Marlon Brando

JD Shapiro: I’m With Stupid

22/08/22

Gilded Balloon, Teviot (Billiard Room), Edinburgh

It’s a Monday night on the Fringe and it’s raining, which no doubt explains why the audience in the Billiard Room is best described as ‘modest’. No matter. JD Shapiro takes the small number in his stride and comes out with all guns blazing, ready to dish the dirt on his adventures in the screen trade. He warns us right up front he’s going to be dropping a lot of names tonight, but clearly has no fucks to give on that score. Drop them he does, in large quantities.

Shapiro is the kid from New Jersey, who arrived in LA with one hundred bucks in his pocket and a crazy dream in his head – a dream of making it big in Hollywood. He’s the guy who wrote a silly movie called Robin Hood: Men in Tights (on spec) and managed to get it into the hands of Mel Brooks, via the dentist that they both used. He’s also the guy who, when offered a first chance to direct a movie, turned down Dude, Where’s My Car? (yeah, I know, but it made a ton of money) in favour of a little thing called Battlefield Earth, starring John Travolta, which now rejoices under the title of the ‘worst film ever made’.

Shapiro is refreshingly open about it. He agrees that Battlefield Earth is terrible and tells us he spent some time trying to get his name removed from the project before it ever came out. Because, of course, the finished movie wasn’t what he’d envisaged at all… but you know, too many cooks and all that.

Shapiro is a likeable character with a real twinkle in his eye, a raconteur who interacts easily with us, offering us a series of projected illustrations from various points in his career, and his opinions on all manner of things. He talks about the time he took Michael Jackson for a ride in his jeep, the crazy projects he tried to launch with Marlon Brando (who actually seemed more interested in making cookies), and the fifteen years he spent working alongside his closest pal, Stan Lee. With names like this to drop, who wouldn’t go for it?

This show is part stand-up, part memoir, and it’s a splendid way to pass an hour on the Fringe.

I leave feeling strangely upbeat, thinking that I must have another look at the screen adaptation I made of one of my novels. I wonder if my dentist has any contacts? You never know…

Meanwhile, why not take the opportunity to nip down to the Billiard Room and experience for yourself the ups and downs of the film industry?

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Calm With Horses

03/05/20

Curzon Home Cinema

There’s something of the young Marlon Brandon in Cosmo Jarvis’s performance in Calm With Horses; indeed, there are plot similarities here that make this feel like a West of Ireland homage to On The Waterfront. But that doesn’t detract from the film’s power, nor the intensity of the performances.

Jarvis plays ‘Arm,’ a promising boxer in his youth, whose career hit the skids when he accidentally killed an opponent in the ring. Now he’s reduced to being the hired muscle for the Devers clan, a family of criminals who hold sway over the town where he lives. Arm is accompanied by his minder, Dympna (Barry Keoghan), who is the nephew of Hector (David Wilmot), the gang’s head honcho. Dympna is desperate to prove his worth and seems capable of making Arm do pretty much anything, no matter how brutal, usually by getting him drunk and stoned beforehand. It’s clear though, that Arm is basically a decent bloke who’s taken a wrong turn back in the day.

He has a son, Jack, with his former partner, Ursula (Niamh Algar), but the boy is severely autistic, only really happy when he’s riding a horse (hence the title). Ursula wants to move Jack to Cork, where there are specialised schools that can help him, and she asks Arm for financial help, but Dympna manages to dissuade him; he has another job for Arm, one that requires him to more than just beat somebody up…

Nick Roland’s debut picture, with a screenplay by Joe Murtagh, is set in those parts of the West of Ireland where tourists would fear to tread – indeed, a visit to Paudi (Ned Dennehy)’s garage is not for the faint-hearted. It’s not just sides of beef he has hanging in that outbuilding. This is mostly Jarvis’s film, though Keoghan once again displays his uncanny knack of choosing the right role at the right ¬†time, and Dennehy’s smirking, scowling performance shows why his is one of the most familiar faces in Irish cinema.

If there’s a certain inevitability to the story’s ending, it’s more than compensated for by the film’s raw power and those memorable characterisations. Those looking for a charming, lyrical tale of simple country folk may wish to look elsewhere.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut

04/09/19

Some film directors have an unfortunate habit of revisiting their earlier successes and producing new versions of them. But is it always the wisest move?

Apocalypse Now is a good case in point. It’s rightfully acclaimed as one of the greatest war (and anti-war) movies ever made, but Francis Ford Coppola will keep returning to the well and tinkering with his masterpiece. Now here we are on the 40th anniversary of its release and he’s gone and done it again, assembling a version that weighs in at a hefty three hours and two minutes.

I first saw the original in 1979, when it was a mere at two hours and twenty-seven minutes. It had been a weird kind of day. Cycling through Manchester, I was kicked off my bike by a football supporter through the open window of a passing car. Understandably shaken, I found a young policeman, helpfully hiding in a shop doorway, who told me that a visiting football team was running riot in the city centre. He advised me to ‘lie low’ for a while.

A bit further along Deansgate, the ABC Cinema was showing Apocalypse Now, and a war movie felt somehow appropriate. So in I duly trooped and was promptly blown away by what I saw. Coppola’s transposition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the jungles of war-torn Vietnam felt masterful. Indeed, I watched it again only a few weeks later at the infamous Aaben cinema, where it was given added mystique by the fact that pretty much everybody at the screening was smoking dope. Er… far out.

But then in 2001 along came Redux and, with it, an extra forty-nine minutes of footage that had been excised from the theatrical release, including the French Plantation Sequence – three words that still strike horror into my heart. This seemingly interminable section where Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) eats a meal and is given a long lecture on Vietnam’s troubled history by the plantation owner has the unfortunate effect of stopping the film dead in its tracks. Was I the only movie fan who, on seeing the words ‘The Final Cut,’ fervently hoped that Coppola had actually shortened the running time by taking a large pair of scissors to this bit?

No such luck. There’s even more of it now. And it fatally wounds the film.

The problem is, it’s followed by the (already glacially slow) final set piece and any goodwill that the previous two thirds has earned itself evaporates all too quickly, as we watch Marlon Brando sitting in the darkness and mumbling incoherently. ¬†Also, it must be said, that the ending – based on Conrad’s colonial-era novel with its white saviour storyline – looks a little dodgy when examined in the cold light of the present day.

A pity then, because – as ever – the film looks absolutely gorgeous, especially on the huge Imax screen. Many of the scenes have passed into movie legend, together with quotes from John Milius’s script (‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’ – ‘Charlie don’t surf!’ – ‘Terminate with extreme prejudice,’ to name but three). The helicopter battle scenes are unparalleled and the film expertly portrays the complete insanity of war, depicting Willard’s upriver journey as a dark descent into his own battle-damaged psyche. Oh, and there’s also fun to be had watching out for early performances by Harrison Ford and Laurence Fishburne in supporting roles.

The original Apocalypse Now is undoubtedly a brilliant and unforgettable piece of cinema. This version (and it almost hurts me to say it) squanders its own strengths by giving its director free reign to put back things that were, for very sound reasons, removed in the first place. Those with weak bladders take note: time your toilet break to coincide with Willard’s arrival at the French plantation.

And take your time. Trust me, you won’t miss anything.

4 stars

Philip Caveney