Loud and Proud

Hello chaps, I’ve recorded another podcast from the Sheffield Live! Film File. Alongside my good buddy Jim Whiting we joined the ever gracious and witty Simon Thake to chew the fat on the latest releases, movie news, a discussion about Campbell Scott and baseless rumination on films we haven’t seen. It’s been released as a podcast which you can download or stream from here…

Sheffield Live! Film File

August 22nd: Dirty Old Codger

Roger Dodger

173. Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002)

Do you remember Campbell Scott? You might not immediately recognise the name but try thinking back to the early 90s, films like the low-key Julia Roberts vehicle Dying Young or Cameron Crowe’s Seattle grunge portmanteau Singles. Scott was that guy. Y’know, that guy. He has the look of the everyman. He can blend in. He’s handsome but not so much that it defines him, there’s an ordinary quality about his face and also about his characters, they are pragmatic and settled. Rarely would he suit extravagance or hyperbole, he just looks dependable. This might be what influenced him to say “there’s an entire subset of people out there who think of me as quite a dull actor. And that’s the word used, and often – dull.” But there is something that lurks in his eyes that hints at darkness, at something hidden that troubles him and it isn’t dull at all. It seems to me that if Christian Bale had decided not to take on the mantle of Patrick Bateman then Scott would have been a superb replacement, there’s just hint of the urban sociopath about him. That’s what makes Roger Dodger such a compelling film.

Scott is Roger Swanson, a smooth talking advertising executive who fancies he can use his mouth to get him into or out of any situation. But when his boss, played with understated class by Isabella Rossellini, decides to end their affair Roger seems unable to cope. Driven by a growing hatred of women Roger uses the unexpected arrival of his 16 year-old nephew, Nick, as an excuse to trawl New York’s bars to school Nick on the ways of seduction. There’s cameo appearances from Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley both of whom look stunning but no-one can distract from the non-stop invective coming from Roger. He deconstructs everyone and everything with withering contempt as the night slowly unravels and he decides to gatecrash the wrong party.

There is a lot about Roger Dodger that resonates with that other vision of white collar misogyny, The Company of Men. Roger could aspire to Aaron Eckhart’s Chad, if it weren’t for his perceived weakness of actually having feelings fr someone. This film manages to paint a much more convincing picture of a man trapped by his own beliefs, sticking to his woman hating guns despite his own conscience bucking against him. In the end it is Scott’s film, he’s like Robert Downey Jr. but without the sly wink to camera and it’s fantastic to watch.

Bring me my Bow of Burning Gold!

 

Several things have interrupted my attempts to watch as many films as possible this year but perhaps nothing as much as the ongoing Ashes series between England and Australia over the summer. I suffer from a bit of a weird emotional attachment to the fortunes of the England cricket team so I’m more than a little happy as we’ve won the little urn for only the second time since I actually started paying attention back in the doldrums of the 90s.

By way of celebration I teamed up with a friend of mine on Twitter (@MGElliott) have made a Spotify playlist of our favourite cricket songs. Some of them are quite tenuous but we were having a bit of a giggle, and of course there is a double entry for the fantastic Duckworth Lewis Method. See what you think HERE.

August 21st: Guy Meets Girl

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172. Once (John Carney, 2006)

Isn’t the musical is dead? On the evidence of Once, the answer is no – it’s just going through a few changes.

Guy meets Girl. It’s such a basic story, and sometimes that’s all you need. Guy is a busker, Girl is a cleaner – they meet and make a very simple connection, they both play music. They like each other, it might even be something more. And the songs that they play together suggest so much.

Once is short and very sweet. This is a film about emotion and mood and it does a fantastic job of conveying all of this through the music. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová aren’t actors but they are good friends and they create an incredibly believable attraction on screen. The music is part of the narrative in a believable sense – rather than randomly assigned song and dance routines, it is an intrinsic part of their lives. It’s just seamlessly placed.

I can’t recommend this film highly enough, it’s fantastic film about human connections and the music is superb.

August 19th: One more damn fine cup o’ Joe

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171. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Set yourself up for a satisfying hit of nostalgia by having a listen to that stunning title music from the Twin Peaks TV series one more time whilst you read this review…

 

I mentioned briefly when I was reviewing The Wraith that I had a crush on Sherilyn Fenn from watching David Lynch’s groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks. I watched it when I was in my first year of University, a whole decade ago. The department had a ridiculously large VHS collection, part of which was the 10 VHS box-set of Twin Peaks. Over two weeks I devoured the whole series, plinky Badalamenti jazz, odd characters, beautiful women and bizarre storylines. I loved it, I hadn’t seen television that was so boldly subversive and inventive before. I’d come from a house that routinely watched Coronation Street, so this was mind-blowing stuff for me – despite being nearly 10 years late to the party.

There is a problem with Twin Peaks as a TV series though, it was beset with network interference in the second series and co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost left the show. The quality drop-off is noticeable, the viewing figures plummeted and the show was cancelled. Part of the disagreement between Lynch/Frost and the network was revealing who had killed Laura Palmer. The discovery of Palmer’s body is the catalyst for the events in the series, revealing the killer decimated interest. Fire Walk With Me tells the story of the days leading up to the death of Laura Palmer as well as containing a prologue showing the investigation into the connected death of Teresa Banks.

The strangest thing about finally watching Fire Walk With Me so long after I watched the TV series were the familiar cues. It seemed as if I were meeting some old friends, except they hadn’t aged. Where this deviates mostly from the TV series is in the overall tone, gone is the humour – replaced with a constant sense of dread. Primarily because we know that Laura Palmer is going to die but also because Lynch ratchets up the tension. This is a journey into a nightmare borne of abuse and it’s pretty weird to boot. The nightmare is leant some serious weight with a bravura performance from Sheryl Lee, who will forever be associated with this role.

There are some loose ends tied up in the film but predominantly this is an explanation as to why the events in Twin Peak occurred. What is so disappointing is that this film probably represented the last chance to rekindle popular interest in Twin Peaks and it was something of a financial failure. It’s easy to see why, with a product that is difficult to market (a thriller where you already know the end result?) and equally difficult to understand at times.

Still, there is a continuing interest in Twin Peaks (my research around the net reveals that there is still a yearly Twin Peaks festival!) and recently Kyle MacLachlan has made some noises that he’d like to return to the character of Agent Dale Cooper – read about that HERE. Whether anything happens or not though what we have in Twin Peaks is something special, what we have in Fire Walk With Me is an intriguing but slightly disappointing footnote to the saga.

August 18th: More Fear and Loathing

Buffalo

170. Where the Buffalo Roam (Art Linson, 1980)

This works as a bit of a follow up to the Hunter S. Thompson documentary I watched just recently. This is a sort of semi-fictionalised account of Thompson’s productive period from ’68 to ’72. Bill Murray does a good impression of the man himself and Peter Boyle is Lazlo his ever deranged lawyer accomplice prix du viagra france. There’s no narrative thread to the film as such, it just charts Thompson’s rise to covering politics and his disintegrating friendship with Lazlo.

The whole film seems to have been made by people in awe of Thompson and his writing. I happen to share a love of the works of Thompson but I also think that he was a bit of an arse as a person – Where the Buffalo Roam doesn’t alter anything about that. In fact it doesn’t do much at all.

Note: Where the Buffalo Roam is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under Saturday Night Live Movies.

August 16th: AnchorBush

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169. Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome America – A Final night With George W. Bush (Marty Callner – 2009)

This stage show from New York is as much a farewell to the abundance of comedy material generated by the big W as much as anything else. Ferrell gives a performance that is really a reminiscence of the Bush administration and the comedy provided by the characters involved. With the exception of Condoleezza Rice’s dance routine it isn’t gut bursting funny but more quaintly amusing. The mispronunciations and faux cowboy impressions are all present but always underscored by the bizarre fratboy charm of the man. There’s some amusing audience interaction too, but overall this doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said. It’s occasionally funny, but really rather pointless.

August 10th: I’ve only got myself to blame really

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168. Hard to Kill (Bruce Malmuth, 1990)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one; Mason Storm is a maverick renegade cop who does things his own way. When doing something typically maverick and renegadey he uncovers corruption going all the way to the top. Before he can do anything they kill his wife and his child – now he’s back for revenge.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Steven Seagal is comically resistant to emotion, at least in this Kelly LeBrock seems to be aware of the fact that she can’t act. The only reason I decided to watch this was because I had a fleeting memory of reading about a good fight scene in some kind of ‘Top 10 movie fights’ list. Well, either my memory is shot or the person writing that list was taking the piss. No such fight exists and my run of top quality films is at an end.

August 9th: The Odder Couple

harold_and_maude

167. Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

When I watched this, and for most of this year, Harold and Maude has been on the outer reaches of the IMDB top 250. I come to look at it today and it has managed to drop out! As annoying as that is I can’t say that I’m disappointed to have watched it because it really is a special bit of work.

Harold is a wealthy young man with a fixation on repeatedly faking his own suicide, mainly to be found by his mother. Bored and adrift from life he attends the funerals of strangers. It is at one of these funerals that he meets Maude, a woman on the cusp of her 70s with a penchant for car theft and the occasional bit of nude modelling. Harold becomes closer and closer to Maude and an unlikely romance blooms.

I’ve never seen a Hal Ashby film before, but on this evidence he may have been the natural precursor to the likes of Wes Anderson. Harold and Maude has that whimsical air about it. I found this to be more emotionally affecting than Anderson’s work though, which isn’t to dismiss the likes of Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, it’s just that Ashby’s film has within it a moment of brilliance that I haven’t seen the like of in some time.

*** The following could be construed as a spoiler – I don’t think it is but it does reveal a tiny plot point. ***

It’s such a minor moment, literally no more than a second or two on the screen but it demonstrated excellently the power of cinema to relay information in an emotionally loaded way. After an excellent day together, they sit together on a bench and Harold furtively explains that he thinks he loves Maude. At that moment he holds her hand and notices for one fleeting moment that Maude has a tattoo on the inside of her left forearm, a tattoo of numbers. There’s only one place where you would get a tattoo like that. Nothing is said, nothing needs to be. It’s perfect and brilliant, storytelling on an economical scale that made me sit up and pay attention.

*** Right, slight spoiler bit over. ***

I greatly enjoyed the film, to nearly coin a cliché I laughed and I nearly cried. The soundtrack is exclusively Cat Stevens songs that are perfectly attuned to the mood of the piece and the performances are strong and believable throughout. Watch Harold and Maude, it really is rather good.

Oh, before I forget – this has one hell of a cool car, Harold’s Jaguar XKE which is re-fashioned to look like a hearse. Trivia websites suggests the only version was indeed that one and that it really did meet its end in the film.

August 8th: Starstruck

all about

166. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950) #73 in IMDB top 250

Hollywood can be a very self-congratulatory place, we’ve all seen the collective back-slap-athon of the Academy Awards. All About Eve is a prestige product from the peak of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, it has an immense sense of self importance. I think that probably carries it through.

It was one of the films that benefited from the personal intervention of the studio head Daryl F. Zanuck, a legendary name and head of 20th Century Fox intermittently over the course of just under forty years. Zanuck’s involvement is interesting, it casts some questions over the complete authorship of director Mankiewicz. Not an issue at the time perhaps, but in the current cinema landscape where the director is king it’s easy to forget whose fingerprints are on the films of yesteryear.

Bette Davis, in typically overbearing form, is Margo Channing. Margo is hitting 40, the edge of the peak years for a stage actress. She allows Eve, a young fan, to become her assistant, but Eve is much more ambitious than that and starts to inveigle herself into Margo’s life more and more. A story like this doesn’t need 138 minutes to be told but the beauty of a film like this is the epic scope of a relatively minor story. The supporting cast is brimming with talent, from George Sanders’ scheming theatre critic to the surprise appearance of Marilyn Monroe as a hopeful actress. Relationships are given space to breathe and performances are allowed screen time, even if they are a little melodramatic.

There is a glorious splash of darkness in the heart of this film, it’s about obsession and the corrupting desire for fame. There’s some homophobic subtext as the two characters seemingly incapable of emotional love end up in an alliance rather than a relationship, they are ostensibly the villains of the piece too. It’s extravagant and broad but it’s supposed to be, but it’s classic Oscar fodder driven by some great performances.

Perhaps the most interesting, and saddest, thing that I learnt whilst researching this film came from the final scene and the appearance of Phoebe, played by Barbara Bates. There’s a lot of these stories of broken lives left by the Hollywood dream factory and it seems quite pertinent that this one came up whilst looking at this film. Read about Barbara HERE.