I recently appeared on another episode of the Lambcast, this time discussing character actors along with Dan Heaton of Public Transportation Snob, Nick Powell of The Cinematic Katzenjammer and Dylan Fields of Man I Love Films. We each picked a dream roster of North American character actors to populate a mythical film, selecting from various age groups, and with an In Memoriam round, and you can go vote on who selected the best lineup here:
Obviously the choice is easy, as my list is comprised of such greats as Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Sam Elliott, James Woods, Yaphet Kotto, Stanley Tucci, John Hawkes, Christopher McDonald and Giovanni Ribisi. There isn’t a weak link amongst them, and if you look at the films these guys have made between them you get some terrific performances. Here’s a quick five from each actor, to really showcase the power of this cast: Continue reading →
From its cheesy logo, synth-heavy score and buddy-movie premise, Midnight Run could have easily been lost amid the flotilla of similar films released in the 80s, but its multi-faceted plot, quick-fire dialogue and outstanding performances from leads Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin set this apart from the rest. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter on the hunt for Grodin’s Charles ‘the Duke’ Mardukas. Initially this looks like it’ll be a cat and mouse chase film, with Walsh spending the majority of the screen time hunting his prey, but after tracking him down fairly early on, the film becomes more of a road movie, as Walsh has five days to get the Duke from New York to Los Angeles, with the FBI, the mob and a rival bounty hunter all after the Duke for themselves.
De Niro is at his light-hearted comic best, just watch him practicing flashing a stolen FBI badge, and Grodin is a delight as Walsh’s polar opposite talkative Robin Hood figure, stealing from criminals and giving to charity. Other comic touches and performances and well played, from the beleaguered FBI officer Alonso Mosely, the mobster who seems to think the whole job is a bit of a holiday, and the inept bounty hunter Marvin and Joe Pantoliano’s increasingly irate bail bondsman. No-one does screaming anger quite as well as Pantoliano. This is a little known gem, those I watched it with had never heard of it, let alone seen it, but every one of them loved the film, and it’s worth a watch for the litmus configuration scene alone, Grodin seriously needs to be in more films.
One of my favourite movie subgenres is the limited cast, limited locations films, where, for whatever reason, only a handful of characters are involved, and are confined to a small number, preferably one or two, of areas. This is best seen in 12 Angry Men, as previously discussed, where the principle cast are the 12 jurors on a case, and the principle sets are the jury room and its adjacent restroom. Similarly, Alien sees the seven crew members of the mining spaceship Nostromo largely confined to the ship and a planet it docks at in response to a distress signal. Things take a turn for the worse when, upon docking, the ship picks up an alien lifeform (later known as a Xenomorph), whose main ambition in life seems to be removing it from other creatures.
The film shows an interesting depiction of the future far removed from the more utopian worlds of more classic science fiction. Here, men seem to have retained dominance (shown by the exclusion of women from any decision making), and where class separation is still rife (the two engineers, Parker and Brett, are paid half as much as everyone else on board). The ship’s design is a far cry from the gleaming visuals of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Nostromo is, after all, a mining craft, so the ship’s functional, mechanical nature is only to be expected, although the overly futuristic sleeping pods do jar with the rest of the ship.
Aside from the infamous ‘chestburster’ scene (of which you can now by lifesize plush toys!), I couldn’t remember most of the film, although in my memory it does tend to blend with the other films from the franchise, as my only previous viewing was in marathon format. That said, there is much that sticks in the mind now, from Hurt’s descent into the alien nest, littered with giant eggs covered in a mysterious fog, or Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) seeing off an 8 ft alien with molecular acid for blood and far too many sets of teeth dressed only in vest and knickers (Ripley’s wearing the knickers, not the alien).
Having seen many survival films, where the cast is slowly whittled down one by one until the final confrontation, I noticed that with Alien it is not immediately obvious who the main character, and therefore the final survivor, is. Most of the characters are given fairly equal screen time, characterisation and dialogue, so it is not until the numbers start to dwindle that it is clear Ripley is the heroine, as earlier in the film she seemed to be the more heartless, professional crewmember, condemning Hurt’s Kane to death by refusing him entry onto the ship without a proper scan. That being said, she does become stupid later on, stopping to put two suffering crewmembers out of their misery minutes before the entire ship, them included, will be blown up (I’ve never understood this, why do ships have self-destruct mechanisms? Were they expecting an alien lifeform to come aboard, and the only way to kill it would be to blow the whole ship up? If so, surely some other defence mechanisms could be implemented instead?), and then she goes back for the cat, kept on board purely to jump out at random moments to scare the bejesus out of anyone in the vicinity.