The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

buttonThe key things you need to know about Benjamin Button? Two hours and 46 minutes.

This film is very long. That is as in loooooong.

It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Old FSF knew his onions when it came to stories and the pertinent word was short. Why mess with that?

That is not to say I didn’t like TCCoBB. I did. It is just that I would have liked it a lot more if it ran an hour less.

Put it this way – and I don’t think there is a need for a spoiler alert because it is well-known to be the story of a man who is born old and ages backwards till he dies as a baby – by the end I found myself thinking ‘Oh for fek’s sake, hurry up and die’. That was probably not the reaction the director was looking for.

The acting? Well Cate Blanchett was excellent, as ever. Brad Pitt? Well it’s hard to tell to be honest. When Brad was the old Benjamin all the acting was done by make-up and CGI, when he was younger all he did was look good and not say very much. Probably a wise choice.

This is the story of the absurdity of life, death and ageing. The point is that being born old and getting younger is no more absurd than the other way around for all that we accept that as the norm. The final image of the New Orleans flood flowing past the clock that had been set to go backwards is more than a tad heavy-handed. If you hadn’t got the time and tide message by that point then it had all been wasted.

The whole film was about time. Long before it got to 166 minutes, I felt it was about time it was over.

Escape to Victory

Now let me explain why I’m watching a film that is some 28 years old. As I suspect is true of most parents, I’m living vicariously through my children. From visiting lower league football grounds to watching old films unwatched in decades, I’m using the fact that I have a 12-year old son as an excuse for some fairly juvenile behaviour. I am in that halcyon window between the kids being too young to appreciate anything I show them and that teenage period where I will be too embarrassing to be seen with. Continue reading “Escape to Victory”

Bob Hoskins

Short bad baldieShort, bad baldie who rose to fame in The Long Good Friday, Hoskins was born in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in 1942 where his mother had been sent to escape the Blitz.  They couldn’t have enjoyed it too much because Hoskins was sent back to London with his mother when he was only two weeks old. He stayed at school until he was 15 and in the next 10 years took on a string of undistinguished jobs including Covent Garden porter, member of the Norwegian Merchant Marines, steeplejack, banana picker, circus fire-eater, trainee accountant, and even spent time working on a kibbutz in Israel. Amidst all that mediocrity there was a little light when he spent some time as a plumber’s assistant. Hoskins began acting at the age of 25, learning his trade in theatre before going into films.  His breakthrough was in the aforementioned LGF before going on to such hits as Mona Lisa, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Mermaids and Nixon.  Despite his ability and success, Hoskins couldn’t escape being typecast as short, bald guys.  However this and his previous real-life experience came to his aid when he played what is undoubtedly his greatest role – as the world’s greatest plumber.  Bob played Mario in the wonderful Super Mario Bros, surely the best film about plumbers never to have won the Best Picture Oscar.  Unless of course you count Brazil, but then that also starred Bob Hoskins as a plumber.  Hoskins was once asked if he had ever considered doing a couple of homers just to keep his hand in.  "I wouldn’t advise it," he said.  "I was an apprentice plumber once, burnt the boot of the bloke I was with.  I was on a ladder and he was fixing a pipe up in the ceiling.  I got a blowlamp, and set fire to his boot!  That was the end of the trade for me".

Charles Dance

WC DanceWalter Charles Dance was born in Birmingham, England, in 1946, son of a parlour maid and a civil engineer who died when he was four.  When the son was four that is, not the father.  Dance junior dropped Walter from his name because he didn’t fancy having the initials WC.  He was a nervous child and suffered from both a stammer and dyslexia.  He left school at 16, found work as a window-dresser and a plumber’s mate before encountering, in a pub in Plymouth, a couple of retired actors who were to coach him in the business of being theatrical.  Dance spent five years with The Royal Shakespeare Company before gaining fame here and abroad as Sergeant Guy Perron in the TV mini-series The Jewel in the Crown (1983).  It was the first of many roles in which Charlie was to make his mark as a bit of posh.  He had debuted in the small role of a gunman in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981), but made a striking impact as Meryl Streep’s patient diplomat husband in Plenty (1985).  Other memorable roles include White Mischief, The Golden Child and Ali G Indahouse.  Most often described as suave, debonair and a bit posh, Charlie is sauve and debonair.  He’s not posh really. He was a plumber after all.  He married his wife Jo in 1970 and they have two children, Becky and Oliver. They currently live in Somerset.

Michael Caine

Michael CaineBorn Maurice Mickelwhite – not a lot of people know that – actually everyone knows that – in St Olaves Hospital in South London in 1933.  In 1986, the same building became Bob Hoskins’ production offices for the making of Mona Lisa, which starred Hoskins and Caine.  The son of a fish market porter, Maurice was born with swollen eyelids, ears that stuck out at right angles to his head, rickets and St Vitus Dance.  And lucky white heather.  Leaving school at 16 he worked in a number of jobs until he was called up to do his National Service with the Royal Fusiliers, which took him to Korea.  After leaving the Army he spent his working day in various manual jobs, including a plumber’s assistant whilst studying acting in the evening.  His first film part was ironically enough, A Hill in Korea, but his breakthrough was as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead in Zulu.  He went on to star in The Ipcress File and Alfie which gave him his first Academy Award nomination.  He has worked non-stop ever since, including films such as The Italian Job, The Man Who Would be King, Hannah and Her Sisters and Little Voice.  His fear of returning to poverty drove him to keep making films. "I never thought I was going to get another movie, so I always took ’em," said Caine, "It’s the old cliche, he’s a young boy, he’s got to buy his mother a house. I bought everybody a bloody house."  That explains Dirty Rotten Scoundrels then.

Gabriel Byrne

Useless plumberBorn in Dublin in May, 1950, Gabriel Byrne set out to become a priest but was somewhat put off by being molested by his Latin teacher while at an English seminary preparing for the cloth.  That was enough to send him on a number of different career paths from archaeologist and schoolteacher, short-order cook and bullfighter to plumber’s assistant and toy factory worker installing teddy bear eyes, before finally settling on acting as a career at the age of 29.  After a series of minor roles, Byrne finally gained the attention of American audiences for his portrayal of the calculating, enigmatic gangster in the Coen Brothers’ film Miller’s Crossing in 1990.  Later successes included Defence of the Realm, In The Name of the Father and The Usual Suspects.  Gabriel says that plumbing was not his finest hour.  "I was an absolutely useless plumber.  There are places in Dublin now where you switch on the light and the tap comes on."  He was such a liability that his mates would send him back to base for a wrench – with instructions to walk, not take the bus – just to get him out of the way.

Lee Marvin

Lee MarvinBorn February 19, 1924, in New York City, Lee Marvin quit high school to enter the Marine Corps and while serving in the South Pacific was wounded in the Battle of Saipan.  That sounds pretty heroic until you realise he was wounded in the buttocks.  He spent a year in recovery before returning to the U.S. where he began working as a plumber’s apprentice in New York.  The Marine’s loss was plumbing’s gain.  He got his break when filling in for a sick actor and that inspired him to study at the New York-based American Theater Wing.  He made his Broadway debut in a 1951 production of Billy Budd and also made his first film appearance in You’re in the Navy Now.  Soon Marvin began appearing regularly onscreen, including a lead role in Stanley Kramer’s 1952 war drama Eight Iron Men.  He then went on to a string of major roles including The Big Heat, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Dirty Dozen.  He won the best actor Oscar for his dual role in Cat Ballou.  Lee Marvin died of a heart attack in 1987 and was buried in Arlington cemetery next to fellow services’ veteran Joe Louis.

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle

Roscoe ArbuckleA comic genius from the golden age of the silent cinema, the Prince of Whales was the first comedian ever to be hit by an on-screen custard pie.  He was working as an overweight plumber in 1913 when he was discovered by Mack Sennett.  He had come to unclog the film producer’s drain but Sennett had other plans for him.  He took one look at his hefty frame and offered him a job as a Keystone Kop.  Eight years later, Roscoe signed a three-year contract with Paramount for $1 million – an unheard of amount at the time, even in Holywood.  To celebrate, Arbuckle and his pals booked into a room at the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco.  It was to be his undoing.  It was there that he was falsely accused of the rape and murder of starlet Virginia Rappe.  The courts eventually cleared him but the public never did.  After a huge media witch-hunt, Fatty never regained his popularity and died of a heart attack aged 46.