I’m not religious or addicted to shopping but Christmas is always a great period of the year because I get time off work. It’s been a pretty rubbish year for a myriad of reasons, but I think we need to look to the positives for 2021!
While we are under severe restrictions in the UK again, I am hoping everyone stays safe and well and we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel in 2021 from this COVID-19 nightmare. So, stay positive and hopeful and to start the Christmas celebrations, here is a clip from my favourite Christmas film of all time, BAD SANTA (2003)!
In this CLASSIC MOVIE SCENE, Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is saved from suicide by Therman Merman and then beats some bully skater kids up as a thank you and f*ck you! If that doesn’t represent the generosity of Christmas, I don’t know what does!
Happy Christmas and see you all in 2021 for more blogging, reviewing and screenwriting.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #14 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) – GUN VERSUS SWORD!
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Produced by: Frank Marshall
Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan
Story by: George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott etc.
Music by: John Williams
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***
It’s Saturday morning in London, so what better than to conjure up memories of classic weekend film entertainment. Because I recall, one Saturday, watching the monumental adventure classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when I was eleven at the ABC Cinema in Fulham with my nine-year old brother. Nothing like a great film to bring back happy memories. After the film ended, we were exhilarated and hungry. We decided that rather than spend our remaining money on bus fare, we’d prefer to walk home to Battersea and share a bag of chips in the rain.
The three mile walk lasted no time at all as we were full of excitement about the incredible film we’d just witnessed. Gigantic rolling balls, snakes in cockpits, treacherous monkeys, villainous Germans, a hard-drinking heroine, unforgettable fights, shootouts, chase scenes galore, and a whip-cracking, charismatic, never-say-die archaeology Professor as our leading protagonist. Those Nazis never stood a chance chasing the ultimate McGuffin in the lost Ark of the Covenant.
With a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), you essentially have one classic scene after another. So much so you could do a top twenty easily. I have chosen to focus on an earlier middle act chase sequence which ends with one of the greatest punchlines ever committed to celluloid. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is chasing baskets around the marketplace searching for Marion (Karen Allen). It’s an incredibly well directed and edited scene. Moreover, it’s funny, exciting and full of twists; including that darned monkey! John Williams music is utterly wonderful to boot. Mid chase Indy is faced with a swordfighter from his pursuers. The fighter displays an amazing set of skills and we wonder how our hero will escape certain death. Well, Indy just shoots him!
The story goes that a massive battle was planned but Harrison Ford had food poisoning, thus the scene was rewritten. Thus, movie magic was conjured, not from expert planning, but from having dodgy guts! They should have stuck to sharing a bag of chips. But then we wouldn’t have this amazing end to a magnificent movie sequence.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #13 – BLADERUNNER (1982) – “TEARS IN THE RAIN.”
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Produced by: Michael Deeley
Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples – based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, James Edward Olmos etc.
Cinematography: Jordan Cronenworth
*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***
Philip K. Dick’s dense, dystopic and futuristic novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), is an ugly, beautiful, depressing, obtuse, hypnotic skip-through-treacle read full of incredible concepts relating to: Artificial Intelligence; robot technology; android simulacra; animal husbandry; apocalyptic disease; virtual reality/empathy mood tech; extinguished humanity; and ultimately, of course, mortality and death. The fact that Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples were able to fashion a workable screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct is a creative miracle. Moreover, it is testament to the writing and Scott’s incredible production team that, Bladerunner (1982), is held in such high esteem among cinema fans now.
The original Bladerunner, despite bombing at the box office and subsequently going through a number of cuts, re-cuts, final cuts and re-re-re-releases, has become a bona fide science fiction cinema classic. I watched the original theatrical version recently and despite the deadpan Harrison Ford voiceover and spurious, tacked on “happy” ending, it actually has a lot going for it. Obviously the ‘Unicorn Dream’ re-edits released under the guidance of Ridley Scott are the purer versions but the film holds up notably because of Ford’s gruff, depressive and world-weary performance as Rick Deckard; the imperious psychopathy of Rutger Hauer as android assassin Roy Batty; Scott’s glorious tech noir rendition of our desecrated future; as well as the evocation of Philip K Dick’s thematic existential power.
Such existential power is demonstrated in one of the final scenes where Batty has pushed Deckard to the edge of a building and death. The rain falls and the majestic soundtrack swells. A stripped down Batty, rather than let Deckard die, saves his life. It’s an ambiguous decision, but one of redemption for a replicant that is more used to delivering death. Perhaps, it proves that Batty does indeed have human qualities and Deckard will take up the cause. Delivering one final heartfound speech, Batty regales and laments the beautiful things he has seen. But they are gone – just like tears in the rain. It is a moving epitaph and amazing end to an incredible science-fiction classic. Batty closes down for good, but his demise and Hauer’s incredible performance will live long in the memory.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #12 – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) – “WORLD SERIES”
Directed by Milos Forman
Produced Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas
Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman – adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel.
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick etc.
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
Multi-award winning One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is easily one of the most complex, intense and darkly funny cinematic explorations of mental health I have ever seen. It is also one of the best films I have ever seen too. Based on Ken Kesey’s novel, it charts the admission of Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to an Oregon mental institution as he attempts to avoid hard labour at a prison farm.
McMurphy is a charismatic, anti-heroic and anti-establishment criminal, but definitely not crazy in the clinical sense. Rather than lie low and serve his time though, he constantly clashes with the staff, notably Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). His unruly behaviour causes him to excite the other patients of the facility, becoming infectious. Thus, Nurse Ratched acts to quell such rebellion causing further conflict with McMurphy. Jack Nicholson is on absolutely incredible form in this film. He’s wild, funny, excitable, manipulative and very entertaining. On the other hand, Louise Fletcher is cool, calm, but equally devious. She loves to be in control and takes quiet joy in denying the inmates their wants.
When McMurphy “loses” a vote to watch the World Series Baseball of 1963 on television, he’s determined to get his own way. So much so, in this classic scene, he enacts what he thinks is happening in a fake commentary. Nicholson is so realistic and excitable you feel like you’re actually at the game. It’s such a classic scene with the gentle music counterpointing Nicholson’s manic delivery. Moreover, the ensemble inmate’s celebrations, Nurse Ratched’s cold-hearted face and a blank television screen create a powerful set of images. Ultimately, McMurphy is a tragic character as he tries to bend the system, only to eventually break himself by the end.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #11 – JAWS (1975) – QUINT’S U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS SPEECH
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Produced by: Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler (uncredited)
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Main cast: Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary
I have genuinely lost count the amount of times I have watched Jaws (1975). It is one of my favourite films and has one of the tightest written screenplays of all time. There is not an ounce of fat in the lean human versus monster thriller. The story as everyone knows finds a gigantic great white shark attacking beachgoers, tourists and locals at a New England summer resort town. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Schieder) is tasked with stopping the shark, but due to pressure from business owners and the Mayor he cannot close the beaches.
Spielberg, in only his second feature film cinema release, directed this classic thriller amazingly, filling it with a series of gripping set-pieces, fearful jump-scares and bloody carnage. He’s ably assisted by John Williams iconic score, Bill Butler’s impeccable cinematography, and sterling character acting from Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Schieder. However, amidst the suspense and heart-pounding scenes, arguably the best moment of the film is Quint’s speech that related to his experiences on the U.S.S Indianapolis.
The monologue itself comes as Quint and Hooper share “war stories” from their past experiences at sea. The men share a laugh before Brody asks Quint about a particularly nasty scar. Then the mood darkens and the old sea dog recounts a story about the U.S.S Indianapolis on which he was aboard when it sank in 1945. The chilling tale of a sinking ship and over one thousand men at the mercy of the sea, hunger, dehydration and shark attacks, is eerily recounted by Quint; loss and bitterness in his eyes. Shaw is incredible during this classic monologue as he not only establishes why Quint hates sharks, but also builds palpable suspense prior to the frenzied final shark attack on the doomed Orca.
Lastly, many writers have sought to take credit for the amazing monologue and the debate is almost as famous as the scene itself. An excellent article outlining who wrote the speech can be found here.
CLASSIC FILM SCENES #10 – THE SHINING (1980) – “HERE’S JOHNNY!”
Directed and Produced by: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by: Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson – based on The Shining by Stephen King
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers.
Music by: Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind
Cinematography: John Alcott
With Stephen King’s latest adaptation Doctor Sleep (2019), hitting the cinemas, I thought it interesting to remind myself of the original classic horror film of which it is a sequel, The Shining (1980).
Uber-writer Stephen King was not a fan of Kubrick’s adaptation. Indeed, he was alleged to have been asked to cease complaining, in exchange for the book rights reverting back to him. Nonetheless, The Shining (1980) is quite rightly lauded as a horror classic. It slowly shows a writer’s descent into madness; something which is exacerbated by the ghosts living in the creepy Overlook Hotel.
Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance with a brooding menace throughout, exploding into full insanity after several encounters with the phantom hotel’s grim residents. In the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene, Jack pursues his poor wife, Wendy, (Shelley Duvall) and gifted son, Danny, with an axe in hand. Wendy is trapped in the bathroom and Duvall’s petrified performance is chilling.
Beautifully framed, edited and acted, the scene is scary and nerve-wracking. The mania of Jack also casts a dark humour at the end. It took, according to Shelley Duvall, three days and sixty doors to shoot. Moreover, it has been widely reported the, “Heeerree’s Johnny!” line was famously improvised on set by Jack Nicholson. The rest they say is history.
CLASSIC FILM SCENES #9 – RIFIFI (1955) – THE SILENT HEIST
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Produced by: Henri Berard, Pierre Cabaud, Rene Bezard
Written by: August Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Bezard
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel etc.
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini
I was reminded of this classic low budget crime film recently while watching the brilliant 1980s set spy drama, The Americans. In it, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is once again undercover manipulating a source, who happens to be a film geek. There she “bumps” into said source while watching Rififi (1955).
If you haven’t seen Rififi (1955), it’s a genuinely brilliant example of the heist movie. Directed by Jules Dassin, the standout sequence in the silent heist in the middle of the film. Lasting around 30 minutes there is NO dialogue and NO music. It is pure cinema of the highest quality and absolutely absorbing. We may not vindicate the actions of these criminals, but we are dragged into the cleverness of their crime.
Shot for what was a pretty low budget of $200,000, it features a cast of mostly unknowns or actors whose career, like the characters they play, was in decline. However, due to the sublime direction, tricky plot and stylish photography, Rififi, is a great example of ideas and ingenuity outweighing budgetary constraints.
Rififiwas a critical and commercial success in France and other countries. However, it was banned too in some countries because the governments were afraid the robbery would be copied by actual criminals. Moreover, the film and the silent heist legacy live on. Brian DePalma’s film Mission Impossible (1996) clearly riffed on the set-piece with the elaborate Langley heist sequence. Interestingly, Keri Russell herself would appear in Mission Impossible III (2006); as an American agent this time.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #8 – DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004) – RICHARD MEETS SONNY
Directed by: Shane Meadows
Produced by: Mark Herbert, Louise Meadows
Written by: Paddy Considine, Paul Fraser, Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Gary Stretch, Stuart Wolfenden etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) is both a revenge thriller and a metaphor for the lost youth of England. Specifically, the youth of the Midlands discarded and forgotten by society.
Paddy Considine gives an incredible performance full of intensity, guilt, pathos, pain, self-loathing and regret. He portrays, Richard, a returning soldier, out to get back at those that hurt his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The film asks: can revenge absolve guilt? Alas, there is no easy answer.
The film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget. Among many, many brilliant and disturbing scenes is the one where Richard initially meets main gang-leader, Sonny (Gary Stretch). It’s a short but impactful scene full of menace and suspense. Richard makes it plain he is coming for Sonny and his motley crew of low level criminals. Apparently a larger scale confrontation was scripted, but due to budget constraints this scene replaced it; proving that more often than not less is definitely more.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #7 – ‘FLAMENCO DANCE’ SCENE – HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Directed and written by: Mike Leigh
Produced by: Simon Channing Williams
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Karina Fernandez etc.
Music: Gary Yershon
Cinematography: Dick Pope
While I’m a massive fan of Mike Leigh’s body of work, I disliked Happy Go Lucky (2008) when I first saw it. I think I must have been in a bad mood or just did not get it. Maybe, on first watch, I felt it was an inconsequential film when compared to his others?
However, having re-watched it a couple of times in the last year I must admit I have completely changed my mind about it. Indeed, Sally Hawkins’ characterisation and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy.
In the ‘Flamenco Dance’ scene we find Poppy joining a dance class for what she hopes is a bit of fun and exercise. The teacher, passionately portrayed by Karina Fernandez, is Poppy’s opposite in terms of intensity and seriousness. This is all meant to be a bit of a laugh as Hawkins’ wonderful facial expressions suggest.
Yet, while the scene begins humorously it ends rather embarrassingly as the Flamenco teacher has a hell of an emotional meltdown in front of the class. I love this scene because of Hawkins’ sly performance juxtaposing with Fernandez’ heartfelt breakdown; all of which captures wildly different emotions in a short period of time.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Produced by: Cy Feuer
Screenplay by Jay Allen – Based on Cabaret by Joe Masteroff
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson
Songs: John Kander & Fred Ebb (Lyrics) – Score: Ralph Burns
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
**CONTAINS PLOT AND THEME SPOILERS**
Cabaret (1972) was that strange thing: a dark, satirical, sexual, explicit and cynical musical. I only actually watched it for the first time last year and thought it was a true classic; and I don’t usually enjoy musicals as a rule. Not only is the direction, writing, choreography and performance brilliant but from a thematic perspective it was took risks in regard to gender and sexual representations. Moreover, the historical themes are very compelling too. The film would garner many Oscars and was a critical and commercial smash, sending Liza Minnelli to super-stardom at the same time.
Set in Berlin, the narrative concerns a variety of characters that appear at, or attend the infamous Kit Kat Club. Episodic in structure the main stories focus on the loves and losses of the likes of singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), writer, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and German playoy, Baron Max Von Heune (Helmut Griem). Interspersed within the drama are the songs from the stage of the Kit Kat Club, introduced by the seedy Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Joel Grey. Furthermore, the film charts the movement from the bohemian freedom of the Weimar Republic to the threat of the looming National Socialist Party as it insidiously bleeds into the German political landscape.
This change is seen to chilling effect in the only song featured outside the club, namely, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. In this classic scene we begin innocently enough with the angelic singing of a teenage boy. As he continues to sing we cut to the crowd listening intently. Then the camera pans down and it’s revealed the boy is a member of the Hitler Youth. Suddenly, the portentous horror of the situation is all too apparent and the song becomes an unsettling reminder of grim future events. As members of the crowd join in fervently with the song, we know, we just know it’s the end of innocence for the German people and the world.