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.
Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Producer: Sue Vertue
Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas
Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.
The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.
The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.
By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019!
So, here are my TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS I watched last year at the cinema, at film festivals and on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Curzon and Amazon etc.!
It was another very good year full of entertaining and thought-provoking cinema. If I have missed any films out it’s because I did not enjoy them as much as you — or have not seen them yet. If I have missed any must-see films then please point out any glaring omissions.
For comparison here are my FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018:
A Quiet Place (2018)
A Star is Born (2018)
The Favourite (2018)
First Reformed (2018)
First Man (2018)
Game Night (2018)
Phantom Thread (2017)
Sorry To Bother You (2018)
The Shape of Water (2017)
12 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019
So, here are the films I enjoyed watching most of all last year. Films I also really liked but narrowly miss out on this list are: Doctor Sleep (2019), Green Book (2018), Harriet (2019), Little Women (2019), Paddleton (2019), Ready or Not (2019), The Report (2019) and Vice (2018).
AD ASTRA (2019)
“James Gray’s existential space epic finds Brad Pitt journeying into the abyss of space with tremendous results.“
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
“…the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion.”
“…With incredible scenes of documentary realism the director Nadine Labaki has delivered a powerful piece of cinema.”
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)
“… it’s a testament to the ability, talent and infectiousness of EddieMurphy. Comedian and B-movie star, Rudy Ray Moore, is a part he was born to play.”
THE FAREWELL (2019)
“… Awkwafina provides subtle brilliance in her role as Billi, yet, Zhao Shuzhen steals the show as the effervescent Nai-Nai in this funny and moving drama.”
THE IRISHMAN (2019)
“… Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering.”
JOJO RABBIT (2019)
“… Taika Waititi just manages to balance parody and pathos in this risky, but brilliant rites-of-passage comedy-war film.”
“… marrying Taxi Driver (1976) with a DC comic-book super-villain is a masterstroke; making it one of the most compelling films of 2019.”
KNIVES OUT (2019)
“… Rian Johnson is back on the form with this breathless murder mystery, which works brilliantly as fast-paced, witty and intricate film entertainment.”
MARRIAGE STORY (2019)
“… an emotional and funny relationship drama that’s full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson on top form.”
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
“… a near three-hour arthouse classic, especially if you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt.”
“… Jordan Peele skilfully delivers another great horror film, thanks to clever writing, masterful film production and an incredible cast.”
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merrit Weaver etc.
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Distributed by: Netflix
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I think one of the trickiest things that can hinder a writer, is that doubt whether it is worth telling one’s story. This is especially true of privileged or first world narratives involving wealthy characters or those deemed not having to struggle daily. For me the way to beat such doubt is to write the hell out of your story. Moreover, you’ve got to make the story relevant to all audiences by concentrating on universal themes and creating empathetic characters. Noah Baumbach achieves this by writing and directing the hell out of Marriage Story (2019); a moving drama that focuses on something we can all relate to — a relationship break-up.
The film centres on a couple of creatives, Nicole and Charlie Barber, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Charlie is a New York theatre director; Nicole is a Los Angeles actress. They have both been committed to forging successful careers. The film opens brilliantly as they attend relationship mediation, attempting to divorce amicably without the use of lawyers. Baumbach’s superb script starts strongly with each character delivering bittersweet monologues that describe what attracts them most to each other. Sadly, for them and their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), mediation fails and it’s not long before they are drawn into the Kafkaesque, manipulative and financially draining American legal system.
This is a gem of a film which finds a seemingly suited couple learning that their differences have slowly been driving a wedge between them. Charlie is a controlled and respected director who has worked his way up from nothing. Nicole is a more privileged, but equally talented actress; however, her free-spirited nature is locked in his shadows. Geographically too they are very different. While he is originally from Indiana, he has made New York his home. Moreover, while his avant garde plays have gained him critical acclaim, she yearns for the sunlight of Los Angeles and the offer of TV work. Thus, through sheer brilliance of the writing we, in a short period of time, understand and empathise with both characters’ situations.
As the narrative develops Baumbach’s script is brought to life with two incredible central performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They imbue Nicole and Charlie with a humanity and warmth, that even when we do not agree with their actions, we are still with them. As the story was inspired by his own divorce, Baumbach cares very much about these people. Indeed, he gives each actor the chance to shine during a number of fine monologues, bitter exchanges and heartfelt scenes of acceptance and potential reconciliation. Further, the supporting cast members are also really great too. Ray Liotta as a bitter shark of a lawyer and Laura Dern, as his legal adversary, have some wonderfully biting lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, Alan Alda, as Charlie’s other legal representative, is arguably too nice and avuncular for this cutthroat business. Together these collective legal minds, while shining a plausibly negative light on divorce proceedings, added strong energy to the comedy and drama of the film.
Ultimately, I have always respected Noah Baumbach’s films because he is a very solid independent writer and director. However, with Marriage Story (2019), he has matured beyond belief to create a compelling and funny relationship drama. It is full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver ever impressing and Scarlett Johansson delivering the best performance of her career. Lastly, as someone who has experienced a very difficult break-up involving a child, I felt every moment of grief, heartache, humour, love and relief on the screen. Yet, it’s worth reliving those moments because you know you survived; and so will Charlie, Nicole and their son, Henry.
Directors: David Fincher, Andrew Dominik, Carl Franklin
Created by: Joe Penhall – based on Inside the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas & Mark Olshaker
Writers: Doug Jung, Joshua Donen, Courtenay Miles, Phillip Howze, Jason Johnson, Colin J. Louro, Pamela Cederquist, Liz Hannah, Alex Metcalf, Shaun Grant etc.
Producers: Jim Davidson, Mark Winemaker, Liz Hanna
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Cotter Smith, Anna Torv, Stacey Roca, Joe Tuttle, Albert Jones, etc.
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
Serial killers and the subsequent crime investigations are big business. Book, films, musicals, songs, podcasts, television documentaries and fiction shows litter our screens and airwaves. Murder, for all the savagery and horror it brings, is something we as a species are inextricably drawn to explore. I can only speak for myself to say that I am consistently horrified by the evil crimes people commit. Such violence is sickening, yet, in an attempt to understand it I watch and listen to many crime shows and programmes.
Both dark and stylish, Mindhunter, is one of the classiest and well-crafted of the serial killer genre dramas released in recent years. This David Fincher-led production, created by writer Joe Penhall, takes elements from Zodiac(2007), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and standard FBI procedural dramas to brilliantly highlight the embryonic stages of the ‘Behavioural Science Unit’ or BSU serial-killing profiling team.
Season 1 began in 1979 and found the team of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Dr Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), forming an uneasy alliance at the BSU. They initially began interviewing murderers behind bars to attempt to understand their motives and modus operandi in order to assist with new investigations. The highlight of the season was the appearance of notorious serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). Britton’s rendition is incredibly chilling and his intense connection with Ford rattled the FBI agent’s cage so much he unravelled psychologically.
Season 2 is even better than the first because it wastes no time in getting to some major crime investigations. Season 1 got slightly bogged down in Ford’s personal relationships, and while Season 2 find Tench’s and Carr’s home lives providing intriguing subplots, this latest set of nine episodes are more committed to interviewing and catching killers. Kemper returns briefly, but the team also have some intense interviews with ‘Son of Sam’ – David Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). The latter, in Episode 5, is a short but striking scene and complete television gold.
The majority of Season 2 is taken up with a major murder case in Atlanta during 1981. A series of teenage black youths, mainly boys, have been going missing and Ford and Tench are sent out to help the Atlanta police department. It’s a hotbed of socio-political and racial tensions. Plus, the parents of the missing kids feel the police are not doing enough to catch the killer. There is also a belief the murders could be the work of the Ku Klux Klan. Tench and Ford have other ideas and meet resistance to their new theories. Much drama and suspense is gained from testing their methods within this charged atmosphere. Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford is especially adept at rubbing people up the wrong way with his off-centre, almost alien, persona. Holt McCallany is also very impressive in his role as his more popular partner, Tench.
David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often unsettling and remarkable. He, along with fellow directors, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin, shoot in the shadows, both stylistically and psychologically. Greens, dark yellows and browns stain the screen and create a haunting stylistic palette. Furthermore, 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 of Mindhunterto end. Lastly, while murder has become a lucrative fixture on our TV screens, I have to admit that series like this render it powerfully addictive; something that captures you and refuses to let you go.
Now I would like to broaden the subject and have a go at defining some basic film character archetypes. My definition of this has some crossover with personas, but archetypes are not necessarily the component which make up the character – they ARE the character!
Archetypes are a common or typical shorthand; a tool writers, directors and actors can use to define character during the creative process. They are not stereotyping though. They are standardized models and structures that can be built upon to fully flesh out a character.
The archetypes I would like to consider are: Everyman/Woman, Hero, Super-Hero, Anti-Hero, Nemesis, Mentor, Sidekick and Lover/Romantic Interest. Obviously, many of these archetypes can combine, especially in more complex films, plus I’m sure there are loads of others. However, I will limit myself to these for now.
EVERYMAN / WOMAN
The staple for many, many movies is an everyman or woman or boy or girl (or gender fluid) character who is easy to relate to for the audience. It could be Tom Hanks in Castaway (2000), or Tom Hanks in Sully (2016), or Tom Hanks in basically everything – even Toy Story (1995). They tend toward the working or ordinary class with regular jobs and family units. Their stories will be everyday, or they will find themselves facing incredible situations. Alfred Hitchcock favoured everyman and woman characters who would be thrown into dangerous situations. Actors who excel in such roles include: Hanks, James Stewart, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Francis McDormand, Jack Lemmon and many more.
Many characters can begin ordinary or everyday, but over the course of a film become heroes. Luke Skywalker for instance is an bright farm kid with dreams of joining the academy. A series of contrasting events then cause his rise to discovery and heroism. On the other hand, some heroes are fully formed such as James Bond and Indiana Jones. The everyman character and hero are often combined, like with John McCLane or underdog characters such as Rocky Balboa. My favourite hero arcs are stories where the character starts in lower status such as The Terminator (1984), Django Unchained (2012) and Harriet (2019).
So what’s the difference between a hero and a super-hero? For me the hero may be capable of incredible feats of action and endeavour, yet he or she is ultimately mortal. Thus, while they may be a super-hero on the surface, Batman and Iron Man are heroes to me; albeit mechanically improved ones. Superman, Wonder Woman and Thor, for example, have god-like powers, thus defining them as SUPER! Obviously, there are crossovers as illustrated by Peter Parker, Captain America and Captain Marvel. All of them begin as everyboy/man/woman characters and become super-heroes due to military experimentation or being impacted by incredible events which cause physical transformation.
I love a good anti-hero. I think they are my favourite character archetype. They can be charismatic and just on the side of the righteous, but misanthropic and sarcastic like say, Wolverine or Blade. They can be on the wrong side of the law, but redeem themselves at the end of a film like Danny Archer and Han Solo. They can be outsiders or loners like Travis Bickle. They can be hard on the outside and soft on the inner like Juno. Moreover, certain actors have cornered the market on anti-heroes such as Jack Nicholson, Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. My favourite anti-heroes are often cursed with supernatural forces causing them to be trapped by certain powers. The ‘Wolfman’, Lawrence Talbot, and Carrie White are fine instances of this.
Given it is pantomime season there’s no harm is looking at villains! For me the greatest villains are the ones which actually have a valid cause or point. Of course, I don’t agree with their actions as they will generally involve killing people or destroying the Earth or Universe. However, villains such as Robert DeNiro’s heinous Max Cady had valid motivation. Likewise, Thanos’ plan to wipe out half of everyone was founded on sound environmental ideology. This doesn’t make it right though. Sympathetic nemeses are also interesting like Marvel’s Erik Killmonger. Moreover, King Kong for example, begins life as a threatening monster, but ultimately ends up being sympathetic compared to man. Nonetheless, you cannot beat a good old fashioned baddie like Hannibal Lecter, The Terminator, Hans Gruber, Nurse Ratched and one of my favourites, The Wicked Witch of the West.
The Mentor character can take many forms. They are very valuable in supporting a hero or heroine on their adventures, plus providing vital exposition or the rules of the world information. The archetypal mentor archetype is a wise, older character like Morpheus, Alfred Pennyworth, Gandalf, Mr Miyagi, or Obi Wan Kenobi. Moreover, they will often have powers and magically assist those around them. The wonderfully helpful Mary Poppins is a great example of this. Every so often mentoring is rejected by the younger partner. A case in point being Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills eschewing Morgan Freeman’s Somerset’s sage advice with deadly results. Then again, mentoring can take a more twisted and controlling turn as seen with The Devil Wears Prada’s (2006), Miranda Priestly, and in Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent arthouse classic, The Phantom Thread (2017).
The sidekick is a lower status character that can be an ally, helper, friend or even enemy that also provides comic relief or dramatic tension. Different from the bromance or traditional buddy character, because that double-act dynamic is on an equal level of status. Great sidekicks include: Hermione Granger, Short Round, Robin, Chewbacca, Dr Watson and many more. Often, the sidekick actually becomes more interesting, funny and memorable than the lead protagonist. Examples of this include the brilliant Hit Girl, Igor, Donkey and the aforementioned Hermione. Sometimes the sidekick takes a darker route such as Loki and Lady Macbeth, who use their influence for evil rather than good.
THE LOVER / ROMANTIC INTEREST
So, the love interest can be a romantic extension of the sidekick but can also be a mentor and even a villain. I would differentiate the love interest character from traditional romantic comedies or dramas. For instance, in When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sally and Harry are of equal status and classed as everyman and woman archetypes. However, in James Bond films the love interest is traditionally a female conquest. More in depth love interest characters are those that are not just trophies; they become equal in the story. Princess Leia is a heroine and love interest, likewise Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Most recently, and a reflection of our progressive times, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman found a fine love interest in Chris Pine’s heroic Steve Trevor. Thankfully, the outdated “damsel in distress” stereotype is being consigned to the past and now we have characters of all backgrounds and gender represented on an equal basis.
As I said earlier this list is just an exploration of archetypes. There are a number I could have included. That stock character the wife or husband is one which always appears regularly in films. Often, they are waiting by the phone or television screen as some disaster befalls their partner. Lastly, I could have included the double-act, the team or the ensemble archetype; where one or more characters combine to create a whole. But, I think I’ll save that for another essay.
ALL 4 TV REVIEWS – A VERY BRITISH COUP (1988) & SECRET STATE (2012)
With a General Election coming up I thought I’d look at a couple of political TV dramas, both of which can be seen on Channel Four’s streaming service All 4. Interestingly enough, they are also both based on Chris Mullin’s book, A Very British Coup (1982).
I don’t propose to be an expert on these things, but I hate politics. It’s a necessary evil as someone has to run society, I guess. What with another General Election on December 12th, 2019, it’s not difficult to feel saturated with all things political and with the cluster-fuck of BREXIT!
In the U.K. we have several political parties, but the two main ones are Labour and the Conservatives. They fight and bitch with each other and switch places every four years or so and end up undoing the work the previous party had done. I realise it is a bloody tough thing to run a country, but just wonder whether this the best system we have?
I mean why can’t we join together and work as a collective rather than in constant conflict. Can we not put aside our differences to work toward a common goal? The current system pits us AGAINST each other – left versus right and up versus down and black versus white and green versus blue! Divide and rule seems to be the favoured system to maintain the status quo! Could this change or am I just dreaming!?
A VERY BRITISH COUP (1988) – CHANNEL FOUR
Directed by: Mick Jackson
Adapted by Alan Plater – based on the novel by Chris Mullin
Cast: Ray McAnally, Keith Allen, Alan MacNaughton etc.
Mullins novel imagines a staunch working class and socialist MP, Harry Perkins, rising to the position of Prime Minister and immediately trying to change the political landscape of the ruling upper classes. His biggest desire is to nationalise industry and proceed with nuclear disarmament. This creates, a perceived a security threat, and Perkins finds himself targeted by the Secret Service, including MI5, MI6 and the C.I.A. Moreover, the scandal-lusting media also attempts to bring him down.
Shot on nostalgia-brimmed 16mm film, this is a high quality political drama. Ray McAnally is absolutely brilliant as the strong-willed man of principal attempting to make the system more honest and open. There are echoes of the current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn in his socialist policies, so one can see how Perkins would be a threat. With the financial, media, and government factions all fighting each other, it’s a fascinating exploration of political machinations. Sadly, I don’t think much has changed in Westminster or the world either.
Mark: 9 out of 11
SECRET STATE (2012) – CHANNEL 4
Directed by: Ed Fraiman
Adapted by: Robert Jones – based on the novel by Chris Mullin
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Charles Dance, Ruth Negga, Douglas Hodge etc.
If I hadn’t looked it up online, I would never have known this was another adaptation of Chris Mullin’s book. This modern update leaves behind the classic left-wing and right-wing politics of the original adaptation and moves into the more murky world of corporate, industrial and military political intrigue. Gabriel Byrne is uniformly excellent as Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, suddenly thrust into the PM’s place following a tragic series of events. With a devastating chemical disaster ongoing, potential war with Iran, the Secret Service and political rivals plotting against him, Dawkins is threatened from all sides.
What unfolds is a meaty conspiracy drama which, while lacking the political depth of the original TV programme, more than makes up with quality cast and suspense. While lacking a truly compelling ending, the drama benefits from some excellent performances, notably Douglas Hodge as the washed up, alcoholic ex-spy. It was interesting too that the writers deemed it unnecessary to define what political party Dawkins was from, such was the more ambiguous nature of the political landscape in the pre-Corbyn and post-Blair era.