MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
Aaron Sorkin [creator of The West Wing] penned this biopic of Molly Bloom, stroppy failed Olympian, who takes over a private poker game for the rich, famous and not-so famous, makes a million plus, loses it to the Mafia and gets indicted by the U.S. government on spurious charges in the hope she’ll name names in a money laundering scam.
I don’t understand the fascination with poker, its rules and jargon. There was a ‘poker school’ at my college. I hated the people who took part, all their showy, arrogant mannerisms and misogynistic attitudes. I saw a lot of that on display by the cast of characters here, most of whom are gamblers or associates, a few nasty Italian gangster types.
Jessica Chastain gives a career best [so far] performance as the titular Molly, but she lacks sympathy. Her holier than thou stance grated. Kevin Costner is good as her appalling, abusive father. The ‘happy families’ ending felt false and contrived.
Exceptionally long at 140mins.
I didn’t understand how Molly Bloom had come to write her autobiography before the court case and discovered in real life she wrote it afterwards to pay her costs, which makes more sense. Here Sorkin uses the book as a plot device which gives Idris Elba’s lawyer no intelligence for self-determination.
Not bad. Not great.
[P.S. I played in the bridge team and was rather good. I once bid seven no trumps and won the hand.]
Beatles songs aplenty in this tale about an aspiring but unsuccessful singer-songwriter who is hit by a bus during a world-wide electronic blackout and comes round, Day of the Triffid style, to find he lives in a country run by a right-wing populist Tory party under a pandemic.
Soon he finds himself unable to get furlough or like others in the music industry any kind of support from the Treasury as venues are shut down and festivals shut. What's more, immigration are after him and looking to deport him on a technicality so he is constantly on the run.
No Band on the Run however (it's not canon) but Pretti Patel pops up to do Ticket to Ride with adjusted lyrics ('I think I'm gonna be glad, I think it's today... I've bought your Ticket to Ride.. and I don't care!'), You Never Give Me Your Money while Get Back practically writes itself. You Won't See Me is set at the GP surgery of course. Sir Keir pops up to do Nowhere Man but that's on the DVD deleted scenes - it was cut from the final version, as was Don't Wanna Hold Your Hand.
The title song closure is nicely done and the lyrics fit except for showing a tearful Theresa May against the line 'Why she had to go, I don't know, she wouldn't say' was in bad taste.
Not good then....?
THE TOMORROW WAR (now streaming on Amazon Prime).
Premise: in 2051, we're fighting a way against aliens and humanity is losing. The technology exists to go back exactly 30 years from whatever date it is in the future, so recruiters come back to 2021 to bring more people into 2051 to help fight. The war is going so badly in 2051 that we soon exhaust all of our actual soldiers here in 2021 and we start drafting civilians. Chris Pratt is a high school science teacher and ex Iraqi war veteran...he gets drafted and we follow him into the future as he discovers what's going on. I'll stop saying anymore as I don't want to spoil anything.
This is a really, really dumb movie. It also blatantly rips off elements from much better science fiction films (especially INDEPENDENCE DAY and EDGE OF TOMORROW). The plot doesn't hold up to any scrutiny if you think about it for more than 3 seconds.
But...it's enjoyable enough for what it is. The beginning is really rough and the final 15 or so minutes (the entire climax) drops the ball but there's enough decent stuff in the middle of the film to make it all work in a big, dumb way. When Chris first gets into 2051, the film is actually nice and intense for about a half hour or so and I really wish that the film had maintained THAT kind of tone for the entire runtime. Instead, some ill-placed humor gets interjected that never really lands. The film also introduces characters here and there that are SO specific in their knowledge and or screentime that you'll be able to go 'ok, that's gonna be important later.' There's foreshadowing and then there's THIS.
The film runs about 20 minutes too long and you'll be looking at your watch in a few sequences but overall...it's fine. It's a one and done. If you're looking for something to scratch a sci fi itch, this may work.
I went into this clean and completely unspoiled as to what the plot was going to be. That was the best decision ever.
Rent it or buy it...just watch it. Just be prepared for something that's very violent ala JOHN WICK or ATOMIC BLONDE. Don't dig any deeper into it, just go in as clean as possible.
I don't know whether to laugh (it's very funny) or cry (it's sadly accurate) but either way that's excellent NP.
BLOW OUT (1981)
In the wake of the success of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino did a TV appearance where he went back to the video store at which he used to work and picked out three desert island films, which were Rio Bravo, Taxi Driver and Blow Out. For many years now, Blow Out was the only one of those 3 films that I had never got round to watching, until it popped up this month in a Neo Noir bundle on The Criterion Channel. So, eagerly I sat down and watched the film and despite having pretty high expectations for it, it managed to surpass those and I loved the movie.
John Travolta puts in an excellent performance as A B-movie sound effects guy who finds himself witness to a car accident while recording sounds for his latest project. This audio recording proves to be crucial evidence of a politically motivated murder, and he spends the rest of the film piecing together what happened to prove that it wasn't just an accident and to protect a young woman who he rescued from the car. John Lithgow also is also in top form as the villain. De Palma's direction is visually stylish, with some interesting and unusual camera moves and editing, plus multiple uses of split-diopter cinematography which gives the films an unsettling and off kilter look at times. The films also delivers with some really good suspense leading up to a dramatic finale.
I've given most of the films that I've ever watched a rating on Letterboxd, and I've only ever given top marks (four stars) to just over 50 of those. That usually occurs when a film makes some sort of deeper than usual connection with me, and I have a hard-to-describe and instinctive 'gut feel' reaction to it that leads to my awarding 4 stars. Blow Out is the latest addition to my list of 4 star movies. Thanks Mr Tarantino for the recommendation.
Blow Out is a film that just never ever seems to be on TV in the UK along with a whole load of others. When I was a kid, I imagined that by the time I got to my age the telly would be a treasure trove of classic movies back to back by this time, with Bond films shown several times a week. Well the latter happened - ITV4 always have them on - but otherwise there's something Orwellian about how so many classic movies just get excised from the collective memory in favour of staple classics like Casablanca, The 39 Steps, Singing in the Rain etc - all good but it's the same playlist.
Blow Out seems to be a sort of derivation or spoof on Blow Up, the classic David Hemmings 1960s film about a photographer who thinks he's captured a murder accidentally. I assume @Golrush007 knows this but it's been years - decades - since I saw that because like its near namesake that's not shown on telly either. I've no idea who profits from this arrangement.
I imagine that the DVD, Bluray and digital download licence holders of the films concerned certainly benefit from the arrangement. If they're not shown on TV then people are forced to buy them on a physical or (increasingly nowadays) digital release format. That could be one possible explanation for it, anyway.
Oh, that makes perfect sense. Except... it's counterproductive because most young folk simply are not aware of these films and there are so many of them, one won't buy them just to see them.
I mean, it's not like that with Bond - I'd argue that if it weren't for ITV showing these regularly you wouldn't have Bond fans because nobody would know about them, they've been kept alive much as the Beatles are. And people will still go out and buy the latest Blu Ray improvement or merchandise or remastered LP.
The young in the UK did not know much about Connery as Bond in the early 1980s as his films were not shown much on telly, perhaps an arrangement by Broccoli to protect and enhance the Moore brand.
RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021) with Mads Mikkelsen.
Mads Mikkelsen is a Danish military officer on deployment. His wife and daughter are on a train back in Denmark when an 'accident' happens, killing several people including Mads's wife and a key witness in an upcoming trial against a gang called the 'Riders of Justice.' Mads comes home to take care of his daughter. Another rider on the train, who in fact gave up his seat for Mads's wife, is a statistician, and he doesn't believe that it's a coincidence that this 'accident' happened to take out a star witness in a trial, so he approaches Mads and sets the movie in action.
At first this thing plays like it may be another TAKEN type action movie. What turns it all on its ear is the characters in the film. The statistician ends up bringing along two other people, all of whom are...let's just say 'quirky.' What results is an extremely darkly funny film where Mads is having to deal with his own trauma as well as the quirks of these other individuals helping them. As the story progresses, more people get involved who have their own quirks. I don't want to spoil anything but I'll just say that I was not expecting to laugh as often or as hard as I did while watching this. My wife laughed too.
Really solid movie. Not as action packed as I expected but what's there is good.
I can see this being remade with Liam Neeson in a year.
BORN FREE (1966)
Real life couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers play real life animal conservationists Joy and George Adamson in a cinematic telling of Joy’s bestselling biography Born Free, which is more about the lion cub Elsa than about Joy or George.
It’s a good looking, well photographed interpretation of the Kenyan safari of the fifties. Very British and very polite. A pedestrian film enlivened only by the occasional moment of drama and the two central performances. Three if you include the lioness – an undeniably masterful feat of animal training or coaxing. There’s a neat running gag where Travers always sleeps in his pyjama trousers and McKenna wears the matching top.
I watched Born Free primarily because I wanted to hear the John Barry soundtrack. It was a curious experience as I caught echoes and reminiscences of cues from his first three Bond film scores. At one point I was certain I was under the Caribbean sea with Sean Connery, at another a laser was trying to cut his groin in half, a third had me in Istanbul. I even caught the intro to The Knack. The title song is great, but the score isn’t Oscar winning quality for me. The award feels like one of those back-handed compliments the Academy plays every so often, recognising the whole body of an artist’s work rather than the individual. So Born Free’s original score award becomes more a reflection of Barry’s work on numerous movies c.1963 – 1966.
Geoffrey Keen crops up as the Game Reserve Manager.
A pleasant enough experience, but they do better than this on telly these days. No CGI though, which is really remarkable. It was very popular in its day.
Yes, I can certainly see your point about it ultimately being counterproductive, especially with much older films, not to show them on TV on an at least semi-regular basis. If younger people can't see, say, The Quiller Memorandum (1966) then how are they realistically going to know it exists or that it interests them? Luckily I did see it on the TV in 2004 (on Channel 4 I think) and I recorded it. I later bought it on DVD as it's went on to become one of my favourite spy films outside of Bond (along with the Harry Palmer films of the 1960s). If such a film hadn't been shown on TV how would younger people have known about it or known if it was good enough to buy commercially? In a way, it's a kind of chicken and egg argument I suppose. In other words, exposure to a previously unheard of film on TV can in turn actually help to drive up physical sales of said film. The proviso being that this will happen only if it is a sufficiently good film of course and if it makes a real connection with the viewer.
You also make a good point about Bond being shown regularly on ITV and its expanded number of digital channels, such as ITV4, nowadays. Exposure to Bond films on terrestrial TV is certainly an important factor in ensuring a future audience of the Bond film franchise. That was in fact how I (and doubtless countless others) became a Bond fan in the first place. In my case it was repeats of Bond films on the regional channel UTV from the early 1990s onwards that made me a Bond fan. However, back in those days (approaching 30 years ago now) Bond films didn't seem to be shown on TV anywhere near as much as they are now. You'd be lucky if they were on during Bank Holidays and at Christmas. And some Bond films seemed to be shown more often than others, too. I was young then and still growing up but, for just one example, I can recall watching Goldfinger in 1994 and it not being on TV again until the summer of 1999 when ITV had the 00Heaven Summer of Bond where they showed all of the Bond films back to back for the first time. Now, of course, I could have missed a TV showing or showings of Goldfinger in between that five-year break but it just goes to show Bond wasn't as ubiquitous on TV as he is now. Of course, there were only the four main TV channels back then (Channel 5 not coming along until 1997) and therefore much more competition for screen time between programmes and films. TV wasn't on 24 hours a day then either and there were closedown times and testcards that were accompanied by unusual high-pitched noises. Nowadays there are all these additional digital TV channels from the main UK broadcasters and their channels have to be filled with a mixture of new content, repeats of TV shows and repeats of films. There could be an argument made that nowadays Bond films are shown too much on TV and that the market is becoming oversaturated with Bond whereas before Bond films were shown too little on TV. I suppose that as long as overexposure to the Bond films on TV doesn't ultimately put viewers off them then there's no harm done. It's funny how things change from one extreme to the other. There's literally no happy medium.
That's interesting too about Moore being the Bond of record in the early 1980s and the role of Connery in the Bond films being rather played down. I suppose there was less incentive to trumpet the initial achievements of Connery in establishing the role and making it world famous as the home video market was still in its infancy then. There could well have been an arrangement between Broccoli and British TV to suppress the Connery films in favour of the flavour of the month decade Bond, Roger Moore. We do know that by the end the decade and into the early 1990s there was a dispute involving Eon about the screening rights to show the Bond films on TV. This, and other legal disputes in the courts served to keep Bond away from the big screen for six years and ultimately for Timothy Dalton to throw in the towel as Bond leaving Pierce Brosnan free to take the role for GoldenEye.
North by Northwest
You all know who directed this one and what year it was made. If you don't, you're not allowed to participate in any further BondFilm discussion until you get caught up, this film is a prerequisite.
I decided to rewatch this to check out the Mr Waverley content. Leo G Caroll is not so doddery as he is in the Man from UNCLE but more cynical. Also note the establishing shot of the United Nations Building, which would also re-appear in his teevee show.
You know who else is in this movie? Edward Platt plays Roger Thornhill's lawyer. Yes, Sorry About That Chief from Get Smart! So thats two 60 teevee spybosses in one film!
Also evil henchman Martin Landau went on to be a good guy in Mission Impossible. So three characters from mid60s SpyMania American teevee series!! Have I missed anyone else?
I had thought for a long time this was a near remake of The Thirty Nine Steps. Just in its broad shape, the film is mostly composed of unique original scenes and situations, some of the most iconic images in all of Hitchcock, and the plot mechanics that move Thornhill through his journey are rather different. Saboteur is much closer to the original film. But this film in turn updates the Statue of Liberty climax of Saboteur, making the three films a type of evolutionary sequence.
Roger Thornhill of course has mommy issues, which dominate much of the first act. A recurring Hitchcock theme.
Early scene where Cary Grant is in danger of driving off the edge of the road is a reprise of the climax of Suspicion, his very first Hitchcock film.
Eva Marie Saint's position is basically the same as that of Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, but Cary Grant's feelings about the situation are the opposite from his character in that film. It is Leo G Caroll who is pressuring her to sleep with the villain.
The film is full of great dialog, Cary Grant gets many highly quotable lines. But the auction scene is particularly well played with the changes in relationships between the players that unfold largely unspoken. The various lines about duplicitous purpose of advertising throughout suggest parallels with spywork, and why such a seemingly unlikely man could actually be good at the job.
The film has an vast epic scale all the way through, from the UN Building then halfway across the continent to Mount Rushmore, and lots of mighty impressive architecture along the way. No wonder Hitchcock felt the only thing he could do to top this is scale back the production values completely and make a low budget shocker.
Decent. I liked it, didn't love it. Some good story beats and character stuff with some well staged action. It's a tad too long but overall it's more than competently made. Think RED SPARROW meets BOURNE.
Of note, Natasha is a James Bond fan as shown early in the movie. I'll leave that unspoiled but it was a great moment.
Most Norwegian cinemas boycot the movie because Disney released it for streaming services immediately. It's a shame since some scenes are shot "in the neighbourhood", but at the same time I wish more cinemas were more principled.
THE SPANISH MAIN (1945)
Paul Henreid stars as the flamboyant pirate the Barracuda in a hugely extravagant actioner which lacks a little swash among its buckle. It was a huge money spinner back in the day. One exec noted: “No pirate movie ever lost money!”
Henreid – he of Casablanca’s dull Victor Laszlo – is not your immediate idea of a buccaneer, but since The Spanish Main was his idea, he gets to play the lead. The film would have benefitted from a more Errol Flynn / Douglas Fairbanks Jr type hero. Maureen O’Hara is the flame haired damsel he falls for. Walter Slezak is a dandified villain, prone to bouts of misdirected anger. Binnie Barnes turns up as real life pirate Anne Bonny, but she’s made a figure of romantic fun. It’s odd to include a real [and misinterpreted] character in a fictional movie.
There’s plenty of over acting among segments of slow-pitched action. It looks lavish, but isn’t anywhere near as bloodthirsty and exciting as it should be. Too many of the best fights are done with words. Frank Borzage, who won Oscars in the 1920s and 30s doesn’t quite seem to grasp the idea of swashbuckling. He frames most of the scenes mid-length.. He’s so proud of the exotic period look the art director has created, he seems to want the audience to see every stitch of drapery. Unfortunately this makes the film feel very static when it should be freewheeling. The painted backdrops don’t do the sets any favours. They were a common device of the era, but as movie makers quickly discovered, they look much better in black and white. Hence, the movie appears old-fashioned, and probably did even in 1945. Rousing music. Good costumes. Fine photography.
The Spanish Main was something of a landmark movie; RKO Picture’s first colour film since Becky Sharpe, which in 1935 was the first all-colour feature length sound movie to be made in Hollywood. Sadly, not long after this, RKO was bought by Howard Hughes, whose interference in production and finance [movies like Jet Pilot] and a long legal wrangle over distribution rights, saw the first of the ‘Big Five’ studios from Hollywood’s Golden Age enter a terminal decline. Despite still making great movies, the company was effectively dissolved in 1957.
We got about 20 minutes into THE SPANISH MAIN about 2 months ago and 'noped' out of it. It was dreadfully dull.
Yeah. I probably should have mentioned that 😕
Do I need to have seen the other Marvel pics to enjoy or understand Black Widow? I've seen Assemble years ago, plus Thor and Iron Man and maybe Hulk, but now it feels like doing homework catching up on them.
Yes, that's one of the things that deters me from watching one.
Regarding BLACK WIDOW:
In the Marvel film chronology, it takes place immediately following the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.
My wife is a casual viewer of the films and did not remember CIVIL WAR and she enjoyed BW just fine. It stands on its own with very little foreknowledge needed, although knowing where it fits within the other films helps to give it some context. Again, nothing critical.
There's a post-credits scene that relies upon you knowing AVENGERS: ENDGAME. If you haven't seen it, you'll be spoiled on something.
In summary, you're fine.
Besides watching England losing on penalties yet again, my Sunday consisted of a WWII POW-themed double feature. It doesn’t sound like the most cheerful Sunday, does it?
First up: KING RAT (1965) – directed by Bryan Forbes. Based on a novel by James Clavell, the film is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Singapore populated mostly by British soldiers (with a handful of Americans alongside them). The film is full of striking visuals and interesting contrasts. For example, the small bamboo and grass buildings of the prison camp are dwarfed by an imposing fortress-like structure. Another is the contrast between the majority of the British soldiers – who are dressed in the shredded remains of their service uniforms, some are even wearing skirts instead of trousers – and the American corporal King who is immaculately dressed (albeit his clothes covered in sweat) with a Rolex on his wrist. He is a classic prison camp hustler, and the conflict between him and the British provost marshal is one of the central conflicts of the narrative. Conditions are harsh, and for most of the prisoners they are barely surviving. There is brilliant black and white cinematography, and performances by a large cast of immense talent, including George Segal, Tom Courtenay, James Fox and John Mills. Also making a fine contribution is John Barry, who provides a sparse but effective score. The music seemed to me to have a similar feel in certain moments to some of his work on other films of 1965, such as Thunderball and The Ipcress File.
Second: STALAG 17 (1953) – directed by Billy Wilder. This time round we are in a German camp populated by non-commissioned US Air Force aircrew. We have another hustler as a central character. In this case he is an airman who is suspected by his fellow prisoners of being an informer for the Germans, because every trick or escape attempt is foiled by their captors. Much of the second half of the film revolves around the unmasking of the true informer. The tone here is very different to the previous film, a lot more comedic at times but it still has its tragic and darker moments. However, after the low key and austere performances in King Rat, the broad, occasionally slapstick style of acting in Stalag 17 caught me off guard and for the first half of the film I struggled to gel with it. On the other hand, I found William Holden quite compelling in the lead, and the main German guard is played by Sig Ruman who I know mainly from Marx Brothers comedies such as A Night at the Opera and I found him surprisingly effective here. Despite some of my reservations, I got to the end thinking that I’d watched another solid film and intend to go on a bit of a Billy Wilder binge in the near future because there are so many of his films on my watchlist. My only two previous Wilder films are Double Indemnity and Ace in the Hole – both amongst my favourite films of all time. Stalag 17 ranks somewhat lower than these, but I still enjoyed it and may well go back and rewatch it again sometime in the future.
Interesting reviews @Golrush007
I found Stalag 17 quite unsettling. The jovial interpretation of life in a POW camp didn't ring true for me. I do of course understand it is a comedy. I guess I don't find the subject matter very appealing. Oddly, I do admire The Great Escape, which as early as the credits has comic elements within it; these are tempered by the dramatic escape scenes, the executions, etc. I didn't find the sudden turn of events in Stalag 17 anywhere near as compelling. I admired William Holden's portrayal without enjoying his character who was unsympathetic, selfish and bitter. On that basis, and reading your review of King Rat, I'm not sure that'd be to my taste either. Wilder would make much better films than this to higher regard. You already mentioned Double Indemnity, but I'd recommend Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot - his funniest - and, probably his finest and most subtly cynical film, The Apartment. Many of the others you can take or leave.
I certainly like Double Indemnity plenty, as well as Sunset Boulevard and essential Marilyn Monroe films The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot. I see Billy Wilder has a huge filmography, and I am not familiar with most of the others, so one day should investigate further. I know he supposedly contributed to the writing of Casino Royale (the "funny" version), no idea if anything he contributed made it to the final film.
On the day the nice young men in their clean white coats come to take me away in the Wacky Wagon, I intend to turn to the camera and say "I'm ready for my close up now, Mr Demille", and see if anybody gets the joke. Something to look forwards to.
THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964)
I love the films of Roger Corman and this is probably his best. Vincent Price also gives his most impressive performance, aside from Witchfinder General, he is both evil and sympathetic in this one. The photography (by Nicolas Roeg) is superb and the sets are excellent.
The plague is out of control in 15th century Italy and Prospero (Price) has retreated to his castle with a hedonist crowd where the corruption of beautiful young ladies is first and foremost on the agenda. Hazel Court and Jane Asher have leading roles.
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
This classic sci-fi movie still holds its own amongst the best of the genre. Michael Rennie’s Klaatu comes to Earth with a warning for the government’s of the world. Simple in structure but suspensefully directed by Robert Wise, and with a great Bernard Herman score, this is essential viewing for those partial to serious science fiction.
One of my favourite Wilder films is Kiss Me, Kate. It got mostly negative reviews, but I found this sex comedy to be very, very good, with a standout performance from Dean Martin.
DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)
Third in the Hammer “Dracula” series. Christopher Lee plays the Count- and before you say “well of course he does, Barbel” that wasn’t always the case. The plot is paper thin, with an English family (two brothers and their wives) touring Transylvania being manipulated into spending the night in Castle Dracula which turns out not to be to their advantage.
Lee has no lines whatsoever beyond a hiss or two. He said the lines were so bad he refused to say them, the screenwriter said he never wrote any in the first place. Take your pick.
There are some very atmospheric moments- Dracula’s revival probably being the most memorable- and an excellent supporting cast. Andrew Keir plays the protagonist (since Dracula is the antagonist), and Barbara Shelley shines as always as the initially straight-laced Helen.
For me the only way this film falls down is the absence (apart from a flashback) of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing.
Edit: Hammer regular Thorley Walters plays a character who is very clearly Renfield, but is called Ludwig. No idea why.
It appears that Fleming's OHMSS was inspired by Dracula, in that you have a fellow pretending to be an academic to research his nemesis' life in his abode far away from civilisation, populated perhaps by angels of death, while actually plotting his downfall. In the book Blofeld as an enemy is a nebulous figure, not sure there's the bobsleigh fight in it is there? There's no great unveiling.
It doesn't quite suggest that in the film as Lazenby is an unconvincing academic and Savalas is not really the Pleasance villain Fleming's treatment demands but more an upfront, swaggering American.
I started to watch a bit of that one the other day as I'd dusted off my Hammer Films DVD boxset that I bought a few years ago and that I still haven't gotten around to watching much of. I think that's the one where there's a flashback scene to an earlier Dracula film at the beginning which features Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing? I really must get around to watching it in full now that you've reviewed it, @Barbel! 😃