Saturday, November 12, 2016

John Badham to introduce WarGames at the Cinematheque

I presume John Badham's appearance at the Cinematheque tomorrow, introducing a matinee of WarGames,  has something to do with his working in Vancouver on a TV series - Supernatural, perchance? That's filmed here, right?

Before I talk about Mr. Badham, may I say that this is a great idea, to invite directors or actors of note who are here to work to host special screenings of their movies theatrically. With so much film and TV work happening in Vancouver - and the popularity of making "special events" out of film screenings, unique experiences that you can't consume on your flatscreens at home - there could be plenty of fun, unique film events had that way. I mean, I recently discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that Colin Salmon, Helen Mirren's love interest in Prime Suspect II, was acting in The Arrow, filmed in Vancouver, for a couple of years; that's one hell of a charged installment of the Prime Suspect series, which I gather looks just fantastic on the (now-widescreen) Blu-Ray presentation, and Salmon is just great in it, charismatic and angry, playing an ambitious black investigator who goes overboard in trying to be a supercop, because he feels (rightly) like there's prejudice against him; he is a complex and fascinating, and slightly tragic, character. Had I known he was around town, it would have been one of those "if I programmed a movie theatre" fantasies I sometimes have, to play Prime Suspect II theatrically with him as a special guest. If nothing else, I mean, the whole audience would suddenly have been TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION FROM HELEN MIRREN! What film geek worth their weight wouldn't treasure an opportunity like that?

Another example of personal appeal to me: Jeannot Szwarc works or has worked in Vancouver on TV shows (The Fringe, say) and was the director - nevermind Jaws 2 - of the William Castle-produced killer cockroaches thriller Bug! - which, sure, is a bit of a guilty pleasure, but fun shlock for anyone who appreciates the insect microphotography of Ken Middleham - who also shot the bugs in Phase IV and The Hellstrom Chronicle, or for anyone with a fondness for scenery chewing, self-destructive mad scientists (surely Bradford Dillman's finest moment in cinema? ...Or at least equal to his other noted cult movie star turn, in Joe Dante's Piranha). I would certainly come to a screening of Bug! that Szwarc was introducing, and, I mean, I would bring a friend... maybe even two!

I am not 100% sure at this writing that I'm going to make it to WarGames tomorrow, mind you. It's  film I haven't seen in decades, though I vaguely remember having enjoyed it as a teenager, and gather it had an important role in history of computer fraud and anti-hacking legislation. But its director, John Badham, has made a few movies I rather love - particularly the 1981 right-to-die drama Whose Life is it Anyway, which has a stellar cast (including Richard Dreyfuss, John Cassavetes, Christine Lahti, Bob Balaban, and Kenneth McMillan) and a story that remains, sadly, topical nearly forty years later, involving a paralyzed artist (Dreyfuss) in legal action against his hospital for the right to go off his meds and die. That film has a special place in my heart, being one of my first encounters in any form with Cassavetes - when I saw it first run, when I was 13, at Maple Ridge's long defunct Stardust cinema - but I revisited it recently on DVD and think it holds up quite well, actually; it's "just" a well made drama, but a very enjoyable one, with a lot of human warmth and nicely observed psychological detail informing a fairly sobering and depressing topic.

 John Badham circa 1981

Other people close to me would probably pick Saturday Night Fever as Badham's high point, and it's certainly a film I respect, though I've only seen it once, and not all that long ago. I liked it, but don't have a history with it, so can't really say much more; I am certainly more interested in revisiting it than I would be his Stakeout films or his variants on the 1980's action movie/ buddy comedy (did I ever see The Hard Way, with James Woods and Michael J. Fox? I honestly don't remember). Still, even late into Badham's Hollywood phase, in 1995, you get gems like Nick of Time, a conspiracy thriller about an accountant whose daughter is abducted to give the bad guys leverage to make him commit an assassination.  It is far-fetched, to be sure - a rather silly thriller that you have to kind of "play along with," but inherent implausibility aside, it's also a perfectly crafted, concise, unpretentious and nicely-realized piece of pure, even quasi-Hitchcockian, storytelling, with a fun Christopher Walken villain at its centre. (Johnny Depp hasn't gotten annoying yet, at this point, and Charles S. Dutton is always enjoyable to watch; apologies to Marsha Mason and Peter Strauss that they don't count among my reasons to like this film).

I am not 100% sure that I will go tomorrow - I have a cold, still, and a girlfriend who might have her own ideas about how to spend the afternoon tomorrow; I would like to spend it with her, and the opportunity for me to get my Whose Life Is It Anyway? box signed might not be as compelling a reason to get out of the house, for her, as it is for me. But congratulations to the Cinematheque for this inspired bit of programming; someone tell John Badham that even if I ain't there, I count myself a fan of some of his films... 

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