Gary Oldman is one of my favourite actors working in the business by far and just when I think I’ve seen it all from him, experienced the most varied, gonzo, dedicated and balls out work from a master of his craft… along comes David Fincher’s Mank, an absolute showstopper of a motion picture in every sense of the word and a new benchmark for my boy Gary. In the role of hard drinking, chain smoking, socialite, diva, contrarian scoundrel n’ scallywag supreme, Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, Oldman not only nails the manic, often self destructive groove of the writer as an artist but cultivates and bellows out a cathartic “Fuck You” to the studio heads and political arbiters that often have more creative control over motion pictures than the artists themselves do. Set during the writing process of legendary Citizen Kane, Mank is deliberately sequestered at a bungalow in the Mojave where he begins to craft his script, bedridden after a vicious car accident and assisted by long suffering typeface guru Rita (Lily Collins) and nurse Frieda (Monika Grossman). This hypnotic setting is the home-base, the lynchpin from which we careen wildly back into the typhoon of Mank’s pickled memories of various characters and events which inspired him to write Kane including his tempestuous relationship with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), his platonic courtship of Hearst’s ingenue starlet mistress Marion (Amanda Seyfried) and his cacophonously discordant professional life in Hollywood as he clashes with MGM honcho Louis Mayer (Arliss Howard), racks up gambling debt with studio CEO’s and tests the patience of his loving wife Sara (Tuppence Middleton). The film is less about the actual writing process of Citizen Kane and more about certain things from Mank’s past that he remembers, both fondly or otherwise, and how he incorporates those into his writing, sometimes subtly, sometimes with the force of a pile driver and sometimes in ways that only he understands and aren’t meant for us. Oldman is something else here, chewing on dialogue like sinewy jerky, slurring his words in drunken tirades and letting no one off the hook from the devilish wit he exudes, himself included. There are some stretches of subplot dedicated to an important election in California’s past and I’m not well informed on history enough to ‘get’ all the ins, outs and clashing opinions surrounding it but it was pretty clear to me that Mank stood on his own against the tide when everyone else compromised, and put the same sort of brittle, salt-in-the-wound intelligence and kamikaze spirit into his crafting of Kane as he did his own private and professional life. The script is by Fincher’s own father Jack in his one and only writing credit, which is staggering when you consider the levels of rich, deep, scintillating dialogue and sly drama on display here. I enjoyed this because David Fincher’s work is usually macabre, morbid and fatalistic, the guy just like to play on the dark side in his work but this is by far the most playful, lighthearted and ‘fun’ thing he’s ever done, uniting with Oldman at his best to bring his father’s brilliantly funny, deftly sentimental, somehow simultaneously dense and light-footed screenplay to breathtaking Black & White life. A treasure of a film.
I never got why the Johnny English films didn’t get out there more or endure as classics because they’re pure gold. I mean if we’re talking franchises that spoof James Bond then Austin Powers kind of just reigns supreme as a given, but English is next up in line for my money, thanks to the sheer unfiltered cyclone of comedic star-power that is Rowan Atkinson. The first film is an all timer for me, minted platinum I’ve seen it so many times. The second is admittedly not as strong but the third outing, titled Johnny English Strikes Again, finds its way back to the magic of the first and is an absolute howling joy. He’s just so friggin perfect, stupid by way of being suave as perennial fuck up English, the type of guy that no one ever in real life would trust with a mission but in the satirical world of cinema espionage he constantly finds himself somehow employed. This one steps up his level of idiocy to near biblical heights in the very first scene: in hysterical collective cameos we see Charles Dance, Edward Fox and Michael Gambon as three legendary MI6 agents hauled out of retirement to assess a cyber attack that blew the cover of agents in the field. Naturally Johnny is also somewhere in the office and naturally he causes some colossal mishap that kills all three in the first ten minutes of the film. Three seasoned veterans of cinema, dispatched before the opening credits, that cracked me up so hard lol. Emma Thompson is great as the loopy section chief tasked with babysitting Johnny on his hectic escapades, Ben Miller returns as trusty, long suffering sidekick Bough and Olga Kurylenko is fun as a slinky Russian double agent who finds Johnny’s lack of self awareness charmingly quaint. The antics in this one are especially fun, with two distinct highlights: Johnny tries out a cutting edge VR room meant to help with surveillance, gets so disoriented that he runs about in a mad dash of confused violence all over London that culminates in the beatdown of a cafe owner with two baguettes. In the film’s funniest bit he accidentally swallows some secret pill that I’m pretty sure was just raw amphetamines and comes blasting out of his hotel room like a speed freak while Darude sandstorm plays loudly and he dances in a club literally all night until they turn the lights on and kick him out. These films might be too silly or whatever for some but there’s just something so winning about Atkinson’s presence, his mannerisms, constant fuck ups and the pure, self assured swagger he adopts that becomes hysterically ironic when we see what an actual moron he really is. Good times and a terrific cap to the trilogy.
I feel like John Mctiernan’s Last Action Hero doesn’t get enough love. I mean, people like it and it has a lasting legacy.. but there’s a weird lukewarm reception among critics, and I’ve always found it to be one of the most gloriously meta, excitingly enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there. A young boy (Austin O Brien) spends his days glued to the seats of a creaky old movie theatre (many of us can relate) run by a mysterious projectionist (Robert Prosky), who gives him a magical ticket that brings all kinds of cinematic archetypes and characters to wild, screaming life including badass action hero Jack Slater (Arnie). It’s basically like a trip into the Hollywood version of those Where’s Waldo illustrations that are just packed to the brim with colour, life and incidence, and in this case joyously wall to wall film references, cameos, in jokes and self referential bliss. The villains are wonderfully tongue in cheek including Charles Dance’s cranky assassin Benedict, Anthony Quinn’s moronic Sicilian mobster Tony Vivaldi and Tom Noonan in a vicious, memorable turn as The Ripper, an axe wielding psycho who escapes the land of film and attacks the actual Tom Noonan in real life, also played by Tom Noonan. See how much fun this thing sounds? It’s a fucking blast for anyone who is a fan of the action genre, reality smashing fantasy, wowza production design or simply cinema itself. Arnold has so much fun with the role, bringing the best aspects of T-101, John Matrix, Harry Tasker and Dutch, throwing them into a blender of a performance that’s just silly enough and just tough enough to win us over. There are so many cameos I couldn’t even list them all here without busting a few algorithms, but my favourites have to be Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone, very briefly), the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Ian McKellen as Death, who stalks right out of an old black and white picture when the shit really hits the projection reel and the worlds of cinema blur into the edges of reality. It may not be coherent much of the time or employ rigidity in the narrative, but with a film this eclectic, I’d rather have no guardrails along the road it furiously careens down and have elements spill over, crash and tumble as McTiernan uses everything in his bag of tricks to both send up the genres and express his love for them. One of my absolute favourites, a cauldron of mischievous celluloid gold, I feel lucky for the fact that it was even made every time I revisit.
The Surgeon is an overlooked little hospital horror chiller that’s worth the price of admission just for the opening scene alone, a spooky black and white prologue in which a young boy witnesses a surgery gone horribly wrong, all set to that cheery ‘Lollipop Lollipop’ song, quite a memorable way to kick your film off. After that it’s fairly standard, as he grows up to be a scalpel wielding slasher who roams the wards of a huge hospital, killing patients, doctors and undergrads at leisure. Two intrepid doctors in training played by Isabel Glasser and James Remar are onto this beast and gradually begin to realize there’s foul play afoot, and the demented surgeon, played by Sean Haberle, continues his stealthy rampage throughout the halls. Malcolm McDowell is also there for a bit, sorely underused as an arrogant, short lived doctor who likes to trial weird drugs on chimpanzees in the basement. Peter Boyle chews scenery as a bumbling detective, Charles Dance has a fun bit and it all hurtles along like the B movie it is. That opening though, quite a well accented bit with the song, and an eerie setup for the schlock to follow. The film’s actual title on IMDB is Exquisite Tenderness, which was rebranded for DVD release as The Surgeon, which is slightly less.. European of them than the original one, but it does suit the low grade silliness. Decent stuff, for what it is.
Ever been mistaken for somebody famous? Someone ever come up to you sayin’, “Hey you know, you look a hell-of-lot-like (insert famous actor here). You could be his stunt double.”
Peter wasn’t in Hollywood long before he heard about a little film being made called The Terminator. He went down and met with the film’s director, this young guy named James Cameron. Then, he met the film’s star, a chap named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter bore a striking resemblance to the man who would ever be Conan. It was after this encounter that would secure Peter a gig for the next 13 years as guy who made Arnie look as though all the rough stuff he endured on screen looked like a cakewalk.
Of course, along the way, Peter became a star in his own right; not only playing small roles in Schwarzenegger movies, but amassing an impressive list of credits in both film and television alongside his stunt work.
Nowadays however, Peter is a contented family man and is equally as dedicated to training the next generation of stunt performers. And who better to learn from than one of the best. This was a great interview with tales of life with Arnold, fighting over the channel changer with Jesse Ventura and having a beer with Charlton Heston.
So dear PTS listeners I give you a chat between two Kents. And no, I’ve never been mistaken for Peter.