Talking Movies

October 31, 2020

RIP Sean Connery

Sean Connery is dead at  age 90, and the world is without its first Bond, James Bond.

Sick Boy lacks moral fibre—Renton
Aye, but he knows a lot about Sean Connery—Mother Superior

Trainspotting (1996)

1962. Connery takes the lead in an underfinanced spy film where the director seems more interested in the wardrobe his star will wear than the performance he will give. Connery brought two sides to James Bond. He was a vicious bastard, true to Fleming’s character, but a faithful adaptation would have resulted in a flop notable only for the unpleasantness of its lead. Connery also brought a roguish charm to the role that was all his own invention. This is what made him a star and allowed Bond to get away with callous cruelty. Terence Young tried to emphasise the spy elements and the realism in the sequel From Russia, With Love. Connery was superbly paired against Robert Shaw and their extremely realistic fight was one of the most vicious then seen and still one of the longest sustained punch-ups in cinema. Guy (The Colditz Story) Hamilton directed Goldfinger as a stylish thriller not a Bond Film. A sensation for its characters, lines and casually brilliant plot twists it trapped Connery. He made the hit romance Woman of Straw, the psychodrama Marnie for Hitchcock and gruelling war drama The Hill for Sidney Lumet to showcase his serious acting abilities and desperately squeezed in A Fine Madness between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. But the shadow of James Bond was enduring…

“Some age, others mature”.

At 50 he received the Time Bandits script from Terry Gilliam which described Agamemnon as resembling “Sean Connery or someone of equal stature but less expensive”. Connery accepted his age and played the supporting role. He did Bond once last time while he could still pass the action bar (although taking lessons from Steven Seagal he annoyed him so much that Seagal broke Connery’s wrist), reuniting with Irish Thunderball producer Kevin McClory for a remake, probably just to annoy Broccolli who had lost the rights to use SPECTRE or Blofeld to Fleming’s co-creator McClory. Exit Bond, enter everybody’s favourite grouchy uncle. Highlander, The Untouchables and The Name of the Rose saw him showcase this character and pick up a Best Supporting Oscar for crusty Chicago cop Jimmy Malone. 1989’s Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade showed just how good Connery could be in this sort of endearing role. The Hunt for Red October also showed he could still carry a film. He received $250,000 for a thirty second cameo in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as Richard the Lionheart and played King Arthur in First Knight adding wise but warm authority to his no nonsense persona. The Rock was even more jawdropping. Connery doesn’t really play a pensioner James Bond, he plays something more valuable: The 60 something Action Hero, a role he invented and only he could get away with. Compare how ridiculously old for proceedings Roger Moore seemed in 1985’s A View to a Kill against what Connery could do in 1996. Even in misfires like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Entrapment that persona is triumphant. He delivered in ensemble drama Playing By Heart and played a villain in The Avengers where his speech given while wearing a teddy bear outfit was the only minute of the dreadful film worth salvaging. Sadly we don’t know what he thought of the voluble opinions expressed on his career and importance in Trainspotting. While his close friend Michael Caine has continued working into his late 80s, memorably appearing in multiple blockbusters thanks to his friendship with Christopher Nolan, Connery quietly retired after the troubled production of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, passing up the role of Gandalf as well as a reprise of Henry Jones Sr in favour of working on his autobiography in his Bahamas home. Ironically for the bankroller of Scottish Nationalism (and a man who had ‘Scotland Forever’ tattooed on his arm when he was 16) he was awarded a Knighthood.

August 14, 2018

Heathers: colour me impressed

Heathers is running in the Lighthouse cinema all this week as part of a major 30th anniversary re-release that’s also playing at the BFI Southbank.

“Dear Diary, my teenage angst bullsh*t now has a body-count”. If Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the teen movie that represents the boundless self-actualising optimism that Ronald Reagan wanted in an America where it was always morning in America, then Heathers was the counter-punch of Generation X cynicism and pessimism. There are three girls called Heather and an adopted member Veronica who rule the corridors of Westerberg High till a betrayal from within leads to a violent disintegration for the in-crowd. A film this biting and such a glorious one-off in the careers of writer Daniel Waters and director Michael Lehmann (who moved into script-doctoring and TV directing respectively) could only have come from deep personal bitterness. Winona Ryder stole Beetlejuice from the grown-ups and Christian Slater did the same in The Name of the Rose before they teamed up. Heathers is that rarity, a teen film with teen leads, who are an electric pairing. Winona lived off her performance as Veronica Sawyer for years and Slater did the same off his portrayal of JD, an inch-perfect impersonation of Jack Nicholson.

All the stock characters are present for this dark trip through American high-school life, which takes place in the pre-Columbine ear as is obvious from the muted reaction to the stunt played by JD in his memorable introduction. The stoners, the jocks: “Hey Ram, doesn’t this cafeteria have a no fags allowed rule? JD: Well, they seem to have an open door policy for assholes though don’t they”. The nerds, the airhead bitches: “God, aren’t they fed yet? Do they even have Thanksgiving in Africa? Veronica: Oh, sure. Pilgrims, Indians… Tator Tots. It’s a real party continent”. The hippie teacher, the deranged principal: “I’ve seen a lot of bullshit… angel dust, switchblades, sexually perverse photographs involving tennis rackets”. But these familiar elements are served up in the most vicious teen comedy ever. Instead of putting up with the ritual social humiliations JD and Veronica, after an initial accidental death, begin killing their enemies and make it look like suicide (courtesy of some underlined meaningful passages in Moby Dick, or in one memorable case simply the enigmatic word ‘Eskimo’.). Comedy doesn’t get much blacker than the interior monologues of the various characters. At the first funeral Heather Duke speaks to God: “I prayed for the death of Heather Chandler many times and I felt bad every time I did it but I kept doing it anyway. Now I know you understood everything. Praise Jesus, Hallelujah”.

Anyone who’s ever been picked on in school knows why Heathers is such a cult classic. This film is almost a proto-Fight Club. Superficially Veronica is happy with her life as one of The Heathers. However secretly she hates it, and herself, and when JD arrives at the school he offers Veronica a violent outlet for all her darkest impulses. She writes in her diary: “Suicide gave Heather depth, Kurt a soul, and Ram a brain. I don’t know what it’s given me, but I have no control over myself when I’m with J.D. Are we going to prom or to hell?” Just like Tyler’s Project Mayhem eventually JD’s plan to blow up the school after sneakily getting a petition for mass-suicide signed by everybody proves too much for Veronica to go along with. JD could be like Camus’ take on the ultimate excesses of nihilism: it is not enough to kill myself, everybody else has to die too. And that’s where Veronica rips up the ticket and gets off the ride, because Generation X were damaged romantics not nihilists. If you thought Mean Girls was the sharpest high-school film ever then you like, so need to watch Heathers. Your reaction should be something along the lines of JD’s legendary final words: “Colour me impressed”.

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