Utah where much of this was filmed. And at one time or another he has declared it to be his favourite of his own films.

Jeremiah Johnson and me

This is another I hadn’t heard of before scouring his filmography for this very blog. The poster made me think it was going to be a very slow affair with lots of handsome cinematography.

Jeremiah 03

Spoiler: I was right about the handsome cinematography

IMDb says

Jeremiah Johnson (1972): A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier. 7.6 stars.

I says

Let’s just take a moment to break that IMDb blurb (which I read before watching the film) down.

‘A mountain man who wishes to live the life of a hermit’ – this is set up in the first couple of minutes.

‘becomes the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians, and proves to be a match for their warriors in one-on-one combat on the early frontier.’ – this is the last twenty minutes of the film. Thanks IMDb.

Jeremiah 02

Impressive crags

So as Redford’s Johnson (snigger) bumbled through his first weeks in the mountains, then became adept, then saved a young boy who became a surrogate son, then was gifted a wife by a tribe of native Americans who he at first struggled to communicate with then finally they fell for each other, all I was doing was waiting for him to become ‘the unwilling object of a long vendetta by Indians etc etc etc’.

I mean it wasn’t necessarily unpredictable, but they could have give me a chance. Hey ho.

So spoilers aside, what did I think? The Westerns of the 70s that we’ve watched (the two from 1972 mentioned above plus The Ballad of Cable Hogue) all have a very broad sense of humour. Jeremiah Johnson doesn’t feature the sped-up-Benny-Hill style bits of Cable Hogue or Roy Bean, but there are a some quasi-slapstick moments. That’s juxtaposed next to some really bleak stuff about a woman driven mad by her family’s slaughter and other such sobering stuff. The trouble is, when the vendetta begins and solo assassins come for him, it’s faintly comical. One hides in a snow covered bush and bursts forth, only to be clobbered by Redford’s Johnson (double snigger). Perhaps that’s the aim and I just don’t get the 70s style/sense of humour. But my impression going in was that it would be slow and handsome; to its credit it was indeed the latter, but not the former.

Moving on, it’s always tricky to know whether to judge some aspects of films by the standards of today or not, so I’m just going to ponder a casting decision quickly as I don’t think it’s something to ignore. Not all the Native Americans are played by Native Americans. This isn’t particularly surprising I suppose. I’ve started working for a union and have been thinking more about this (being white, male and cis casting opportunities is not something I’ve had to contend with much in my own life).

The union I work for deals with the entertainment industry in the UK, and our casting policy is that, where there are groups that are in need of equality (such as minority ethnic, disabled, LGBT+) and a particular characteristic of that minority is integral to a role, people who have that characteristic should be seen. So a recent example (not within our jurisdiction) is the casting of Bryan Cranston as a wheelchair user. There was a fair bit of press and some terribly dull thinkpieces were published. The union’s position is not to comment on the ultimate casting decision (the creative process has many pressures, after all), but to comment on the casting process. Were disabled actors seen for the role? If not, if there wasn’t any opportunity for disabled actors to get the role (when they are almost never considered for non-specifically disabled roles) then there’s a problem.

Jeremiah 04

Jeremiah Jonson and his… Native American… spouse

So bearing all of that in mind, I read that for the role of Johnson’s wife, a Native American girl who has something approaching a character arc, 200 Native American women were seen (yay). And yet they cast someone of completely different heritage. And the actress went on to do precisely one more bit of acting, in an episode of Two and a Half Men some 30 something years later. I’m sure none of the Native American actresses were right for the part…

Oh, also worth mentioning is that the film is based on a couple of books, one of them a biography of Liver-Eating Johnson, the Crow Killer. So, uh, there’s that.

The Verdict

I’ve now seen Robert Redford’s Johnson; I’ve seen better.

Coming Attractions

I’m up next. I’m giving serious thought to finishing our Redford season by picking The Sting and getting back to Newman. But I’ve not seen Sneakers in a long time, Brubaker is tempting and so is All Is Lost.

We shall see…

@BornToPootle

The Candidate – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched The Old Man and the Gun, a tale of musing and mumbling. Thanks Casey. Read about it here.

The Choice

It was my choice and I decided to stick with Redford. Part of the reason Tim and I do this film club is to try films that we may, at an earlier time in our lives or with infinite choice, have turned our noses up at. Muriel’s Wedding was a revelation when we tackled that last year. Looking through Redford’s filmography there are quite a few examples of that kind of film. Things like Electric Horseman and Out of Africa. We were too busy watching Bruce Campbell and Chow Yun Fat films to worry about that sort of thing thankyouverymuch. Looming large over Redford’s filmography though is The Horse Whisperer. And so this was the week where I almost picked The Horse Whisperer… until I saw that it’s almost 3 hours long.

So instead it was back to slightly more expected territory with 1972’s The Candidate.

candidate 04

The Link

It’s Redford, pay attention! I’ve written about him for the last couple of weeks so shall spare you more.

The Candidate and me

I don’t specifically remember hearing about this film before, but the poster looks familiar. All I knew going in is that Redford’s a politician of some kind facing an election battle. There’s a time when I would have lumped that in with the Horse Whisperers and Muriel’s Weddings of the world as something that I’m not that interested in, however there are a couple of notable things that have changed that view. First is, of course, The West Wing. I find it impossible to think of American politics without thinking of Josh, Sam, Toby, CJ, Bartlett et al. They were too good for this world.

West wing.gif

Heavyweight political commentary

Second up is that American politics (and UK too, I’m not just being down on the yanks) is an absolute dumpster fire at the moment. I’m listening to an excellent podcast from some former Obama staffers (effectively the real life versions of Toby, Sam and Josh) that’s giving me a better understanding of how it all works, and with Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential race starting to announce it seemed like a good time for a film about election campaigns. The podcast is Pod Save America, by the way.

IMDB says

The Candidate (1972): Bill McKay is a candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. He has no hope of winning, so he is willing to tweak the establishment. 7.1 stars.

I says

There’s no doubting the veracity of the campaign trail in The Candidate. It was written and directed by people who had worked on election campaigns. A notable scene where Redford is berated by his campaign manager in a grimy public toilet is apparently something that really happened to one of the filmmakers. So far so good.

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The sideburns of an idealist

Redford’s McKay is presented as an idealist. A political outsider (though the slightly estranged son of a political insider). His campaign manager, played by Peter Boyle, sees something in him and convinces McKay to run for the Senate. Both acknowledge that the incumbent will win, but perhaps they can make some kind of an impact…

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Toby Ziegler in The Candidate

Over the course of the film McKay’s idealism is slowly replaced by the campaign team’s more glib, soundbite-friendly talking points. And at the end of it all, surprise surprise, McKay ends up winning. So the trajectory is from idealistic no-hoper to identikit politician ground down by the system.

candidate 01

Photo op, you say?

There aren’t really many surprises along the way, and I’m reminded of something I wrote the other week about Redford’s best performances (for me at any rate) being when he is part of a duo. Here he is the centre of it all, and while he’s certainly got the presence to pull it off, his character arc seems a little flat. The early idealism never really rang that true, and so the anchor of the transformation wasn’t in place.

candidate 03

McKay at the centre of it all. See what I did there?

With the announcements of (some) of the Democratic presidential candidates Pod Save America had an interesting discussion about how to answer pundits when asked why your view on a topic have changed. More often than not the reason for the change is likely to be political expediency rather than a long night of soul searching, but generally that’s unlikely to play well with people. I’d just listened to that discussion a day or so before watching this film (I think in this episode), and so rather than see Redford cave to his aides and state that abortion is ‘something that needs to be looked into in greater detail’ (instead of his original more positive response) I’d recommend listening to the pod.

The Verdict

If comments earlier in my life may have made it seem like I was not in favour of The Candidate then I’d like to apologise. I was not as well informed then as I am now, and having examined all the facts can comprehensively state that The Candidate is fine.

Coming Attractions

The allure of more Redford beckons. Will we have time to tackle some of the longer films? Or will we play it safe? Or will we say screw it, link to Captain America: Winter Soldier and then do a whole MCU rewatch…?

@BornToPootle

The Old Man and the Gun – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

We watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and frankly I was tempted to watch it again this week.

The Choice

A forking path lay in front of us. On the one hand, deep in a Paul Newman season, it was very tempting to carry on Newmanning. On the other hand: Redford.

Of course Katharine Ross has a great filmography to pick from too, and Sam Elliott is no slouch… but with Redford there’s an easy way to have a second bite of Paul Newman’s cherry (phrasing!) by picking The Sting.

And so, having narrowed down the link, Tim plumped for something still in cinemas – a first for CRFC (not counting older films being reshown, like the Paul Verhoeven trilogy we tackled). It’s The Old Man and the Gun.

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The Link

It feels like we’ve had a Robert Redford season before on CRFC but we haven’t, honest. No, instead during our William Goldman season Robert Redford turned up a lot. We’ve watched Three Days of the Condor, A Bridge Too Far, The Hot Rock, The Great Waldo Pepper and The Company You Keep. And of course Butch Cassidy now. He gets around.

redford

I mean, he’s no Newman but he does OK…

Sneakers was probably the first film I ever saw him in, which is long overdue a rewatch. I’ve never been particularly smitten with him as an actor if I’m honest – I’ve always thought he was fine, but only great in rare bursts – All The President’s Men, The Sting and Butch Cassidy perhaps being the standouts, and in each of those he’s closely teamed with another excellent actor.

The Old Man and the Gun and me

I go to the cinema quite a lot and, had it not been for the busy festive season, would probably already have seen this. But despite the presence of Tom Waits in the supporting cast it got squeezed out in favour of other revelry.

I’d seen trailers. I was intrigued. And knowing that Redford viewed it as his final film added a little more interest too. Was I right to (almost) miss it? We’ll find out…

IMDB says

The Old Man and the Gun (2018): Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. 6.9 stars.

I says

I hadn’t realised Casey Affleck was in it, playing the cop in pursuit of Redford’s Forrest Tucker. I don’t really like Casey Affleck as an actor. First up are the allegations about his behaviour. Second up is an interview with him that I read while I was still an actor. In it he claimed he didn’t enjoy acting at all (and I think that shows in his performances). For a jobbing actor struggling to get anywhere in the business that’s pretty much a ‘Fuck You’. Thirdly he mumbles everything. I longed for subtitles while watching this.

old man and gun 04

“Whut?” “mrrmmrr.” “Whut?” “mrrmmmrrrr.” *click*

Right, that’s out of the way.

Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Tom Waits are the elderly gang (oh god, Tom Waits is old now, what the hell?) who commit polite bank robberies. Sissy Spacek is the lady Redford meets and starts dating, kind of telling her the truth though she may not believe him. And Casey Affleck is the mumbling cop who mumbles.

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“Tom, pull over a sec.” “Nah Danny, Tom Waits for no man.” (sorry)

There are lots of references to actors’ earlier films – the opening text is lifted from Butch Cassidy, Affleck’s cop uses a gesture from The Sting, Sissy Spacek’s face is drenched in red light as it once was in blood… I suppose there’s a poignancy in a film about a man who just can’t give up his thrill being the final performance of a man giving up his.

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Talking of lifting from other movies… Isn’t this Peter Falk in The Princess Bride?

Forrest Tucker escaped from prison 17 times. We’re treated to a brief montage of these escapes about three quarters of the way through the film, and it’s one of the few moments the film fizzes with a bit of excitement. But the director didn’t want to make a cops n’ robbers film. He isn’t interested in excitement, I think. He’s interested in musing. Redford muses. Spacek muses. Affleck does a lot of musing. Witnesses muse. So let us muse for a moment on Chekhov’s gun.

Chekhov’s gun is the theory that if a gun (or other similarly charged object) is introduced on stage in the first act, it must be used in the third. The title of this film is The Old Man and the Gun. Sure, it’s a play on The Old Man and the Sea (totes didn’t just find that out by looking at IMDb trivia), and I suppose the meaning is that he is inexorably drawn to committing bank robberies. But ‘gun’ is a loaded (ahem) word. He barely uses it in the robberies. Some witnesses never even see it. And so as the film is pootling onwards I found myself when this totemic object, this object capable of a sudden startling drama might be deployed.

But it wasn’t. Because the film was more interested in musing on the title of The Old Man and the Sea.

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Well they’re amused by the musing, at least

The Verdict

A better film for Redford to go out on than A Walk in the Woods at least.

Coming Attractions

Well. Do we carry on with Redford? Do we go straight for The Sting and get back to Newman? Who can say?

Me. Next week.

@BornToPootle

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – The Chain Reaction Film Club

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…

It’s been Newman season, so we tackled four Paul Newman films and The Prize took the prize.

The Choice

How much Newman is too much Newman? That’s the question. The great thing about devoting mini-seasons to a single actor is that you can get a nice cross section of their work, and it can throw up some glorious surprises – take a look at me waxing lyrical about Gregory Peck, for example. What a treat! On the other hand, there’s the risk that, for an already beloved actor, we might restrict ourselves to justifiably lesser-known films and so end up with a slightly tarnished view of them. Weighing up the pros and cons of continuing Newman season in that context, and bearing in mind that the last Newman film we tackled was a bit of a dud, I decided we needed a guaranteed hit. Something to really start 2019 with a bang. And that film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

The Link

Paul Newman, duh! I wrote a little about him last week, so will save you this time around. But while I’ve been finding images and gifs and the like, it’s become apparent quite how many of his films involve lingering shots of him topless.

newman chest 1

That reminded me of the fairly shoe-horned section of The Prize that saw his character try and hide in a nudist meeting, only for villains to steal his clothes. Any excuse…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and me

Man, there’s the film I want! Stick me in there with Paul Newman and Robert Redford please!

There have only been a handful of films we’ve tackled in the CRFC that have already been favourites. Fifth Element springs to mind. Starship Troopers too. But Butch Cassidy is slightly more totemic. It’s a film Tim and I have bonded over together in the past. I bought him a poster of it perhaps a decade ago, and it’s sitting framed in his living room. In terms of pedigree, it’s written by the late William Goldman, who also collaborated with director George Roy Hill on The Great Waldo Pepper which has been a standout of CRFC… But, and whisper this, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion Tim likes Butch Cassidy more than I do. I always remember the damn bicycle bit really breaking the flow of the film and dragging on. Is that just my memory playing tricks?

Add to that a poor run of western biopics in CRFC, particularly those taking a lighter tone, and I had a bit of a worry that it might not live up to expectations. Did it? Let’s find out…

IMDB says

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969): Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia. 8.1 stars.

I says

I can’t ride a bike. Tried when I was a kid, fell into some rose bushes, scratched my leg up quite badly, and gave up. Gave it a half-hearted go about five years ago – nada. When I was still acting I had a fear that I’d land an amazing film role, turn up to the first day of filming and Speilberg would turn to me and say “Now Jon, this scene is gonna have you riding this bike down the street…” So perhaps my antipathy towards the bicycle scene, in which Paul Newman’s Butch does a load of tricks while riding a bike for presumably the first time, is simply jealousy.

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What a colossal show-off

It’s good, gang. It’s really good. Phew.

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That Newman and Redford made only two films together is, and this isn’t a controversial opinion, criminal. They are a properly sensational double act. The scene in which our heroes(?) are on the run and have to decide between making a stand or leaping off a cliff is a two minute slice of heaven. Honestly, it really is. Katharine Ross is wonderful as well (as she always is, let’s be honest) stoking something that thankfully never quite becomes a love triangle. The first scene between her and Redford is a wonderful bit of misdirection.

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Spoilers ahead…

Are they heroes? Well, no. But they’re not just thugs, at least. Butch’s confession that he’s never shot anyone about two thirds of the way through is lovely. Though he swiftly gets over that particular hurdle. They are problem solvers. Obstacles are hurled into their path – ornery gang members, bolshy security guards, those guys – and at every turn Butch and Sundance find solutions. They overcome their obstacles until the obstacle is so large that it can’t be bested. Until it’s a whole damn army lying in wait for them. And then, even then, we don’t see them fail. We don’t know. The film freezes and fades to sepia as gunfire sounds, Butch and Sundance running out into the open… And maybe just maybe they survive?

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They’ll be FINE

Maybe?

WHY CAN’T YOU LET ME HAVE THIS?

And yes, I still agree with myself that the bicycle scene is a tad overlong. It just keeps going and going and that bloody Burt Bacharach song plays over the top for some reason… BUT… it happens much earlier in the film than I remembered, so it doesn’t break the flow at all.

Butch Cassidy came out in 1969, a year of three big end-of-the-West films. The Wild Bunch I covered recently. True Grit is the third spoke of the triumverate. Funnily enough Strother Martin is in all three (he’s the mine foreman in Bolivia here), but that’s by the by.

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Oh brother, it’s yet another Strother

When it came to Oscars time though, it was a fourth cowboy film that took Best Picture and Best Director – Midnight Cowboy. I suppose that’s also about the end of the myth of the West as well, in a more allegorical way. I like Midnight Cowboy. I’ve not seen it for a few years, but I remember really liking it. But it’s too sad to rewatch, I think. Butch Cassidy I would rewatch in a heartbeat.

A final notable thing – Sam Elliot, he of the fine ‘tache and beautiful voice, appears at the beginning of this as Sundance’s card playing adversary. He’s pretty unrecognisable.

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Where’s Sam Elliott?

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There he is!

He would go on to marry Katharine Ross 15 years later, and married they still very much are. So Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid does have a happy ending really.

The Verdict

Even the devil’s transportation device can’t dent my enjoyment of this. It’s a proper ol’ masterpiece.

Coming Attractions

Well. Do we carry on with Newman? Do we swap to Redford? After all, we can always get back to Newman with The Sting… It’s quite the pickle, but fortunately it’s Tim’s choice next so I’ll let him fret.

@BornToPootle

Goldman Variations – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time it was Sarandon Season on the Chain Reaction Film Club. We finished that with The Great Waldo Pepper, which was indeed great. Written by master film scribe William Goldman, it seemed as good a time as any to tackle some of his films that we’d not already seen. Those we have seen include The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting. So he has some form for this writing lark. The only slight snag is that we can’t use him to link between films, as it has to be an actor who appears on screen and has a meaningful line of dialogue. So from Waldo Pepper we were able to get to:

Film 62: The Hot Rock (1972)

Link: Robert Redford

I’ve been in the mood for a crime caper for quite some time, so this was very exciting. A Goldman script (based on a book by Donald Westlake), Redford in the lead role, directed by Peter Yates (whose The Dresser I enjoyed very much) – all signs point to glory.

Redford is an ex con with a talent for planning heists. He’s brought back for one more job… a team is assembled… things go wrong… some stuff happens…

Rather than focussing on one big heist, this ends up being a series of escalating heists as things don’t quite go to plan. There’s a bit of silliness, but no one has told Robert Redford that as he plays it straight throughout. And the heists don’t really escalate that much. I think Goldman may have been having an off day when he adapted this one…

But wait, who’s this?

It does however feature one of Christopher Guest’s first film performances – one line as a cop in a police station. So worth it for that alone.

Film 63: A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Link: Robert Redford

Next to a crime caper, a classic war film has been pretty high on my list. And this one, about Operation Market Garden, is definitely a classic. Let’s just have a whiff of the cast:

Dirk Bogarde, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, James Caan, Alun Armstrong…

Redford (yet again appearing in a Goldman-penned film) doesn’t appear until quite far through. By then we’re deep in the mud and blood, but Redford is approached for a mission and turns and smiles and is just Too Much.

No smile, but you get the idea

I don’t know that much about Operation Market Garden (must watch Band of Brothers…) but the film title alone gave me the impression it wasn’t an overall success. And while I got a bit confused here and there about which bridge was which and who was waiting for back up from who, it’s a solid ensemble beast. It’s not quite in the browbeating war is hell category, but it certainly isn’t tubthumping either.

Goldman was adapting a book again here, and strikes a fine balance between the stiff upper lip facade and the grim reality. Most of the military advisers to the film had the same names as the characters, so I’m going to assume authenticity was the watchword.

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Sean Connery in anything other than Bond. He’s a fantastic, muscular presence.

That’s the Chicago way…

Film 64: Absolute Power (1997)

Link: Gene Hackman

This has the honour of appearing on more shortlists than any other film so far (ok, I haven’t really been keeping track but this and Bob Roberts turn up a LOT). And for once it’s a Goldman film without Redford in tow! It is another book adaptation though, this time of a David Baldacci thriller.

Clint Eastwood is a burglar who hides when the house he’s burgling turns out to be occupied after all. He watches a steamy affair from behind a two way mirror, then things get violent, the man calls for help and… the Secret Service run in and shoot the woman. That’s right, President Gene Hackman is in trouble and has a lot of covering up to do. 

Happy Birthday Mr. President…

We watched this the same week Weinstein allegations surfaced, so it was oddly on point (let’s not even get started on White House abuses of power). 

The first half chugs along very nicely, then it all gets a bit murky. It’s one where everything could have been resolved much earlier wih a bit less faffing around. Still, seeing a pre-24 Dennis Haysbert as the President’s bodyguard was fun. Soon enough he’d be in the big chair himself.

‘I hope my presidency is much less dramatic…’

Right at the beginning, when the prez is making out with the woman, not only are the Secret Service on hand but his chief of staff is too. And so I spent the rest of the film imagining President Bartlett and Leo being caught up in that kind of situation which, I’ll be honest, sounds like more fun. 

Gene Hackman has been in quite a few films we’ve tackled so far – not only Absolute Power and A Bridge Too Far (with a Polish accent no less) but there’s also been Bonnie and Clyde, Scarecrow, Wyatt Earp, and Twilight. There’s a simple reason for this: I just haven’t seen that many Hackman films. He’s an actor who has almost entirely passed me by, with the notable exception of Unforgiven and his Lex Luthor. I’m not really sure why this is – I’ll ponder it a bit for next time because… we’ve reached the end of The Goldman Variations and it’s time for Hackmania!

What have I learned from dipping toes deeper into Goldman’s inkwell? Maybe a little of what you fancy is better than a lot. His notable films really are extraordinary (I forgot he also wrote All The President’s Men, what a guy!) but not every script can be legendary. There are still more I’d like to tackle – I’ve never seen Marathon Man for example (we almost linked to that after A Bridge… via Olivier) – but I don’t feel like a mug for not being au fait wih every single film he’s been involved in.

Hackman though… Let’s see what I’ve been missing out on.

Sarandon Season – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Last time we ended up on Jeff, Who Lives At Home which is definitely not the film Lars and the Real Girl and I may or may not get them muddled up again. With a lack of interesting films starring Jason Segel or Ed Helms we were left with a 25 strong list of Susan Sarandon films to mull over. Some were classics that I’ve seen but are probably due a rewatch – Thelma and Louise for example – others classics that I haven’t seen at all, like Dead Man Walking. And then there were the ones which looked great on paper but for some reason neither of us had heard of. And that’s exactly where we started…

Film 57: The Company You Keep (2012)

This is how you do a goddamn cast list:

Susan Sarandon, Robert Redford, Stanley Tucci, Shia Lebeouf, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Brit Marling, Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliot, Terence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins.

I mean, that’s just greedy.

With a cast like that I really don’t know how I hadn’t heard of this film. It’s also directed by Redford, though that isn’t always a hallmark of quality – last year’s A Walk In The Woods adaptation is surefire proof of that.

Susan Sarandon only makes a brief appearance, which was a bit of a shame for the start of Sarandon Season – she’s a former political activist whose cell went underground after someone was killed during one of their activities in the 60s. She’s settled down with a family and now the kids are old enough to handle it she turns herself in. The rest of the film revolves around Redford being on the run as he becomes implicated as a member of the group, and Shia Lebeouf’s journalist trying to uncover the secret they’ve been hiding.

It’s solid enough stuff, but doesn’t really get exciting at any point. It’s most notable for having what I’d argue is the most extreme example of a horrendous voice followed by a beautiful voice in cinematic history. Nick Nolte speaks, then Sam Elliot speaks. Hell followed swiftly by heaven. After it finished we watched the opening of The Big Lebowski just for Sam Elliot’s VO. It’s bliss. The Coens really know how to open a film – between that and Millers Crossing’s ice cubes in a tumbler/Jon Polito rant I doubt we’ll see much better.

Film 58: The Client (1994)

Somehow I missed all the major John Grisham adaptations in the 90s. I imagine we’ll tackle The Firm and The Pelican Brief in later outings of CRFC.  This is the only one with Susan Sarandon in though and so here we are.

Sarandon is a lawyer with a checkered past! Tommy Lee Jones is a smug District Attorney! Brad Renfro is a kid who witnesses a mob associate confess where a body is hidden then kill himself!

This is a great example of a film where it could all be over very very quickly if people just had a nice chat. I tend to find that a bit annoying generally – all the characters we’re following are ‘good’, they’re not maliciously throwing obstacles in each other’s way and yet throw obstacles they do. Despite those misgivings and serious concern about having a kid as a lead, they do a pretty good job of Brad Renfro’s background explaining his distrust of authority. It still wrankled but didn’t ruin everything.

Susan Sarandon does that great Susan Sarandon thing of being a mother figure but without being either mumsy or Rebellious Mum #2. Tommy Lee Jones does that great Tommy Lee Jones thing of being Tommy Lee Jones. It’s never less than watchable.

Tommy being Tommy

Film 59: Twilight (1998)

No, not that one. This is a wannabe noir with Sarandon, Gene Hackman and Paul Newman.

And Reese Witherspoon, Liev Schrieber, James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Stockard Channing, John Spencer and M Emmet Walsh.

It’s another of THOSE casts. I mean M Emmet Walsh doesn’t even get any lines for god’s sake! And yet… This is a film which tries to convince us that Gene Hackman is one of the beautiful people but Paul Newman isn’t.

Not one of the beautiful people. Yeah. Whatever.

That’s all you need to know. It’s not very good.

Film 60: In The Valley of Elah (2007)

Tim had a friend staying with him for a few weeks recently. He joined us for a couple of films, possibly The Dresser and Traffic, and was surprised at how depressing our film choices were. When I tell people about CRFC (they glaze over, obvs) there seems to be an assumption that we’re working our way through 80s action films or something. And while we have done a few of those, part of the point of the thing is to watch films we otherwise wouldn’t get around to. So not always the easy watches.

In The Valley of Elah is definitely in the more depressing end of the spectrum. It’s not quite Brokeback Mountain scale (I could feel that film in my psyche for weeks after seeing it) but it’s not far off. Tommy Lee Jones is a military vet. whose son has joined the military, been over to Iraq and back, and now gone missing from his US army base. He goes to investigate and doesn’t find anything happy.

It only goes downhill from here

Susan Sarandon only has a small part – another mother role – waiting for news from Tommy Lee Jones. She delivers a gut punch of emotion though. More central is Charlize Theron as a terrible detective.

The police are useless in this, with Tommy doing all the investigating. And that’s a bit annoying, as he sort of teams up with Charlize but does all the work himself. Charlize’s colleagues accuse her of only being a detective thanks to sleeping with the boss (which she has been) – it would have been nice for her character to prove that wrong by being good at her job, but nope. She uses Tommy Lee Jones’ findings to show them up, but she just tagged along.

That aside, it’s a deeply affecting film. At the beginning it claims to be based on real events. I looked it up afterwards, and it is very close to the truth – an investigative article (in Playboy) tackled the story, but names and a few other details were changed for the film. It’s not perfect but if you’re looking for a film about cycles of violence and that is definitely anti war then it’s worth a look. And it’s directed by Paul Haggis who, amongst more famous recent things, gave us Due South. Any friend of Constable Benton Fraser is a friend of mine.

Film 61: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Tim picked this out. I was put off by the title alone, but Tim saw Robert Redford and that was enough.

And then the opening credits rolled.

Director: George Roy Hill

Writer: William Goldman

And then I was convinced. If three of the four major players behind The Sting and Butch Cassidy are involved then you start to hope for a certain quality, and The Great Waldo Pepper delivers. It’s a fictional account of pilots trying to make a living after the first world war – biplane aces who got a taste of adrenaline and are constantly chasing a new high.

A magnificent man and his flying machine…

There’s barnstorming, wing-walking and glorious Redford grins. All of the plane action was done in real life, none of it was faked in a studio. When it looks like Redford is wing walking without a harness that’s because Redford was wing walking without a harness. Imagine trying to make that now! That’s one of the reasons Mad Max Fury Road tickled me so much – they wanted scenes with a load of cars smashing into each other in the desert, so they took a load of cars into the desert and smashed them into each other.  It’s effective and provides a thrill that, however realistic it’s become, still isn’t matched by cgi.

Oh, and the music in The Great Barry Pepper (hang on…) is by Mancini! The tone, led by the music, starts upbeat and fun. The music keeps this facade going, but slowly cracks appear. First in the stories Pepper tells with such panache, then in the possibility of being able to keep on flying as they have been. I hadn’t heard of this film before and it’s a real classic. A barnstormer, if you will. The second and third credited actor are both called Bo! And Susan Sarandon doesn’t play a mother!

As mooted above, William Goldman is responsible for Butch Cassidy and The Sting, two of Tim’s very favourite films. I think they’re pretty plucky too. And he also wrote The Princess Bride which is a stupendous achievement by any measure. Tim has spare copies of The Princess Bride on DVD to give to people he meets who haven’t seen it, which is entirely justified. There are plenty of his films neither of us have seen, and while linking to another film via a writer is outside the rules of The Chain Reaction Film Club, guess who turns up in another William Goldman movie – Robert Redford in The Hot Rock! And so we bid farewell to Sarandon Season and welcome to… The Goldman Variations.

Bonus Sarandon fact – I’d always assumed the Chris ‘Prince Humperdink’ Sarandon was a brother of Susan. Turns out they were married in the 70s, and she kept his name. So. There you go.