Emilio Estevez

The Public

07/05/20

Curzon Home Cinema

It’s probably a sign of the times when one-time movie brat and teen heart-throb, Emilio Estevez appears in a film playing – of all things – a librarian. Mind you, it’s clear from the outset that his character, Stuart Goodson, has hidden depths, not to mention a colourful past. And his tryst with kooky neighbour, Angela (Taylor Schilling), is enough to convince us that he knows how to party.

In The Public, he’s a long-serving worker at the Cincinnati Public Library, liked and trusted by his colleagues, his boss, Mr Anderson (Jeffrey Wright), and the legions of unemployed and homeless people who regard the place as an all-important refuge. They come here on a daily basis to get warm and dry, to educate themselves and to meet up with friends from across the city.

It’s one of the coldest winters on record and the city just doesn’t have enough shelters to ensure everyone has a bed for the night. Homeless man, Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams), knows he is unlikely to survive another night sleeping on the streets, he instigates an occupation of the library, and Goodson doesn’t exactly do his utmost to dissuade him from the notion. Pretty soon, the library is in lockdown, packed with destitute people, and the forces of law and order are called in to solve the situation. Key amongst the latter are heinous public prosecutor (and would-be Mayor) Josh Davis (Christian Slater) and experienced police negotiator Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin). And Bill has his own reasons for wanting to study the faces of the occupiers.

Written and directed by Estevez, The Public is an immensely likeable movie that strangely enough, has some things in common with John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club: a bunch of likeable misfits who find themselves trapped in a library under the baleful glare of authority. Sound familiar?

Davis is an interesting character and, if some of the others are less convincingly drawn (we really don’t find out enough about Ramstead and the situation with his runaway son), this is an enjoyable watch. The political messages occasionally verge on the naive; nonetheless, they are well-intentioned – and I love a narrative that repeatedly drives home the message that public libraries are a valuable and much-neglected resource, and richly deserve all the funding that can be thrown at them.

As somebody who regularly avails himself of the services of a public library (or at least, somebody who used to), this has me longing to be back in those quiet reflective spaces. Until such things are possible once more, The Public will have to suffice.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Repo Man

28/09/18

Some films are evergreen.

A recent viewing of The Big Lebowski, for instance, reconfirms for me its absolute quality, unaffected by the passage of time, and its worthiness to be considered a true cult movie. Other films do not weather the years quite so convincingly.

I first saw Alex Cox’s Repo Man on its release in 1984, when it felt edgy and ground-breaking. I certainly wasn’t the only critic with that opinion. Cox, of course, went on to consolidate its considerable success with his next film, Sid and Nancy, before flushing his career spectacularly down the toilet with the awesomely bad Straight to Hell (perhaps Straight to Video would have been a more appropriate title).

But a midnight screening at the Cameo is enough to persuade me that an opportunity to reassess Repo Man on the big screen is something I shouldn’t let slip. Oh dear.

This is the story of disaffected punk, Otto (Emilio Estevez), who quits his safe job at a supermarket in order to work with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), the titular antihero who earns his bread and butter by snatching back automobiles from owners who have failed to keep up their repayments. At first, Otto is hostile to his co-workers, who he views as establishment figures, but as he comes to know them, so he begins to settle into their unconventional routine. We also meet some of Otto’s former punk friends, who are happily robbing and brawling their way around LA, with no apparent motivation other than to avoid boredom. Meanwhile, the rather strange Doctor Parnell (Fox Harris) is driving a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu around the city. There’s something hidden in the boot of his car that a lot of people, including Bud, are very eager to get their hands on. Could it be the evidence of an approaching alien invasion?

What seemed so subversive back in the day, now looks kind of clunky and artless. The action sequences are decidedly sloppy and there are sections where the actors are clearly improvising their lines and not making a very good job of it. Sure, there are still some nice touches peppered throughout – I love the world building here: the anonymous packaging in the supermarket with some canned products simply labelled ‘food,’ a clever attack on the rise of consumerism – and I still rather like Tracey Walter’s turn as Miller, the ex-hippie car mechanic who seems to have the answers to all of life’s mysteries at his oil-stained fingertips. Estevez is a beguiling presence too, but sadly not beguiling enough to carry the film.

Watching it again after so many years, I can’t help noticing that for long stretches of time, my attention is wandering (and not just because it’s past midnight). Frankly, this isn’t anything like as good as I remember from my first viewing. It may simply be that I’ve changed over the intervening years, that I’ve become more demanding, but whatever the reason, this really isn’t working for me.

And that’s a shame. We often like to carry a torch for the movies that first sparked our passion for the cinema, but in this case the torch has been well and truly extinguished.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Breakfast Club

01/10/17

John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age movie is fondly remembered by many, exemplifying the writer/director’s instinctive understanding of the teenage mindset. And I’m delighted to report that its heart hasn’t died, despite the fact that it’s grown old.

Actually, it’s not all that long since I’ve watched it; it’s one of those films I return to periodically: an easy fix of feelgood catharsis, guaranteed to make me laugh and cry as I wallow in nostalgia, mouthing the words that I know by heart. But I’ve never seen it on the big screen before, so The Cameo’s John Hughes season is very welcome indeed. I seize my chance.

The plot, such as it is, is very simple: five kids, each representing a different high school social group, spend a Saturday together in detention for various misdeeds. During the course of their enforced proximity, they get to know one another. And they learn, famously, that each one of them is, in fact, “a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess and a criminal” – i.e. that they’re more similar and more complex than their stereotypes suggest.

But this isn’t really about plot at all; it’s character-driven drama in its purest form. Nothing happens and everything happens. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and of developing empathy; an expose of the tragedies – both large and small – that drive young people into reckless acts. From the undeniable awfulness of Bender (Judd Nelson)’s homelife –  where he’s burned with a cigar for spilling paint on the garage floor – to the peer-pressure heaped on spoilt-little-rich-girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), Hughes’s script recognises the reality of their misery, compounded as it is by the lack of autonomy that comes with the territory.

My favourite moment is when Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) explains the reason he’s in detention: he tried to kill himself because he got an F in ‘shop’ (design technology). It’s painful to watch, and always makes me weep, but then it’s so beautifully undercut by the revelation that he messed the suicide up too, attempting to use a flare gun which went off in his locker, which makes the others laugh despite the gravity of what he’s telling them. It’s glorious.

Emilio Estevez (the athlete) and Ally Sheedy (the basket-case) give excellent performances too (although I still think Allison has more style before the make-over scene than after), as does Paul Gleason as the egocentric teacher, Mr Vernon.

If you haven’t seen The Breakfast Club before, it’s honestly a must. And if you’ve not indulged in it for a while, maybe now’s the time to watch it again. It’s a perfect little film: funny as anything and guaranteed to wring tears from all but the stoniest of viewers.

5 stars

Susan Singfield