Review: Driven

DIR: Nick Hamm • WRI: Colin Bateman DOP: Karl Walter Lindenlaub • ED: Brett M. Reed • DES: Fernando Carrion • PRO: René Besson, Brad Feinstein, Walter Josten, Luillo Ruiz • MUS: Geronimo Mercado • CAST:  Jason Sudeikis, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, Corey Stoll, Isabel Arraiza, Michael Cudlitz

Complete with its own chaotic backstory (filming in Puerto Rico being was disrupted and delayed by Hurricane Maria), this drama/comedy version of the story behind the sportscar visionary John DeLorean – and the man who brought him down – is now available to watch.

Driven begins with huckster and drug-smuggling pilot Jim Hoffman (Sudeikis) and his family being arrested. Bang to rights, Hoffman later finds himself walking his way into court as the star witness for FBI agent Benedict Tisa (Stoll) in a truly sensational case.

Switching from that court case to moments back in time, we see how Hoffman became an informer for agent Tisa and was told to target Morgan Hetrick (Michael Cudlitz), the brash, mustached drug smuggler that Hoffman swears set him up.

A few years before, Jim and Ellen (Greer) had met their new neighbors, John and Cristina DeLorean (Pace and Arraiza). DeLorean was the charismatic car designer behind the GTO muscle car, and Cristina, his charming, model wife. 

DeLorean had just launched his own, new car – the DMC-12 – and the stainless steel, gull-wing design was a smash. Celebrities lined up to invest, and Jim was drawn into DeLorean’s world as a kind of uneasy confidante/gopher. Ellen is less than convinced however; she thinks the smooth DeLorean is a fraud. 

Sure enough, DeLorean’s new car company starts to fall apart at the seams. Jim realizes it’s happening, but still wants to be part of the hip gang that’s all parties and champagne. Then DeLorean, in need of big cash quick, asks Hoffman for some real help – and it involves Morgan and his white marching powder.

Or does it? As Hoffman is grilled in court while DeLorean stares at him from the defendant’s table, a vital question hangs in the air. Did a desperate DeLorean suggest the scam to save the company and the jobs of the 2000 workers at the Belfast factory, or was it the eager-to-please Hoffman trying to finally be useful to his next-door hero? 

The story of DeLorean and his famous – but short-lived car – has been well-documented elsewhere, and doubtless much artistic license has been taken with what happened in this screenplay.

Billed as a drama/thriller, Driven also has many comic moments – probably due in part to the participation of former “SNL” favorite Sudeikis, who is perhaps rather miscast as the lead here. 

Hoffman was doubtless necessarily a likeable conman, but with Sudeikis’ perpetual wide eyes and twinkly smirks – and a ’70s mustache Hoffman actually didn’t have – it never seems like he’s more than a bit of a hapless jester.

Sudeikis certainly comes a poor second to the excellent Greer in terms of the dramatic moments, and then there’s Pace. With his almost-hypnotic voice and ice cool demeanor, you can see how people might follow him through the flames.

There aren’t really any big stakes for protagonist Hoffman either.  We know what DeLorean has at stake of course, but aside from Tisa’s constant threats of prison and no revenge from the spitting-mad Morgan, what does Hoffman really lose? Even the spitfire Ellen comes back after leaving him for a moment after she learns he’s a lying, long-term informer.

The comic tone sits rather uneasily with this limited drama, and you wonder if going more blackly comic might have made this more engaging. As it is, this is mildly entertaining but largely forgettable, with the emotional moments that Jim and John share seeming forced rather than genuine friendship. 

Who knows if that’s what they had, as Hoffman disappeared into Witness Protection after the trial and DeLorean lived until 2005, his car living on long after people forgot he was a real person (and that the car wasn’t just a time machine created for Back to the Future).

Ironically – and perhaps perfectly – John DeLorean was in fact close to basing his factory in Puerto Rico, not Belfast, before he pulled out of the deal at the last minute. Guess which place offered more cash subsidies?   

Either way, it’s certainly worth pointing out that this movie comes from Northern Irish talent. Director Nick Hamm was born in Belfast, and screenwriter Colin Bateman is from Bangor in County Down, some seven miles away. 

Driven also had a prime spot closing last year’s Venice Film Festival, but seemed to be clinging on to the coat-tails of the superior Alec Baldwin-starring Framing John DeLorean, which came out earlier this year.

It’s a pity that the extraordinary DeLorean story hasn’t made a really effective transition to the silver screen yet, though the rumored George Clooney project might well blow it all out of the water. 

DeLorean would certainly have appreciated being played by a genuine star. 

 James Bartlett

148′ 
R

Driven is available on Amazon Prime 1st November 2019.

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Review: Stuffed

James Bartlett arranges the skin of Erin Derham’s documentary  about the surprising world of taxidermy and the passionate artists across the world who see life where others only see death.

For many people, the word “taxidermy” brings to mind crumbling mansions or old men’s clubs filled with unnaturally-posed animals stuffed and mounted after boastful hunting trips to exotic climes.  But that’s all changed now. 

Right now, the interest in taxidermy – both as an art form and as something to actually learn yourself – is bristling with young people, many of them female.  Lots of today’s practitioners tend to be tattooed or wear fab vintage clothes, and their Instagram accounts colorfully illustrate the trend towards creating animals in naturalistic poses, and especially advocating a deep commitment to animal conservation and education.

At the head of this very different kind of rat pack is Allis Markham, a taxidermist with her own studio in downtown Los Angeles, a bevy of celebrity clients, and a special love for birds. She’s the first person we meet – and perhaps most erudite and glamorous breakout star – of the documentary Stuffed, a film that is likely to challenge the old assumption that taxidermy is unpleasant and outdated.

The documentary meanders across the world talking to different practitioners. 

There’s veteran mentor Tim Bovard, the only full-time museum taxidermist in the USA, and the amusing Dutch duo Sinke and Van Tongren, who excel at unusual installations like a clutch of birds that you’d never see together in real life – but look beautiful.

The baby-faced Meng wears a cowboy hat and works on a jaguar, snarling in mid-leap, while the softly-spoken South African de Villiers is in awe of the amazing wildlife he sees in his own safari-esque backyard. 

There’s also time for offshoots like “rogue taxidermy” (i.e. combining animals for startling visual effect, or giving them human attributes like clothes or instruments. Some forms even use the bones, not the skins). 

The world of scalpels, shaping foam, wires and skins isn’t all about animals either.  The documentary also points out that taxidermy takes in other areas: trees, flowers, rugged landscapes, birds, insects, lizards and more. They look just as real and are just as painstakingly-created and posed as the big (or small) beasts that are usually the focus of any display.

Even at a brisk 85 minutes, Stuffed does lack an element or two; there aren’t many transitions between the interviews, so it often seems more like a series of vignettes rather than anything structured.

Also, though we see footage from the World Taxidermy Championships, there’s no sense that these taxidermists are preparing for that big event or, say, rushing to complete a complex commission.  

Nevertheless, the group seem like a fun bunch you’d like to hang out with. They share a genuine friendship and respect, and are certainly making taxidermy seem less of a mysterious world.

Amusing and undeniably interesting, Stuffed will make you think (and look) again when you’re next in the local museum.

Stuffed is releases in US cinemas 16th October. Irish release TBC.

Stuffed – Official Website

 

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 Ireland, Canada and the Jewel of “Hollywood North” 

 

    

James Bartlett explains why Canada is one of the most popular locations for Hollywood and the important role The X-Files played.

It’s not Chicago, New Orleans or Boston that gets the bronze medal behind Los Angeles and New York. No, the third largest film centre in North America is Vancouver, an area that’s so popular with the studios that it’s often called “Hollywood North.” 

Like Ireland, Canada has benefited greatly from offering generous tax breaks, and the often-low Canadian dollar (and Euro) exchange rates can make shooting there a simple matter of economics.

Vancouver

More than that though, both have seen an upswing in new jobs, crew skills, production and studio facilities, and of course all that money that’s being spent there instead of somewhere else.

The so-called “Game of Thrones” effect has famously been almost life-changing for Belfast and Northern Ireland, and the global reach of Irish filmmaking took a symbiotic step last year when the inaugural Vancouver Irish Film Festival was held in late November. 

Its symbolic parent, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)  celebrated its 37th anniversary and this year the Irish films screening included Extra Ordinary.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was nearly 110 years ago when the Edison Manufacturing Company first took their cumbersome cameras to British Columbia and filmed The Cowpuncher’s Glove and The Ship’s Husband. Since then, Vancouver and its surrounding areas have stood in for almost everywhere in the world.

Like Dublin and Belfast, celebrities also find Vancouver more relaxed and low-stress, and there’s a long list of Canadian natives who have hit the big time (Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogen, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Mike Myers, Rachel McAdams, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Christopher Plummer and many more).  

                   Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny

For years the coastal seaport of Vancouver flew under the radar until, like “Game of Thrones” did for Belfast, the worldwide success of “The X-Files” changed everything.  Starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, “The X-Files” filmed five of its original six seasons and the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe in Vancouver, and then returned again for the six-episode revival a few years ago. 

Even with the show’s freaky monsters and strange aliens, Vancouver was probably the most versatile cast member, doubling for everywhere from Kazakhstan to Virginia as they filmed at countless locations around the city and beyond.

On a recent visit I recognized the distinctive “Angel of Stone” statue in Gastown, which featured in the 13th episode of season 1 (“Beyond the Sea”), but one of the most memorable locations was the lonely Britannia Mine Museum.

After gazing at the endless forests, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls and fjords during the drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway out of Vancouver, it appeared through the mist. 

Its grounds are scattered with old mining equipment, a Godzilla-sized yellow truck and a scary boxy “Man Car” that used to take the miners deep underground, but it’s the bizarre, 20-story office building cut into the side of a mountain that grabs your attention.

From 1900 – 1974 it was one of the biggest copper mines in the British Empire, and at one end of its cavernous interior 300-plus precarious wooden steps seem to go up into the heavens.

These rickety steps featured in “Paper Clip”, the second episode of the third “X-Files” season, which saw Mulder and Scully finding their names in some mysterious filing cabinets, chasing down some of the tunnels, and seeing a brightly-lit UFO.

The facility looked much spookier then than it does now, as it was given a multi-million-dollar renovation before it opened as a museum. Those steps too are part of a new, multi-media sensory experience called “Boom!”.

The X-Files – Paper Clip

Back outside in the sunlight, we were told about other films that were shot here at the mine or right nearby, and that included Intersection (1994), Double Jeopardy (1999), Insomnia (2002), Walking Tall (2004), Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Underworld: Evolution (2006), Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Okja (2017).

Of course, there are plenty of apps and maps if you want to take a tour of movie locations in Vancouver, Dublin and Belfast (or both countries for that matter), and while some of the movies might fade from memory, their influence will last much longer.

 

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.

He’s available for private consultation at jbartlett2000@gmail.com

  

 

 

 

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Review: The Farewell 

DIR/WRI:  Lulu Wang • DOP: Anna Franquesa Solano • ED: Matt Friedman, Michael Taylor • DES: Yong Ok Lee • PRO: Anita Gou, Daniele Tate Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng • MUS: Alex Weston • CAST: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara

Based on the real experiences of writer/director Wang, the twist in The Farewell is revealed immediately when Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her beloved grandmother “Nai Nai” (Shuzhen Zhou) has received a fatal cancer diagnosis. But, as is common within the Chinese culture, Nai Nai isn’t not being told about her fate. 

Instead, the family are all going to assemble for a hastily-advanced wedding between youngsters Hao Hao (Chen Han) and Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). It’s the perfect ruse for a big bash and for everyone to say their – secret – goodbyes to the family matriarch.

Billi of course wants to fly from New York like her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) are doing, but they reckon, what with news about a scholarship coming and the fact that she’s still single and living cheque to cheque, perhaps she should stay put. 

More than that, having been bought up in America, she surely won’t be able to keep her composure and dignity like a good Chinese girl: she’s bound to let the cat out of the bag.

Billi has other ideas, and, arriving at what’s essentially a tragic/happy reunion, she (and us) are then taken on a funny but often deeply emotional journey as we find that she isn’t the only one who has misgivings about this “good lie”.

Awkwafina is about as far from her role in Crazy Rich Asians as she can be here, and we’re with her all the way.  More than that, the delicate direction and the astoundingly good supporting cast – all of whom have their moment – make you complicit in the secret and you begin to wonder: should they tell Nai Nai? 

You’ll have to go to find out what happens, but bring some tissues along with you! 

James Bartlett

100′ 10″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Farewell  is released 20th September 2019

The Farewell – Official Website

 


  

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Film Ireland Goes to the Heart of Alaska

Image: B1999.14.1210D, Hilscher Collection, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK.

 

James Bartlett found himself in Fairbanks, Alaska and learned about the single most powerful businessman in the Territory of Alaska and its richest resident, Austin “Cap” Lathrop, who would have a role to play in the territory’s film history. 

Ireland may be famous for its weather, but it struggles to hold a candle to the freezing extremes of Alaska. Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska, and, due to its location right in the center of the state, is nicknamed “The Golden Heart.” 

Alaska is enormous, too. Twice the size of Texas, I was surprised to learn that it only became a US state in 1959. Until the discovery of gold (and later oil), the purchase of this frozen, largely-uninhabited landmass was famously derided as a folly.  

Hollywood rarely comes to Fairbanks, though a number of its landmarks did feature in the Oscar-nominated 2007 film Into the Wild. Directed by Sean Penn, it looked at the life of Christopher McCandless, a young man searching for adventure who died in the Alaskan wilds he had made his temporary outdoor home. 

On a recent visit to Fairbanks I saw several of the locations that featured in the film, including a couple of evenings in the shamrock-friendly Big I pub (you just can’t get away from Irish pubs, no matter where you are).  

Inside I heard stories of fur trapping, driving across the ice on the frozen Chena River (there was only one two-way steel bridge), and how travel by small plane is still as common as ever.  I also learned that Fairbanks was once home to a film mogul named Austin “Cap” Lathrop.

Lathrop first made inroads into Alaska in 1895, when his steamship bought supplies – and prospective miners – to the territory. He later invested in mining and oil, and in 1911 he converted a clothing store into his first Empress film theatre in the city of Valdez.

He opened other Empress-named cinemas, including the all-concrete one in Fairbanks (1927), where he also bought out the owners of the rather forlorn-looking Lacey Street Theater (both now long replaced by a multiplex). 

Lacey Street

He had radio and newspaper interests in Fairbanks and beyond too, but in 1924 he was the driving force behind adventure-drama film The Chechahcos (the title meaning “tenderfoot” or “new arrival”). 

Many Alaskan stories had been seen on the big screen, but they didn’t shoot on location. Lathrop, as president of the Alaska Motion Picture Corporation, wanted to change that. They announced plans for the production of a 12-reel picture – three of which were to be shot in Alaska – as a co-production with Oregon-based American Lithograph.  A large studio was built in Anchorage, and the crew from Hollywood, New York and Oregon flew in to work on the melodramatic story of gold-rush days. 

Every effort was made for full authenticity, and actors and crew alike faced the challenges of shooting on location, including a final chase involving mushing, a frozen river and a glacier – all of it real. Many local actors were hired, and others lined up to help and to work as extras (a story familiar to the countless hundreds or more who picked up work on the many years that “Game of Thrones” shot in Northern Ireland). Pathe-International bought the rights, and it was screened at the White House for the President before being released across America.

Hopes were high and reviews favorable, but audiences weren’t impressed (and the unusual title probably didn’t help either). Some, however, noticed that Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 comedy The Gold Rush might have been influenced by it, and in 2003 it was selected by the National Film Preservation Board.

Image: www.cheechakos.org

Lathrop died in an accident in 1950, but he did live on in perhaps Fairbanks’ most famous film. Released in 1960, Ice Palace was partly shot in Fairbanks, and featured a cast that included Richard Burton and Robert Ryan. 

Based on the 1958 novel by Edna Ferber, it saw rich businessman “Czar” Kennedy (played by Burton) and Thor Storm (Ryan) as two friends and rivals living in “Baranof,” a growing city looking towards statehood.  “Baranof” was greatly inspired by Fairbanks, and Czar was based on the life of “Cap” Lathrop. 

Northward Building

In 1950 a new, swish, eight-story apartment complex called the Northward Building had been built in Fairbanks. It was home to the city’s elite, and a very-similar building was Czar’s home in the pages of the book.  Writer Edna Ferber was fresh off the success of her previous novel Giant (and the subsequent James Dean film), but this movie version was a flop.   

Though it has lost almost all its lustre, the Northward Building still pays tribute to its moment in the spotlight: the hallway is lined with posters, newspaper articles and copies of the book. Locals still call “The Ice Palace”. 

Perhaps the best show in Fairbanks is the Aurora Borealis, which can be seen – weather conditions permitting – on many nights of the year here, thanks to that central location. I was lucky enough to catch a pre-winter glimpse….

 

 

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.

He’s available for private consultation at jbartlett2000@gmail.com

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Review: Framing John DeLorean

James Bartlett gets behind the wheel of Framing John DeLorean.

Even if you’re not a petrol head, you definitely know the car he designed. Stainless steel silver, gull-wing doors, and it travels through time when it reaches 88 mph…

Okay, that last bit isn’t true, but you know I’m talking about the DeLorean DMC-12, the amazing-looking sports car that took Marty and Doc flying Back to the Future in the 1985 movie and its two sequels.

What fewer people know is that John DeLorean was arrested in an FBI sting at a Los Angeles hotel and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine in 1982 – yes, several years before the car became a movie icon. The factory had been in production for barely a year or so, but his glamorous image, model wife and celebrity endorsements didn’t look like it was going to be enough to save it from closure. Those 55 pounds of cocaine were apparently his desperate attempt to get some big money – fast.   

That factory? It was in a suburb of Belfast. Yes, the DeLorean cars were all made in Belfast, during some of the worst days of “The Troubles.” And a huge chunk of the money invested in DeLorean’s venture had come from the British government. But on that night in 1982, the party was over.

DeLorean was acquitted on the drugs charge, but questions about many missing millions never went away, and what you could call the Tesla of its day seemed destined to be a quirky museum exhibit.

A superstar automotive executive, a dream to start a new economical and environmentally-conscious car company, millions of dollars, drugs, sectarian violence, disgrace, and Hollywood magic.  How has this story not been filmed before?

It’s a question that opens Framing John DeLorean, a documentary that’s slightly different in that it talks to the actors playing the roles in the reenactment sequences.  It also talks to a number of people who were involved in the whole escapade: designers, engineers, still-disappointed factory workers, lawyers, the FBI agent, the informer who drew DeLorean into the sting, and others.

Was DeLorean a visionary undone by bad luck, or a con man on the make?

The most interesting moments – which, like the reenactments, you wish there were more of – see Baldwin talking off-camera (usually in the make-up chair) about how he approached the role, and what he thinks DeLorean must have felt as his dream crumbled about him.

Those reenactments – often matching shot-for-shot directly from archive footage – really bring the story to life, though it’s of course the interviews with the actual people (and especially DeLorean’s children), that bring the story home.

DeLorean’s fame – and then infamy – clearly crushed his son and daughter. Their parents divorced immediately after the court verdict, and they suffered jokes and media attention all their young lives. More than that, their father was actively looking to bring his car company back right up until his own death in 2005, and it seems they often felt they came second or third in his affections.

DeLorean the company still lives, by the way.  Liverpudlian Stephen Wynne bought all the remaining parts in a bankruptcy sale in 1997, and his repair facilities in several US cities are always booked up months in advance. He’s waiting for government approval to go back into limited production, and has improved everything under the bonnet and elsewhere for a 21st century version.

There are still rabid fans and collectors across the world as well, and strong reviews for Framing John DeLorean at Tribeca led to the news that George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions is planning a project, with Clooney directing and maybe starring.

Also, 2018’s Driven, which was directed by Belfast’s own Nick Hamm and looked at the relationship between DeLorean and that confidential informant, has just been picked up for North American distribution.

Wherever John Z. DeLorean is now, he’s surely happy about it all.

 

Framing John DeLorean is released on VOD 7th  June 7 2019


 

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The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan


John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)

 

The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan

By

James Bartlett

 

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, we interviewed two brothers – John and Patrick Houlihan – who not only both live in Southern California and both have the same job as a music supervisor, but they also both work at 20th Century Fox film studios.

As the oldest of the two, we chose John to go first. Like Patrick, he is Senior Vice President of Music at Fox, and his credits include John Wick 1 and 2, the Deadpool and Austin Powers movies, Atomic Blonde, The Shape of Water and many more movies and television shows. He’s also the co-founder and past president of the Guild of Music Supervisors.   

He was born in upstate New York, “just a couple miles away from where my Great-Great Grandfather lived when he arrived from Ireland in 1867.” In the 1970s the family relocated to New Jersey, which was where he mainly grew up and graduated High School. “It was a rowdy upbringing, being one of five siblings with awesome parents,” he remembers.  

He now lives in Studio City, California, with his wife of 20 years Julie, and three teenage sons. “Daily life is like a sitcom without cameras,” he says, then admits that his official press-release age will stay “mid to late 40s” for as long as he can manage it.

John noted that the Houlihans “are a part of the great Irish diaspora: out of sight but not out of mind,” and that everything has changed in recent years.

“I’ve become obsessed with trying to confirm the Irish towns, churches and neighborhoods where my ancestors once dwelled – it seems around Tipperary. Fortunately for me and my brothers I’ve hit a research wall, so it seems like we need to travel over for a pub crawl across Ireland in order to find the original parish records that hold our family origin story. We’ll bring my 13-year-old son to be our designated driver!” he laughs.    

Both brothers have visited Ireland before, and John’s first trip was part of his honeymoon. “We both fell in love with the people and the land,” he says.

A few years later in 2004, John returned to Ireland – this time thanks to his career. He was working with legendary Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan on the biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was partially edited in Dublin after shooting in Toronto.  

But what does a music supervisor do? In brief, they get a script and asses the music needs for the story; what the composer might produce, what songs should be used in the background, or in montages, or even sung by characters.    

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” said John, “and that’s why it is a dream job for us.”

Explaining further, he said that they “do the craziest things behind the scenes to help the vision of filmmakers and musicians come true. We jump into the fray and help a dozen different creative people agree on the best music approach for a film when everyone has their own highly subjective take.”

A large amount of time is spent on the business side of things too. Permission and (sometimes large) payments are necessary to use any song that’s still in copyright, but countless other factors can come into play and change everything. As a rule, the more famous the song, the more expensive it will be to use.  

“We can’t just think of music ideas; we need to deliver those ideas by creating new recordings that make movie magic, oversee the formal copyright clearance deals and manage limited budgets.”

John remembered helping a director get $2,000,0000 worth of licensed music choices into their final film on a music budget of $500,000, and said that there have been some strange moments too.

“I was tip-toeing down a recording studio hallway past two snoozing, 300 lb., 6 foot 6-inch-tall, bodyguards so I could crash a recording session and close a song deal with a famous rapper,” he remembers, adding that he even once meditated himself into a deep trance to send a beam of energy across America to Aretha Franklin so she would approve use of one her songs.

“And it worked too!” he laughs.

John – or his brother – can be working on up to a dozen movies simultaneously, “and sometimes we’re juggling 101 problems. We try to flow with it all, and be like improvisational jazz musicians. Coming from a big family was good practice,” he says.  

Though the world of the movies might be a secret to many of us, there is one thing professionals and public alike can relate to: how music has changed from being a physical form (vinyl, cassettes, CDs) to online streaming and computer files.

“I’ve received well over 100,000 CDs over the years from companies and artists pitching their music for use in film and TV,” says John, admitting that he occasionally had joyful clear-outs, junking countless silver discs.

Nevertheless, he’s been unable to go entirely cold-turkey. He tries to be as online and digital as possible in his day-to-day listening, but he and Julie (who, unbelievably, is a music supervisor too) still have some 40,000 CDs in their garage.

He half-jokingly says he expects to end up on a “Hoarders” reality television show one day, “clutching a David Bowie CD set as their psychologist tries to talk me into finally throwing everything away.”

More seriously, he notes that while a large majority of the history of popular music is available online, around 15% or so has not yet – and may never – make the migration to digital, so having as much available as possible gives him every opportunity to find that “homerun” song.

Talking further about work, it was impossible not to ask John about the pros and cons of working with his brother Patrick every day.

John wonders if their boss was “out of her mind to hire two Houlihans,” but then admits that it’s “definitely is fun to see my brother every day, and get the chance to collaborate with him on major film projects.”

Then came the inevitable sibling joshing.

“Patrick himself will tell you that I’m absolutely the smarter, funnier and clearly more handsome of the two of us – not to mention my athletic superiority!” boasts John.

John worked in the industry from his early days – booking bands for school festivals and working as a college radio DJ – and then, after graduating college, he started an artist management company and independent record label in New Jersey.

The two brothers have also worked together for many years; John was manager of Patrick’s indie rock band Daisyhaze in Washington, DC, though in 1992 John was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision.

He had just $200 in his pocket then, but in time he hired Patrick at a small company he co-founded, and the story continued with Julie and yet another of their brothers, Kevin, joining them (his expertise being in music licensing).  

As John says, “there must be a music secret sauce recipe in the Houlihan’s!”   

It could have been very different, though. John says that when he was in college, he started a house-painting company during summer vacation, and found he had a real knack for it.

“I am at inner peace when I’m painting a house, especially the windows and trim,” he said, adding that his work once moved a watching woman to tears. “I’ll admit she possibly had a drinking problem, but it was still a nice compliment!”

It seems that ultimately then he took the right path, but as for the future, he has an Irish dream that’s not related to music:

“To buy a home on the water in Kinsale. So, if in 20 years you see an old guy in a beat-up fishing boat puttering around the River Bandon before heading to the pub, that will be me.”

Next we talk to Patrick and learn his story…

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Review: Red Sparrow

DIR: Francis Lawrence •  WRI: Justin Haythe • PRO: Peter Chernin, David Ready, Jenno Topping, Steven Zaillian  DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell • MUS: James Newton Howard • DES: Maria Djurkovic • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Egerton, Matthias Schoenaerts

When her ballet career comes to a sudden end, young Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) finds her home – and care for her sick mother (Joely Richardson) – all at risk, but her creepy Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) has a solution: work for the shadowy Russian security services.

Under the tutelage of the unforgiving Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika joins the latest class of “Sparrows,” a group of men and women taught to use sex as a weapon, and Dominika is a quick learner, not afraid to use her brains, brawn and other assets.

Elsewhere in Moscow, CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) sees his ace double-agent nearly exposed, and now it looks like he’s off the case and headed back to the USA – but luckily he gets another shot, and, of course, he’s the first target for Dominika

The pair quickly meet and soon realize exactly what the other is up to, but those sparks seem to be there – so there’s going to be trouble ahead. Then again, who is Dominika loyal to, and will she let her feelings for Nate overcome her love for the Motherland?

Ponderous and lacking the action and thrills we might have expected from such a story, director Lawrence (no relation; though he did helm several of the Hunger Games films) tries hard to make full use of the rather gorgeous Budapest scenery, and the action (or rather not) seems to switch from Vienna to London and more Euro hotspots.

Yes there’s nudity – and more than that, several violent scenes – but the whole tone seems like a 1980s affair, with a standard Russian cartoonish accent from Lawrence, many twists that are confusingly predictable (you’ll NEVER guess who the mole is!) and a subplot involving the sale of a defence system that comes on a series of computer disks (yes, the square disks used 20-30 years ago).

Quite how such an impressive supporting cast was assembled (Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Mary-Louise Parker, Douglas Hodge) isn’t clear, but maybe they all thought the adaptation might be a Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy-style spin on the book by Jason Matthews.

Sadly, in the century of Bourne, the recent Atomic Blonde (and the ever-present Bond), this Mata Hari idea seems past its sell-by date. Maybe it needed a “B” in the title…

 

James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)

139 minutes
Red Sparrow is released 1st March 2018

Red Sparrow– Official Website

 

 

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