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Good Will Hunting (1997 with Robin Williams and Matt Damon)

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USA / 1997

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Cast: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, Minnie Driver

Working as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Will Hunting (Matt Damon) lives an unremarkable life, until one night he completes a vastly complex maths problem left on a classroom blackboard.

Shortly after, he is involved in a fight, but avoids jail after the judge listens to evidence from Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), who promises redemption through education and counselling. That night, Will watches as his friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) tries to sweet talk a medical student named Skylar (Minnie Driver). When he fails, Will steps in and gets her phone number. They begin to date.

After several failed attempts, Hunting finds a sympathetic counsellor, Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). During the sessions McGuire admits to being newly widowed, and is able to get reciprocal revelations from his client, who becomes aware that his life is at a crossroads…

The recognition of rare talent occurred on both sides of the camera, with Will gaining the glory, and his creators breaking into Hollywood. Damon and Affleck watched in disbelief as their agent refused a $15,000 offer for the script, only to be vindicated when Miramax sprang for $1 million.

Taking over from Mel Gibson (who opted to make Ransom instead) Van Sant produced his most accessible picture, nurturing a cast whose skill belies their collective inexperience. Williams is the sole star, dispensing with his usual shtick in favour of a measured performance wholly in tune with the literate script.

The writers cram autobiography into the plot, with character names, locations and experiences appropriated from real-life. Art mirrored life during production when Damon finished with the real Skylar, his current girlfriend, in favour of the fictional one.

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California Split (Columbia 1974, Elliott Gould, George Segal)

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California Split

California Split is a movie about the adventures of two card players, and it stars two of 70s-era Hollywood’s most prolific male actors. Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H, 1970) plays Charlie Waters, a small-time card player who has the charisma and moxie of someone who’s way better at the tables than he actually is. Alongside him is George Segal (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, 1966) who plays Bill Denny, a magazine writer who moonlights as a casual player. Charlie and Bill meet in a California poker parlour game that turns heated over a dealt card hitting the floor, raising concerns of cheating. Despite this, the game continues, and one of them wins. This leads to the two players getting mugged by one of the game’s sore losers, giving them an experience that’s worth bonding over. The two become fast friends and this starts them off on a poker adventure that will test and reveal their true spirit.

In a 1974 review, Roger Ebert called California Split a “magnificently funny, cynical film”, which is probably the best way to describe the succeeding events following Bill and Charlie’s meet up. Regarded by many to be one of the best poker movies ever made, California Split is a quirky but ultimately realistic and darkly comedic look into the life and mind of card players. Despite this, you don’t really need to know a thing about poker beforehand in order to enjoy the movie. It’s a classic American adventure movie that has inspired countless other road trip movies and casino films.

From start to finish, California Split follows Bill and Charlie through the race tracks, seedy bars, private poker parties, Vegas’ second-rate casinos, treating bruises with hot shaving cream, waking up to massive hangovers, and even another mugging in which their instincts are put to the test. The result is less of a movie with careful exposition, and more of what feels like an inside look into the hilariously nightmarish world of America’s casino scene. The Telegraph calls the film one of Robert Altman’s best out of his extensive catalogue. It is brilliantly pieced together by his signature subtle visual prose, realistically overlapping dialogue, and the bravely understated introductions of his many quirky characters, California Split is one of the 70s’ definite must-see adventures. Such was the film’s realism that PartyPoker state that legendary player Thomas Austin Preston Jr. aka ‘Amarilo Slim’ had a small part. In his time Slim was known as one of the greatest ever poker players, winning 4 WSOP bracelets, and would have been an inspiration for the two main characters.

California Split is definitely a treat not just for card players, but for anyone who likes well-crafted movies about friendship and the makings of the American Dream.

main stars
George Segal, Elliot Gould Ann Prentis, Gwen Welsh, Edward Walsh, Joseph Walsh, Bert Remsen

crew details
Director: Robert Altman
Producer: Joseph Walsh, Robert Altman
Director of Photography: Paul Lohmann
Editor: O. Nicholas Brown, Lou Lombardo
Composer: Phyllis Shotwell
Screenwriters: Joseph Walsh
Production Designer: Leon Ericksen

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Long Good Friday, The (1980, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren)

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Long Good Friday

Before Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Sexy Beast came along, this slick thriller ruled the roost among East End gangster pics. Armed with a strong script by Barrie Keefe and star-making performance by Bob Hoskins as a hard-as-nails East End ganglord, John MacKenzie’s film successfully transports the American gangster pic to these shores with gripping and incendiary results.

Good Friday is turning out to be anything but satisfactory for Harold Shand (Hoskins), whose negotiations with members of the American Mafia for aid in a multi-million pound Dockland development are interrupted by a series of attacks on his gang by an unknown aggressor. Following an attempt to kill his mother and the murder of his best friend, Shand leaves his girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren) looking after the Americans while he hunts for the perpetrators. A fearsome interrogation of other local gang bosses brings no clues, but a bent police officer (DAVE KING) notes that a councillor, Harris (Bryan Marshall), recently had explosives stolen from his demolitions firm with strong Irish connections. The scene is set for a final confrontation, but is Harold out of his league?

The filmmakers had to fight a fierce battle to get the film released in British cinemas, with the ITC initially planning to cut all the violence and merely show the film on television. Luckily, Handmade Films rescued the film, enabling viewers to see it in all its gory detail (meat hooks et al). The Sunday Telegraph called it “a gangster thriller with all the pace and brio of the old Warner Bros melodramas, brought bang up to date with authentic settings,” while The Times singled out Bob Hoskins’ performance, noting: “His Harold is a chilling creation in his unpredictable shifts from maudlin sentiment to bestial ferocity.”

Long Good Friday

UK / British Lion – Handmade / 114 minutes / 1980

Writer: Barrie Keeffe / Director: John MacKenzie

cast
BOB HOSKINS as Harold Shand
HELEN MIRREN as Victoria
PAUL FREEMAN as Colin
LEO DOLAN as Phil
BRYAN MARSHALL as Harris
PATTI LOVE as Carol
KEVIN McNALLY as Irish Youth
DEREK THOMPSON as Jeff
P.H. MORIARTY as Razors
RUBY HEAD as Harold’s Mother
DAVE KING as Parky
PIERCE BROSNAN as Ist Irishman
DARAGH O’MALLEY as 2nd Irishman

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Chance Of A Lifetime (1950, Kenneth More, Bernard Miles)

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Chance of a Lifetime

In Chance Of A Lifetime when industrialist Dickinson (Basil Radfrod) sacks a worker and has a strike on his hands, he remarks that he would willingly change places with the workers. They take him at his word and he rents them the factory.

Employees Stevens (Bernard Miles) and Morris (Julien Mitchell) are appointed managers by their fellow workers and win a large foreign order for a new plough. But when the order is almost completed, it is cancelled due to the dollar shortage and the workers’ management has to dispose of a large number of modified ploughs…

The film was not a commercial success in spite of excellent reviews, particularly from the Evening Standard : “The story this film has to tell is as significant and urgent as today’s dock strike… As a skilful piece of filming it is well above average and it has brilliantly evoked the authentic atmosphere of an English factory…”

UK / Pilgrim Pictures / 93 minutes / 1950 black and white

Writers: Bernard Miles, Walter Greenwood / Cinematography: Eric Cross / Producer: Bernard Miles / Directors: Bernard Miles, Alan Osbiston

Cast: Bernard Miles, Basil Radford, Niall MacGinnis, Geoffrey Keen, Julien Mitchell, Josephine Watson, Kenneth More, John Harvey, Hattie Jacques,

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