“None of us knew quite how crazy the tides were.” Simon Rumley Interview, ‘Crowhurst’ (THN)

Out to own on DVD/Blu-ray is Crowhurst, the true life story of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. His decision to take part in a round-the-world yacht race in 1968 had catastrophic consequences, as Donald found himself quite literally out of his depth. His boat was found but its occupant was never seen again.

Justin Salinger plays the title role in this unusual and powerful drama, which found itself competing against another Crowhurst picture, The Mercy with Colin Firth.

Simon Rumley is the acclaimed and innovative director who battled strong currents to tell Crowhurst’s tale in his own unique way. Producing the film was Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look NowPerformance), a trailblazer in his own right who had attempted his own version years before.

We caught up with Simon to talk about depicting this sea-bound mystery…

THN: What brought you to the project?

Simon Rumley: I was offered the project. At that point, I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst, but I did some research and read the script and it was one of those things where you think “Is this really true?” It really was one of those stranger than fiction moments. And the story I felt had a lot of themes I’d dealt with in the past.

As much as anything I liked the idea of the guy being British and having what I suppose you would call arrogance in one respect and confidence in another. I thought there was a way of investigating national characteristics and our national traits.

And also the subject of isolation and loneliness. He was essentially a good guy but he makes all these terrible mistakes which have an impact on him and his family. I thought it would make a fascinating film investigating someone’s psyche.

Water is famously difficult to shoot on. How did you find working with it?

Yeah! Pretty much what everyone said it was going to be, to be honest. Initially, we were going to do 2 days at sea, and I said: “Look we should at least try 3.” Then that somehow went up to 4. We shot for 4 days and at the end, we didn’t have an opening scene or a closing scene. So we had to do 2 more days and then the motorboat we had to have for insurance purposes broke down on the final day.

We were also shooting in the Bristol Channel… none of us knew quite how crazy the tides were. It turned out it has the second strongest tides of anywhere in the world. We could only sail at certain times or we’d be f***ed. We would set up a shot, get ready to shoot it and then the captain would be like “We’ve got to turn around or we’ll crash!” And we’d just spent the last half hour setting everything up.

The other thing with the Bristol Channel is there’s land on either side, so the first morning was pretty much useless. We tried to film it so there was no land in the background but 99% of the time there was land. It proved quite challenging! While it’s not true to say the script went out the window, we tried to get as much of it as we could, but some scenes were lost.

Interestingly that gave the film an intensity because we had lots of cutaways and mini-sequences of Donald looking into the distance. We shot as much footage as we could, so even if we didn’t have the script we had enough to replace what we missed with something else. It was an enjoyable experience oddly. As a director, it was the time I had to think most on my feet really.

Nicolas Roeg is the executive producer, and he wanted to film the story himself years ago. How much of a creative influence did he have, or did he let you go your own way with it?

Mike (Michael Riley, producer) already knew him. He’s one of my favourite directors, if not my favourite, and we thought he should come aboard. We went out to a pub a couple of times, he read the script. We had some fairly lengthy discussions, which would kind of go in and out of the script and sometimes he would bring up one of his own films.

Having him certainly changed the film to a degree, because the film was written linearly, and the combination of having him on board and what I was talking about before, shooting more than what we had in the script… when we were in the edit Mike said “I want to make this as Roegian as possible. Try and do what Nic would do.” Certainly having someone encouraging me to go in non-linear fashion, to go a bit crazy and all that stuff, definitely shaped the film and obviously having Nic in the background was the main reason behind that. All of that encouraged me in the edit.

I hadn’t seen any of his films for a while and was thinking “What if he asks me about them?”. Before we met I watched some of his films and then the one he did mention was one I hadn’t rewatched, Castaway (1986). As he pointed out, it’s different of course, but had the same theme of self-imposed exile and was about a man losing his marbles.

There’s an unexpected amount of singing in the film! Where did that come from?

I’m a big music fan, films aside, and I suppose going back to what I was saying about it being a film with a quintessentially British character to it… I wanted to have a shorthand about a sense of British pride and duty. For Queen and Country. I thought it was a way of getting that emotion across.

We knew that The Mercy was in production at the same time. There was no way we were going to match the glossiness of their film, so we went the opposite way. I thought it would give it a unique character and make it different.

There was also something in Magnolia, where three-quarters of the way through all the characters sing. I guess that’s something that stayed with me. The songs are a manifestation of Donald’s isolation and loneliness.

This interview first appeared on THN.

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Dad’s Army DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

DAThere were doubts over whether the original Dad’s Army would succeed. Its subject matter of World War II and the ageing Home Guard hardly filled BBC top brass with confidence, but it went on to become arguably its greatest sitcom hit. Fast forward forty-odd years to the new movie version – naysayers said it could never work, that director Oliver Parker couldn’t possibly recapture those nostalgic past glories. This time round they were right!

Opening with a standard spy movie chase that culminates in suitably daft fashion, we’re soon transported to the action-averse setting of Walmington-On-Sea, watched over with a rod of aluminium by the stubborn Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and his largely pensionable team. It isn’t long of course before they find themselves doing more than herding cattle, as the Germans infiltrate the community to retrieve information and the menfolk fall under the spell of a glamorous journalist (a well-cast Catherine Zeta Jones).

In fairness, Parker and writer Hamish McColl had an insurmountable task. As well as being a household favourite, the TV show was a period piece… the period being the 1970s, where its gentle humour felt fresher. It’s all a bit low wattage by today’s standards, and the show’s sweetness and pratfalls are replaced by lavatorial gags and laboured slapstick. Here Private Godfrey doesn’t just need to be excused, he ends up unburdening himself over Corporal Jones!

Probably sensing the national outcry over a cast facelift, Parker has gone above and beyond, hiring some unusually big names to fill the boots of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and co. This yields mixed results. Jones and Michael Gambon (Godfrey) are by far the best replacements but the other main performers struggle. Bill Nighy hams it up to the nines as Sergeant Wilson, in a turn that frequently puts him on a different planet. Crucially he lacks chemistry with Jones. The line up generally fails to gel, which is another great shame. Tom Courtenay takes on the fondly-remembered, dogmatic Jones, but lacks Clive Dunn‘s light touch, coming off as plain irritating.

McColl scores higher with the female contingent, promoting Mrs Mainwaring from an offscreen presence to a formidable front-of-camera battleaxe (Felicity Montagu). She’s a much better commander than her husband, shepherding the solid support of Sarah Lancashire, Alison Steadman, Emily Atack and in particular Derek‘s Holli Dempsey, who plays Frank (Blake Harrison)’s sweetheart, definitely one to watch. They display the British pluck that underpinned the series and while there’s an end battle that brings the men to the fore, writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft would have done it better and quieter. They also inserted intriguing nuggets of period detail into their scripts, something that’s glossed over somewhat in this incarnation.

It’s amusing enough, and the players provide guaranteed entertainment value (if only out of curiosity to see how they’ll measure up). As the sum of its parts however Dad’s Army is a misfire. We’re watching an elaborate recreation rather than a movie in its own right, and the producers should really have ditched the tributing and made something that marched more to its own beat.

This review first appeared on THN.

Dirty De Niro: His 5 Sleaziest Roles (The Hollywood News)

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Yes, that really is veteran acting legend Robert De Niro baring his nipples and loving it much too much. It’s like Warldorf from The Muppets has suddenly stood up and ripped his clothes off on the balcony. If you’re wondering what the hell is going on, this is a scene from new comedy Dirty Grandpa, which casts De Niro alongside Zac Efron as a lecherous relative who revels in the half-naked antics of spring break.

Sleaze isn’t a word you’d associate with a performer whose CV oozes quality. Ooze is certainly the order of the day here however! Though if you look back at the great man’s work you’ll find a fair few characters whose morals were lower than an alleycat taking a swim in a sewer.

So before we get too outraged that De Niro is sullying his reputation in a lower-than-lowbrow gross-out romp, let’s go on a tour of his greasier roles. They straddle a good chunk of his career (no sniggering please) and may make you question your view of America’s premier onscreen presence…

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

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Travis Bickle’s exploits have passed into movie history, leaving a bullet-shaped hole in the fabric of American film. Riding round New York in his cab, he saw himself as a soldier fighting for social decency, though like many such people he was deluded.

Though he went all out to protect teenage prostitute Iris from her pimp, he also put Cybill Shepherd through the date from hell. Having woo’ed her at her place of work he proceeded to fumble the ball by taking her to a porn cinema.

This uncomfortable and sleazy sequence shifted the character into the arena of the very people he sought to rid the city of. While there was a sense Bickle had naivety, he also possessed a terrifying dual nature that resolved itself in a major league bloodbath.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)

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De Niro reunited with Taxi Driver director Martin Scorsese the following year for a project that couldn’t have been more different. New York, New York sought to recapture Hollywood’s Golden Age, while fusing it with the more naturalistic style for which they’d made their names.

Jimmy Doyle formed one half of the mercurial central pairing in this underrated epic, and the actor portrayed him with sleaze and skill. His fast-talking saxophonist latched onto singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), leading to a tangled tale of broken hearts and philandering caused by walking oil slick Doyle.

The early scene when the two meet during V-J Day and enter into verbal battle is an unsung classic. Minnelli tries to dissuade an amorous De Niro by appealing to his gentlemanly side. To her surprise he tells her he is not a gentleman!

CAPE FEAR (1991)

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When it comes to a performance that makes you want to take a bath after seeing it, then De Niro as Max Cady is one of the best/worst. The ultimate bad penny, he turned up to terrorize Nick Nolte and family for perceived wrongdoings in Scorsese’s remake of the Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum potboiler.

Festooned with lurid tattoos, he bared his physique for the camera in a notoriously sleazy scene in which he assaulted Nolte’s associate (Illeana Douglas). He then upped the slime factor by homing in on Nolte’s teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis).

Those who’ve seen the original will know how ludicrous the Nineties Cady is compared to his menacing Sixties counterpart. But Mitchum’s ex-con is restrained rather than randy, and that makes the more recent incarnation ripe for inclusion here.

NIGHT AND THE CITY (1992)

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De Niro must have been partial to a remake in the early Nineties, as he also filmed a reworking of the Richard Widmark noir alongside Cape Fear co-star Jessica Lange. Harry Fabian is a forgotten but worthy addition to the star’s sleazy repertoire, who dodged and dove his way through the urban underworld.

His trade was that most questionable of occupations, a lawyer, and one up to his neck in duplicity and bad romance to boot. Director Irwin Winkler relocated the action from the UK to the US, placing Fabian in the rotten core of the Big Apple.

Unlike the other candidates on this list, Harry sought to change his ways, looking for a shot at redemption after he got mixed up in the world of boxing promotion. Of course it wasn’t long before the impossible balancing act of his life brought everything crashing down around him.

DIRTY GRANDPA (2016)

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Though criticism has abounded of De Niro in recent years, especially in relation to his move into comedy, his capacity to appear in hit and miss projects stretches back over decades. For every Deer Hunter or Raging Bull there’s a We’re No Angels or The Fan. Perfect actor he may be, but he’s made some far from perfect choices.

With this in mind, you could say reviewers had the knives pre-sharpened for helmer Dan Mazer‘s sleazefest, that takes clean-cut, spray-tanned hunk Zac Efron and puts him alongside De Niro’s crusty curmudgeon. Freshly-widowed and gagging for a shagging, Dick Kelly is far from averse to porn and scantily-clad women, among them Aubrey Plaza, who seems determined to bed the coronary-prone senior citizen. Frolics and various fluids ensue.

We here at The Hollywood News didn’t exactly take Dick to our hearts, so to speak, but the prospect of seeing Scorsese’s muse slum it with the porking ‘n puking brigade could well put asses on seats at the multiplex. I’m as big a fan of De Niro’s as anyone’s and I’m game for this particular laugh. The thought of a Dirty Grandpa 2: There Goes My Rectum on the other hand…? That’s a step even I wouldn’t be willing to take.

This article first appeared on The Hollywood News.

Sean Penn Now & Then: The Gunman & State Of Grace Blu-Ray Reviews (The Hollywood News)

THE GUNMAN (2015)

SP TGA surprising feature of the mature action movie’s unexpected rise has been the calibre of names attracted. Oscar-winner Liam Neeson reinvented his career via the Taken franchise, and now director Pierre Morel nets Sean Penn for butt-kicking duties in The Gunman. Of course Penn is as known for his staunch political views as his acting, so there’s a bit more going on here than a simple case of a tin opener and a can of whup-ass.

He plays the hilariously-named Jim Terrier, who operates in the murky world of private security in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With one foot in the humanitarian end of the equation (alongside surgeon girlfriend Jasmine Trinca) and the other working at the behest of corporate interests, it isn’t long till an impromptu assassination leads to Terrier fleeing the scene. Years later, this bone-cruncher of conviction is helping the poor with their water supply when unknown elements come to wipe him out. The rippling star (looking exceptionally craggy in full HD) must then traverse the globe, tracking down his former associates and trying to work out who wants his head on a platter.

Penn performs this wronged tough guy well, but the central character also displays the movie’s key weakness. If you’re following a man on the run it helps if you have some sympathy for him. Terrier’s former act of atrocity is so appalling it’s very difficult to get on board. In fact his workmates – now trying to live their lives as well-paid stuffed shirts – convey more remorse than he does. It helps that they are played by a truly impressive supporting cast – fans of brooding, middle-aged actors have an embarrassment of riches. In addition to Penn you’ve got Winstone, Bardem, Elba… not to mention Mark Rylance.

This is Rylance’s first high profile villain role, and he’s as good as you’d expect. But even he starts to go adrift as the story builds to a pretentious climax at a bullfight. Co-writer Penn must take responsibility for some dialogue so cheesy you could coat it in red wax and market it for Edam. It’s a strange combination of scribes overall – the script also carries the names of Don Macpherson (The Avengers – as in the Ralph Fiennes one!) and Dredd‘s Pete Travis. Also you might think Penn would work up a more balanced battle of the sexes, but no. Trinca is presented as impossibly saintly and well-lit as the female element, and is required to do little more than freak out and weep as bullets fly over her head. Out of the stellar line up, Winstone makes an impression as Terrier’s wing man, dressed like a member of Status Quo.

The special features show the verbose actors speak up in support of their infamous star/writer/producer. And you’ve got to hand it to him for trying to do something a bit different, even if this bird is really carrying too much on its back for it to fly. On the whole the film does alright as a chunky slice of smack-happy tosh. The various fights and car chases are decent, care of Taken veteran Morel. However the efforts of The Gunman to be both relevant and disposable means it collapses between two stools, bearing a mismatched combination of lean muscle and well-meaning paunch. It sort of apes the Bourne films, but they kept their subtext as fleeting as Matt Damon‘s footwork. Penn just isn’t a light enough touch for the beer and pizza crowd.

STATE OF GRACE (1990)

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Sean Penn and Gary Oldman are long-established in the movie firmament, but they were once young guys who fired on all cylinders in edgier fare. An opportunity to remind viewers of this has presented itself with the release of State Of Grace on Blu-ray. A well-made crime thriller set in Hell’s Kitchen, it caught a few actors on their way up the ladder, from Ed Harris to John Turturro.

Penn plays Terry Noonan, who returns to the New York neighbourhood he grew up in looking for employment. This means rekindling his relationship with the Flannerys, an Irish family with whom he was intimately involved. Best friend Jackie (Oldman) is an unstable enforcer who works for hoodlum brother Frankie (Harris). The place has changed in Noonan’s decade-long absence, as locals are squeezed out by the property boom. Frankie is turning against the people he used to call friends in a bid to impress a mob boss (Joe Viterelli). Meanwhile, Terry encounters old flame Kathleen Flannery (Robin Wright), who in attempting to distance herself from her heritage represents salvation for Penn’s tortured soul.

Partway through the story there’s a revelation about the lead character that isn’t a surprise if you’ve read any of the publicity. However if you avoid the blurb you may find, like I did, that the development deepens your involvement in the narrative.

The decaying urban backdrop to the film is very interesting, arguably more so than the players out front. No-one here is that likeable, but the situation – always one step away from disaster as Oldman’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic – is a compelling walk along a cinematic knife’s edge. Acts of shocking violence are committed under the auspices of maintaining “good manners” amongst the criminal fraternity, a more appropriate term than most in this case. Death has become a constant feature of these peoples’ lives: a friend is pulled out of the river on the same day Terry and Jackie have to attend a funeral.

In addition to the main cast there is a treasure trove of talent in support to keep your attention glued – John C. Reilly (looking exactly the same as he does now!) takes the role of a wayward peer and screen legend Burgess Meredith has a short but poignant scene as Penn is sent to his apartment to collect money.

We’ve seen this type of set up before (I was reminded a little of Mean Streets) but director Phil Joanou gives the production its own life, shooting in a sweeping, epic style that lends itself nicely to the Blu-ray treatment. Dennis McIntyre’s solidly-constructed script boasts some snappy dialogue – “What, are you some kind of asshole or are you taking lessons?” – that’s a treat for the ear. Speaking of which, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is a key aspect of this class act. There are strong minor touches also, such as the moment henchman R.D. Call scoops up some nuts to eat after gunning down a bar owner.

The disc carries around twenty-five minutes of special features, which are decent. Directing A Bunch Of Gangsters has an enthusiastic Joanou describing the process and Harris shows up to discuss the role of Frankie in his own featurette. Nothing extensive, but certainly enough to satisfy anyone with a curiosity.

Ultimately the film isn’t in the same league as Scorsese. The striking slow-motion climax really belongs somewhere else. Oldman overdoes it and Wright is just plain drippy. Yet State Of Grace remains a punch-packing entry in the twentieth century gangster movie canon and is worth catching in hi-def twenty-five years later.

The Gunman & State Of Grace reviews appeared on The Hollywood News.