The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek and Samuel L Jackson

There’s an extended version and a moviehouse version of The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. I watched the longer one, which seemed padded by about 15 minutes, which is exactly the amount of time that the extended version has been extended by. So if you’re after a more concentrated hit of action comedy – or don’t have long left to live…

If you really don’t have long left to live, and feel the need for knockabout fun, you don’t need to waste time by watching the first film in order to enjoy this second one. That was a poacher-versus-gamekeeper tale – a hitman (Samuel L Jackson in “motherfucker” mode), an over-cautious bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds in quippy Deadpool mode) and the hitman’s wife (Salma Hayek), all spun through various comic-book life-threatening situations, Darius Kincaid (Jackson) and Michael Bryce (Reynolds) amusingly not seeing eye to eye, while Hayek’s Sonia Kincaid alternately made jokes about her breasts or tried to straddle her screen husband.

Like Red 2, the film about superannuated spies, this is a better film than the original. It’s funnier, faster paced (ignoring the extra 15 mins of the extended cut), gives more screen time to the “batshit crazy” Sonia and generally lets its stars get on and do more of their thing, as Red 2 did. There are many jokes about the characters’ age, and with a subplot about Sonia and Darius trying to have a baby, there needs to be, since at the first mention of the idea you’re likely to think, “Hang on a second, how old is Salma Hayek exactly?” Answer: 55 when this was made. And I’ll have what she’s having.

This is the sort of film that doesn’t have one evil gang boss driving the action but several – including a thrown away (again) Gary Oldman – but over all of them is the superbad megalomaniac mastermind Antonio Banderas as a Greek shipping magnate who has been driven to despicable dastardliness by the latest actions of the European Union against his country, “the cradle of civilisation”. He’s your crypto-gay loquacious Bond-villain style of bad guy who loves a flounce and a flick of the hair – “like Liberace banged a set of curtains,” as Bryce puts it when he first claps eyes on him.

Darius and Michael
Downtime: Darius and Michael



Don’t worry about the EU reference. There is no real political content once the setup has been set up and the wagon’s begun to roll. It’s James Bond/Fast & Furious action set pieces plus quips, mostly handled with skill by director Patrick Hughes and with lots of funny gags by writer Tom O’Connor, who’s more sure-footed on spoof thriller territory than handling the real thing (see The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, a fairly pedestrian spy drama, which he also wrote).

There is absolutely no need to follow the plot. And because the sunny, tourist-brochure locations are fabulous – much of it was shot in Croatia, but it’s Italy (Portofino, Capri, Florence) that’s more obviously up in the mix – you could watch it almost as a travelogue.

As well as an almost dismissively used Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman is in it, for a few minutes. So is Richard E Grant, for a funny few seconds. Frank Grillo gets enough space to be large as one of those angry testosterone-filled cops working for Interpol and really wishing he could be back home, or have a SWAT team and choppers to enhance his own prestige. He catches the mood of the almost insane self-love of the other characters perfectly, slots right in and, really, I was wishing that the extra 15 minutes in the extended version were an extra 15 minutes of Grillo. I don’t think they were.

A Mercedes van ker-chunks down a flight of street stairs. Tina Turner turns up on the soundtrack singing Simply the Best. There’s a replay of that car-radio joke from Deadpool, except this time it’s a jukebox that changes song every time a head is whapped into it. Banderas gets to say, “Find the fugitives. Kill them.” There is a slo-mo explosion sequence with people fleeing ahead of the fireball. I’m telling you these things but you already know they happen because that’s the sort of film this is. Saturday night sorted.



The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Mank

Herman Mankiewicz at work in bed

 

Mank is the story, well known to film nerds, of the writing of Citizen Kane, for many the greatest film ever made. More exactly it’s two stories, one about writer Herman Mankiewicz dishing the dirt on press baron William Randolph Hearst (his model for press baron Charles Foster Kane) and his paramour Marion Davies, the other about director Orson Welles doing Mankiewicz out of a screen credit for his work.

Inserted almost as an afterthought is yet another story – about the socialist Upton Sinclair and his campaign to become governor of California, and how his guns were spiked by the movie studios.

Installed at a secluded cabin in the Mojave desert with a typewriter, a secretary (Lily Collins) and a minder in the shape of actor and Welles associate John Houseman (Sam Troughton), the alcoholic Mankiewicz is dried out and put under strict orders to churn out the screenplay, which Welles will later polish into the finished product. Early pages are “a bit of a jumble… a hodgepodge of talky episodes,” Houseman complains to Mank, handily nailing a problem with this film. It’s the screenplay, by Jack Fincher, father of director David. It’s verbose, explicatory and vaingloriously constructed in Citizen Kane fashion as a series of flashbacks setting out to explain the character of Mankiewicz.

This is a tragedy because this film is clearly a labour of love, gorgeously crafted by Fincher and a production team including DP Erik Messerschmidt and musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. But the screenplay’s tin ear for dialogue starts to drag all the film’s other artistic decisions into question, most obviously David Fincher’s decision to shoot the thing as a facsimile of a black and white 1940s movie, down to crackly atmospherics on the soundtrack and visual artefacts on the “film stock”. It should be immersive; it seems just cute.

As, in flashback, we follow Mank’s glittering, booze-swamped trail through Hollywood, and his cagey relationship with Hearst (Charles Dance), Davies (Amanda Seyfried) and the mogul’s court, there’s plenty to like for lovers of old Hollywood stories – about Louis B Meyer, Irving Thalberg, Ben Hecht et al – though I suspect that the sort of people who like these sort of stories will have heard the ones we get here. The one, for example, about the Marx brothers mischievously grilling hot dogs in Irving Thalberg’s office because they were sick of his no-shows.

Lily Collins comes out of it best, as the prim but flinty British secretary delegated to keep Mankiewicz’s nose to the typewriter while he dries out and knocks out the screenplay for Kane in record time. Gary Oldman as Mank you can’t fault really, but it’s difficult to tell whether his performance is too mannered for the film or the film is too mannered for his performance. Or, again, it could just be the dialogue – Mank is funny, the screenplay keeps insisting, and while there is the odd zinger, much of his “wit” is baffling. Seeing a giraffe on Hearst’s estate while out walking with Marion, Mank demonstrates his rapier repartee by observing drily, “Now that’s sticking your neck out.” Both Oldman and Seyfried look a little embarrased.

 

Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies in full party gear
Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried) at one of Hearst’s glittering parties

 

It is a film full of unquestionably fantastic performances in minor roles – Arliss Howard is superb as the constipated conservative studio boss Louis B Meyer, Ferdinand Kingsley similarly great as Thalberg, the “Boy Wonder” head of production at MGM, and Tom Burke is persuasive in a tricky role as a silky (still young, still slim) Orson Welles. But Jack Fincher’s screenplay is most interested in the treacherous Mankiewicz’s relationship with Marion Davies – a talentless bimbo if you go along with the Citizen Kane view of Charles Foster Kane’s mistress; a sensitive, clever and wise woman devoted to her older husband and aware of the mercenary nature of Hollywood in Mank. Along with Collins, Amanda Seyfried comes out of this film best, and is pretty much perfect as Davies too.

The fact that Welles in real life denied that Marion Davies was his model for Kane’s wife, Susan, and that there were many other possible inspirations for Charles Foster Kane, that’s not addressed at all. Which somewhat torpedoes some of the claims that this film tells it like it is.

The political afterthought – the Depression and failure of capitalism, growing unrest on the streets, the rise of socialism, Upton Sinclair and the conniving of the studios to neutralise him – deserves a film all of its own but ends up shoehorned into a space already tied up in knots trying to tell other stories. Bizarrely, contrarily, it’s actually the most interesting bit of it all – “fake news” and all that.

Fincher at his best, Fight Club or The Social Network, is trenchant, urgent and playful, but Mank has none of those qualities. For all its huge budget, its costumes (“gowns” say the credits, which also prefers “screen play” to “screenplay”) and its pained attention to detail, Mank comes across like three or even four decent B movies fighting for air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

Sid and Nancy

Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

12 October

 

 

Sid Vicious arrested, 1978

On this day in 1978, Sid Vicious, the former bassist with the punk rock band The Sex Pistols, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. The two of them had been staying at the Chelsea Hotel. Vicious had woken up, groggy from a night of heroin-taking, to find his girlfriend dead from a knife wound. “I stabbed her but I never meant to kill her,” he later told police, though he also claimed that she had fallen onto the knife. Vicious, born John Simon Ritchie, was 21 and just over three months later he was dead himself, from a heroin overdose from drugs procured by his mother (and possibly administered by her too). Vicious wasn’t much of a bass player – in fact he’d not really played on the Sex Pistols’ album, Never Mind the Bollocks – but he was a fast learner (he picked up the bass one speed-fuelled night, using a Ramones album as tutor). And he had punk charisma. Until Spungen’s death he had been building a solo career, playing with members of The Clash, The Damned and the New York Dolls. Who knows whether he could have parlayed what he had into a durable career. Would he even have wanted to? He’d told a newspaper in 1977 “I’ll probably die by the time I reach 25. But I’ll have lived the way I wanted to.” If punk, according to the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine, “died the day the Clash signed to CBS” (25 January 1977), then Vicious’s death was the final nail in its coffin.

 

 

Sid and Nancy (1986, dir: Alex Cox)

A kind of punk Bonnie and Clyde, Sid and Nancy was director Alex Cox’s highly anticipated follow-up to his cult item Repo Man. It also marked the arrival of another cult item – Gary Oldman, playing Sid Vicious, all loose limbs and dangling sneer. As the title suggests, it focuses on the relationship between the doomed pair, using them as a key to understanding the whole punk thing. Lack of affect being one of its key hallmarks. No Future and No Feelings. This makes anything using punk as a springboard a hard sell, to be honest, and the big question to ask about Cox’s film is: just how much of a fan of punk was he? Does he see it as a moment of intense energy that was necessary and deliberately unlikeable? Or as a project that never really seized its moment? The same questions can be asked about Vicious – holy fool, or just fool? If Oldman is going for the former, Cox is skewing towards the latter, the director’s Vicious being a scenester more interested in the rock lifestyle than rock music. So when a groupie with a bag of heroin and an already developed habit turns up (Chloe Webb, whine turned up to 11, face set to bulldog), he’s hook, line and sinker. A punk film about punk characters, Sid and Nancy eschews heroism, romanticism, Hollywood boosting, it’s dark (cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins), bleak and probably overdoes the junk-injecting scenes. But it’s no advert for the drug lifestyle. In fact it’s probably as good a recruiting sergeant for the nine-to-five as there’s been in recent decades. They did it their way.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Gary Oldman in the first of his great roles
  • The great Roger Deakins is cinematographer
  • A soundtrack including the Clash, Pogues, Black Sabbath, Beethoven and KC and the Sunshine Band
  • Look out for Slash, Courtney Love, Iggy Pop

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Sid and Nancy – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Hannibal

Julianne Moore and Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal

This may not be the best film out this week, but it is the one that is shouting loudest. Who doesn’t want to see Anthony Hopkins return to the role of Hannibal the Cannibal after several years of haggling over his fee, which includes an agreement to make one more film featuring everyone’s favourite cultured cannibal?

Hannibal’s plot sees Hopkins’s Dr Lecter returning to the USA, having been lured back from Italy by an elaborate hoax cooked up by Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a former victim of Lecter’s, who has survived a fiendish munching and is now using Agent Clarice Starling as bait to get payback.

The plot is familiar cat v mouse stuff, but the big question is what sort of sequel do we have here – the useful continuation of a story that left us all dangling last time out, or something that’s been contrived by the back office?

Hopkins, one of the world’s most compelling screen presences, gives a strong hint early on, megaphoning in a performance of utter self-parody, suggesting that this is a smash-and-grab job. Everyone else follows suit with the overacting, there being no such thing as the Silence of the Hams. Indeed Gary Oldman’s performances is so ridiculous that he’s taken out an insurance policy – he’s disguised beyond recognisability. And taking over from the very wise Jodie Foster as Clarice-s-s-s-s is Julianne Moore, who is required via facial gesture to suggest that she is simultaneously attracted to and disgusted by a man who eats people.

In the director’s chair, Ridley Scott has nothing new to say and so instead lays on all the clichés he can remember from his days directing adverts – slo-mo fans, rooms full of mist, cars gracefully swooshing across bridges.

On the upside, it does all look pretty nice thanks to DP John Mathieson, particularly in Italy where the Florentine plazas and likes of Giancarlo Giannini and Francesca Neri remind us how timelessly cool Italy is. And butchery fans will be delighted with the variety of viscera, organs and offal on offer, all of it served up with an insouciant grin and a raised eyebrow. Ray Liotta, ooh dear. I’ll say no more.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

 Hannibal – at Amazon

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Prick Up Your Ears

Alfred Molina and Gary Oldman in Prick Up Your Ears

 

 

A re-release of Stephen Frears’s 1987 drama about Joe Orton, the blackly satirical and dead funny writer of Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane who was battered to death by his lover Kenneth Halliwell in their rundown London flat in 1967, just as the big time arrived. It’s a study of a relationship skidding towards the brink, with Gary Oldman a chirpy, cocky Orton, Alfred Molina working hard at the much less sympathetic role of Halliwell, the older man whose tutorial services were no longer required once Orton’s star started to rise. Meanwhile Vanessa Redgrave puts in to-the-manner-born performance as Orton’s imperious, patrician, rather scary agent, Peggy Ramsay.

The film seemed almost daring when it debuted in 1987 – the accent being on Orton’s homosexual behaviour. It seems less so now. In fact it threatens to dissolve here and there, so one-ply does Alan Bennett’s screenplay become at times. But you can’t deny the fruitiness of Bennett’s whimsical, playful excursions into Ortonese, and the two main performances are stonkers – this was the era just after Gary Oldman had erupted in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy; whereas Molina is so endlessly versatile that his acting ability is often overlooked. Together the pair flesh out the bare bones of the scandal of Orton’s death (and life, for that matter). There was more to the man than where he chose to park his private parts, after all. So yes, the “Ears” of the title is probably an anagram.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Prick Up Your Ears – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Batman: The Dark Knight

 

Not having enjoyed the first Nolan/Bale Batman film (yes, he was traumatised by bats. I get it!) I wasn’t looking forward to the second.

But, having been told how great it was, how awesome Heath Ledger was, how dark it all was, I was prepared to put prejudice to one side and settle back to watch it with an open mind.

And I hated it. But no one else seems to feel this way. Why?

My own lack of soul to one side, it’s possibly something to do with the death of Ledger, a good actor who generally did more than was necessary in whatever role he took on, was happy to subsume himself to the character, unlike almost all “stars”. As the Joker, though, Ledger wasn’t really acting, he was channelling two famous previous players of the Joker – Cesar Romero (the giggle) from the 1960s TV version, and Jack Nicholson (the shoulders) from Tim Burton’s 1989 film – blending them and then replaying them at toxic volume. It was good, it was fun, it was clever but it was a stunt.

As for the “dark” aspect of the film, the guy in the bat suit is famously a nutjob, always has been, always will be. Christopher Nolan in no way made him darker. In fact such was the post-production fiddling with the film – to amp up Ledger – and the original misfire of an idea to include two villains that the Bat Man actually barely gets a look-in.

This is probably not the place to launch into an argument against Christian Bale’s acting talents, particularly when he’s being serious.

So we’ve got a jokey Joker, a film that’s really no darker than Tim Burton’s films, a disastrous dramatic weakening with the decision to introduce two villains (they’re meant to be powerful characters, they don’t need to hold each other’s hand).

Also, Christopher Nolan may be many things, but he’s not a good action director – after an hour of his incoherent editing – a beat too slow here, a beat too fast there – and his frequent dialling of the frenzy up to 11, I got bored. In fact there’s something really wrong with the editing of this throughout – I exclude the opening heist sequences which are gorgeous and seem to set the tone for an entirely different movie.

Then there’s what has been called the film’s psychological depth, its arthouse elements. I refer readers to Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s collaboration Ebony and Ivory, Nolan and screenwriters appear to be saying little more than “there is good and bad in everyone”.

None of the characters, apart from the Joker, has any existence you can imagine outside the film. They’ve got no depth – look at Maggie Gyllenhaal, look at Gary Oldman, look at Michael Caine, all dropped in as if to say “hey, this is a film you know, with a budget and everything” but they’re not actually doing much more than just being there.

Also, where is the sex – sexual frisson is everything if Bruce Wayne is meant to have lost his girlfriend to the Two Faced Eckhart (whose eyeball never seems to dry out, even though he’s got no eyelid).

And what the hell is Bale saying? That weird growl is very off-putting.

I’ve had a look round to see if anyone else hated it. David Denby of The New Yorker was the only one I could find. He called it “grim and incoherent”.

Agreed. Though grim isn’t a bad thing. Sadly, it looks like there’s more to come.

© Steve Morrissey 2009

Dark Knight – at Amazon

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