The deck is stacked for the 24th annual Tropfest: This year's Tropfest Signature Item (TSI), which must be included in every submitted film, is a 'card'.
Exactly what type of card that is is entirely up to the moviemaker. It could be the flourish of a playing card on the green felt of a gaming table or in a magician’s craftily misdirecting hands. Perhaps it’s one of those teeny tiny SIM cards just crying out to lose itself along with decades’ worth of your prized pics, or a simple birthday/congratulations/commiserations card.
As we wait until February 14 to see how this year's Tropfest finalists interpret 'card' in their films, let's take a look at some of the most iconic uses of cards in cinema.
1) Live And Let Die - Tarot Card
In Roger Moore’s first outing as suave British super spy 007, James Bond’s arrival in New York (trailing Yaphett Hotto’s villainous dictator Dr Kananga aka Mr Big) is predicted by tarot-reading femme fatale/bad Bond girl, Solitaire (Jane Seymour).
As Bond takes off from London following the assassination of three MI6 operatives, Solitaire turns over a series of tarot cards while intoning, "A man comes. He travels quickly. He has purpose. He comes over water. He travels with others. He will oppose. He brings violence and destruction."
Shortly after his arrival in New York, Bond is the first to experience violence and destruction when his driver, sent by CIA connection Felix Leiter, is killed by a poisoned wing mirror dart from Kananga’s man Whisper, leading to a dramatic car crash.
2) Batman & Robin - Credit Card (!)
The surly superhero franchise was almost D.O.A. when a cigar-chomping Arnie and miscast George Clooney headlined Joel Schumacher’s cheesy, camp and utterly cardboard Batman & Robin. Among that film's worst moments? The suggestion that the disguised, secretive superhero had his own Batman-branded credit card!
Thankfully, Christopher Nolan came along to reimagine the series. His Batman Begins took things back to street-fighting basics, with Christian Bale bringing a calculated charm to playboy Bruce Wayne and a gravel-voiced grit to the caped crusader himself. Nolan also grounded the series in real-world sensibility, which worked for the most part, even if it did mean sacrificing the iconic gothic architecture of Batman’s home city Gotham.
This stellar reboot saw Bats facing off with mafia boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), Cillian Murphy’s psychiatrist gone bad Dr Jonathan Crane (soon-to-be Scarecrow) and the immortal Ra’s al Ghul, initially portrayed by Ken Watanabe before Liam Neeson’s unveiling.
The final few minutes teased the big bad everyone was waiting for, as Gary Oldman’s newly promoted Lieutenant James Gordon meet’s Bale’s cowled vigilante by the rooftop bat signal. “We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics, we start wearing Kevlar, they buy armour piercing rounds, and you’re wearing a mask and jumping off rooftops.”
Gordon announces a new threat with a taste for the theatrical, producing an evidence bag containing the infamous Joker card that signals the arrival of Heath Ledger’s maniacal monster with the spine-tingling laugh for the even better sequel, The Dark Knight.
3) American Psycho - Business Card
Before Bale was Batman, he portrayed sharp-suited Patrick Bateman, the insane - and insanely vain - protagonist of American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis’ razor sharp '80s New York satire adapted for the big screen by Mary Harron.
Some men get hoon happy racing cars to validate their masculinity, others square off in the gym or boxing ring. Not so Mr Bateman, who prefers to flex his superiority in reservations for ridiculous haute cuisine restaurants, bragging over thread counts and flopping out his Bone-coloured business card with fictional Silian Rail font.
Unfortunately for this Valentino couture-wearing, social-climbing serial killer, it’s a dog-eat-dog world with these trumped-up cocaine shovelers. Bateman slides over his newly minted card for the boys to coo over, but his inflated ego is bruised when David Van Patten goes one better, producing an all but identical card with slightly bigger font, apparently eggshell with Romalian type.
Infuriated that colleague Timothy Bryce prefers Van Patten’s card to his, things get sweaty when Bryce then produces another almost imperceptible variant, raised lettering, Pale Nimbus on white. But Paul Allen delivers the killer blow, with Bateman practically orgasming over its, “tasteful thickness,” thereby sealing Allen’s horrific death - hacked with an axe to the tune of Huey Lewis’ 'Hip To Be Square', Bateman’s suit and tastefully bone interiors protected by a raincoat and yesterday’s news.
4) Goodfellas/Casino - Playing Cards
One of Scorsese’s finest, Goodfellas was his first collaboration with true-crime writer Nicholas Pileggi. Adapted from Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, depicting the life of mob muscle-turned-informant Henry Hill, Ray Liota plays Hill, with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as fellow mobsters James Conway and Tommy DeVito.
In possibly the most brutally effective anti-gambling ad ever shot, young spider (Michael Imperioli) makes the unfortunate mistake of back chatting the unhinged Tommy during a poker game, with Conway jokingly egging him on. It doesn’t end well.
Pesci and De Niro teamed up with Scorsese again for Casino, also co-scripted by Pileggi, drawing from his non-fiction book 'Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas', about mob handicapper Frank Rosenthal.
De Niro’s Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein is based on Rosenthal, with Pesci as livewire enforcer Nicky, who rapidly shifts from handy muscle to raging bull-headed liability.
In a film littered with his memorable meltdowns, a blackjack debacle sees him let loose a spray at a female croupier before flicking card after card at the poor bloke who steps in, suggesting he stick them up first his, then his sister’s ass. A quick chat with Ace is followed by the sort phone incident often attributed to Russel Crowe.
Gambling is bad, kids.
5) Apocalypse Now - Playing Cards
Robert Duvall’s black Stetson-wearing Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in Francis Ford Coppola’s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece famously loves the smell of napalm in the morning, not to mention a spot of surfing while under enemy fire.
He also has a memorable tradition, marking the passing of each of his ill-fated soldiers with a ‘death’ card placed on their body. “Two of spades, three of spades, four of diamonds, six of clubs.”
He’s going to have to invest in a lot more playing cards.
6) Alice in Wonderland - Playing Cards
How could we trip down the rabbit hole of cards in films without genuflecting to the Queen of Hearts herself? Disney brought Lewis Carroll’s whimsical allegory to animated life in 1951, though it was actually the cinematic adaptation of this time-honoured tale.
In a story packed full of colourful characters like the Mad Hatter and March Hare, the bloodthirsty queen and her royal guard of anthropomorphic cards truly are ace.
7) The Virgin Suicides - Religious Icon Cards
Sofia Coppola has a way with languorous, sun-kissed, suburban settings skewed off-kilter, never more so than in her dream-like debut feature The Virgin Suicides, adapted from the intriguing novel by Jeffrey Eugenides.
Depicting the unfortunate fate of five Michigan-based sisters, it stars Kirsten Dunst as Lux, with Kathleen Turner and James Woods as her smothering, strictly Catholic parents.
Something of a Greek tragedy, it kicks off with the attempted suicide of Lux’ youngest sister Cecilia, pulled bleeding from a bathtub. As medics carry her away, a laminated card depicting the Virgin Mary falls to the floor; a motif that’s repeated to devastating effect.
8) Ghostbusters - Index Cards
The pre-title credit sequence of Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters was enough to scare scores of kids out of signing up to their local library. An unfortunate librarian is sent shrieking as index card holders start opening all of their own accord, spraying their contents into the air before a blast of purple light sees her let loose an almighty scream.
We wouldn’t see the phantom librarian responsible until Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ ghostly exterminators showed up to investigate the New York Public Library haunting. Who ya gonna call?
9) (500) Days of Summer - Greeting Cards
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s greetings card author Tom gets off surprisingly lightly when his well-meaning boss Vance (Clark Gregg) reads him one of his latest efforts during a performance review, in (500) Days of Summer.
The less-than-romantic Valentines kicks off with the well-trodden, “Violets are blue, roses are red,” before rapidly taking a turn for the much worse with a blunt finale, a result of nursing a broken heart over ex-lover and co-worker Summer (Zooey Deschanel).
All things considered, it’s lucky they just re-deployed him to the consolation card department.
Cardboard: Love Actually
Speaking of totally inappropriate reactions, it’s a genuine mystery why declaring your love for your best mate’s girl isn’t considered deeply creepy, douche-like behaviour, but thousands swooned when Andrew Lincoln’s Mark did exactly that on a series of sappy cardboard signs on the doorstep of Keira Knightley’s Juliet during Richard Curtis’ cloying Love Actually.