I work for Sunderland City Council and my role is to deliver business support and development projects to the city’s creative businesses. I’ve also managed the logistics for getting Sunderland creative businesses and their work to Washington DC as part of the Sunderland /DC Friendship Agreement, to take part in exhibitions and exchanges there, mostly related to glass and ceramics. And that’s how Sunderland Shorts started …
In 2013, Jon Gann of DC Shorts and I hatched a plan to start a film festival in Sunderland to be a platform for filmmakers and related talents in the city, and we applied to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for some funding to support Jon to travel to Sunderland in 2015 to get us started.
I worry that being Festival Director implies that I’m a film expert but I’m not, although I do know a bit about running creative businesses. That said, I’ve always appreciated what a great film can do, whether it provides a bit of escapism, thought provoking subject matter, laughter or tears, and I have a very eclectic taste and a long memory. I could go on about watching Abbot and Costello films with my Dad and Fred Astaire / Frank Sinatra / Gene Kelly movies with my Mam, Jason Bourne or James Bond – the list could be endless.
So, here you go, in no particular order, 5 of my ‘can watch anytime’ films:
The Ladykillers 1955 Dir.Alexander Mackendrick, Studio Canal
Cast: Danny Green, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Katy Johnson, Alec Guinness
Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), an elderly widow living in an ancient, lop-sided house close to St Pancras station, likes to report suspicious behaviour to the police. Unaware of this habit, the charming but dastardly Professor Marcus (played by Alec Guinness with additional teeth and looking remarkably like Alistair Sim) rents rooms in her house for himself and his gang of thieves. Posing as a string quartet, the gang commit a bank robbery but let something slip in front of Mrs Wilberforce while trying to get away and her suspicions are roused. The crooks agree they need to kill her off but in an effort to double-cross each other they manage to kill each other off instead. In the meantime Mrs Wilberforce goes to the police, but has her reputation preceded her?
The last of the Ealing Comedies, this is an incredibly charming film with comedy, tension and intrigue in equal measure. The Alec Guinness and Herbert Lom characters are particularly sinister while Katie Johnson gradually reveals that the genteel and seemingly unsuspecting elderly lady hides a wily, steely core. The film captures the smoke, grime and darkness of post WWII London which adds to the menace but there are also light touches such as a cameo by Frankie Howerd as a hapless barrow-boy. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it, you see something new every time.
Charade 1963 Dir. Stanley Donan, Universal Pictures U.S.A.
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass
Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) returns to Paris, after a holiday in the Alps, to find her home stripped of furnishings and her husband murdered. Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) whom she met in the Alps, offers to help her solve the mystery. Her husband had hidden 250,000 dollars, stolen from the US Government along with four accomplices who pursue Reggie to find their “share” of the take. Peter Joshua, along with Walter Matthau as CIA agent Hamilton Bartholomew, are the only people she can trust, or can she?
Like The Ladykillers, Charade manages to mix mystery, suspense and villainy with light touches of comedy, but with added romance and an original score by Henry Mancini. Then there’s the wonderful elegant Audrey Hepburn wearing Givenchy, set against a Parisian backdrop . What’s not to love?
Jackie Brown 1997, Dir. Quentin Tarantino , Miramax PIctures
Cast: Pam Grier, Robert de Niro, Samuel L Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert Foster, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker, Michael Bowen.
When flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) gets caught smuggling cash for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson), along with a small amount of cocaine, agents Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton and Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) see an opportunity. They persuade her to help them bring down Ordell in exchange for avoiding jail time. She doesn’t agree immediately, is charged and put in custody pending bail.
Ordell instructs bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Foster) to pay her bail and release her from jail and there’s immediately a clear attraction. Jackie knows Ordell will try to kill her and steals Max’s gun from the glove-box – she’s ready when Ordell turns up and sends him packing. She’s going to end up either dead or in jail and she decides to double cross both the agents and Ordell in a bid to keep the money … helped by Max who has fallen in love with her.
I’m a Tarantino fan, and this choice could easily have been Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds. I love his dialogue and there’s a line in Jackie Brown, when she’s facing down Ordell, that comes into my head far too often! It’s a very tense film with some shocks and surprises and you really can’t predict anything. Samuel L Jackson’s Ordell is cool, charming and dangerous but de Niro’s character, Louis, is alongside most of the time and he’s just too quiet, too acquiescent, until he’s finally challenged.
The soundtrack is fabulous, starting and ending with Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street, along with the Delfonics, Randy Crawford, The Brothers Johnson, Johnny Cash and more.
Bellville Rendezvous 2003, Dir. Sylvain Chomet
Madame Souza is trainer to her grandson and cyclist, Champion. During a mountainous leg of the Tour de France, Champion goes missing. He has been kidnapped along with two other competitors by villains who want to use their cycling skills and stamina for a gambling scam. Along with Champion’s overweight and faithful dog Bruno, Madame Souza sets out to find Champion, intrepidly crossing the ocean in a pedalo to the town of Belleville. With no money, Madame Souza and Bruno are befriended by three eccentric elderly women, who were once a famous jazz trio, Les Triplettes de Belleville. The triplets help Madame Souza and Bruno in their quest to find and rescue Champion.
This is one of the most delightful films I’ve ever seen – it’s eccentric, chaotic and a bit odd (catching frogs with grenades to make frog soup) but it’s a brilliantly warm, moving story about a Gran’s dedication to her boy. The artwork is beautifully detailed and sometimes hilariously exaggerated, especially the cyclists with overly massive calves and thighs. The music of the triplets is very much in 30’s Jazz style but it’s so fast and light it just makes me smile. Need to watch this more often !
True Romance 1993, Dir Tony Scott.
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Christian Slater, Brad Pitt, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pichot, Samuel L Jackson.
Written by Quentin Tarrantino and Roger Avery
Clarence (Christian Slater) and prostitute Alabama (Patricia Arquette) fall in love and marry. While breaking the news to Alabama’s pimp, Clarence kills him and grabs what he thinks is a suitcase of Alabama’s clothes. But it’s full of cocaine belonging to the mob. The two hit the road for California hoping to sell the cocaine, but the mob is soon chasing them.
This is a classic road movie and you’re never in doubt about the intense love between Clarence and Alabama and the extremes they go to to protect each other. As you might expect with Tarantino as co-writer, it is blood-soakingly violent, with sharp, sometimes hilarious dialogue and scene stealing cameos. I think it’s a beautiful film, thanks to the direction of Tony Scott. An ear-worm of a theme tune too, by Hans Zimmer.