EUropean Films are Great

I recently heard of a somewhat bizarre phenomenon that’s happened in North Korea over several decades, and it got me thinking. Before I let my thoughts run away with me without providing any context, I’ll briefly explain said “phenomenon”.

In a nutshell, South Korean activists wait for the right time of year, around Spring time, when the wind is blowing in the right direction to the North. Gathering information about life in South Korea, as well as other democratic societies, they then fill balloons with helium and attach the ‘care packages’ to the balloons allowing the wind to drift them northwards over the heavily armed demilitarised zone (a slight contradiction in that phrasing). The hope is that the packages that aren’t shot down, will find their way to ordinary North Koreans who will then learn the truth about how they are living and what lies beyond their restricted country’s borders.

Incredibly this happened when a group of activists dropped care packages, which included USB sticks, with the Seth Rogen/James Franco starring The Interview attached. This is the film in which a TV producer and tabloid personality travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong Un, played as a spoilt man-child by Randall Park, but with orders to assassinate the dictator by the CIA. Cue hi-jinx and chicanery, mixed with the usual comedy tropes of this group. Now not to dismiss the films of Apatow, Rogen, Franco et al, I genuinely think they’re funny; Franco playing a version of himself in ‘This is the End’ delivering the line “got’s to go”, destroys me every time I see it. However, I’m not writing a blog about any of their films. Nor am I writing about the the most famous thing about this film and the ensuing drama it caused, but it does bare mentioning. That would be the, now infamous, “Sony hack” as it is so often described, which caused huge data leaks and software malfunctions for the Sony corporation. This was inflicted upon them by the North Korean regime due to their outrage at the portrayal of their *ahem* esteemed leader, one Kim Jong Un.

Franco & Park play TV host & Dictator

If you’ve made it this far what I would like to write about is something that the image of a walled off country, being fed information by citizens of a free state, via wind assisted Spring time balloons, conjured in me. As depressing as it may well be, it made me think of a barren post Brexit wasteland, living in our own walled off island with no access to basic amenities, such as toilet paper and ‘luxury’ fruit (bananas). Here though, we’ll persevere because 45-55 year old men will remind us of the Second World War and how great we did. In the meantime, many of us will be left wondering how they would know when they weren’t alive and didn’t live through it and also, didn’t we have some help? Weren’t we allies? There’s something in that I think…

Alas, less of the depressing state of what’s to come and let me bring home my point. If we were to live in this BrexSHIT wasteland, where every morning we’ll swear allegiance to Winston Churchill, Jeremy Clarkson and Jim Davidson, we’ll have no access to Europe. Thus, we’ll have no access to European cinema. After truly labouring the point, I’d like to combat this hell by saying Brexit was/is one of largest scams we’ll ever see and I can’t wait for the public inquiry. Also, here are some of my favourite European films. *steps down off soapbox*

There’s obviously a treasure trove of films I could dive into here. European cinema and the daring of several directors has left a lasting imprint on what we watch today. Fritz Lang’s vastly influential M & Metropolis were borne out of the German Expressionism movement. There’s the French New Wave’s Truffaut, Varda and Godard, as well as the Italian neorealist directors such as Antonioni and Fellini. I’ve already pushed my luck on this one, but to list the amount of classic European cinema would leave me with a PhD in European cinema list making. Ultimately I just wanted to highlight two films that I think are great, but wanted to recognise the breadth of what there is to choose from. As in life, choosing EUropean is often the way to go.

Firstly is the film I’ve seen most recently, but is the oldest by a distance. Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, which translates to Don’t Touch the Loot (released in the UK as Honour Among Thieves) was released in 1954 and almost perfectly encapsulates the theme here; in that it was a French and Italian co-production. It starred Jean Gabin as ageing gangster Max, who is forced out of his seemingly idyllic retirement after being double crossed by rivals in search of the score that afforded him retirement bliss. Directed by Jacques Becker, who’s other notable films include Casque d’or (1952) and Le Trou (1960) and who’s mentor was the distinguished French auteur Jean Renoir, this film has gone on to become a classic in general, and especially in the gangster genre; and by most people’s money, it is the most revered film of Becker’s back catalogue. For someone who’s favourite film on most days of the week is Goodfellas, it was a massive gap in my film knowledge. While watching for the first time it became clear to me that this film must have had an influence on Scorsese’s The Irishman. In its themes of ageing criminals, glamour and then the clear lack of it, as well as ruthlessness between friends/allies. Despite not having the scale of Scorsese’s masterpiece, in that it’s around half the length and wasn’t bankrolled by Netflix, those core themes are running through both. The score that is so prominent and propulsive throughout The Irishman, is also directly influenced by Jean Wiener’s score. Jean Gabin’s Max steely composed protagonist, also reminded me of De Niro’s Frank Sheeran. While Max is more of a figurehead, organisationally speaking, their demeanours have clear similarities. Reading about the film afterwards, it was nice to know that I hadn’t imagined all of this; Scorsese,in conversation with the great Spike Lee, was quoted as saying that this film was a direct influence on his. Perhaps lost to time somewhat, but given that the incredible streaming service/film distributor Mubi recently added it to their collection, I think now is the time for rediscovery.

A classic poster

My second recommendation is an Italian film from 2018, Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice). There are two things that irk me more than most, when it comes to films, and both have occurred with this gem. Firstly, when I intend to see something at the cinema, don’t make time and then see it via streaming. If I love it, like this, I’m full of regret that I didn’t make time and inevitably have a word with myself, vowing to never make the same mistake. Secondly, and happening ever more frequently, is when distributors forego releasing a film on Blu-ray, and opt only for digital or digital and DVD. Neither of these options interest me and a film I would deeply treasure, leaves a metaphorical rectangular gap in my collection. Both of these irksome things happened with Happy as Lazzaro and I thought this blog would be the right place for me to vent this fury. I know, first world problems, complaining about a film not being on Blu-ray and my own internal strife about not going to the cinema. I’ve given you an insight into my mind and the less said about it, the better. Let’s move on.

Or, Lazzaro Felice

Back to the film, which tells the story of a peasant family who are, unknowingly, exploited for their labour by a tobacco baroness. On first glance, and for much of the first act, it appears our sharecroppers and their exploiter in chief are living around the late 19th/early 20th century. However, there are items we see from the baroness’s son, Tancredi, which don’t befit the time we think we’re in; such as his clothing and a Walkman. In fact, it turns out we’re in the 1980’s where such work has now been outlawed, however no one told this family, let alone our protagonist Lazzaro; who himself is often exploited by his community due to his simple outlook and unwavering kindness. Director Alice Rohrwacher’s beautiful film continues to surprise however, due to a kidnapping plot and some time hopping. There’s parallels and metaphors galore in the way the baroness is running her ‘business’, compared to Italian society and government which over the years have often been in a vice grip to corruption and crime. To go into much more would be creeping into spoiler territory, which in turn would really break the spell this film holds on you as the viewer. Seek it out, in the meantime I’m going to order an Italian import Blu-ray. I hope it has subtitles.

There really is so many films I could’ve chosen here, but I wanted to highlight two that I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about. They’re great and so is European cinema. Thanks for indulging me, I’m off to fly some helium filled balloons off to Holland…

Video Bob & The Fugitive

Being at home constantly watching films on TV, rather than on a huge cinema screen, has got me thinking. So I’d like to take a trip down memory lane because, well why not? Mmmm the sweet smell of nostalgia….

I’ll pick a year. Let’s choose 1996, when I was the tender age of 10 years old. In my short life there had been some significant world moments; the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first bombing of the World Trade Centre and the invention of what I thought was the treat of the century (to which my mum must have been rubbing her hands together with glee), the Pot Noodle. However, perhaps more significant than the fall of the USSR, taking a peak into the future of global terrorism and kettle based curry flavoured noodles, was the creation and popularisation of The Video Shop.

Woof

To a certain generation the video shop was an almost magical place. To generations that have come afterwards, the idea of roaming around a shop grabbing clunky boxes and reading synopsis on the back, or picking films based on the an actor you know and the particularly cool poster they appear to be in, probably sounds like madness. Why do that when you can sit on a bean bag and tell Alexa or Siri to find you Fast & Furious 27? I’m being cynical, but it’s hard to explain how great it was. There’s nothing like going to a cinema, it’s simply the greatest place to watch a film. But, some of my favourite films were discovered at the video shop. I saw Goodfellas, way too young, after my brother rented it and watched it three times in two days. After booking tickets to The Matrix in the cinema when it was released in ‘99 and being denied entry for not being 15, I rented the video a year later and finally got to have my mind blown; albeit belatedly and on a much smaller scale. And yes, I’ve still not forgiven the sadistic person for turning me away. One night I watched The Fugitive. In my life I have seen an obscene amount of films, and this film in particular is one that I’ve seen more than most. It is endlessly re-watchable and in the simplest of terms, is a proper film. I love The Fugitive and my enduring love for it starts here, in a video shop in, what year did we choose again? Ah yes, 1996. Let me tell a short story…

In the words of Shabba Ranks the “school bell a ring” and I am out of there. I pick up my Euro ‘96 pencil case, tighten up my Kickers and throw on my coat. In the words of the most famous Chris Evans in the world in 1996, TFI Friday. We’re a long way from his namesake super soldiering his way to Avengers heroism. Instead we’d have to settle for a pasty ginger man presenting features named Freak or Unique and Ugly Blokes. In fairness as a ten year old it was very funny. Anyway, as I so often do, I digress. Walking home without any music, podcasts, instaface or snapbook, I kick my football all the way home. Usually it feels like it takes hours, but on a Friday I feel like Robert Patrick as the T-1000 running after John Connor; only with less murderous, world ending intent. I just want to watch a film and eat food, with severe urgency.

I make it home, making sure to immediately change into my Italian away football shirt; a shirt I wore so much my brother started to call me “Robert One Top”. True story. After kicking my football against the wall for an hour or so, it was time to take a trip to wonderland. It was almost upon us. Not only that, we were going to go to a chippy that now does pizza. They make it there for you on the spot. And you can get chips! I think this is what Gil Scott Heron meant when he said “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, because this wasn’t on the telly and we only know because my brother’s friend’s mum told our mum about it. It’s near the video shop and we all like chippy chips, so we should probably find out. It’s like living in bloody America!

The rumours are true, Sandra was right. We’re walking down to the video shop, after putting the food on the front seat, already buoyed by our visit and now with a hop in our step after this discovery. It doesn’t take long. I open the doors and smell the stale carpet mixed with bad air freshener. I see the bags of popcorn for sale, next to the “ex-rental” videos. After our food excursion there’s no time to look in there tonight; maybe next time. I walk over to the Action section…

Last Action Hero “Seen that”

Terminator 2 “We can’t watch it again can we?”

The Net “The other Sandra…”

The Fugitive “Harrison, Indy, Han, framed for murder? Mum can we get this?”

I would like Harrison Ford as my reward

Now for those that haven’t seen it, I obviously can’t recommend The Fugitive enough. It is so much fun, with Mr. Ford and Tommy Lee Jones on exquisite form. As I mentioned, I’ve seen this film a lot and it could be close to 100 times. As as well as the aforementioned stars, there’s the original “That Guy” Joey Pantoliano, an incredible train escape jump as well as a staggering beard performance from Harrison’s face. We’re 28 years on from its release, if you haven’t seen it at this point, you’re probably not going to. But to reiterate, you should.

There is a reason for all of this. An incredibly self indulgent one, but it is my blog after all. As I stated when I first started this entry, we’re at home and watching films with no way of doing so in the cinema. For many people this is the way they consume films and not much has changed in that respect. However, as is probably evident due to the very nature of this website, cinema is very important to me. I will be attending as soon as they’re due to open in the UK this May, and will do so for as long as I am able. However, there is a lot of worry due to the very nature of release strategies these days. There is a lot of scepticism about major production companies selling the distribution rights to their tentpole films to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, or releasing them to “Prime VOD”. This is all while cinemas have been left empty and struggling to stay afloat. The industry is in flux and will be for a while. I wanted to highlight a few of these things after taking a trip down memory lane, because there have always been peaks and valleys. When my holy video shop was in full flight, cinemas were railing against consumers viewing films at home. When video shops closed, we all adapted to streaming leaving Blockbuster Video to become a nostalgic reference. And now we find ourselves in a situation where we’re watching cinematic releases like Wonder Woman 1984 and Judas & The Black Messiah at home.

But we will adapt to moving back to the cinema, just as we have adapted to all of the ways we viewed films before. Some of my favourite films in life I saw for the first time after renting them from a video shop. That’s continued right up until this past year of home based viewing. The previously mentioned Judas & The Black Messiah I rented a few weeks ago. If, given the chance when cinemas open, I’ll watch it there as well. Lovers Rock, which is one of the most joyous and visceral films I’ve ever seen, was released on BBC One. I wouldn’t take that back because that was how Steve McQueen chose to present it.

Michael Ward in Lovers Rock – a triumph

Films will always be available in all different formats in various ways. When cinemas open up on May 17th I will return and I’m certain fellow film lovers will as well. In the meantime support your local cinema by making a donation or buying a membership. It will go a long way. My favourite place in the world will welcome your donation here.

And if no one donates I’ll be forced to write another self indulgent blog about the time I discovered garlic mayo at the chippy, on the same night I rented Speed.

Piss Off 2020

I’ll admit to being, more often than not, a strange person and at the start of this year I thought to myself, “2020 will be good”. The symmetry in the numbers, the start of a new decade, the potential for El Wotsit Presidenté to be replaced; I felt extremely optimistic about what we had in store. Christ on the cross, I think it’s safe to say I was wrong. At least old permatwat’s gone…well, almost.

Clearly I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know, so I’ll move on. However, as always I have found solace in the wonderful world of film; perhaps more so this year than any before. Upon checking my trusty Letterboxd app, my tally for the year is currently standing at 564 films logged (including multiple watches). Of this mammoth number 87 are 2020 releases, but unfortunately I only saw 22 of these films in the cinema due to this nob of a virus. One of my best days of the year was after the first lockdown ended and I saw Tenet on a giant IMAX screen, followed by Les Miserables (not that one) at my favourite cinema HOME, for their relaunch later that evening. I can’t wait to go back.

Another brilliant part of the year, and one which has been truly joyous compared the bin fire of the outside world, was the film club myself and several friends created at the start of lockdown. Our “CoVideo Club” has seen us watch 32 films, which we then follow up with a video call to discuss our thoughts on the chosen film that week. Highlights include Blindspotting, Rear Window, They Live, A Bigger Splash and Orlando. The bleak weeks of Amour followed by Leviathan were dark, but we made it through. To cap the end of the year, we voted on all of the films we’d watched and our top 3 was Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Submarine and Beyoncé: Lemonade. Perhaps the latter doesn’t class as a traditional film, but in our club it does.

One part of this year that will actually resemble a world before I had to choose between steamed up glasses and face mask or blurred vision and a face mask, is an end of year ranking/run down of various people’s films of the year. My list can be found on the wonder that is Letterboxd, but I’d instead like to pick out a few films that I saw, which I imagine have flown slightly under the radar. I’ll do my best to not to ramble on anymore than I clearly already have, and get started.

The Wild Goose Lake

The first of the films made it to the UK in February of this year, after debuting at Cannes in May 2019, and had a brief cinematic release before finding its way to the streaming oasis Mubi. As much as I love Mubi, I wish I’d had a chance to see this projected on a cinema screen as it’s an absolute feast for the eyes. Directed by Diao Yi’nan and starring Ge Hu as the gangster on the run, alongside the ‘bathing beauty’ of the titular Goose Lake, Gwen Lun-Mei. It opens in the noir tradition with a meeting between our gangster and the femme fatale, in a shadowy corner of train station. Ge Hu is on the run for killing a cop and we see the ensuing hunt for him, as well as the events leading up to the killing in a series of well staged flashbacks, creating an almost dual narrative for our protagonist. Despite being quite traditional in its noir influences, there are some incredible set pieces almost always at night, framed in various shades of neon. One of which is described by a character as “the Olympic Games of theft”, which sees rival gangs have two hours to steal as many motorbikes as possible. Out of context it sounds daft, but in the wider narrative of the film it’s essential. An absolute gem of a film, on top of which it should get extra marks for paying homage to Akira, and having one of the best film posters in years.

Ooof

Waves

This may not be as under the radar as the previous film, as it was fairly well received when it was released last year in the US, however it got a small theatrical release when it hit UK shores in February of this year. So the 7 people who read this can bolster its viewing figures in Europe. There are a couple of elements in this film that made me want to highlight it. Firstly I’d like to highlight a camera shot. Yes, please forgive me for being an uber pleb, but there’s a shot which I don’t think I’ve seen in any other film. The director Trey Edward Schults, and his cinematographer Drew Daniels, open the film with Kelvin Harrison and Alexa Demie’s characters, Tyler and Alexis, driving while the camera sits between them continuously rotating 360 degrees. The two are dancing to the blaring music, all the while Kelvin Harrison is driving with one leg stuck out of the window! The camera is whirling and swirling this way and that, the bright sunshine bouncing off the windows and Harrison’s peroxide blonde hair. As an opening statement, it’s a dazzling one. I’d like to also highlight a completely daring narrative shift which centres around a particular event in the film. It’s difficult to describe, as it reveals a huge spoiler so I’m reluctant to go into too much detail. However, in line with the bold opening, it’s a bold tonal shift and the way it’s handled and the fact that you as the viewer, just go with it, speaks to the sheer strength of the storytelling. Like The Wild Goose Lake, it’s one of the most stylish films I saw this year, and as with that film none of the style is in sacrifice of the story.

Ahem, 2020 in the UK

Bacurau

The third and final film is another from the Cannes 2019 stable which received a UK release via Mubi. It’s safe to say it would have hit cinemas, but something happened in March, I forget now… As many of you will have have noticed, since the ascent of the wrinkled clementine there’s been a huge number of films that have taken aim, directly or indirectly, at SCROTUS. Well Brazil isn’t much different, as they have their own screaming arsehole in charge (Jair Bolsonaro), who seems intent on pushing the country towards (emphasis on DIC) a dictatorship. Just as with the man with the skin tone of a Terry’s chocolate orange wrapper, filmmakers have responded with works of art to shine a light on how things really are. One such filmmaker is Kleber Mendonca Filho, who has directed a couple of films about the growing wealth and poverty gaps in Brazil. Previous works, such as the brilliant Aquarius from 2016, tackle the subject to a much more subtle effect. However in this co-directed film with Juliano Dornelles he goes full on genre mashup. Much like with Waves, there’s a clear tonal shift in this film and when it happens, you’ll know. So again, to avoid spoilers, I won’t say too much. To add to this case, and to give a hint of things to come, the cast includes Udo Kier, a veteran of countless genre films. To look in to that man’s eyes will reveal something about yourself you might not want to admit. Anyway I digress, a brief summation of the plot centres around a character named Teresa (Barbara Colen) who is returning home for her Grandmother’s funeral. She’s from a small village in the North Eastern Sertao (the Brazilian outback) named Bacurau. There are some odd events leading up Teresa’s arrival, however the tone is somewhat restrained and in line with Filho’s previous work. Events begin to take a turn for the worse when phone signals begin to disappear, and it becomes evident that Bacurau no longer appears on any maps or GPS systems. The cause of which leads to the shift in tone which inspires themes of westerns, horrors and b-movie past. The film was a complete jolt to the system and a true surprise in a year full of fantastic international cinema.

Do not look directly into Udo Kier‘s eyes

There you have it, three films to keep you busy over the festive period. Not particularly festive but this year is like no other, so why not gorge on a Brazilian genre feast, an indie gem from the US and a noir for the ages from China?

And in the specific tone, accent and words of Alan Rickman in Die Hard, “Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho…”

Look Inside – The Coen’s Film About Nothing & Everything

At the 2013 London Film Festival, the 57th such edition, The Coen Brothers masterpiece Inside Llewyn Davis was shown. It had already been shown at Cannes and the New York Film Festivals, but it was from this point that it started to circle me; much like the narrative loop we’re taken through as viewers. Or, to stretch this metaphor even further, the circling of Ulysses the cat, the elusive feline who spins Llewyn like a top. More of that later.

Then, just as now and possibly even more so, I went to the cinema all the time. It was not long after having its UK premiere, that the trailers began to show in the cinema and I was immediately transfixed. I saw the trailer so much that I can still remember moments in it now, almost 7 years later. It ended with F. Murray Abraham’s Bud Grossman sat in front of Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn. “Alright, let’s hear something from Insiiiiide Llewyn Davis”, he says, sending every syllable swirling around the room. By the time it finally hit the cinemas in late January, I felt as though it could have been me uttering that insouciant sentence; although not quite like Abraham, more rough Manc less smooth velvet. I saw it in a half empty cinema, in the middle of the day, possibly in the middle of the week, sat on my own with several other cinematic nomads all, I imagined, equally captivated by this odd little film as I was. Once the film was over I remained sat, not quite knowing what I was supposed to think of what I’d seen, but I knew I loved it. For a while answering why, always remained somewhat elusive?

I’ve had several conversations with people who’ve told me they simply don’t like it. Others have told me it’s alright but that it’s not really about anything. On the first point, I obviously don’t agree, otherwise that would be a strange opening to this blog. However, on the second point, I can see that there is an argument for this. Essentially, we see a man struggle and complain for approximately a week and we, as the viewer, end up where we started. Within that week of discontent, bitter cold, couch surfing, hitchhiking, a stray cat(s) and incredible music, there’s so much more bubbling under the surface. It’s this that strikes a chord with me and does so in a way that I find genuinely difficult to explain; it’s a good job I’m writing a blog about it then…

In doing minimal research to write this I read that among others, Casey Affleck, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Reynolds auditioned for the role of Llewyn. I won’t pretend that if there was an alternate reality where Fassbender played Llewyn, that I wouldn’t be fascinated to see that take; but maybe that’s what Frank is? Even then, it’s a complete stretch to even fathom someone else taking Isaac’s place. It’s hard to imagine now that he’s firmly established as an A plus list Hollywood star, but in 2013 when this was released in the US, Oscar Isaac was still considered somewhat of a newcomer. He had small roles Russell Crowe’s wobbly accented take on Robin Hood and The Bourne (Token) Legacy, as well as a great role in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive. At this point he was a ‘that guy’; you knew him, but couldn’t quite remember his name. After this he went on to make A Most Violent Year, Ex-Machina and a small indie film named Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In an extremely long drawn out point, he’s a mega star now but in casting someone relatively unknown, the Coen Brothers made an inspired choice. Surrounding him with some Coen regulars, such as the aforementioned F. Murray Abraham and John Goodman, alongside strong established young actors of the time like Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund and, dare I say it, Justin Timberlake and also sprinkling in a few other up and coming actors like Adam Driver, who would also go on to star in that small indie film about wars in space set around stars that are awakened by force. The Coen’s had assembled an incredible cast, but they are the Coen Brothers, and when don’t they?

At this point I must mention the brothers Coen (potential folk duo?). Along with Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, they’re right up there with my favourite filmmakers. I find them completely fascinating. Their filmography is eclectic as David Bowie’s discography. There are so many layers to their work that it’s difficult to see where it all connects. How can the makers of Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men and Fargo, also make A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski and this? It’s the kind of thing that fascinates dweebs like me, but the Coens shrug off when asked in interviews, by dweebs like me, where it all connects. Whether or not it all connects is inconsequential at this stage, they just make incredible films. There may well be something in links to Barton Fink and Hail Caesar, thematically it’s said O’ Brother Where Art Thou and Inside Llewyn Davis are both narratively structured, however tenuous the link, on Homer’s Odyssey. Go on, dig deeper and you may find yourself head first with your arse in the air tumbling down a rabbit hole. Before you know it, it’s three days later and you’re dripping in caffeine and nihilism, having taken up smoking and quoting Nietzsche. That took a dark turn, back to this film…

The Coen’s have said that there were characters who were influenced by real life figures from the folk scene in Greenwich Village, but no one was a direct portrayal. Whether or not that is the case we’ll have to take at face value, but remember these are the filmmakers who at the star of Fargo stated “based on a true story”. To be clear, it wasn’t. One thing that is clear is that there were elements of Llewyn based on the folk singer Dave Van Ronk. The film’s title, as well as the title of Llewyn’s album in the film, are directly taken from Inside Dave Van Ronk; right down to the recreation of the album cover. In the bookended start and end, Llewyn sings a cover of ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, which is a cover of Van Ronk’s. Another figure who is inspired by an infamous figure from the scene is Abraham’s Bud Grosmann, the real life impresario who ran the Gate of Horn club in Chicago, where we see Llewyn visit to perform for him. The difference being that his name was Albert. It’s eluded to in the film that Bud Grossman manages several high profile acts. The real life Grosmann managed Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, among others. There are several others throughout the film, including Jim and Jean who are played by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, who were based on real life folk duo Jim Glover and Jean Ray, as well as the character Troy Nelson, played by Stark Sands (what a name), who was based on singer Tom Paxton. Essentially, just as they do in Barton Fink and would later do in Hail Caesar, the directing maestros blend fact and fiction, reality with fantasy. On these things I should remain objective, but they could’ve introduced Llewyn as Bob Dylan’s divine inspiration and at this point, I’d go with it.

Llewyn also had the benefit of HD

Now that I’ve bumbled my way through some of it’s creation and the people behind it, I guess it would make sense to explain why I’ve decided to write an entire blog about it.

I’ll start with the story in a roundabout way, because story wise what do we actually encounter? It’s 1961 and a cantankerous man is trying to make it as a folk singer in Greenwich Village, New York City. We see him perform several times, he accidentally locks himself out of a friends apartment, at the same time locking out their cat and proceeding to take said cat with him all over NYC. We also see him go to Chicago to the aforementioned Gate of the Horn club, visit a women’s health clinic to prepay for an abortion while finding out that the one he previously paid for with someone else didn’t happen; so he has a child he didn’t know about. He’s also trying to cling on to several relationships, plutonic and intimate, while continually committing acts of betrayal, manipulation and selfishness to further alienate himself. There’s also the conundrum that befalls many artists, such as sacrificing your art for money, resenting the art you make, selling out and simply thinking ‘is it time to stop?’

All of these elements frame our protagonist as, frankly, a bit of an arsehole. And, to be quite honest, he is. However, it’s the strength of the film that somehow you find yourself routing for him throughout. Despite his scheming, despite his outbursts and despite his obvious moments of 60’s masculinity, which viewed with modern sensibilities only come across as 60’s tragedy. Because there’s a huge factor for Llewyn in his odyssey. Throughout all of this is he is reeling from the death of his friend and former musical partner Mike. It’s something touched upon in various points of the film, all seeming to strike a nerve to varying degrees. It’s this that adds a tragic nuance to his behaviour and leads us to believe there are times when he could well be in crisis. He’s introduced to us singing ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’, and knowing that Mike’s death was suicide, adds an even further tragic tone to Llewyn’s song.

Llewyn, Jim & Jean

I could write about how much I love this film until all my many readers (all seven of you) give up and never bother coming back. I mentioned earlier that I find it hard to explain, but I’ve made an attempt. Ultimately this film affects me deeply and I think it’s because of this. Llewyn is a really good folk singer. Crucially, in a world where he’s surrounded by other good singers (including a glimpsed Bob Dylan), good isn’t quite good enough. He needs to be great, and he just can’t quite get there. As someone who’s had talents in certain areas (clearly not film reviews) and had flashes of taking it somewhere, the idea of getting close but just falling short, resonates deeply.

Inside Llewyn Davis is an ode to being good, but not great. It’s an ode to having the talent, but just not quite the required amount. Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece.

A Message to the King: Remembering Chadwick

What I’m going to write here won’t be anything that isn’t also being written in other blogs, news articles and social media posts all over the world. Since it was announced over the weekend that Chadwick Boseman’s life had been tragically cut short, at the impossibly young age of 43, the outpouring of love has been immeasurable. My words won’t be of any comfort to anyone, but I’d like to add some words for a man so many people, myself included, considered a hero.

Waking up to the news that Chadwick had died felt like yet another sick joke in the twisted delirium that is 2020. It’s not enough that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi died, or that we’re trying to peak our head out over a post pandemic precipice with the global death toll almost in 7 figures, tragic death after tragic senseless death at the hands of police towards African Americans, as well as people of colour being disproportionality victimised by bad policing across the globe, we’ve got tangerine head intent on pushing the world towards tyranny, flanked by his circus clown Etonian pen pal, all of this testing the sanity of any right minded and forward thinking human being. Just when you think it can’t get any worse Jackie Robinson, by way of James Brown and Thurgood Marshall and most importantly, for me, King T’Challa the Black Panther himself, was cruelly and devastatingly taken away from us. 2020 you’re a prick.

This one stung. Sometimes people you never know profoundly affect you. Be it musicians, athletes, artists, people of Chadwick’s magnitude leave behind legacies. At this time, it will be no comfort to his family or friends that we, as fans/admirers of his work, can always watch one of his films and be reminded of his poise, presence and uncanny ability to embody a role; be it fictional or based on a real life person. However, I’m sure they will know that he was a star on screen and off screen, as well as being the true embodiment of a hero. Again, nothing new or original here, but as absolutely shit as this all is, there is something to behold in the legacy he leaves behind, and how he chose to deal with his illness. Despite being diagnosed in 2016 he continued to make film after film, inspiring millions, all while battling a monstrous illness. In an ever increasing narcissistic and cynical world that we find ourselves in, there is something truly inspiring to find anyone, let alone a huge star, attain and treasure his own privacy. Stoicism, charm, stature are some of the words often used to describe his most beloved character King T’Challa/Black Panther, but they clearly are befitting of the man as well.

There are a few moments in his career I’d like to mention. Firstly his performance in Get On Up, the James Brown biopic, where he filled the legendary musician’s shoes. It was the first time I’d ever seen Chadwick and was unaware of any of his earlier work, but I was sold on him within the first few minutes when he comes crashing (quite literally) into the scene as the aged Brown. The film is a by the numbers biopic, but his performance is stunning. James Brown has one of the most recognisable voices, faces, walks and all round demeanours of the past 60 years. To take that on and shine in the role, whereas many would be swallowed by the magnitude of the task, just showed from the get go that this man was destined for stardom.

Chadwick as James Brown in Get On Up

Stardom wasn’t far away after taking on the role of T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was introduced in Captain America: Civil War and almost steals the show, despite being a guest character. However, there are three specific moments across three films I’d like to mention. Please indulge me, I’m a nerd.

Black Panther

Towards the start of the film when T’Challa returns to Wakanda, he enters a ceremony to crown him King. He steps off his ship and looks up the cliff top, as does the stunned viewer, to reveal people from all over Wakanda representing different cultures and tribes. In this moment you see a representation of Black heritage, specifically African heritage, adorned across the screen in a major Hollywood production. The first time I saw this at the cinema, I leant back in my chair and knew we were in good hands. I had no doubt going in, as the director and assembled cast were special, but in that moment as T’Challa looks out with all the grace we came to know and expect, I knew that this film was something entirely different to anything that had come before it.

A beautiful scene

Avengers: Infinity War

There are two moments with Chadwick in this film that send shivers down my spine. As Thanos’ minions have descended on Wakanda to wage war on his land to gain possession of the remaining Infinity Stones, we find both sides about to engage in battle. Once the Avengers decide to charge at the enemy, the rallying cry is T’Challa shouting, the now legendary, “Wakanda Forever!!”. I have seen this film a ridiculous amount of times and it sends tingles from the tip of my toes up to my large heard, every single time. If I was there and he shouted that, I’ll be sprinting right behind him, just as long as I could get a quick warm up.

I’m just out of shot

Speaking of sprinting, this is immediately followed by the troops charging towards Thanos’ Chitauri army. As the camera pans out it becomes evident that T’Challa and, Chris Evans’, Captain America are out-sprinting everyone. I can’t really explain it, it’s two men dressed as super heroes running fast, coupled with the fact that there’s a CGI element to make them appear much faster than everyone else. But I just love it. It’s the same reason I like watching the 100m races in the Olympics. The difference being the outfits are better here.

Linford Christie would have no chance

Avengers: Endgame

Finally, before I turn into uber nerd number one, the battle scene preceded by the reveal of our previously fallen heroes in Infinity War, for my money is the greatest thing to ever happen to mankind. This is probably slightly hyperbolic, but the moment I saw this in the cinema for the first time is one of the best moments of my life. It was cinematic euphoria. I won’t go on, as I’ve done that before, but the genesis of the moment is T’Challa, flanked by his sister Shuri and general Okoye, walking through the portal. Prior to this, we’re in a moment of despair and it’s the three Wakandan’s who take us out of it. Seeing that image now, feels all the more poignant. It is a moment of hope, wonder and beauty.

The moment

Chadwick Boseman you shall forever be missed and I will always be grateful for the moments of joy you’ve brought to me, and millions of people like me. Rest in power.

T’Challa Forever.

The Last Dance = I Love Basketball Films

So, here we are. Governments rightly or wrongly (probably wrongly), have us re-emerging from lockdown wearily out into the sunshine, blinking into the sunlight as we gaze upon a post Brexit/Trump/Covid world. Would anyone mind if I went back into lockdown?

As anyone who has read this blog before will know, I have a thing for nostalgia; specifically the nostalgia of my youth. Fear not dear reader I won’t rabbit on about videos, the toys I sold for an unspeakably cheap amount in the Loot or Sandra Bullock again. However, I am going to briefly introduce why I love films about basketball.

My brother, Paul, being four years older than me, influenced many things I did as a child. He played Nintendo first, listened to rap first and played basketball first. The latter two have been constants in my life since the introduction/copying of my big brother and judging by the title of this blog, I’m sure you can see where this is going…

Both my brother and I are of the age to have experienced the ‘92 Barcelona Olympics. Most people in Britain will think of Linford Christie, Roger Black and Sally Gunnell, but for us it was the Olympics of ‘The Dream Team’. In all previous tournaments the US teams were made up of amateurs, as is the Olympic tradition. This was the first Olympics to have professional NBA basketball players on the roster which in 1992 meant Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and, most importantly, Michael Jordan. After this tournament, which the US easily won, basketball took on a huge global appeal which coincided with my brother starting high school and being introduced to basketball, as well as Channel 4 getting the rights to the UK coverage. From the moment my brother started talking about basketball, to me then actually playing and seeing it on television, I fell in love fairly quickly. It was big and brash, teams were called Bulls, Sonics, and Magic, not United, City and Albion, for some reason the players wore vests and didn’t pull up their socks and all the jerseys were as colourful as a bag of pick ‘n mix. Paul then added to the obsessive nature of my personality by buying NBA season review videos, as well as compilation videos of ‘The Biggest Dunkers’ and things of that nature. However, undoubtedly and taking way too long to get to my point, as I so often do, the most important of all these videos was the season review of the Chicago Bulls 97-98 season. In fact, we had all of the season reviews after Michael Jordan returned from retirement, but this was the greatest player of all time’s last season (at that point) before retiring for good. It is also the focus (something of which I could do with) of the excellent ESPN/Netflix documentary The Last Dance

At this point I’ll apologise for rabbiting on, after clearly stating two paragraphs ago, that wouldn’t happen. As you may have noticed reader, I can’t be trusted on this matter. Back to my convoluted point and notably, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, this year has been utter bobbins. However, personally there have been a couple of highlights and chief among them was the period of 5 weeks early in lockdown, when every Monday night I’d watch the latest two episodes of The Last Dance. From the first frame I was hooked, so much so that I’ve managed to watch all ten episodes three times over. Despite being hugely popular, in that it chronicles Michael Jordan’s last season with the Bulls, as well as expertly documenting his, Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman’s careers within this framework, the whole thing felt so personal to me. After watching the first two episodes I mentioned to my brother that it felt as though someone had made this just for us. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that something so widely consumed, could feel as though it was made solely for my entertainment. Now I appreciate this blog is called Bob on Film and that this isn’t a film, but I wanted to take a moment to gush over 500 minutes of nostalgic joy. But due to its success, I’ve been aware that people who previously wouldn’t have bothered with basketball have come around to its beauty. Being a lover of basketball since I was a child and loving films pretty much more than anything, I wanted to highlight a few films that manage to capture what I love about basketball.

Firstly, it would be impossible to have any sort of basketball film list and not include the masterpiece documentary Hoop Dreams. Released in 1994, it follows two young boys (Arthur Agee & William Gates) as they navigate their way through high school while pursuing their dream of making it to the NBA. Filmed over five years director Steve James narrates stoically throughout, never selling the viewer on any particular narrative, just presenting Arthur and William’s lives as they happen. Despite being a near three hour documentary, I must have seen it over twenty times. It was something I’d watch endlessly as a teenager, completely fascinated by the journey we are taken on as viewers. As a young person watching this, the thing I enjoyed most was the games, seeing the boys grow up, the fashion and, without realising it, the narrative arc of a real life coming of age story. Watching this as an adult, it’s a completely different viewing experience. All the things I loved as teen are still hugely appealing elements to the film, but there are themes and historic social injustices playing out on screen before your eyes. Seeing the young pair plucked from the south side of Chicago’s notoriously tough neighbourhoods, to play for a basketball ‘programme’ in a fee paying, majority white school in an affluent suburb, immediately sticks out. We see scenes of a 14 year old Arthur leaving his home at 5am, commuting in the bleak Chicago winters as if he were going to a job. The fact that he has only been afforded the opportunity of a ‘better’ education comes because he is good at a sport, as well as the literal price of tuition fees doesn’t sit well. When the family can no longer afford to pay and Arthur isn’t at the point, basketball wise, that the coaches anticipated, he leaves the school with his family in debt and a place at the local school which doesn’t quite have the same infrastructure as his previous. Both young men also deal with living in the south side of Chicago at the height of the crack epidemic and Reagan’s war on drugs. Friends and family are lost to dealing, addiction and crime. As a teenager I don’t think I realised how relevant this moment in time was, and seeing it play out against the innocence of two young boys trying to pursue an impossible dream is extremely powerful. Roger Egbert, the great American film critic, was a huge fan and cheerleader for this film, and championed it upon its release. I could write for pages about the various aspects of this film that I find incredible, but the greatest testament remains that over 25 years on, it as powerful as ever. A true masterpiece in every sense of the word.

The legend, Arthur Agee.

Following on from this I’d like to highlight another documentary, Lenny Cooke. This film is named after the once feted high school star, who was seemingly on course to superstardom before outside influences and injuries took hold. Directed by the wunderkind sibling duo The Safdie Brothers, it sees Lenny reflecting on what could have been, as well as mixing in archive footage that sees him going up against future mega stars Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. Being slightly older than both, his seems to serve as a cautionary tale to any aspiring athlete/musician/artist to not get ahead of yourself and take each day as it comes. The stand out scene sees our present day Lenny transposed within the archive footage next to his younger self after he has just walked out of practice in a moment of frustration, telling him where his actions will take him. Coming before their indie gems Heaven Knows What and Good Time, as well as their breakout hit Uncut Gems which co-stars former NBA star Kevin Garnett playing a version of himself in a world of diamonds, gambling and anxiety, the pair let their love for the sport shine through, without compromising the excellent filmmaking in documenting Lenny’s story. Another must watch.

I appreciate that the two picks thus far have been fairly serious fare, however I do have a lighter pick. It would be remiss of me not to choose White Men Can’t Jump. Again, my obsessive personality coupled with the need to watch things over and over means that I have seen this a ridiculous amount of times. In fact it has just occurred to me that my second pet, a hamster bought for my ninth birthday, was named after Wesley Snipes’ character; Sydney Dean. First of all, what a great name. Secondly I didn’t want to call him Billy Hoyle, which was Woody Harrelson’s character name. Looking back though, I think I may have got this wrong. As a kid I thought that Sydney was the man! I thought he had all the moves, I liked his clothes and when he wasn’t Sydney Dean he was Blade (although not for a few years). Billy Hoyle however, now that I’m in a reflective mood, could shoot, had better clothes, was funnier and could actually play basketball. Please don’t let this put you off, because to the untrained eye Wesley Snipes is great, but on reflection I think it’s camera trickery and Woody was actually “the man” for all these years. Not to mention that he could play guitar and his girlfriend was Rosie Perez. I’ve got nothing else to add, because surely everyone’s seen this film, but I will say be more like Billy Hoyle if possible.

Billy was better

Finally I have to end with He Got Game. Directed by the master Spike Lee, himself a huge basketball fan who can often be seen court side watching his beloved New York Knicks. The film centres around the fraught relationship between Denzel Washington’s Jake Shuttlesworth and his son, played by real life NBA star Ray Allen, the aptly named Jesus Shuttlesworth. Plot wise, the film could be considered fairly simple; Jake must convince Jesus to commit to play basketball at the fictional Big State University and Jake will receive a reduced prison sentence. Taking those plot machinations and proving there’s anything but a simple plot in there, Spike introduces the fact that Jesus is the number one basketball recruit in the nation and that his father Jake is servicing a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Jesus’ mother. Revealing to us the corruption and greed behind college athletics in America, that sees young men make millions in revenue for universities in return for athletic scholarships, Spike approaches this subject with the frankness as well beauty and poetry we’ve become accustomed to from the maestro. Tackling this, as well as framing the horrors of domestic abuse, in several guises, he still manages to paint a beautiful portrait of the game he so clearly loves. As he often does, we start the film with a montage and from the first moment I saw this I knew I was in safe hands; a fact affirmed when the montage included the aforementioned Arthur Agee from Hoop Dreams. A truly wonderful film and my favourite in the basketball genre. In hindsight tough, it was never in doubt when Spike was the head coach and Denzel was the star player.

Father and son

Before I exhaust everyone, there are a few more I could have chosen and would like to highlight. Love & Basketball, a rare film that shows basketball from the female players perspective just as much as the male, if not more. Blue Chips, another film which explicitly highlights the corruption in college sports, with Nick Nolte growling as the head coach and NBA players Shaquille O’Neal & Penny Hardaway playing two of the college players illegally recruited to play for Nolte’s side. I could easily go off on a tangent here, because I love this film, but I’ll stop before I get carried away.

And finally the crowning achievement in all basketball films, perhaps all sports films; Teen Wolf. On second thoughts actually, maybe not.

Young Bob

The Obligatory Isolation Text

The year is 2020, the world has fallen in to lockdown and I write this from a deserted landscape formerly known as Salford. This could be the opening to my latest failed attempt at a screenplay, but circumstances have it that we’re now living out “Pandemic – The Movie: The Wrath of Covid”. Never one to shy away from a cliche, I thought I’d throw my hat in to the ring for a blog about self isolation. However, rather than writing a list of films to watch, books to read, or tell everyone about how I’m spending my Tentin Quarantino, I’d thought I’d do something slightly different. Maybe it’s due to the extended down time we all have, but it’s allowed me to look back far away from this shite.

I was thinking about the year 1999, 21 years ago when I was a fresh faced, somewhat awkward, early facial hair burgeoning 13 year old. 1999 was possibly the greatest film year this side of Y2K (remember that farce?), but at 13 I don’t think I’d quite noticed. At 13 the films on heavy rotation for me read something like Star Wars, The Godfather, Bad Boys, The Usual Suspects, Terminator 2, Menace II Society, Die Hard, Speed and The Net (see previous blog for my ode to the wonder of Sandra). In hindsight, I was probably a bit too young for most of that fare, but it was the nineties, we didn’t know any better! Although I loved film, I obviously couldn’t foresee a future where I’d be obsessed by the medium. At 13 my only focus was playing football, making sure my moustache got thicker and plucking up the courage to get my ear pierced. Of the films I saw at the time, only The Matrix remains in the top echelon. Whereas PTA, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell and David Fincher were releasing films, I was more interested in Austin Powers and Episode 1: The Phantom Trade Routes. What can I say, I was 13 and please forgive me. On that note, indulge me while I pick out a few exceptional films.

It is difficult picking out only three films, however I don’t want to turn this blog into a manifesto, so I’ll exercise some self-discipline and calm myself right down. Firstly I’d like to shine a light on The Insider, Michael Mann’s whistleblower drama about the tobacco industries nefarious activities, and the lengths they were willing to go to in order to keep them a secret. Very much cut from the same cloth as the 70’s paranoid thrillers like All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor and The Conversation, it feels like a change of pace for Mann whose previous film before this was Heat; a much showier and boisterous film where Al Pacino shouts at people. Still a little shouty in this, but with no kicking TVs out of cars, Pacino plays the investigative journalist Lowell Bergman coupled with Russell Crowe’s portrayal of, now notorious, whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. Coming a year before another hugely showy performance, and for the role is he is probably best known, Maximus in The Gladiator, Crowe is outstanding as the tightly coiled, retiring Wigand and for me it is his finest performance. 13 year old me would want Maximus swinging swords in the arena, but 34 year old me wants the brave, quiet, stoicism of a dignified hero.

Shouty Al

Next up is David O. Russell’s Gulf War set Three Kings. I think it’s easy to remember this film as simply “another war movie”. However, dig a little deeper and it’s so much more. Somewhat sidestepping the controversy around the fraught shoot which culminated with the director and star George Clooney coming to blows (read more in Sharon Waxman’s excellent book, Rebels on the Backlot), it cemented the latter’s status as a film star rather than a TV doctor, and the former’s unique style that would be repeated, to varying success, on films such as The Fighter, Silver Lining’s Playbook and American Hustle. It was also a scathing satire on a senseless war which, with the benefit of hindsight, was a few years from being repeated to horrible effect. There is also a takedown on the ‘fear of other’ and the ignorance that surrounds countries and cultures of which we are unfamiliar, as well as a hefty kick up the arse to the horrors of capitalism gone wrong, and the so called freedom it brings. 13 year old me says, “cool, Ice Cube is a bad boy”, 34 year old me says “as prescient and relatable as ever”.

Yes please

Finally I have to give some love to the master Paul Thomas Anderson, and his second film Magnolia. A sprawling epic of somewhat inter connected stories over one day in LA, it is safe to say I love this film. I was late to the party when it came to seeing this, and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I did, when my good friend (at the time new friend) Jack told me it was his favourite film. At this point having fulfilled my dreams of facial hair and earrings, film was very much at the forefront of my interests and I was a tad ashamed to have not seen it. I knew I should have and had seen everything else from PTA, but approx. 9 years ago it wasn’t as easy to find as it is now.Thankfully I corrected my egregious error and watched it, in what felt like a seminal moment in my life. I’m obviously exaggerating, but sometimes you watch a film and it has a profound affect on you. Magnolia had that on me. Mr. Anderson has since said if he were to make this again he’d cut around 30 minutes off the 3 hour plus running time. I personally would watch it for another 3, as for me it’s perfection. Since seeing it that first time I’ve probably watched it another 10 times, which for a 3 hour film is saying something. However, I feel I owe it to someone somewhere, to make up for lost time. It is safely sat in my top three films and it’s place is secure. How could it not be? With an ensemble cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, William H. Macy and John C. Reilly, to name but a few. Speaking of Cruise, I would argue it’s his last attempt at an Oscar worthy role, and it’s hard to imagine the man we know now performing this role in 2020. Channeling Donald Trump Jr., his tangerine skinned father, by way of every arsehole you’ve ever met who thinks he’s better than you, it’s a phenomenal showcase for him. Added to that the cast mentioned above, which only scratches the surface, with an Aimee Mann soundtrack that picks you up and sails you along until the credits roll and we realise we’ve witnessed a true masterpiece brought to life by possibly the greatest director of his generation, Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson. If you haven’t seen Magnolia, watch this trailer to whet your appetite and then free up 3 hours and 8 minutes. 13 year old me wouldn’t have a clue what was happening, but would possibly watch it because the Cruisemeister is in it. 34 year old me cries at how perfect this film is.

Cruise’s Frank TJ Mackey

There you have it, three recommendations. I realise now I’m contradicting my opening gambit, but I’m not following any rules here, so don’t be too harsh. And by watching the three films you can take a step back in time when there was another impeachment and the biggest fear was Y2K. Halcyon days by anyones standards.

Watch films, stay safe and take care.

Salford to San Francisco

For the 12 people that read my first blog, they’ll know I went through a mini meltdown on my quest to attend an Empire Podcast Q&A with Marvel’s head honcho, Kevin Feige. For the 7 billion other people that didn’t read, feel free to do so here. For those that have no interest, just know that the “Great” British railway system massively let me down, which led to me silently stifling tears outside Nuneaton. Well I’m happy to say that the redemptive arc of this story is now complete. It’s taken me a while to write this, but towards the end of last year I attended another Empire podcast event, this time in Liverpool. I was obviously scarred from my previous Empire experience, much like Luke Skywalker. The difference with me and Luke however, was that he appeared in Return of the Jedi with a metal hand, whereas my equivalent was arriving in Liverpool 4 hours early. He took down the Emperor, I took down Northern Rail.

All in all it was a great night. I met the fantastic hosts/film critics Chris Hewitt, Helen O’Hara and James Dyer, as well as conversing with Chris briefly about “Traingate”. He was kind enough to remember the panicked messages I sent him and apologised on behalf of public transport; which he really didn’t need to do. The best part of the evening was winning Do the Right Thing on Criterion Collection (a truly glorious addition to my collection). I did so by answering the question correctly, what was Samuel L. Jackson’s character named (Mister Señor Love Daddy). Despite the narcissism of this blog, I’m not usually one for public speaking, but my hand was up before I’d even realised. If I hadn’t answered I would’ve left early through unadulterated shame. Anyway, enough rambling and self-deprecation, this leads me on to another point.

During the show, it was discussed how the avenue where the film was shot, had recently been renamed Do The Right Thing Way. Firstly, that’s amazing. Secondly, why don’t I live on “Someone Robbed my Bin Street”? (Stay tuned for the inevitable filming announcement). I’d love to visit that street, and I’m certain I will at some point. It’s led me to ponder all the other places I’d love to visit in New York that hold film significance for me. However, my better half and I will be visiting the other side of the US this September, so I’m thinking of stops along the way that are essential.

In what might be the biggest cliche of them all, the Griffith Observatory is a must stop. La La Land holds a special place in mine and my girlfriend’s hearts, the first time we saw it we were completely swept away and have continued to love it. When we left the cinema, on that first viewing, the sky began to smother us in snow. I felt as though we’d been taken along on this wondrous tale and somehow Manchester had been sprinkled with some LA magic. The scene in particular that stands out is when Mia & Sebastian begin their adventure together in the observatory. They begin to dance, the music swells and at that moment we, along with them, take off. The first time I saw this I burst into tears which have continued, off and on, for the past 3 years. For the Griffith Observatory see also James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. No explanation necessary.

First Stop

Staying in LA, we may go down to the financial district to witness where Michael Mann staged the bank robbery to end all bank robberies. I obviously have no intention of seeing a real bank robbery, and at the moment of trouble I’ll be on the first plane home; a hero I am not. Maybe we’ll ride a bus, making sure to stay below, or above 50 mph, depending on how much excitement we’ve had to that point. Surely we’ll swap a late night chat in a diner, ensuring to end each sentence with “money” or “baby”. All three of those films were made in the mid 90’s in a contemporary setting, so I’m sure fashion wise we can fit in. Everywhere I turn now I see people dressed like I was as a ten year old. Please forgive me, that last statement has simultaneously aged me, and made me seem like a griping cynic. I’ll confess to being in my mid 30’s, but the cynical element I’ll try and keep at bay; at least for another decade. In the city of dreams we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to film locations, however it would be remiss of us not to finish off with a trip to see Fox Plaza in Century City. For those that don’t know, this building stood in for the fictional Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. If I manage to get on to thirtieth floor, channelling my inner Alan Rickman, saying “ladiezzz and gentlemeeeen, ladiezzz and gentlemeeeen”, I think it will have been a successful holiday all round.

Once out of LA we will be briefly stopping off in Santa Barbara. Film wise it appears to be a somewhat barren land. However, the criminally under-seen/undermentioned 20th Century Women was filmed there, so this gives me another excuse to wax lyrical about the wonder that is Billy Crudup. Not only is he in this, not only is he sporting another incredible moustache, there’s the very real possibility that he’s playing an older, retired from the music business, version of his character Russell from Almost Famous. For that fact alone, it’s worth finding the bar in which he and the wonderful Greta Gerwig dance to punk music.

Billy

From there we’re driving north up the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay where, again, cinematically we approach a sparse landscape. In fairness though, comparing it to Los Angeles for film locations is like comparing Brad Pitt to the artist known as Ian Beale. Both have acted for many years, but clearly they’re operating on different playing fields. This does feel a tad harsh on Morro Bay, but you get the point. Anyway, the pick of the bunch appears to be the 1992’s Patriot Games. Oddly enough, I saw this a lot as a child. Looking back, the terrorists of choice thematically tended to be Irish, which clearly is a reflection of the time. Now that the IRA don’t fit the bill for Hollywood, films like this seem confined to the past, however Harrison Ford most definitely isn’t. Being that he has played some of the greatest characters in cinema history (Han, Deckard, Indy), I don’t think visiting the house in which his character Jack Ryan (not quite on the same level as the Holy Trinity) called home, would be out of the question.

Carrying on North to Santa Cruz, we’ll be on much more fertile ground. Perhaps most famously known for its boardwalk and The Lost Boys. I’ll make a confession here however, this is a film I’ve never seen. Maybe I’ll watch it before we travel there, as an homage to the location, however it now holds much more significance for me due to last year’s Us; Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out. While there, I very much hope there isn’t an underground system of doppelgängers laying in wait to go on a murderous rampage against the higher social classes. If there is, I hope they might consider putting it on hold for a couple of weeks, just as a common courtesy. If it kicks off while I’m there, Ill be donning a red boiler suit and grabbing my scissors.

Next up is San Francisco. What a treat. There are so many classic films set and filmed here, it’s hard to narrow it down but I’ll give it a go. The Conversation, Zodiac, The Graduate, Vertigo, The Maltese Falcon. Lest we forget the jewel of the crown, the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson starring San Andreas. Obviously, that’s a poor joke, but speaking of the Rock, there’s The Rock, and speaking of that particular rock, there’s Escape from Alcatraz. Where we also had Mike Myers starring in So I Married an Axe Murderer. A ‘90’s lost comedy classic that combines one man’s fear of relationships, with spoken word poetry and a serial killer. Not to mention the best large head jokes ever committed to screen. As the owner of a large head, said jokes were often repeated to me by my older brother growing up. The pick of the bunch being “Your head’s like an orange on a toothpick”. However, back to my point, San Francisco. There’s only one film I can think of now, and again it’s a new film, one that I fell in love with last year; The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It got a small release in the UK, and has yet to be released on Blu Ray (someone please help me here), but this film floored me. Centred around one man’s fight against gentrification and silence of minorities in SF, his former home is the central component of the narrative. The point of the film isn’t lost on me, but I have to go and see this house. There’s even a point in the film where a tour guide is showing people round the neighbourhood on Segways, stopping to gawp at the house. I appreciate there’s a hypocrisy in agreeing and seeing the point the film is trying to make, but also still wanting to visit the scene in which this point is hinged on. All I can say is, I’ll walk there and won’t be on a Segway .

The House

Finally our last stop, before looping back round to LA, is Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if there’s restrictions on filming here from the government or park service, but there’s very little that’s been filmed here. Most famously is the documentary from two years ago, Free Solo. As with Lost Boys, I admit to also not seeing this. However, with this I have actively not watched it. I’m not scared of heights, but seeing someone free climb on something that is relatively high up, be it a mountain or building, I cannot handle. It sends me into a tailspin and is something I can’t bring myself to watch. Therefore, I’ll just have to bask in the wonder that will surround us and, perhaps, write a screenplay inspired by a couple dancing at an observatory, while getting trapped on a speeding bit of transport, being sure to include a late night diner visit, perhaps after visiting a handsome moustachioed mechanic, whilst also incorporating the worrying trend of gentrification. If I set it in Yosemite and include a bear fight, I think I’ll be on to a winner.

The Songs to Make Films to

In the past couple of weeks, I finally got around to watching the Elton John biopic/musical, Rocketman. I really don’t know what took me so long. It’s safe to say that I enjoyed it massively. However, my intention isn’t to write a review.

Going into the film I anticipated, as well as hoped, that Tiny Dancer would be included. It’s my favourite Elton song and one of my favourite songs in general. I didn’t discover the song through the usual outlets and was extremely late to the party when it came to the aforementioned maestro. Growing up, for me, he was The Lion King, jackets like curtains, bowl head and the friend of Princess Di’. I had no idea he’d made so many iconic songs. It wasn’t for many years, when I watched Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous that I discovered this wonder. Watching Taron Egerton perform his version of Tiny Dancer in Rocketman, my mind couldn’t help but wander back to that wonderful film, and that scene…

But more of that later. After wandering off deep within with my own thoughts about Billy Crudup’s moustache, I started to think about all the songs over the years that I’ve discovered through film. I often listen to film scores, but in this case I wanted to look for moments in film that have been heightened or enhanced by the right musical cue. Thinking back, it really wasn’t that difficult.

I’ll start with an entry from last year, and a truly beautiful one at that; Robert Redford’s swan song The Old Man and The Gun. The score for this film is truly remarkable and I’ve listened to it a lot over the past year, but I’m not going to dispense with my own self imposed rules at entry number one. There’s a moment, towards the film’s dramatic climax where Redford’s ageing bank robber makes a run for it. Years of film watching have taught us that this moment of a thrilling high speed chase calls for a big, hyper-intensive, tension filled piece of film score. Not this sumptuous film though. As Redford makes a run for it we are treated to the delights of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”; a folk, melancholic ode to sadness and alcoholism. As the inevitable speeding chase gets going the volume of tyres, sirens and police radios are turned right down, as the song takes centre stage. What could have been generic and bland, in what is genre defying to that point, continues in its previous mould and blossoms into something truly beautiful. Despite the song’s sad themes, somehow it feels triumphant in amongst the ensuing chaos. I’d never heard the song, or of Jackson C. Frank before this film. The two coming together are perfectly harmonious.

Speaking of harmony, another moment involving a car (technically a pickup truck) with several gorgeous overhead shots, accompanied by a truly wonderful song, is Boyhood. The music throughout plays a huge part, as it’s often an indication to a time jump in the narrative. After we leave Mason and his mum (played incredibly by Patricia Arquette) having said their goodbyes after leaving for his first year of university, we’re met with the camera swooping over Mason’s truck. Accompanying and lifting everything up to level with that swooping shot, are the sounds of Family of the Year’s “Hero”. Like Scorsese before him, director Richard Linklater it’s pretty much unmatched in dropping in the right song within a film’s narrative. Dropping the right musical cue is right there at the outset of his career in Dazed and Confused, and has been ever present throughout. I can’t think of a better choice in any of his films than this though. It fits perfectly, almost as if the band were asked to create a song to fit this very moment. I’m aware of films often being re-scored to frame it as an alternative viewing experience, Drive being one such example. I think that if anyone tried to do this with Boyhood, there’s a very real possibility that I’d attempt a citizens arrest.

Moving on to the coolest man alive (behind Billy Crudup and his lip warmer in Almost Famous), Bill Murray. There could be several candidates here but I’m thinking specifically of Groundhog Day. Thinking of that film, the obvious choice is “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher. Despite the song’s beauty it becomes Murray’s tormented soundtrack throughout. Therefore it would be an odd choice, not to mention I’d obviously heard this song before seeing the film; a film might I add, that I adore. I’ve watched it consistently since seeing it in the cinema in ‘93 and have owned it on VHS, DVD & Blu-Ray. For me, it’s near perfect. I think I know it that well that I’d almost become complacent with some of the film’s greatest moments, and recently found myself in tears watching Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell dance to Ray Charles’ “You Don’t Know Me”. Now, I know that I know this song. I’m sure of it. But when I watched it recently it hit me out of nowhere how beautiful the song was and it was like I was hearing it for the first time. Again, I know I’m repeating myself, but it is the perfect song for the perfect moment. The fact that I could get something new out of a film I’ve seen countless times, just speaks to the wonder of the film and the choice of Mr. Charles.

But let me get back to Crudup’s moustache.

Crudup. Moustache.

Firstly, for anyone who hasn’t seen Almost Famous, I implore you to do so. Cameron Crowe, the writer and director, is probably most well known for Jerry Maguire. A great film in it’s own right, however for me this is his crowning achievement. I love this film. That’s the second time I’ve used italics to emphasise a point about it, so you should know I’m not messing about. To set the scene, Crudup’s guitarist, member of fictional band Stillwater (also noted to be supposedly based on Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers), has returned to the tour bus after a huge falling out with fellow band members; led by Jason Lee’s character, lead singer Jeff Bebe. The tension is rife and no one is talking. It would seem the end is nigh for this once promising band. But then you hear it, building through the scenery, as the camera takes in each member of the bus. The intro of the piano and the first lines come in before someone starts to sing along quietly. As the lines pass by and we know that she’s “a seamstress for the band” the song has clearly caught on. More and more people are singing and at once it has become a healing, and unifying, presence for this fractured and egocentric group. As the chorus comes crashing in and the titular Tiny Dancer is appealed to be held closer, all of the bus is in unison. Without anyone saying they’re sorry, all is forgiven. The band is still alive and, as the passengers, we have just experienced cinematic euphoria. I’m fairly certain I would have heard the song before seeing this film. However, it took for me to experience this moment to truly hear (italics again). That is the power of cinema, and that is why I love Tiny Dancer.

On a side note, this blog could have gone on and on. If I had done so, my loyal core of 3 readers may have even given up. So instead of carrying on, my honourable mentions are as follows (let me know yours in the comments, but not you Mum):

BlacKkKlansman – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose “Too Late to Turn Back Now”

Jackie Brown – The Brothers Johnson “Strawberry Letter 23”

Clockers- Marc Dorsey “People in Search of a Life”

Dead Presidents – The Undisputed Truth “Smiling Faces Sometimes”

Ex-Machina – Oliver Cheatham “Get Down Saturday Night”

Blue Valentine – Penny & The Quarters “You & Me”

A Case for Dead Presidents

Firstly, let me be clear, this is not an ideological rant ending with a call to arms for a particular president to meet his/her demise (we all know it’s his). For now, as far as I know, old tango head is safe. My case for Dead Presidents is a look back at, what I feel, is a lost classic and overlooked gem from the 90’s, as well as my plea to absolutely no one in particular, to release this film on blu-ray. I need it.

As I sit here writing this somewhat coherent text on my bluetooth keyboard, it may seem hypocritical of me to pine for the analogue days of my youth. I’d be lying to say I prefer writing with a pen to typing on this keyboard, but one thing I’m certain I will never grow out of, is the need to own a physical copy of a film I like, than to simply download the digital version. I probably have more regrets in life than the two I’m going to state here, but right now nothing else is taking precedent; I couldn’t bring myself to say “trumping the others” due to my deep disdain for old rectal lips, although I’ve said it now, so I’m confused. Anyway, I digress.

Regret number one:

Around the age of 10 or 11 I forcefully declared to my mum that I was no longer a little boy and toys were no longer needed in my life. They could all go. My mum being the caring, upstanding and empathetic person that she is, could probably foresee the time around ten years later when I’d declare that selling all my toys would be the biggest regret of my life, therefore double and triple checked that I was sure about this. Yes, I was. I was going to high school soon, toys were a thing of the past. What a little nob‘ead I was. A small sampler of this epic collection, which I had amassed through the generosity of birthday/Christmas/general kindness presents over the previous 8 years or so, included original Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, original Transformers (long before Michael Bay ruined them), original Ghostbusters, Batman and a couple of Batmobiles (‘89 & ‘95 incarnations), several Avengers, a couple of Han & Lukes and, somewhat bizarrely, Last Action Hero toys. I had a strange affinity to that film as a child. Despite the last entry, it was an immense collection and selling it to a random person who saw the advert in the Loot for approx. £30 is the single biggest regret of my life. I know, I’m a child.

Regret number two:

Videos. Next to buying toys and football shirts (which I’m glad to say is definitely a thing of the past), buying videos was my next favourite childhood purchase. And before the futuristic DVDs would come in to play, video buying was very much something that continued in to my teen years. Some of my favourite films were first seen on video. Goodfellas, rented from the video shop (glory days) and Godfather parts 1 & 2. Although, the first time I saw part 2, after buying the trilogy from HMV on Market Street in Manchester (at one time the greatest shop on earth in my eyes), it was recut to show all of the De Niro scenes altogether. For a long time I thought that was the only version of the film. I’ve still not figured out why they did that. Anyway, there I go again, apologies. As you would imagine, having watched and bought videos for around 12 years I’d gained a pretty sizeable collection. And by sizeable, I also mean that literally. For those old enough, videos were huge in comparison to blu-ray’s, and I could also never comprehend that videos in America were even bigger. As a kid I thought this meant their videos were better; there’s some kind of logic in there, I think. Standouts of the collection included the ‘97 rerelease of the original Star Wars Trilogy, previously mentioned Godfather Trilogy, Die Hard Trilogy, Teenage Mutant Turtles Trilogy, Speed and The Net. As a child/teenager, film wise my interests appeared to be trilogies and Sandra Bullock. This collection doesn’t even include some of the gems which I’d taped off the telly. I won’t get started on the glories of taping something off the telly, but for those who’ve ever written on the side of a video “DO NOT TAPE OVER”, you definitely understand . Another video which I owned, was Dead Presidents. I have also owned it, and still do, on DVD. That elusive blu-ray continues to escape me though. More of that shortly. Like my toy collection, my videos were sold. However, whereas they were sold to the luckiest child that’s ever lived (possible exaggeration), the videos dwindled over the years, probably given away or sold at 8am at a local car boot to someone called either Barry or Derek. I know it’s daft of me to wish I still had these, as most of them I own on blu-ray (I should seek out The Net), but it speaks to a time and place that will never come back. Maybe this is the place to start the video revolution to be go alongside the vinyl renaissance of recent years. It could well be the hipster’s nostalgic item of choice. Nah, probably not. Anyway, all I’m saying is that all of my life I’ve loved buying and owning films, whether that be videos, DVDs or blu-ray. And next to my toys, I just want them back. Again, I know I’m a child and a bit of a sad act, but that is something I accepted many years ago, so cheers and nice one.

Apparently this is another classic from ‘95

That was probably the most long winded, self indulgent way of getting to the initial point. When I look at my film collection and scan to the D’s, there is a gap which needs filling. Dead Presidents, for me, is the lost film of the 90’s. It’s the lost Vietnam movie, it’s the lost heist movie, it’s the lost movie on being black in America and it’s the lost New York movie. This blog isn’t a review of the film, merely a testament to my appreciation of it’s existence, but I will explain briefly what it’s about.

Set in late 60’s New York, three friends enlist, or are drafted, to fight in the Marines in Vietnam. Upon returning the lack of progress, especially for the lead protagonist Anthony (a magnetic Larenz Tate) to be able to hold down a job and support his family, having risked his life for a country that treats black and Hispanic people as second class citizens, is increasingly difficult to reconcile. This leads to desperation in the form of a heist to steal “old bills” which will soon go out of circulation. Hence where the film gets it’s title from. I won’t go on, as to not spoil anything, as I would hope the three people that read this will now seek it out.

It’s safe to say that I love this film. I was only 9 when it came out, and probably saw it for the first time when I was 13. I’m not sure why it hasn’t stood the test of time, as far as it’s durability, or why it wasn’t received as well critically as it perhaps would be now. I know nothing of the co-directors, and brothers, Albert and Allen Hughes; but you have to wonder why two directors whose first films were this and Menace II Society, have only ever made a handful of films. In what we hope is a more inclusive system nowadays, I wonder if they’d have more of a fair shot at fulfilling their potential if they’d have made these two films in the past couple of years.

It’s also fair to look at it from another perspective, ‘95 was a stellar year for Hollywood films. There are several films considered all time classics that were released that year; Casino, Apollo 13, Clueless, The Usual Suspects, Toy Story and Se7en. That’s not even mentioning the start of the Before Trilogy commencing (ah trilogies!) with Before Sunrise and a couple more over looked gems, Spike Lee’s Clockers and produced New Jersey Drive. And lest we forget the home video classic, for at least one person, the Sandra Bullock starring The Net. It could be said, over time that Dead Presidents has become lost in this mix. That was something I’d accepted, until around a year ago. Mark Kermode, the UK’s chief film critic, and personal hero of mine, had just started a new show on BBC Four, “Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema”. Each show was themed around a particular movie genre and the relevant themes and tropes that went along with it. To complement this, Dr. Kermode would show clips from films that he felt were good examples of this, always in a positive way. So when it came to the episode on heists and I saw a snippet of Dead Presidents, I’m fairly certain I screamed. My girlfriend was out of the room at the time and I shouted to her, “Kermode likes Dead Presidents!”. I’m not sure why I felt so much pride in this, but the knowledge that the critic I respect more than any other, was a fan of the film I’ve been boring people about for years, was incredibly gratifying. Specifically, there’s a jump cut (I think that’s the term) which the good doctor also highlighted. During my frequent bore sessions, I will often cite this moment where our protagonist Anthony is leaping over neighbourhood fences, one after the other, when the edit jumps to Anthony leaping over fallen trees and debris in the jungles of battle in Vietnam. It’s a stunning edit and one I’ve gushed over one too many times. Upon seeing this highlighted during the show I shouted to my girlfriend, by now sat beside me, “I told you!”. Reading this last part back, it does sound a little threatening and also like I’m a bit of twat. It wasn’t threatening, and much as I’m allowed to say I’m not a twat, I’m really not.

I just love trilogies, Sandra Bullock, the jump cut and Dead Presidents. Please let me have a blu-ray copy before they no longer exist. I’ve learnt my lesson.

#deadpresidents #kermodeonfilm