An Offer You Can’t Refuse #15: Bugsy Malone (dir by Alan Parker)


Remember how, a few weeks ago, I said I was going to spend the month of June reviewing 30 gangster movies?  Well, I was doing pretty well but then I got distracted with some things and I ended up falling behind and now, it’s the last day of June and I’ve only reviewed 14 of the 30 films that I was planning on taking a look at.  It’s frustrating but, as any movie blogger can tell you, it happens.  Still, I’m not one to give up so easily!  I promised to review 30 gangster movies and I’m going to keep my word.  Or, at the very least, I’m going to try to…. like, definitely maybe try to….

Anyway, let’s get back to it with 1976’s Bugsy Malone!

Bugsy Malone is an homage to the old gangster movies of the 1920s and 30s.  It’s also a musical, featuring a lot of songs about wanting to make a lot of money, fall in love, and go away to Hollywood.  On top of all that, it’s also a children’s film.  Though they may be playing gangsters and going to war over who will control the rackets, the cast is entirely made up of children.  Though the film does feature a lot of guns, none of the guns fire bullets.  Instead, they shoot custard pies.  Once you get cornered by a rival gangster and you get “splurged,” your career in the rackets is over.  You’re humiliated.  You’re nothing.  You’re just another two-bit hood who couldn’t make it in the big leagues.  You’re just….

Well, you get the idea.

Basically, the plot of the film is that Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) and Fat Sam (John Cassissi) are two rival gangsters who want to take over the Lower East Side.  Fat Sam owns a speakeasy, which means that there’s always a lot of dancing and singing going on in the background.  Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a tough boxer who wants Fat Sam to give a job to Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger), who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a big star.  Tallulah (Jodie Foster) is Fat Sam’s gun moll but she used to go out with Bugsy and she still wants him back.  Bugsy get caught up in the middle of the war between Dandy Dan and Fat Sam and it all eventually leads to a big pie fight and a lot of children covered in custard.  “You give a little love,” the children sing as they realize that their lives don’t have to be defined by gang wars, “and it all comes back to you….”

So, I have to admit that I was absolutely dreading watching Bugsy Malone.  I mean, singing children and custard pie guns?  It all sound just unbearably cutesy.  But, to my surprise, Bugsy Malone actually turned out to be a fun and clever little movie, one that was full of smart dialogue, catchy songs, excellent dancing, and wonderfully non-cutesy performances from its cast.  Even though the film may be about a bunch of children dressing up as gangsters, all of the child actors take their characters seriously and director Alan Parker directs the film as if it were an actual gangster film as opposed to just a children’s musical.  The end result is a film that’s cute but never cutesy.  Believe me, there is a huge difference between the two.

To my shock, Bugsy Malone turned out to be an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband

Film Review: The Bounty (dir by Roger Donaldson)


Oh, poor Captain Bligh.

For those who recognize the name, it’s probably because they’ve either read a book or seen a film that portrayed him as being the tyrannical captain of the HMS Bounty.  In 1787, William Bligh and the Bounty set off on a mission to Tahiti.  When, after ten months at sea, the Bounty arrived in Tahiti, the crew immediately fell in love with the relaxed pleasures of island life.  When Bligh ordered them to leave Tahiti and continue with their mission, his own second-in-command led a mutiny.  Bligh and the few men who remained loyal to him were set adrift in a lifeboat while Christian and the mutineers eventually ended up settling on Pitcairn Island.  Against impossible odds, Bligh managed to make it back to civilization, where he faced both a court-martial and a future of being portrayed as a villain.

Though most historians agree that Bligh was a knowledgeable and talented (if strict) captain and that the mutiny had more to do with Christian’s desire to remain in Tahiti than Bligh’s treatment of the crew, most adaptations of what happened on the Bounty have laid the blame for the mutiny squarely at Bligh’s feet.  Personally, I think it has to do with the names of the people involved.  William Bligh just sounds evil, in much the same way that the name Fletcher Christian immediately brings to mind images of heroism.  In 1935’s Mutiny On The Bounty, Charles Laughton portrayed Bligh as being a viscous sadist.  In 1962’s Mutiny in the Bounty, Trevor Howard portrayed Bligh as being an overly ambitious martinet, though ultimately Howard was overshadowed by Marlon Brando, who gave a bizarrely mannered performance in the role Christian.

In fact, it would seem that there’s only one film that’s willing to give William Bligh the benefit of the doubt.  That film is 1984’s The Bounty.

The Bounty opens with Bligh (played by Anthony Hopkins) facing a court-martial for losing the Bounty.  That the admiral presiding over Bligh’s court-martial is played by Laurence Olivier is significant for two reasons.  Olivier’s stately and distinguished presence lets us know that the mutiny was viewed as being an affront to British society but it also reminds us that Hopkins began his career as Olivier’s protegé.  Much as how William Bligh was a star of the British navy, Hopkins was (and is) a star of British stage and screen.  One gets the feeling the scene isn’t just about the admiral judging Bligh.  It was also about Olivier judging Hopkins as the latter played a role that had already been made famous by two other great British thespians, Charles Laughton and Trevor Howard.

By opening with Bligh on trial, The Bounty allows itself to be told largely through Bligh’s point of view.  We watch familiar events play out from a new perspective.  Once again, it takes longer than expected for Bligh and the Bounty to reach Tahiti and, once again, Bligh’s by-the-book leadership style alienates a good deal of the crew.  However, this time, Bligh is not portrayed as being a villain.  Instead, he’s just a rather neurotic man who is trying to do his duty under the most difficult of circumstances.  Bligh knows that the crew blames him for everything that goes wrong during the voyage but he also knows that the only way their going to survive the journey is through maintaining order.

In fact, the film suggests that Bligh’s biggest mistake was promoting Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson) to second-in-command.  Christian is portrayed as being good friends with Bligh and one gets the feeling that Bligh promoted him largely so he would have someone to talk to.

The film does a good job contrasting the dank claustrophobia of the Bounty with the vibrant beauty of Tahiti.  When the crew first lands, Bligh proves his diplomatic skills upon meeting with the native king.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that, while Bligh views the stop in Tahiti as just being a part of the mission, the majority of the crew view it as being an escape from the dreariness of their lives in Britain.  For the first time in nearly a year, the crew is allowed to enjoy life.  When Bligh eventually orders the crew to leave Tahti, many of the men — including Christian — are forced to abandon their native wives.

Unfortunately for Bligh, he doesn’t understand that his crew has no desire to return to the dreariness of their old life, either on the Bounty or in the United Kingdom.  Bligh’s solution to the crew’s disgruntlement is to become an even harsher disciplinarian.  (Bligh is the type of captain who will order the crew to clean the ship, just to keep them busy.)  However, Bligh no longer has Christian backing him.  When the inevitable mutiny does occur, Bligh seems to be the only one caught by surprise.

Anthony Hopkins gives a performance that turns Bligh into a character who is, in equal amounts, both sympathetic and frustrating.  Bligh means well but he’s so rigid and obsessed with his duty that he can’t even being to comprehend why his crew is so annoyed about having to leave Tahiti.  Since Bligh can’t imagine ever loving anything more than sailing, it’s beyond his abilities to understand why his men are so obsessed with returning to Tahiti.  Hopkins portrays Bligh as being not evil but instead, rather isolated.  He knows everything about sailing but little about emotion or desire.  Ironically, the same personality traits that led to him losing the Bounty are also key to his survival afterward.  By enforcing discipline and emphasizing self-sacrifice, Bligh keeps both himself and the men who stayed loyal to him alive until their eventual rescue.

Interestingly, Mel Gibson portrayed Christian as being just as neurotic as Bligh.  In fact, if Bligh and Christian have anything in common, it would appear to be they’re both obsessed with what the crew thinks of them.  Whereas Bligh is obsessed with being respected, Christian wants to be viewed as their savior.  When the mutiny finally occurs, Christian gets an almost messianic gleam in his eyes.  While Christian is not portrayed as being a villain (and, indeed, The Bounty is unique in not having any cut-and-dried villains and heroes), Gibson’s portrayal is certainly far different from the heroic interpretation offered up by Clark Gable.

(The rest of the cast is full of familiar British character actors, along with a few future stars making early appearances.  Both Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson appear as members of the Bounty’s crew.  One remains loyal to Bligh while the other goes with Christian.  Watch the movie to find out who does what!)

The Bounty is best viewed as being a character study of two men trying to survive under the most trying of conditions.  Just as Bligh’s personality made both the mutiny and his survival inevitable, the film suggests that everything that made Christian a successful mutineer will also make it impossible for him to survive for long afterward.  Whereas Bligh may have been a poor leader but a good diplomat, Christian proves to be just the opposite and the king of Tahiti makes clear that he has no room on his island for a bunch of mutineers who will soon have the entire British navy looking for them.  Whereas Bligh makes it back to Britain, Christian and the mutineers are forced to leave Tahiti a second time and end up settling on the previously uncharted Pitcairn Island.  (Of course, no one knows for sure what happened to Christian after the mutineers reached Pitcairn Island.  The last surviving mutineer claimed that Christian was murdered by the natives who were already living on the island.)

The Bounty has its flaws.  There are some pacing issues that keep the film from working as an adventure film and a few of the actors playing the crew aren’t quite as convincing as you might hope.  (If you only saw him in this film, you would never believe that Daniel Day-Lewis is a three-time Oscar winner.)  But it’s still an interesting retelling of a familiar story and it’s worth watching for the chance to see one of Anthony Hopkins’s best performances.

 

Film Review: Eddie the Eagle (dir by Dexter Fletcher)


 

eddie_the_eagle_poster

Hi, everyone!

So. I’m guessing, after what happened last night, some of our readers might need something to cheer them up.  If you’re a regular reader of this site, I’m going to imagine that you love movies.  And, in your moment of uncertainty or whatever, you might want to watch a movie.  And, of course, you’re asking yourself, “What does Lisa think I should watch?”

Well, I’ll be honest.  My cinematic tastes tend to be rather dark.  I like horror movies.  I like movies with sad endings.  I love brutal satire.  I love movies that attack their audience and that dare you to look away.  So, I might not be the best person to ask…

But you know what?

There actually is a movie that I can recommend to anyone who needs to be cheered up this week.  Eddie the Eagle, which came out way back in February, is exactly the type of movie that you would expect an arthouse snob like me to dismiss.  It’s a feel-good sports movie, one that is based on a true story but which also features a lot of composite characters and manufactured drama.  No, Eddie the Eagle is perhaps not the type of film that you would expect me to enjoy but, when I finally got around to watching it a few days ago, I absolutely loved it!

Eddie the Eagle tells the story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a somewhat eccentric Englishman who dreams of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite the fact that he’s not all that athletically inclined.  When he’s turned down for a spot on the Olympic skiing team, Eddie decides to try to go to the Olympics as a ski jumper.  Working to Eddie’s advantage is the fact that there are no other English ski jumpers.  (We’re told that it’s been over 60 years since the UK even sent a ski jumper to the Olympics.)  In theory, Eddie should be able to qualify for the Olympic team just by showing up.  Working to Eddie’s disadvantage is the fact that the snooty British Olympic officials don’t want him to represent the UK in the Olympics.

Of course, there’s also the fact that Eddie has no experience as a ski jumper and only a few months to learn how to do it.  And, if Eddie makes any mistakes during one of his jumps, he could easily be severely injured or perhaps even die.

Most people would probably just give up and find something practical to do with their life but not Eddie!  Eddie has a dream and he’s going to achieve it, no matter what.  Fortunately, Eddie finds a coach.  Alcoholic Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) used to be a champion ski jumper but he’s spent the last few years drinking and being bitter.  At first, Bronson doesn’t want anything to do with Eddie but eventually, Eddie wins him over with his sincerity and his refusal to give up.  As Eddie explains to Bronson, he doesn’t care whether or not he wins a medal.  He just wants to compete…

And really, it shouldn’t work.  I should be complaining about how shamelessly manipulative this movie is.  I should be making fun of the fact that it features almost every sports film cliché imaginable.  But dammit, it’s such a sweet movie!  Director Dexter Fletcher does a great job filming Eddie’s jumps (often times from his point of view) and Taron Egerton is so charmingly odd in the role that you can’t help but cheer whenever Eddie manages to land without crippling himself.  Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman does a good job of grounding the movie in reality (which makes it all the more ironic that, unlike Egerton, Jackman is playing a fictional character).  Add to that, this film features a somewhat random Christopher Walken cameo!  Seriously, you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, “This is a good movie but I just wish Christopher Walken was here…” and then suddenly …. THERE’S CHRISTOPHER WALKEN!

Eddie the Eagle is a sweet and sincere burst of positivity.  It’s the perfect antidote to 2016!

Quickie Review: Stander (dir. by Bronwen Hughes)


Stander was a very good film about the real-life exploits of Andre Stander, Lee McCall and Allan Heyl who were known collectively as The Stander Gang. The Stander Gang was well-known for their daring and reckless bank robberies in their homeland of South Africa. The film stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher, The Mist) as the title character with Dexter Fletcher (Band of Brothers and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and David Patrick O’Hara (Braveheart, Doomsday) rounding out the rest of the Stander Gang.

The film starts off introducing Andre Stander as a highly decorated member of the South African Police Force in the late 1970’s and the beginning of the anti-apartheid movement. It shows Andre Stander’s growing disgust and disenchantment in his government’s racist apartheid policies and his own role in enforcing it. After a violent and brutal break-up of an anti-apartheid protest gathering where Stander kills a protestor, the film begins to move into meat of the story. Stander’s disenchantment with the government causes him to commit bank robberis in audacious fashion as a way to rebel and defy the very state he has sworn to protect and serve.

The scenes where Stander commits these bank robberies were shot well and showed just how daring Andre Stander really was in his exploits. There’s even a sequence where he returns to the scene of his most recent crime to investigate the robbery. A robbery he just committed just hours before during his lunchtime. These scenes and the later ones when he’s joined by two other bank robbers shows Tom Jane at his finest. I think many would be hard-pressed not to think Jane’s performance as a South African, accent and all, wasn’t authentic. His charisma ruled throughout the film and was mostly evident through the many bank robbing sequences. He truly gave Andre Stander the air of a Robin Hood character who, despite his criminal acts, became a sort of folk antihero.

The second half of the film details the exploits of Stander after his incarceration for his bank robberies while a captain of the South African Police Force. It’s here that we meet the rest of Stander’s Gang as he recruits fellow inmate and outlaws Lee McCall and Allan Heyl. Even the way Stander engineers his escape from the work-prison he has been sent to shows his daring in thumbing his nose at the state and the police he used to be a part of. Dexter Fletcher was very good as the twitchy and less stable Lee McCall whose nerves begin to fray the bolder and bolder the gangs bank robberies become. David Patrick O’Hara was also good as the very professional bank robber Allan Heyl. Heyl didn’t have the charisma that Stander had, but he was the rock which kept the robberies from spiraling out of their control. It was great to see O’Hara in another strong role. Some might recognize him as the scene-stealing Stephen, the Irish rebel who joins William Wallace’s fight against the English during Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

The rest of the film was pretty much one bank robbery after the other with the Stander Gang always one step ahead of the police task force put together to capture them. In a twist of fate, the task force was headed by Stander’s former friend in the police force Cor Van Deverter whose intimate knowledge of Stander’s tactics and thought-processes helps in slowly closing the noose around the gang. There’s abit of a repetition in the robberies and the getaways, but they serve an important purpose of slowly building up the Stander Gang’s folk hero status amongst the population. It also showed the effect it had on some of the members of the gang. As popular and infamous the gang had become they were still outlaws who knew that sooner or later their luck would run out and they’d either be put back into prison or killed outright. For some it was the latter and for others the former.

Throughout the film, one could sense that some of the motivations behind Andre Stander’s actions as a bank robber was to assuage his guilt over the sanctioned acts of brutality he had to perform to protect the apartheid government of his nation. The film and the story being told was almost a full-length film of Stander’s attempt to make up for his past transgressions. And what better way to do this than use the system of the state against itself. He himself points out that a white man could get away with anything when most of the policemen in the city were called away to deal with an emergency regarding the black majority population. Stander realizes this to be true and his second career as a bank robber was born. The film only hints at him being a very good policeman, but the majority of the film shows just how much better he was as a criminal.

The film was expertly directed by Bronwen Hughes and as said earlier had strong performances from all the main leads in the film. The story rarely slowed down to the point that the story lost its direction. Every scene always led to the next part of the story being told until the very bitter end. Stander was a very good film anchored by a fine performance from Thomas Jane. The film showed a brief glimpse into South Africa’s apartheid past and how one individual’s decision to defy the state led to a brief, but daring life of a modern-day Robin Hood.