Cast: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jnr.
I started this series a while ago and posted a few times on the subject with multiple entries; however, I have now decided to make it a feature, like ‘Classic Movie Scenes’, concentrating on singular films. My rules are simple – an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Blue Collar (1978) was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut. He had gained much critical and film industry kudos following the release of the exceptional psychological drama Taxi Driver (1976). His screenplay for that classic is one of the best I have ever read, such is the raw power and agony in the character of Travis Bickle. Blue Collar (1978) though is more of an ensemble drama, centring on the tribulations of a group of car workers in Detroit, rather than an individual’s slow descent into madness.
Blue Collar (1978) is rarely on television and is arguably a forgotten classic on Schrader’s impressive cinematic curriculum vitae. The plot revolves around workers on the poverty line deciding to get out of their predicament by robbing their local Union’s Office’s safe. This leads all manner of difficulties for the men as they face the anger of corrupt Union bosses who come for them. In a rare dramatic role, Richard Pryor bring an energetic rage and humour to the character of Zeke. At the same time Harvey Keitel is intensity itself as his friend, Jerry.
According to sources, the conflict in the film between management, Union and workers is reflected by the on-set troubles between the cast and director. It is alleged that working with Keitel and Pryor was so stressful Schrader had a nervous breakdown on set. How much this strife was down to drug use and abuse is open to conjecture, however, Blue Collar (1978) remains an under-rated classic today. It has many memorable scenes and remains a damning indictment of capitalism and socialism inasmuch as such ideologies ultimately turn human beings against each other.
Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard
Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsh etc.
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
This is a film about an arsehole. Aptly enough we are introduced to the main protagonist, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), as he has a rectal examination of his colon and other extremities. From here on we descend into the mired cesspool that is Howard’s dysfunctional business, family, love and extra-curricular activities. He is, on the surface, a successful businessman selling jewellery, watches and gems within New York’s Diamond district. Alas, he is also a degenerate gambler who is being chased by all manner of shark-like money lenders. Most hungry of all is Eric Bogosian’s Arno, who also happens to be Howard’s brother-in-law.
So, we find ourselves in the company of a thoroughly unedifying character such as Howard. Yet, in Adam Sandler’s brilliant performance and searing direction by the Safdie Brothers, you get caught up in his latest cynical money-making plan to sell an uncut opal rock from Ethiopia at auction. The rock itself becomes — reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000) — a metaphorically blood-stained McGuffin that drags us into the underbelly of New York’s sports, pawnbroker, bookmaker, entertainment and loan shark territories. Aside from Howard’s wife and children everyone is looking for luck and a buck. Everyone’s a hustler. Everyone talks and shouts and swears over each other, creating a sense of panic throughout many scenes of deal-making and deal-breaking.
Opening with two visually very different internal examinations that involve “mining”, the Safdie brothers film Uncut Gems (2019), is a stylish and rampant anxiety inducing character study and thriller. The plot, which in itself, is quite straightforward, is wrapped in a series of heart-sweating gambles, twists and double-crosses. Supporting Sandler’s fine central performance, the Safdie Brothers find acting gold with Lakeith Stanfield’s memorable supporting turn, plus basketball legend, Kevin Garnett brilliantly playing himself! Allied to this, you also get a rogue’s gallery of personalities straight out of the local New York jewellery area itself. These characters add a further dirty authenticity to the already chaotic urban environment.
Like the Safdie Brothers previous film, the ironically titled, Good Time (2017), we are once again introduced to a set of morally repugnant characters who, rather than root for, you are dragged down into their disturbing lifestyle choices and increasingly poor decisions. Howard himself is an unrelenting addict, his own worst enemy and a whirlwind of broken promises. But, I must admit I was gripped throughout due to overwhelmingly brilliant style, cinematography, editing, direction, darkly funny script and acting performances. My only criticism is that for all the black humour, bone-breaking violence and heart-sweating suspense, the film could have easily been 15 minutes shorter. I like a lot of plot and action, but at times the narrative was over-loaded with characters and scenes that could have been chopped. Lastly, it’s great to witness Adam Sandler taking another risky role, even if Howard Ratner is fundamentally an arsehole from the probing start to the very bitter end.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!
Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018
Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019
Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:
CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”
DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”
ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.”
FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC
“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”
FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC
“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”
GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX
“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode,I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”
MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season ofto end.”
SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”
UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX
“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”
THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4
“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”
WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX
“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.”
Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews ofUnbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.
Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.
Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.
Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.
The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.
The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.
Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.
Mark: 9 out of 11
WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)
Directed by: Ava Duvernay
Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury
Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams
IfUnbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations,When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”
The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.
Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.
Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.
One of the great things about film festivals is you can find loads of lower budget and independently made cinematic gems, amidst the big studio projects. Thus, I like to try and see as many smaller scale films if I can, rather than just watch the ones that are likely to go on general release anyway.
Due to my daily work commitments I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like, but here are three I have seen this week. Each is very different, but they all demonstrate, despite featuring some well- known actors, an independently-minded cinematic spirit.
***** SPOILER FREE *****
CALM WITH HORSES (2019)
First time director Nick Rowland has an assured debut with this contemporary rural gangster film set in Southern Ireland. Caught between the right and wrong side of the law, Arm, portrayed with brutal tenderness by Cosmo Jarvis, finds his loyalties torn between his family and venal crime bosses. The ever-impressive Barry Keoghan features as his drug dealer friend, who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart.
It’s a harsh tragedy with an element of hope represented by Niamh Algar’s struggling single mum, hoping to escape for a better life. Ultimately, the story beats inhabit familiar territory, with elements ofMean Streets (1973), Of Mice and Men (1937), Bullhead (2011) and Miller’s Crossing (1990), echoing amidst the slashes of violence, colourful language and tough Irish characters.
Mark: 8 out of 11
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)
Filmmaker Richard Stanley had not directed a film for over twenty years, so when I saw he had filmed a HP Lovecraft short story – I WAS IN! Stanley was famous for being sacked from the ill-fated Island of Dr Moreau (1996). Indeed, the 2014 documentary, Lost Soul (2014),is still one of best docs I have seen about filmmaking. Mainly because everything went wrong, but also because Richard Stanley is such as interesting person too. Thankfully, this latest low-budget horror film was completed without too much trouble.
Given it is an adaptation of Lovecraft, Color Out of Space (2019) is unsurprisingly a cosmically bonkers horror film, which descends into all manner of insane occurrences. It centres on the Gardner family, portrayed by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who along with their teenage kids, must confront the terrors that befall them when a meteorite hits their isolated farm. Building slowly, all hell breaks loose in the final act, as Cage lets rip with another crazed performance. Trippy and stylish with some fantastic gore, it lacks depth, but has cult film written all over it!
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)
Set in a desolate border town, the film opens with the kindly Magistrate (Mark Rylance) meeting Johnny Depp’s venal Colonel Joll for the first time. Joll is convinced those “Barbarians”, who live in the desert and mountain areas are going to threaten the fabric of the mighty Empire’s society. So, Joll begins a campaign of torture and oppression against them. The Magistrate and Joll constantly clash as the former seeks understanding and empathy over brute force.
This cerebral and allegorical drama is based on a famous literary classic, written by J. M. Coetzee. Brought to the screen by the ultra-talented Columbian filmmaker, Ciro Guerra, it’s quite slow, but I found it absorbing nevertheless. Mark Rylance is absolutely spellbinding. No one can do contemplative acting quite like him. His character was so noble and just, I really felt for him and the oppressed indigenous peoples’ cause. Arguably, the film could have been more dramatic in places, however, it still presents a damning indictment of colonialism and heavy-handed military rule.
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.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!
So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.
Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.
DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.
Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.
Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.
While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.
Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!
Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.
I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.