Welcome one and all to my movie club. A place where I share with you my lifelong favourite films, and sometimes try to justify my finding enjoyment in some very dodgy movies indeed.
Same rules as always I choose four films, each interesting in their own way. One film is either a forgotten classic or film with a cult vibe. another will be a foreign language film, another will be black and white and another will have been released in the last ten years.
Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)
I love hearing stories of old school film fans who’s passion to see the alternative side of movies would regularly lead them into dirty and sometimes dangerous situations. Fans who in ordered to see the latest grimy horror flicks, or the most niche of low rent action movies would risk the more sordid streets New York to get to a Grindhouse theatre where visiting the bathroom was definitely a no no unless you knew how to handle yourself.
My own source was no where as cool or dangerously romantic, as I got my Grindhouse style films from our local Breadman. In case this wasn’t a thing outside of Yorkshire I will explain that a Breadman was in the same spirit of your morning Milkman, except the Breadman would deliver your daily loaf of bread, teacakes (I’m not going to get into the teacake vs breadcake naming feud) and a variety of foods, snacks and drinks he sold from his van. Our Breadman branched out into dabbling with a sideline of renting VHS tapes and would present a rolling selection of tapes each week that you could rent for the weekend for a whole £1.
And boy did have some shit! I don’t know who his supplier was but these were tapes that had not needed to be rewound for years and probably rescued from a existence of collecting mildew at the back of floundering backstreet video rental places everywhere. His selections normally consisted of Roger Corman style B-Movies, crappy dubbed post apocalyptic Italian movies, low rent horror movies and 80’s one man vigilante movies.
Which meant I was in my element.
Like when one Saturday when I perused the deliciously sordid artwork on the covers of the films he had on offer and saw the glorious sight of Rutger Hauer, in a leather coat, with an awesome mullet and a shotgun over his shoulder and that awesome 80’s title “Wanted: Dead or Alive!” And of course I recognised Hauer, but not from his role in Blade Runner, because in the UK he was more well known for his role in a series of surreal Guinness adverts.
Here is Rutger Hauer appearing adverts selling Guinness.
Wanted: Dead or Alive sees Hauer as Nick Randall (is there a better name for a 80’s film action hero than “Nick”?) a bounty hunter, bringing in wanted criminals for a reward. In many ways he’s the precursor to Dog the Bounty Hunter, except instead of giving the bad guys a pep talk on the choices they are making Nick kicks ten shades of shit out of them first.
This movie is actually a spinoff of the TV series of the same name, with Nick Randall following in the footsteps of his grandfather John Randall who was also a bounty hunter in the wild west and played by a young Steve Mcqueen.
Here is footage of Steve Mcqueen riding a motorcycle and being chased by Germans in WWII.
After rounding up a few small time stick up artists and having a tour of his awesome 80’s bachelor pad, with a motorbike, a firing range and a whole arsenal of machine guns in a cupboard (let’s face it which of us Men would say no to having a cupboard in the wall that opened up to a display of guns hanging on hooks?) Hauer gets hired to bring in a middle eastern terrorist Malak Al Rahim for $250,000 and a $50,000 bonus if he brings him in alive.
Our villain Malak Al Rahim is played by Gene Simmons. Yes the Bassist from KISS is our 80’s villain.
Here is footage of Gene Simmons and KISS performing Detroit Rock City.
Incidentally Gene Simmons should not be confused with the Hollywood actress of the same sounding name Jean Simmons.
Here is footage of Jean Simmons yelling at Captain Picard in Star Trek the next Generation.
Naturally it’s not all straight forward as since the Government are involved they are backstabbing Randall and using him for bait. One of the government agents is played by Robert Guillaume who is more well known for his role in Benson.
Here is footage of the opening credits for Benson
Wanted: Dead or Alive is the quintessential 80’s action straight to video action movie. From the dodgy hair, the dated fashions that passed for cool at the time, the weird electo pop soundtrack and that music video sheen the film always seems to have, it all screams 80’s style. And while the action scenes are very low rent, I still find it a fun movie couple of hours especially if you embrace nostalgia the way I do.
Watching Gene Simmons be a villain is a blast, Rutger Hauer has so much charisma just by walking around in his long coat and there is a wonderful, stand and applaud payoff if you invest a few hours with this film. Come on you don’t think he’s going for that “alive” bonus do you.
Duck Soup (1933)
Of the many things I’ve been an obsessive fan of, the one that I have filed in my mental “Where did that come from?” file is time in my late teens when I became a connoisseur of all things related to the classic comedy troupe “The Marx Brothers!” For several years I tracked down all the films, read all the biographies and any books, articles or interviews I could find. I even read the scripts to the radio play Groucho and Chico did, the recordings of which were tragically never preserved.
While the trivia I accumulated through studying the careers of Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo as long since seeped from my ageing mind my enjoyment of the first half of the movie careers still remains and to this day my favourite Marx Brothers movie is still the first one that I saw on channel four in I’m guessing 1992.
The film is Duck Soup and for me it is the perfect Marx Brothers movie. It encompasses all the great elements associated with the team with all of them excelling in there various roles as never better before. Groucho is a whirlwind of wit and one liners, excelling in his role as Rufus T Firefly who becomes the unlikely leader of the nation of Freedonia. Chico and Harpo in their role as spys for rival nation Sylvania have some of their most iconic slapstick routines in the history of the doubleact, particularly in their interplay with the lemonade vendor who they harass and later do a skit in his home.
And Zeppo is……well Zeppo is Zeppo which means he doesn’t really do a lot. In fact this was the final film that the quartet would be together as Zeppo left movies to become an engineer. Zeppo was famously superfluous in the Marx Brothers act, with even his role as the straight man being overshadowed by the brilliant Margaret Dumont.
As always Dumont as Groucho’s long suffering foyle and the butt of his wisecracks and insults provides some of the greatest opportunities for laughs. She shines especially in Duck Soup, and is victime to one of Groucho’s greatest one liners ever (which is high praise indeed) and it was that line that especially made me fall in love with the Marx Brothers for the delivery and timing that make it one of the greatest comedy moments in film history. And I won’t quote it because it needs to be savoured cold just like I first experienced it (rather bizarrely Groucho in the many times in interviews and live performances that he repeated the line always totally misquoted it.)
And talking of memorable scenes Duck Soap is also home to one of the greatest examples of physical comedy. the famous Mirror scene with Harpo dressed as Groucho and Harpo trying to convince him he is his mirror’s image as Groucho tries to catch him out. It’s a long scene, with perfect synchronisation between the two and visual humour that gets more and more gloriously ridiculous and surreal the longer it goes on.
Add to this the courtroom scene which has the amazing back and forth chemistry of Groucho and Chico (Chico lamenting that he couldn’t find a lawyer and was willing to pay as high as $18, brings Groucho to eagerly volunteer is a genuinely subtle, funny moment) and the fast paced, absurd battle scene finale that mixes one liners, with physical gags and you have one of the greatest comedy films ever.
Modern audiences may not get the Marx Brothers on first viewing. All versions I’ve seen of this are marred by scratching and sound blemishing and clumsy editing which for me adds to the authenticity of viewing a film from this period, but may be off putting to some. Likewise the musical numbers are an acquired taste and admittedly were always something I could do without in the Marx Brothers films and in Duck Soup they do feel frankly skippable aside from the Freedonia’s Going to War number (although we are thankfully spared the Piano and Harp solo numbers which were so tiresome in some of their other movies).
Duck Soup is a joy, a classic outing of comedy legends in their prime. As for the satirical significance of the least suitable man being put in charge of a country and employing idiots in key roles in his cabinet, I’m saying nothing.
One of the aspects I find most powerful about movies is their brevity. Within the space of a few hours you can experience all there is to a monumental moment in history, or witness even the extraordinary of lives in under 180 minutes or follow the rise and fall of the mightiest of Empires. Sometimes in as short as 90 minutes you can get an inkling into how it is to live within another culture. In doing so a simple privilege that you take for granted can in a alien environment become a compelling story.
For example, something as simple as going to a football match.
Offside is an Iranian film by director Jafar Panahi, filmed in Iran although it was actually banned there and because of this was ineligible for submission in the Academy Awards best foreign language film category (a film must first be theatrically released in the Country of origin to stand a chance of submission). It follows a young woman’s attempt to watch a World Cup 2000 qualifying game between Iran and Bahrain, in doing so having to disguise herself as a man as Women are banned from attending football in Iran.
After managing to get a ticket she only gets so far into the stadium before she is arrested and thrown into a holding pen with a group of other women caught for committing the same crime, guarded reluctantly by several bored soldiers.
Although there is frustration at the injustice and prejudice the women suffer there are also some uplifting moments. In one scene when the woman is allowed to go to the bathroom under guard, she manages to briefly slip into the crowd and experience some of the game live. It’s a touching moment as she returns to her fellow detainees excitedly telling her of her experience and the other women press her for details of what it was like.
The women’s passion and pride for their national team, even though it represents a country that denies them the right to take part in supporting is moving and uplifting and massively humbling to a western sports fan that takes such inclusion for granted. Every moment that they manage to steal from the experience, whether it being so close to the atmosphere of the crowd or the commentary provided by the soliders is savoured for all it’s worth.
Especially moving is towards the end of the film where the women being transported away from the stadium are caught up in street celebrations at Iran’s 1-0 victory. The women joyously join the festivities, even in the failure to watch the match their pleasure at their teams victory is undiminished.
Naturally the Iranian authorities were not happy with such a film being made and initially Panahi had to lie and say the film was about men going to a football game to get the film off the ground. Some filming was done in secret at live matches and when wind of the true nature of the film was discovered there were attempts to close down the film and seize footage (fortunately by this point Panahi only needed the final celebration scenes to complete the film.
That the film exists is an achievement in itself and is a sign of true artistic rebellion, just like that shown by the women in the film. It’s a raw looking, almost documentary, cast with non actors and actresses which helps with the down to Earth authenticity.
This is an amazing film which should find it’s way into more top sporting movies lists, as it portrays a passion for sport and the risks that some people have to go through just to express that passion.
Every so often a western comes along that manages to have enough crossover appeal due to it’s star cast or modern action scenes to become a hit. Films like Young Guns, Tombstone and the recent Magnificent Seven remake have been able to find an audience, but so many more modern Westerns have instead resided as cheap filler on the streaming channels.
That “Salvation” in 2015 didn’t find it’s way into the first catergory is a GODDAMN shame on audiences!
I did my part, having to hang around my multiplex for a late screening of the film since it was only afforded a handful of showings. It was worth my time, because Salvation proved one of those wonderfully pleasing surprises, which while not as instantly gratifying as the already mentioned movies is closer to the grim, true spirit of the classic western, ironically as it’s not American but is a Danish made film.
It’s also exciting, action packed and has a great cast. The always hauntingly value for money Mads Mikkelsen takes the role of Jon, a war veteran ready to settle down to a quiet life with his wife and son. Unfortunately they share a stagecoach with two thugs who force Jon out of the coach at gunpoint and proceed to kill his young son and rape and murder his wife.
Retribution is swift as Jon catches up with the pair and kills them, unbeknown to him one of the men is the brother of a gang boss called Henry Delarue. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Delarue with a villainous glee that is essentially him playing Negan years before he actually took on the role. Delarue sets out to capture Jon in revenge for his brother while at the same time embarking on a campaign of fear and murder on the small town of Black Creek in order to control the surrounding land and precious oil supplies.
It’s an engaging feud between the two, with a sympathy drawing, battered and bloody Mikkelsen having to embark on a guerrilla style war against the superior forces of Delarue. The crew are worthy villains, vicious and cowardly and counting amongst their number former footballer Eric Cantona who as Delarue’s main henchman has real charisma and presence. The gang’s treatment of the abused widow of Delarue’s brother makes them particularly loathsome and to complete the healthy cast she is played by Eva Green, muted by having her tongue cut out and in her expressions is a seething picture of stirring revenge longing to be released.
This is beautifully looking film, having the grit of a 70’s western and Mikkelsen having the aura of an Eastwood about him. Everyone does their part in a tale of personal revenge, justice, loss and the battle of the frontier against the progress of big business. It’s a cracking story of the wild west, exciting and satisfying that sadly did not find an audience and only fleetingly appeared in cinemas.
A shame as a trilogy on Mikkelsen in this role would have been more than welcome to me.
Next movie club I’ll be covering: a classic Children’s stop motion show that excels to extraordinary lengths on it’s appearance on the big screen. a Jimmy Cagney classic, a comedy about the holocaust (no really) and a comedy about suicide bombers (no seriously).