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Shopping (1993, Sadie Frost, Jude Law)

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Paul Anderson’s debut, Shopping, is a very British film, centred on the theme that there is no society any more, only individuals. Set in a Britain of the near future, gangs of wild youths walk the streets of a nameless city, their numbers swelled by Billy (Jude Law) – recently freed from prison – and his friend Jo (Sadie Frost), who upgrade their stolen car and elude the police in a chase.

Reunited with Monkey (Danny Newman) and BeBop (Fraser James), the thieves rebuild an alliance. But Billy has made powerful enemies, including police chief Conway (Jonathan Pryce) and psychotic gangster Tommy (Sean Pertwee), who threatens to end his young rival’s career permanently. Angered, Billy responds by ram-raiding a shop Tommy had targeted and leading the police into an ambush. Tommy fights back, trashing Billy’s home and coaxing him into accepting a risky challenge: rob the supposedly impregnable Retail Land site and take the glory, or serve the time…

Anderson indulges in cinematic pilfering, borrowing from Blade Runner and Gotham City to build his vision of a country divided. While a lack of subtlety clouds his intentions, the director delivers a slick, diverting story that will probably be best remembered as Law’s first movie, released three years before he married Frost. Honing the glamour and presence that would define his career, the actor is the moral and visual centre of the film, compensating for the excesses of plot which the budget can never realise.

UK / 1993

Director and Writer: Paul Anderson

Cast: Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce

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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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China Moon (1994, Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe)

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China Moon Cast

A top notch cast raises the temperature of tight, modern noir China Moon in which homicide detective ED HARRIS becomes accessory to murder after he falls for siren MADELEINE STOWE.

In the sweltering humidity of a small Florida town, lonely copper Kyle Bodine (Harris), starts sweating over glamorous but unhappy Rachel (Stowe). She’s married to banking tycoon Rupert Munro (CHARLES DANCE), an abusive sort who doubles Rachel’s misery by playing away from home. Incredibly, she starts coming on to Kyle. But no sooner have they jumped in the hay than he finds himself embroiled in a brutal murder, dumping Rupert’s body in the town lake. The tension rises as he tries to push eager rookie partner Lamar Dickey (BENICIO DEL TORO) off his trail, but blinded by his love for Rachel, he starts making costly mistakes.

Roy Carlson’s story has the lean attack of the best noirs with Larry Kasdan’s Body Heat being the most obvious informant. In his directing debut, John Bailey (who had previously been Kasdan’s favourite cinematographer), tightens the suffocating atmosphere with a gripping acceleration of pace. As The Washington Post cooed at the time of release, his film is “smarter than Basic Instinct and sexier too, as well as being the most stylish, most convincing love story since The Last of the Mohicans.”

Ed Harris shows once more why he’s among America’s best actors with a “stellar performance… bringing his customary quiet, focused intensity to a tailor-made role” (Variety).

USA / 1994

Director: John Bailey
Writer: Roy Carlson

Cast: Ed Harris, Madeleine Stowe, Charles Dance, Benicio Del Toro, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Roger Aaron Brown, Patricia Healey

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Movies

Baby And The Battleship, The (1956, John Mills, Richard Attenborough)

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Baby and the Battleship

John Mills and Richard Attenborough were ideally cast  in The Baby and The Battleship and were at their lower-decks best as sailors who go ashore when their battleship puts in at Naples. They visit baker’s daughter Lisa Gastoni who agrees to go out with Attenborough only if they can take her baby brother Martyn Garrett with them.

When they become involved in a brawl in a cafe, Gastoni and Attenborough get away, leaving Mills literally holding the baby. The ship sails without Attenborough and Mills has the problem of looking after the baby which he has smuggled on board the ship. Mills’ fellow sailors rally round and help him with the child. But the battleship is involved in taking part in and exrecise and when Andre Morrell, a Marshal from a friendly totalitarian state pays a visit to the ship, the baby has to be smuggled from one hiding place to another.

Baby and the Battleship

Sophistication was at a premium: the farce was broad and very entertainingly played for all it was worth by the well-chosen performers under the spirited direction of Jay Lewis who kept the pace fast and furious and the comedy quotient high.

Among those in the large cast making useful comic contributions were such familiar British film faces as Morell, Lionel Jeffries, Ernest Clark, Thorley Walters, John Le Mesurier, Kenneth Griffith, Gordon Jackson, Patrick Cargill and, almost inevitably in a British film of the period, SAM KYDD. Harry Waxman’s lush cinematography, notably of the well-used Naples locations, and the bright musical score by James Stevens and Humphrey Searle, attractively wrapped up a blithe comedy which “as an example of good wholesome British fun”, said Variety, should be hard to beat”.

UK / 1956

Director: Jay Lewis
Writers: Jay Lewis, Gilbert Hackforth-Jones, from the novel by Anthony Thorne

Cast: John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Michael Hordern, Ernest Clark, André Morell, Lisa Gastoni, Martin Miller

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