Albert Finney is a would-be comedian and general smartass, places an ad in the paper announcing himself as a private eye and immediately gets in over his head. It’s a good premise, because at no point is Finney an actual detective – when he finds a gun at a crime scene, he keeps playing with it and shows it off to everyone he sees.
Finney’s brother William (Frank Finlay, one of Lester’s Musketeers) is the type of serious businessman who also knows how to dispose of a dead body, and the brother’s girl who used to be Finney’s girl is his Charlie Bubbles costar Billie Whitelaw. Clues lead to an occult bookstore lead to a heroin trade. There’s a hot library girl, some racism, and some unusually good dialogue.
Perkins > Bacall > Gielgud > Connery > Cassel > Balsam > Roberts > Bisset >
Widmark > Hiller > Quilley > York > Bergman > Finney
Richard Widmark wakes up dead on a train, after asking detective Poirot to protect him the day before. Widmark was the mastermind of a heinous kidnapping in prologue, also a huge asshole, and it turns out all of the suspects had motives, each of them affected by his crime, and conspired to kill him together.
Languorously paced, and centered around Finney’s Mike Myers-like appearance and accent, it’s a near-disaster of a movie kept sporadically afloat by a few good scenes and performances, and a touching ending. Anthony Perkins was Widmark’s assistant – nervous, of course… Bergman is a timid religious fanatic who says “little brown babies” pretty often… Vanessa Redgrave is cute and smiley, having an affair with Sean Connery… Wendy Hiller in weird makeup and weird accent plays a princess.
Lumet made a lotta movies, more than forty and this was about the midpoint. The only other of his movies I’ve written about are his very first and his very last. Obviously a weird year for the oscars – Finney was nominated, Bergman won, and the whole list looks like New Hollywood and Old Hollywood in an ugly clash, trading awards between The Godfather II and The Towering Inferno.
Wanted to check out some more late Huston before the upcoming Emory screening of The Dead, since I don’t believe Wise Blood is typical of his films. But now, having seen these two plus The Maltese Falcon and nothing in between, I still have no idea what is typical of his films. It’s got that familiar 1970’s grime all over it, so either Huston was late in adapting to 80’s-style cinema or, more likely, Mexico was still in the 70’s.
“Some things you can’t apologize for.”
“Hell is my natural habitat.”
Full of fun quotes, mostly spoken by literate drunk Albert Finney, who gave up sobriety when his wife left a year prior. Finney (a few years before Miller’s Crossing) is tended by his brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews, lately of The King’s Speech), and all is depressingly normal until the now-ex-wife (Jacqueline Bisset, the mother in The Ceremony) shows up unexpectedly. Finney goes off the deep end with the drinking and erratic behavior, ending up shot to death in a hostile bar/whorehouse, scaring a horse into trampling to death his wife in front of Hugh, with whom she’d been having an affair before she originally left Mexico. It’s a great ending to a movie which overall didn’t strike me as hard as it seems to strike everyone else.
Finney and Bisset:
Andrews spontaneously goes bullfighting:
Didn’t watch the many DVD extras so I still know nothing about author Malcolm Lowry. Alex North brings his heavy hand to the proceedings, not offending except once during a comedy scene when he got overexcited. Shot with Mexican D.P. Gabriel Figueroa, who worked on at least four of Bunuel’s best films.
C. Viviani makes connections to The Dead:
It was with The Man Who Would Be King (1975), a project that he had been thinking about since the 1950sâ€”based on a Rudyard Kipling storyâ€”that Huston made his return to literary adaptation. After the success of that bold â€œaction-adventureâ€ (in which both the action and the adventure are more within the characters than on the screen), Huston began favoring fictional works that were problematic, in terms of translating them to screen, because of the importance given to internal monologue or their absence of action. In less than ten years Huston would adapt three stories considered to be â€œunadapt-ableâ€: Wise Blood, by Flannery Oâ€™Connor, Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, and The Dead, by James Joyce. In each case the adaptation rose to the challenge by deliberately ignoring false problems and by choosing to render the spirit rather than the letter of the original. It was not a matter of filming everything but of filming only what Huston liked, which is, in fact, a constant throughout his work. The culmination of this approach, The Dead (1987), is a film that is both respectful and free, and it became a kind of legacy work, in which Huston does not so much film Joyceâ€™s story as use it as a pretext for offering his daughter Anjelica and his son Tony the gift of his artistic heritage.
A quality ending to the trilogy. I liked the timely references (waterboarding, gov’t using Echelon to track keywords spoken over cellphones) and new actors – David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) as the new evil bureaucrat and Paddy Considine (same year as Hot Fuzz) as an intrepid reporter. Unfortunately, by Strathairn’s orders, Considine gets a bullet in the head.
Evil David Strathairn:
Julia Stiles and Joan Allen take Bourne’s side, and a wide-mouthed Albert Finney plays a haunting evil from Bourne’s past, proving that all women are friendly and craggy-faced old men are wicked.
Evil Albert Finney:
An informant in Madrid is blown up by a CIA hit man. Bourne fights two of those guys but only kills one, at most. He’s like Arnold in Terminator 2 now, a killing machine that doesn’t want to kill. The action is surprisingly comprehensible except for one hand-to-hand fight edited for maximum headache potential.
An entry for…
Initiated by Shadowplay
A true “late film,” Cold Lazarus was the final script completed by Dennis Potter just weeks before his (and his wife’s!) death from cancer. He wrote it after his diagnosis as a companion piece to Karaoke, which he didn’t feel should stand alone as his final work. I watched Karaoke a year before starting this memory-enhancing blog, and so don’t remember it perfectly, but enough to get the connections between the two stories.
C. Chapman on the general idea:
“A dying writer, haunted by his past creations and aware of how his legacy will be picked over by the media barons he so hates, writes about a dying writer, haunted by his past creations, and then how his legacy is picked over by the media barons.”
Potter on Potter:
“You don’t mind the frozen head in itself so much as you care about the stories it’s telling.”
Authority figures wear silly helmets in The Future:
Set in the year 2300, a lab run by Prof. Emma Polack (Frances de la Tour of Rising Damp, suddenly in a bunch of mega-budget Hollywood movies) has got the frozen head of Albert Finney’s character from Karaoke hooked up to machines and chemicals, with which the lab rats can visualize his memories. Unfortunately for them, Finney was a creative type whose thoughts don’t always reflect events as they actually occurred – a fun premise which I wish had been given more time. Had Potter lived long enough to workshop the script with actors/readers, assuming he ever did that sort of thing, he may have realized how much time was spent instead on typically tedious sci-fi blather, characters rattling off endless serial numbers (because in The Future, numbers replace names for everything) and silly futuristic words (the scientists didn’t go to college, but “cyber-college”). He also may have noticed how clueless these supposedly brilliant scientists seem when they ponder aloud the nature of subjective memory. I don’t mean to be hard on the guy, though – it’s an interesting story, and he was under the strictest writing deadline: to finish the story before his imminent death.
I’ll bet Finney’s frozen head would fetch good money on Ebay:
Frances de la Tour and Ganiat Kasumu, whose hilarious hairstyle you can’t make out properly from this screenshot:
So, Emma runs the lab along with shady Fyodor (Ciaran Hinds, a henchman in The Cook, The Thief, etc, and FBI in Miami Vice), straight-laced Tony (Grant Masters, whose previous claim to fame had been “man in laundry room” in a Mr. Bean episode), Luanda (Ganiat Kasumu of Nigeria), Kaya (Claudia “no relation” Malkovich) and Blinda (Carmen Ejogo, Maya Rudolph’s sister in Away We Go). They’re all under severe budget restrictions from artifically-young Cruella DeVillianous lab owner Martina (Diane Ladd: Laura Dern’s lipstick-smeared obsessive mother in Wild at Heart). But Martina’s buddy/rival Dave (Henry Goodman of Taking Woodstock), a benevolent television mogul, finds out about the lab’s research with the aid of Martina’s VR helmet (remember VR?) and his own network of robotic-bird spies, and secretly offers to buy them out, offering them an unlimited budget in exchange for the rights to broadcast Finney’s memories.
Evil Diane Ladd consorts with evil Henry Goodman:
Intrigue: Fyodor is secretly an agent of the underground RON (“Reality or Nothing”) organization, and when Kaya exhibits enough human compassion that he thinks she might be turned to their cause, he introduces her to a RON-affiliated coworker, to disastrous results. Blinda is found to be a spy for the owner, so Fyodor takes her out in the movie’s most Army of Shadows-worthy scene. And new boss Dave’s supposed benevolence turns quite unsurprisingly evil. The movie’s most interesting unanswered question is what will happen when Finney’s conscience is broadcast into every home. Dave is counting on an unprecedented ratings bonanza, people passively consuming a man’s psyche as entertainment, but Fyodor hopes that glimpses into a less-authoritarian past will make people realize their own lack of freedom and rise up, inspired by the RON slogan. Potter preferred not to allow us an answer, as Fyodor shoots first Dave then the head (which somehow provokes a lab-consuming, Fyodor-vaporizing explosion).
Ciaran Hinds, about to shoot either Goodman or Finney:
Of course since it’s Potter, there’s also rape and depression, torture and nihilism, and Finney sings Pennies From Heaven (probably a scene from Karaoke). Funny how his “memories” are edited rather to the rhythm of a 1990’s British TV miniseries, heh. The perverted sex-scientist whom Dave places on the team in the second half and Martina’s series of scantily-clad poolboys were a fun touch.
In the doc Dennis Potter: A Life in Television, someone says at least Potter was never boring – which is true of this. It’s not his very best writing (I’d even prefer the hardly-ever-discussed Lipstick On Your Collar) but it’s never boring. It’s a classy production too, with CGI effects that seem very good for mid-90’s television. The John Williamsy music is a bit loud, and the actors are more than a bit loud, everyone seeming drunkenly overenthusiastic.
Finney appears full-grown in his own childhood memories, an approach used before by Potter in Blue Remembered Hills:
Director Renny Rye (who also made Karaoke, Midnight Movie, Lipstick On Your Collar) was hand-picked by Potter for having no personality. Rye:
One of the reasons about Dennis wanting me to do it, was that he had this anxiety about directors wanting to impose their own stamp to such a degree that the writer’s original voice is masked or overcoloured. That distancing is one of the things he was dramatising. … Dennis loved the conceit of this group of scientists exploiting a writer’s brain after his death. ‘That’s what you’re going to be doing in a year’s time,’ he said: ‘exploiting my work.’