Archive for Bob Hoskins

Nobody’s Not Perfect

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2022 by dcairns

I was reading this interesting thread on Twitter about how Matthew Vaughan’s film of THE KING’S MAN plays like a film adaptation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There’s a fun podcast link at the end too, but for the record, John Buchan’s name is pronounced BUCK-ann, and I think the Catholicism and Scottishness of Mark Millar, the original author of the Kingsman comics, are relevant too. It all struck a chord because in a moment of weakness I had run THE GENTLEMEN, directed by Vaughan’s old mate Guy Ritchie, which seemed to relish the opportunity to drop in as many racial slurs as possible. And then we added to the general toxicity by watching NOBODY.

The Vaughan film sets about creating a fantastical alternative history in which Lenin and Hitler can be co-conspirators. I think you can play about with that stuff just for fun, but the kind of fun you have will always betray an ideology. Millar is both Catholic (conservative) and a Labour supporter (left), but Vaughan is a hardcore Tory boy who once wrote an article linking, in terms of “optimism”, Thatcherism and STAR WARS. It was pointed out that the first Lucas film actually came out when Labour were in power, but I doubt that changed any of his views. He surely knows that, for Lucas, the Empire represented American and the Rebel Alliance the “Viet Cong.”

THE GENTLEMEN is slickly assembled and has a very amusing performance by Hugh Grant, which allows him to get a but more revenge against the gutter press by playing a sleazy, blackmailing newspaperman. The narrative follows the familiar Ritchie pattern by allowing plotlines to proliferate dizzily, no matter if all the plates are kept spinning — I counted several narrative threads that seemed to wind away to nothing. Ritchie has never been strong on endings, perhaps because his films aren’t fundamentally about anything, so how can they reach conclusions? Or, rather, they disavow what they’re about, which is thuggery and crime. Since Ritchie isn’t really sincere in his admiration for murderers (only somewhat), he has to dance backwards away from any commitment. Here, he swipes the ending of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY *twice*, but can’t quite bring himself to even attempt Bob Hoskins’ famous long-held reaction shot, since (a) it would be a grotesquely obvious swipe and (b) he doesn’t have Hoskins to pull it off.

(Director John MacKenzie asked Hoskins to replay the entire film in his head, reflecting on how his character got to this exact point, and the actor does it beautifully. It’s a variation on his celebrated turn for the Ken Campbell Roadshow as a man with an earwig burrowing through his brain. “You could tell exactly where in his brain the earwig was,” enthused Campbell, “just by the acting”.)

THE GENTLEMEN has Chinese bad guys (Malaysian actor Henry Golding deserves to be a big star) so that the other characters can talk about “Chinamen.” And it has a gay Jewish bad guy (Jeremy Strong), and while homophobic slurs are resisted, his homosexuality is part of his villainy, and the movie gets away with calling him “the Jew” because in one case it’s Hugh Grant’s sleazeball talking and in another it’s Michelle Dockery, whose character is also Jewish. But she’s Jewish just so she can say that line, her race or religion are otherwise irrelevant.

Enough. THE GENTLEMEN is slickly made but and the performances (Charlie Hunnam especially) are often amusing, but it is of interest, I think, mainly for its mainstreaming of racism, which makes it the cinematic answer to Trump and Boris Johnson.

(SPOILER: at the climax, we’re apparently meant to enjoy Matthew McConaughey demanding a pound of flesh from Strong’s evil Jew.)

NOBODY isn’t as vile as that, but it again has the problem of not being sincere about what it’s about. Bob Odenkirk is a regular Joe who’s pushed into extremes (but not really) by criminals, and becomes a bad-ass, except (plot twist) it turns out he was never ordinary, he was a special ops guy playing the part of an ordinary guy. Unleashing his insanely violent alter ego turns out to be an entirely good thing: lots of Russian mafia guys get killed, but no nice people are seriously harmed. The fights are very well-staged except when they try to convince us that the hero’s aged dad (Christopher Lloyd) is also an action hero. Our man discovers that his newly-released machismo adds spice to his marriage. The message is, if possible, worse than that of DEATH WISH, though more cloaked in fantasy. “We don’t really mean it!” the filmmakers are saying. “We don’t mean ANYTHING!”

Odenkirk turning out to have always been a ice killer effectively removes the tension created by his being a normal dude, and we then have a superhero movie, with even more carnage and even less jeopardy or sense of reality than usual.

(The film is stylishly directed by Ilya Naishmuller. JOHN WICK screenwriter Derek Kolstad wrote it, and this time, instead of a dog, it’s the hero’s daughter’s stolen kitty-kat bracelet that motivates the carnage.)

The other bum note is struck by the extra features on the secondhand DVD I acquired: all the stuntmen, fight arrangers and trainers sing Oedenkirk’s praises, celebrating how hard he pushed himself so he could do his own stunts. All recorded prior to Oedenkirk’s near-fatal heart attack.

“Was that film worth his nearly dying?” asked Fiona. Now, it would be impossible to prove that the exertions of NOBODY caused the ticker trouble, but it does seem plausible that Bob overdid it. And we don’t want to lose Bob. So no sequels, please?


Posted in Dance, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2021 by dcairns

I’d heard something or other about THE COTTON CLUB ENCORE, Francis Ford Coppola’s re-edit of his embattled 1984 production, but it was Meredith Brody in Bologna I guess two years back who said it was much more interesting and worthwhile than all the various tinkered versions of APOCALYPSE NOW, and this planted a seed. I wanted to see it. Finally I bought a copy.

I always rather liked the original — it was the first Coppola I was old enough to see at the movies, I guess.

I can’t be sure of my memories of it, but I think it actually played better shorter. Coppola thinks the new cut plays shorter despite being longer, because the story’s clearer. But clarity isn’t everything. Sometimes puzzlement is more engaging. And anyway I’m not convinced this version is any clearer. Still, I’m glad to have seen it because it has more musical numbers.

Coppola got embroiled in the film in the first place because producer Robert Evans couldn’t figure out how to pull off a movie about the Club with Richard Gere, who refused to play a gangster, would only play a musician, the problem being that no white musicians played the Club. I hate to say it, but Coppola didn’t really solve that problem. Gere glides around the outskirts of the story, vanishing to Hollywood to become a star offscreen, romancing a gangster’s moll, and the movie offers us no reason to care about these characters, cute though they are, well though they wear Milena Canonero’s clothes. In 1984 I probably wasn’t aware that this plotline was a Methuselah-old pulp standard, one which Tarantino would feel the need to explode in PULP FICTION with the Travolta-Thurman story.

I did notice, though, that Gregory Hines and Lonette McKee’s love story (now promoted to the cover image/poster) was actually ABOUT something, and connected to the Cotton Club, even if it didn’t quite have all the moving parts a story needs to have. The Hines character’s relationship with his brother (real-life sibling Maurice Hines) added some complication.

Gere’s character also has a brother, played by Nic Cage — whose storyline which does manage to involve the club, and ends dramatically. But we never learn Gere’s reaction to the conclusion of that yarn, which shows just how uninterested in him the film is.

Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne (who Coppola hired over Evan’s furious objections: “No Munsters!”) improvised a great scene, the standout in the film, and had Coppola been on top form or able to work with some freedom, they could and should have been invited to improvise a half dozen more. Those guys should have been in more movies together.

The other best non-musical scene is with Laurence Fishburne, though his character’s arguing that he doesn’t have any choice but to be a gangster because society is racist… well, his character seems to believe it, and he argues it with panache. It’s good when characters can give a good account of themselves.

In building a musical that isn’t a musical (no bursting into song except during performance scenes) that connects to the social events of the time, Coppola seems to have taken CABARET as his model — understandably, since the Bob Fosse beat him to a Best Director Oscar in 1973. My dim memory tells me that the balance of songs and story in CABARET is much more successful, the two seem genuinely planned to go together whereas ENCORE has some songs which, lovely though they are, just happen. The strongest deja vu moment was when Fishburne and his gang beat up a nasty Club employee — it felt weirdly like the Nazis beating up the bouncer. A strange connection to make.

Coppola films some of the dancing extremely well, and other bits he hacks up into closeups of feet and stuff. Even aged seventeen I knew that was wrong. And there are lots of MONTAGES, usually a sure sign of a film in trouble. They’re very pretty, but they’re period pastiche filmmaking designed to glue together a disjointed narrative.

It’s a shame to feature mob boss Dutch Schultz so prominently and not include his last words (“A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim…”) but in fairness its difficult to see how the authors could have worked them in meaningfully. Intercut them with Cab Calloway’s scat singing?

The elusive onstage/offstage conversion does finally happen, though, right before the end creds (which are beautiful, a bunch of spare montage elements) — Coppola intercuts a stage number with “real” action at Grand Central Station and blends the two into something really magical. Coppola’s best endings are usually based on cross-cutting, aren’t they?

THE COTTON CLUB stars Zack Mayo; Josephus; Ellen Aim; Louise Little; Lou Landsky; Sam Starr; H.I. McDunnough; Louis B. Mayer; Herman Munster; Specialty Dancer – ‘Beale Street Blues’ (uncredited); Delores Dodge; Billy Bump/Billie Bump; Jimmy Jump; R.M. Renfield; Kane; Momo; Baby Houseman; Joe – the Hustler; Gloria Capulet; 1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge; Dicky Speck; Gus Fring; Grandpa Booker; Mary Corleone; and Stokely Carmichael.

War Stars

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2021 by dcairns

Then There Were Giants is a thing I picked up back when the charity shops were open. I was attracted to it because the director is Joseph Sargent and I like his THE FORBIN PROJECT and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 a lot. It’s also shot by John A. Alonso (CHINATOWN) and I was certainly intrigued by the casting of John Lithgow, Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine as Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

The disc presents itself as a film, but is really a miniseries originally called World War II: When Lions Roared, an equally bad title.

It’s a product I guess of the reckless early days of HD video. It’s extremely cheap-looking. The impulse is to give a history lesson disguised as drama, with famous actors playing famous leaders, with a lot of stock footage to fill in the blanks. Splitscreen is used wildly to link the action occurring in Washington, London and Moscow. I don’t hate splitscreen but it combines with that cheap video look to create something you really can’t watch — like THE HOBBIT in Higher Frame Rate. Well, you can watch it, but only in the same way that you can gnaw your own leg off.

Lithgow is delightful as always but the show’s hagiographic approach, broadly winked at in both titles, robs Franklin D. of some useful humanity. Bob Hoskins tries hard at being Churchillian and does better than you might expect, but not well enough to make you stop seeing and hearing Bob Hoskins, and Michael Caine has never been exactly a man of a thousand voices…

He proves to be a ludicrous Stalin, I regret to say. Since Uncle Joe would have been speaking Russian, doing him in English with a Russian accent is a silly approach, but doing him Cockney would have been, I guess, unacceptable. So he tries his hand at something vaguely Russian, which blends with his undisguisable and familiar tones to summon up the shade of an East End immigrant from Sir Michael’s dim youth, and suggests that it would be lovely to see Caine play such a character, but not Stalin, whose spirit remains stubbornly unchanneled.

Sargent and Caine also did JAWS: THE REVENGE together so maybe their collaboration was jinxed. Maybe if Caine had played “Hoagie” in the JAWS sequel as Stalin, and vice versa, it would have worked better. I assure you it couldn’t be any worse.

The worst of it is, everybody’s THOUGHT about this thing. Stalin is introduced silently, to allow you to get used to the idea. Caine has noted the impassive affect Stalin presents in film footage, and mimics it accurately, his face becoming a mask, as inexpressive as his moustache. Alonso has attempted to subtly differentiate the different continents with lighting. All the good choices look bad and make the bad choices look worse. Blame it on HD, miscasting, and Rio.

The solution for this show would be at the same time easy and impossible — claw back some of the budget by hiring cheaper, less famous actors (maybe Ed Begley Jr and Jan Triska could be promoted). Spend it on celluloid and better sets: don’t waste it on stock footage, unless you have a plan as weird as HOW I WON THE WAR’s to integrate it. Go for stylisation rather than unsuccessfully attempts at authenticity (the House of Commons is basically some tables in this one). I guess they ARE attempting to achieve stylisation with the splitscreen and stock footage, but what they’re achieving is just cheapness.

Play it on empty, black sets.

Stay in closeup as much as possible. Embrace the televisual!

But the makers of this piece probably had to cast big, inappropriate actors in order to get the thing made. After all, I picked up the disc because I recognised the star names.