All posts in Films

‘Heart and Souls’ (Ron Underwood, 1993)

Heart & Souls

If you love film, then you must love the creation of a film. The intricacies and ephemera of film production, script processes, scoring, editing – all that ‘Movie Magic’. I used to watch a programme on TV in the early nineties called ‘Movie Magic’. It was incredible. Mainly it concerned miniature model effects, usually for sci-fi. You’d get Deep Space Nine or Aliens or something. You’d watch as a few guys would spend weeks and weeks preparing for a single shot which would last just a few seconds on screen.

One edition featured a bus flying off a bridge and crashing. Once it’s crashed, four of the occupants rise up like spirits. The latter recollection, the four spirits, doesn’t seem evident in this video (approx 15m in):

So it was either another example of the memory cheating, or the film was covered later in the series as well. But the image stuck with me and although I never saw the film on release or indeed near release, I did catch it around 2001 with my soon-to-be wife. Our music tastes couldn’t differ more strongly so it’s with some pride that while other couple’s have ‘our song’, my wife and I have ‘our film’.

Despite being a cynical, miserable, cantankerous old sod, I love a good romantic film. I enjoy a decent blub. This doesn’t happen often, and when it does it’s a credit to the film you’re watching that it can provoke such a strong emotional reaction.

‘Heart and Souls’ isn’t a great film and it’s not trying to be (these words become something of a mantra here at the 24hr Film Session HQ). It’s a piece of entertainment designed to not waste ninety minutes of your life and instead leave you satisfied that you weren’t cheated out of your cinema ticket price or the cost of a DVD (or whatever medium we’ve moved on to by the time I’ve finished this post).

SoulsOur story concerns four people who die simultaneously in a bus crash and a baby boy born within a few moments of said crash. The four people, whose lives we briefly glimpse, find themselves forever visible and connected to the boy, Thomas with no known reason why. As Thomas grows up they are like guardian angels to him, playing, singing, dancing and guiding him through his early years. But his belief in them is damaging and they make the decision to disappear physically from his life, and stay with him invisibly. For young Thomas this is devastating and the effects of their decision can be seen once he’s fully grown.

Here Robert Downey Jnr takes over and is slowly ruining his own life with bad decisions and a ruthless independent streak. Things come to a head when the bus that crashed at the start of the film reappears and the four ghosts learn that they were attached to Thomas to complete their unfinished business. Their time is now up. Given a few extra days extension they must reappear to Thomas and convince him, not only that they were real all along, but that he must help them complete their lives and settle their affairs.

It may all seem far-fetched, but this isn’t a film which strives for realism! It’s a modern fairytale which benefits from a terrific ensemble cast. There are some mawkish moments but they’re offset by the light comedy. There are some almost farcical sequences too, but never at the expense of the script and as ever with Downey Jnr, very well judged so as never to be silly.

Ooo-ah-oooDowney Jnr carries the film, presumably around this time off his face on all manner of chemicals. It doesn’t show, though the energy is certainly there in ever scene. The supporting cast are mainly playing to type, specifically the four ghosts. Charles Grodin and Tom Sizemore are just Charles Grodin and Tom Sizemore. But Alfre Woodard, who’s seemingly forever young in every film she’s in, plays the matriarchal Penny to a tee.

The film almost sinks into absurdity the moment she hears ‘Hug a Bug’ being sung by the police officer. This should be a coincidence too far, but it really isn’t and if you don’t choke back a tear at this point then you may as well switch the film off and return to uploading songs on your iPod and straightening your Ikea book shelves because your soul is moribund.

As Thomas struggles in vein to fulfil his friends’ individual needs, he seemingly neglects his own life and his impending marriage to Anne (Elisabeth Shue) who instead, again by chance and a 1000:1 coincidence, sees her fiance indulging in the most peculiar behaviour, not least his strident rendition of the Star Spangled Banner with BB King to a stadium packed with, among others, her parents. With each story he completes, he becomes a little stronger and there’s nothing subtle about the script here.

Wet DowneyThe film seemingly bombed at the box office and has had pretty shoddy treatment on home video and DVD with a Bluray release yet to happen – though this may be due to the large number of optical effects in the film. It’s worth tracking down. It doesn’t ask much of the viewer and you’ll at least have fun while you watch it.

For a 24hr Film Session it’s probably one for either the ‘evening wildcard’ or afternoon ‘accepted classic’. It’s probably not dynamic enough to substitute for the final ‘documentary’ period.

‘The Face Behind the Mask’ (Robert Florey, 1941)

Face Behind the Mask

If Hollywood has taught us anything over the years then it’s that a person’s face, if not adhering to the aesthetics of Hollywood’s ideals, must be inherently evil.

You have the occasional blip in their ‘Jesus! Look a that guy’s face!’ radar such as Cher-fest ‘Mask’ (1985) or Gibson Oscar-fodder ‘Man Without a Face’ (1993) but typically mainstream Hollywood insists that ‘ugly’ (ugly = any deformity ranging from injuries incurred through birth, violence or accident) means evil. Even modern fayre such as ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001) or ‘Shrek’ (2001) hammer home the need for all of us to be ‘Hollywood-Beautiful’.

Peter Lorre

Back in 1941 a film was made which blurs these ideas. ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ is essentially a B-movie. But it’s the A-movie of B-movies. Its biggest asset is its star, Peter Lorre. His performance here, as always, is spot on. Even when he’s gone bad, he’s good.

The story tells the tale of an innocent, hopeful immigrant, Janos Szabo,¬† arriving in America to start a new life. He’s perhaps a little too innocent, but this is a B-movie and we can excuse that. Poor Janos gets caught in a fire and suffers terrible burns, mainly to his face. Janos tries in vain to find work but people are fearful of him. After he accidentally robs someone he elects to turn to a life of crime to teach those who knocked him back a lesson. And he’s bloody good at it. He swiftly becomes a crime boss and earns enough money to get himself a life-life mask to wear.

1z32xvq.jpgOnce he’s able to go out again without people running away screaming he meets a girl and as always with these tales, is smitten enough to want to leave his life of crime.

I won’t spoil the ending for you as it’s worth tracking this one down. Some copyright-resenting rogue has already upped the whole thing to YouTube! It’s a sweet tale which nearly goes against the grain of that Hollywood ideal detailed above, but what makes the mere 69 minute running time an absolute joy is Peter Lorre and easily one of his best performances. Give it a whirl.

Who? What? Who?

As a child I was plagued with tonsillitis. I’d get it pretty much bi-monthly but for some reason my GP said I mustn’t have my tonsils out, even when friends at school were getting theirs removed when they hadn’t even had tonsillitis.

One of the symptoms of this illness is a 24hr fevered, sweaty, hallucinatory dream-state. It’s pretty damned nightmarish and I found, with my parents’ blessing, that it was better for me to sit downstairs in front of the telly than lay up in my room. A consequence of this is that the majority of my early film viewing was ruled by what was on TV late at night. This being England, the channels were often in close-down by 2am, but as I got older they eventually switched to a full night of, sometimes signed for the hard-of-hearing, filler-films.

I discovered a lot of films this way and also developed a hatred for one or two of them owing to the state I was in and always connecting the film to the state of mind. Two films from these sessions stuck in my head, mainly because I had so much trouble tracking them down. The first was ‘The Medusa Touch’ – more about that some later day, but the other film I simply couldn’t identify.

Not wishing to dredge up a tired and irksome clich√© commonly found in DVD commentaries, but this was before the internet. All I had back then was the indispensable and soon to be made utterly obsolete overnight by IMDB: Halliwell’s Film Guide. This would’ve been around 1985/1986 and the copy we had was a nice big hardback. I loved this book. But when you only have plot to go on and a few half-remembered images it’s more than useless.

I could remember the main thrust of the story being a man returned to the US from Russia with a metal face/head. No-one that used to know him really recognised him and they needed to be sure he wasn’t a spy in disguise. I remembered the final shot and not much else in the way of specifics. I couldn’t even recall the cast.

Who?

Now it’s a doddle. I can look it up and find that it’s called ‘Who?’, starred Trevor Howard and Elliot Gould and was directed by Jack Gould (Shit?! Really? The guy who did ‘The Medusa Touch’? What are the odds?) and made in 1973.

Prior to this I thought I’d nailed it when I found a film called ‘Robo Man’ in the very early internet days. I ordered it from Amazon in the US (there wasn’t an Amazon in the UK then) and after a while the sleeve arrived, the videotape didn’t. I’d paid $16 for a video sleeve because that’s what the internet used to be like. The sleeve’s cover image simply didn’t match the film I remembered. Roboman-BIt looked like a sub-Corman nasty eighties straight-to-video effort. I kept that sleeve for far too long until it eventually perished in a fire.

As the internet evolved my first victory on IMDB was discovering that the film I was after was indeed ‘Robo Man’. It took me a couple more years still to get hold of a copy and it’s still a fairly affecting drama. Joseph Bova puts in such a good performance which is probably what hung in my mind. Gould on the other hand seems bored throughout, but then that’s often been his style.

I wouldn’t say it was a great film, in fact it’s probably not even worth tracking down unless you’re a Gould-completist, but it was the journey that’s always stayed with me. Trying to find that elusive half-remembered image can be a real challenge because the memory frequently cheats and the longer you ponder on something, the more it develops in your head and morphs into something it isn’t.

b5e I remember when ‘Phibes Rises Again’ was shown late night on ITV. I definitely remember the title caption appeared in big purple letters next to Phibes when the organ had risen up into the rubble of his old house. It’s always possible ITV had a special print, though rather unlikely.

Sometimes you just have to accept that even though you remember something a certain way, you can’t rely on your brain to tell you the truth about it. With a film, sometimes it’s better not to go looking for it at all as you’ll only be disappointed that it doesn’t live up to your remembrances.

Who?

Nice music video compilation.

‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ (Ted Kotcheff, 1989)

Weekend at Bernie's

There are some films which exist purely by reputation alone, and those reputations are often poor. There is a blanket policy now to give ‘hip’ indie films a long and preposterous title such as ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ or ‘Zach and Miri Make a Porno’. They are titles designed to provoke a response and with ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ it’s not so much the title that provokes the response but the very basic premise: Two men carrying around a corpse.

‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ is a great film. Not great as in ‘Citizen Kane’, but then it’s not trying to be. It’s a comedy and you’re meant to laugh and if you kick off your stroppy socks and give it ninety minutes of your time you’ll be rewarded.

weekatbernies1989720p-1If the film has a failing then it’s the opening thirty minutes. It takes a surprising amount of time for Bernie (Terry Kaiser) to die. During this time we’re introduced to Richard and Larry (Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy), two bottom-of-the-rung employees in an insurance company who, while working overtime, discover fraud on a grand scale within the company. Expecting to be rewarded they approach their boss Bernie who invites them up to his holiday home to celebrate.

However Bernie is in with the mob and is the one embezzling the money. He arranges to have Richard and Larry killed during the holiday, however because Bernie’s been dallying with the local mobster’s wife, it’s Bernie who is killed instead.

Richard and Larry, assuming they’re safe if Bernie is alive (following a misunderstanding with a telephone message) realise their best bet is to pretend Bernie is alive and well and they should be able to find a safe route off the island.

All is complicated however with the arrival of Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart). Richard has fallen for her and Larry, being a shallow kind of guy, has decided they should just stay and enjoy the holiday, dragging Bernie’s corpse around with them wherever they go. Meanwhile the enraged assassin is continually trying to kill Bernie who still seems to be alive.

Okay, on paper that sounds rubbish. vlcsnap-2013-06-10-16h37m00s119But stick with it. Aside from the energetic and sometimes annoyingly over-the-top performances, especially from the two leads, you have to admire Terry Kaiser’s dead acting throughout the film. In my opinion it’s bloody nearly Oscar worthy. Daniel Day Lewis may well be able to sit still for a long time, but at least he could move his foot around. Kaiser has to be dead for almost the entire film, often in ridiculous circumstances. But even when he’s alive he steals the show.

Filled with some bizarrely delivered lines (‘That’s illegal. What you’re doing is illegal’) it’s actually a very complicated script with some brave set-pieces. Take for example the evening when Bernie manages to sexual satisfy the mobster’s wife for several hours, long after he’s dead. Necrophilia in a mainstream PG comedy? Apparently the BBFC are fine with it.

este_muerto_esta_muy_vivo_1989_1Sadly part of the reason the film is so poorly regarded is that it was followed by a sequel in 1993 which takes absurd and makes it ridiculous, something this first film never quite does. I defy anyone not to be reduced to tears of laughter when Bernie is being dragged behind the speedboat hitting the buoys as he goes. Daft, yes. But there’s still a minute degree of believability in there.

It’s a product of the eighties, albeit the dag-end of the eighties. The plot and characters are driven by eighties greed and money=success. That our two heroes will go to such lengths just to stay in a nice house for a weekend is a real sign of the times.

This is without doubt an essential ingredient for a successful 24hr Film Session.

“… All the Marbles” (Robert Aldrich, 1981)

As you approach the dead zone of a 24 hour film session (the final six hours) you need a film that ticks a few boxes. We’re not ashamed to say that nudity will help, as will violence, comedy, and if possible the golden combination of all three: all-female mud wrestling.

“… All the Marbles”, aka ‘The California Dolls’, is the story of Harry (Peter Falk), a hustler and loyal manager of two female wrestlers, Iris and Molly (Vicki Frederick, Laurene Landon) known as The Calfiornia Dolls. They travel the USA taking part in local wrestling contests while Falk gambles their winnings and genuinely tries to do what’s best for the girls. Their journey culminates in an epic grudge match which has to be seen to be believed.

Wrestling generally has been cheapened by the likes of WWF and even the UK antics of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks with their pantomime action and scripted routines. Now fair enough, this is a film, but the fights within the film are real. Aldrich doesn’t shy away from the violence and what helps more than anything is that both his female leads seem to be performing the majority of the action themselves with no stunt-double backup. This lends the film a realism which means, even in the mud-wrestling scenes, it never appears to be your eighties ‘goofball’ or ‘zany’ titty-fest. This realism in turn also gives the film the necessary sleazy edge so it never sits straight as a comedy, though the poster on the left may have you believe otherwise. It’s a drama all the way and ultimately an incredibly touching story.

I’ll come back to the Dolls themselves in a moment, but of course here we also have Peter Falk’s wonderfully likeable Harry. One can empathise with the Dolls as he frustrates the viewer just as much as he frustrates them. Poor decisions, always the underdog. As a viewer you will always fight for the underdog provided you like them and in Harry’s case there’s so much charm there. This is entirely down to Falk’s seemingly effortless ability to play such bloody nice guys. But here he’s complimented by the aforementioned Dolls.

Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon are utterly convincing as their wrestling double-act. I can’t think of anyone else who could’ve played this and it was a risk on Aldrich’s part to give with two relatively unknowns for this. That he was fortunate enough to find two leads who could do the wrestling and handle the gravitas of the script is an absolute wonder. More to the point, why didn’t they both go on to bigger, better things. In fact more to the point, why is this film not better known or more respected by its studio and given a decent DVD or Bluray release?

The answer probably lies in the violence. It’s perhaps a little too violent for comfort. While we’d gladly sit and watch any film in which two guys beat the hell out of each other, suddenly when it’s the turn of the ladies it doesn’t feel quite right. And this really is full-on vicious wrestling. By the time we get to the final big fight we’ve already seen these ladies beaten senseless. Should this really be sold as entertainment? Well why not? If this were a film about two male wrestlers would it be any different? Yes. Because we’re bombarded by the media to see women as victims of violence because they frequently are. ‘…All the Marbles’ doesn’t exactly offer up an argument for female empowerment though, nor does it really do much for the protagonists. Their actions are guided purely on gaining the respect of men and being accepted as equals. On the fact of it this is ‘right-on’ but in fact were it not for the men out there they wouldn’t have to put themselves through this. And they still rely on Harry to handle their business and protect them.

Putting the serious points aside for a moment and returning to the question of entertainment – yes this bloody well is entertaining! It’s terrific fun and a perfect ‘pick me up’ for when you’re flagging at 4am. Not since Rocky II have I so rooted for someone in a film to win a fight. You get mud wrestling, you get Peter Falk, you get some great one-liners and you get a decent road movie as well. It’s not a 24 Hour Film Session opener, but it’s a terrific penultimate film to restore your energy and remind you how involving a film can be.

tigersfinalfight