Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Cinderella, 2015

We liked it, we liked it a lot. Kenneth Branagh's retelling of the fairytale was a pleasant Sunday evening flick to unwind to, with a drink or three, after all that drama and excitement from Rio. Cate Blanchett as ever looks divine in some stunning creations that drag queens would kill for, and it all looked a treat - add in a deliciously ditzy turn too by Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother ...
I missed this last year, but it is interesting now, after seeing Branagh's production of ROMEO AND JULIET (see review below) last week, which had some of the players here - is he starting a new repertory troupe? - Lily Allen and Richard Madden as Cinders and Prince Charming; he was supposed to be Romeo to her Juliet but injured his foot, leading to Freddie Fox taking over at 48 hours notice. Branagh regular Sir Derek Jacobi (that VICIOUS old queen, who was great as an aged Mercutio in R&J) is also here and in stately mode too, as the King. 
I felt a distinct vibe from Visconti's lush ballroom waltz in THE LEOPARD in the ballroom scene here; and there seems a nod too to Demy's magical fairytale DONKEY SKIN (PEAU D'ANE) especially with Bonham-Carter (right) seemingly channeling Delphine Seyrig's Fairy Godmother there. All in all, very good fun. 
I may now have to go back to Ken's 1996 all-star HAMLET, Sir Jacobi is Claudius in that, with Julie Christie as Gertrude - its overlong and stuffed with names, but time to get it on ... Ken is tackling Olivier's THE ENTERTAINER on stage next, we may see that before the end of the year, cast includes John Hurt and Greta Scacchi. 

The return of the man who fell to earth ...

Its back, in a new print, to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Is it really that long since that hot summer of 1976, when we loved TAXI DRIVER and Nick Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH .....  
A maverick film director, an emaciated rock star (who it seemed lived on Corn Flakes, milk and small mountains of cocaine) and who had never acted in a full-length film before - both in an inhospitable location in North America and New Mexico, plus a script heavy on allegory from a novel considered unfilmable - but somehow it all came together in another Roeg masterpiece, following his success with DON'T LOOK NOW
THE MAN WHO ... is now considered a cult classic, up there almost with 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY in its prescience on how we live now: information overload, digital cameras, endless television channels, machines that play music on shuffle, sinister worldwide corporations, surveillance, drought, global warming - its all here, and it should look terrific in a new print. Also of course Bowie dying this year adds extra resonance ... here he is the alien (great special effects from that pre-CGI age) who comes seeking water for his dying planet but get seduced by Earth's alcohol and human relationships, as that corporation seeks to take over his patents for new gadgets, leading to some razor-sharp images and cutting. It will be fascinating to see it again at this remove. There is also that fascinating documentary CRACKED ACTOR which the BBC made on Bowie at the time and during the filming. That should be included in the new package too. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Summer re-vews: favourite Spartacus moments

Though I have the dvd and have seen it several times, it was on television again (with no commercials) so it seemed a good idea to record it and watch again -and I liked it again as much as ever. Its certainly up there with BEN HUR, EL CID, CLEOPATRA and FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE as one of the great epics of that epic era. Kubrick may not have thought much of it (Douglas hired him - they had already done PATHS OF GLORY in 1957 - to replace Anthony Mann, who at least had EL CID lined up next, and teamed up with Douglas again for his HEROES OF TELEMARK in 1964, one of those movies I just never needed to see), but it has several Kubrickian moments on themes on power corrupting. It has some great set-pieces too (I like the scenes with the Romans led by Crassus visiting Ustinov's slave school, which sets the revolt in motion) but it is that cast that delivers. Olivier as Crassus is one of his great performances of that time, Laughton and Ustinov are fascinating scene-stealers, Jean Simmons is ideal, and so is Kirk (he is 100 this December!) and Tony Curtis too as Antoninus. We get that bath scene now between Crassus and Antoninus (with Olivier voiced by Anthony Hopkins) which was considered too suggestive at the time!. Here are some favourite moments and behind the scenes shots:  Tony with Jean and wife Janet Leigh ... Olivier and Jean together again, after their HAMLET in 1948, and John Gavin showing his marvellous chest at the baths .....
Speaking of epics, word on the street has it that the new BEN-HUR is not going to be a success. It seems its just another run of the mill mainly CGI shallow blockbuster for a week or two at the multiplex, and lacks the complexity and richness of the 1959 Wyler film, still wonderful after almost 60 years. Even that TV version of a few years ago (with Ray Winstone as Quintus Arrius is totally forgotten now). Arrius is not even in the new version (which is 90 minutes shorter than the 1959 one, no Nativity prologue either) as they make more of Sheik Ilderim - Morgan Freeman - the only big name in the cast - but can a black man be a realistic sheik back in this Roman era? Just asking ..... the supposed homoerotic tensions are also gone - Ben and Massala are almost brothers now. But the main question is how will the chariot race look now?
I saw the 1925 silent version last year too (Epics label) and it was nothing compared to the 1959 film, looks like this one will not be around much longer either. That old quip comes back: "Loved Ben, hated Hur". 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Summer re-views: beach boys

A wet Saturday as summer slips away from us - here in the UK at any rate. How about some beach boy pix to refresh our memories ..... bring on Tom, Tab, Guy, Alain, Rory, Jeff, Fabian and all the rest ....
Alain in PLEIN SOLEIL, and that 1930s nifty swimsuit for THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE. 
Thats Guy Madison on the beach, then Rory Calhoun and Jeff Hunter, Tyrone Power with Cesar Romero, Farley Granger, Tab, Fabian, Troy and Sandra go off to A SUMMER PLACEand lets end with Tom Daley on the beach at Rio before the Games.... go Tom. 
Well, Tom didn't qualify for the final 12 - these things happen on the day - but hopefully the poster boy and media star will return again for Tokyo in 4 years time .... 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Summer re-views: favourite cat moments ....

Some favourite cat moments ..... here is Orangey, a famous 1950s cat - here he is terrorising that INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN in 1957. His most famous role of course is as 'Cat' in the 1961 perennial favourite (what other 1961 movie is on television all the time?) BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S .... we have covered that here a few times (Audrey label.). Cat is a leading role really, Audrey hated having to throw him out of the taxi into the rain and we love how he gets squashed between them in the rain at the heavenly climax ... Its of course probably easier to train dogs.

Then of course another leading cat role is that of Pyewacket in the 1958 favourite BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, where Pye gets thrown around and has to run across a busy New York street - before providing that happy ending for Kim and Jimmy (Kim label)
Our other favourite cat, another marmalade one, is Thomasina in the 1964 Disney treat THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA.  Another orange cat features in the opening credits of our long-runnng soap CORONATION STREET (below right).
We also like that black cat prowling through the opening credits of 1962's Trash Classic WALK ON THE WILD SIDE (really must re-view that again soon); there's also that kitten Anita Ekberg plays with in the Trevi Fountain in LA DOLCE VITA.  
And of course there's CAT PEOPLE where Natassja Kinski gives in to her feline desires .... as per review Horror label.   More on all these cats at Cat label. 

Summer re-views: favourite Sabrina moments

We can always sit down and look at SABRINA one more time - its a perennial Billy Wilder favourite, so 1954 and with that perfect black and white Paramount look. Audrey looks entrancing here, after her ROMAN HOLIDAY. Bogie is fine, maybe a bit too old, while breezy Holden (romancing Audrey at the time, before she chose Mel Ferrer) is just right too. Here are a few favourite moments: 
Audrey up in that tree at the start as the wealthy Larrabees party; her return from Paris all tres-Givenchy; that delicious moment at the party when worried Mrs Larrabee tries to put the family chauffeur's daughter in her place by asking her to come up to the house sometime to cook something delicious for them to show what she has learned in Paris - I love the way Audrey/Sabrina says "Oh, I've learned a lot" ... as she dances off in that dress with Holden, who is engaged to country club girl Martha Hyer who "does not want to spend the first twelve hours of her marriage on a plane, sitting up" - maybe a bit risque for 1954, but another example of the Wilder wit. Then there is Audrey is that little black dress posed against that New York skyline .... as older brother Linus woos Sabrina to ensure the merger with Holden and Hyer goes through. John Williams, Nancy Culp etc are sterling support and it all looks a treat. We love Sabrina's Paris apartment window looking out at Sacre Coeur, as "La Vie En Rose" plays in the background ....

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Theatre still of the day: Vivien Leigh ....

... as Tatiana in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in 1937, photograph by J B Debenham, (the image is advertising a current theatre exhibition at The British Library). This is one we would have liked to have seen, but before our time of course. I think Robert Helpmann played Oberon to her queen of the fairies. 
Vivien's THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (with Olivier) from 1941 and the 1945 CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA are both coming up this coming week on a cable channel here; not seen those, so will be factoring them in. The CLEOPATRA has a whole raft of British supporting players like Flora Robson and Stewart Granger, and one may spot newcomers like Kay Kendall and Roger Moore among the extras ...  More on Leigh at label. 

Summer re-reads: Pompeii by Robert Harris

An unputownable re-read is this 2005 novel by Robert Harris. I liked it even more this time around, apart from one strand of the narrative, which I will return to.

A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
As addictive as a thriller, as satisfying as great history, says Simon Sebag Montefiore, while Boris Johnson is ‘lost in admiration at his energy and skill.

The amount of research Harris must have done for this is mnd-boggling but its all there bringing this ancient world to vivid life. I understand Roman Polanski was interested in filming it, but that never never happened. There are though so many other versions of the Pompeii story out there, from the 1959 Steve Reeves film, that 2007 German series, and the 2014 CGI version, which was not that bad actually - see Peplums/Epics labels. 

There is though a nasty streak of anti-gay comment if not homophobia here, as expressed by Pliny and the overseer Corax who seems to want to do things to our engineer hero .... but surely the ancient world was more accepting of same sex relations ....... this streak was also evident in Harris' first novel FATHERLAND (the gay young soldier who sees too much), and his ENIGMA (I couldn't be bothered reading it or seeing the film) about the Bletchley codebreakers seems to have sidelined Alan Turing in favour of fictional romances - at least THE IMITATION GAME rectified that!

More reviews state:
"a brilliantly orchestrated thriller-cum-historical recreation that plays outrageous tricks with the reader's expectations".
"As the famous catastrophe approaches, we are pleasurably immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the Ancient World, each detail conjured with jaw-dropping verisimilitude."

Harris's protagonist is the engineer Marcus Attilius, placed in charge of the massive aqueduct that services the teeming masses living in and around the Bay of Naples. Despite the pride he takes in his job, Marcus has pressing concerns: his predecessor in the job has mysteriously vanished, and another task is handed to Marcus by the scholar Pliny: he is to undertake crucial repairs to the aqueduct near Pompeii, the city in the shadow of the restless Mount Vesuvius. Other characters like that millionaire ex-slave (who starts the narrative rolling by feeding a slave to his eels) and his daughter Corelia have other agendas ..... once you start reading it you can't stop. 

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Romeo & Juliet at The Garrick

To London for the Kenneth Branagh production of ROMEO AND JULIET, co-directed by Branagh, a Shakespeare I am not that keen on and it has been done so many times (at least 6 films?), but the cast of this current production whetted the interest. 
The leads are Freddie Fox (whom I last saw on stage as Bosie to Rupert Everett's Oscar Wilde in THE JUDAS KISS a few years ago, and who has since done TV work like CUCUMBER and films like PRIDE); Freddie stepped in at 48 hours notice (due to the injury of Richard Madden); Juliet is the equally busy Lily James (DOWNTON ABBEY, WAR & PEACE, CINDERELLA), 
Meera Syal gets a lot of value of value out of the Nurse, and Derek Jacobi now in his 80s is a very lively if older Mercutio - he even dances around the stage and seems fully recovered from leg injuries. 
Lady Capulet is that international star since the 1970s Marisa Berenson (DEATH IN VENICE, CABARET), whom I like watching as The Countess of Lyndon in re-runs of Kubrick's BARRY LYNDON (currently on release again after 40 years). She is just as mesmerising and ageless on stage here. 
The production (almost three hours long) does have its longeurs when reams of dialogue have to be delivered, but the essentials grip one and the staging is eye-popping, 
set in a 1950s Verona in the grip of the LA DOLCE VITA era: cue sharp suits, white shirts, sunglasses at night. The Capulet's masked ball is rather like that disco in THE GREAT BEAUTY and it certainly commands the attention. I liked it a lot more than the drab black costumes on a black stage setting of that RICHARD III also seen recently - see Shakespeare label. 
This R&J finishes this week and we then get Kenneth Branagh as John Osborne's THE ENTERTAINER, hardly revived since Olivier did it. 

Summer re-views: A Room With A View

Back to 1986 for this still charming treat, and perhaps the most popular Merchant-Ivory production till then, A ROOM WITH A VIEW from E.M. Forster, still delights now. Ok, its a perfect period costume drama, but its ideal for a warm Summer evening. The BFI in fact screened it in the open air, under the stars, projected on the wall of The British Museum in London a couple of summers ago (along with Hitch's BLACKMAIL, which actually used the Museum as a location for the climax back in 1929).
Here is what I said about ROOM a few years ago here:
A ROOM WITH A VIEW from 1985 - how we liked this at the time (one of my date movies in Brighton), one of their best films and the first of their E M Forster triple, followed by MAURICE (time for a re-view of that soon) in 1987 and then HOWARDS END - the definition of the much derided heritage cinema,
but they are all marvellous costume dramas with great performances, like their THE EUROPEANS (Lee Remick), THE BOSTONIANS (Vanessa Redgrave), HEAT AND DUST (Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi), QUARTET (as reviewed here, Maggie Smith label), as well as their earlier oddities like SHAKESPEARE WALLAH or SAVAGES. What a fascinating team they (director James Ivory & producer Ishmael Merchant, with scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala ) were and the many stories of how they made those films and attracted all those casts, on meagre budgets ....

When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. Meeting the Emersons could change Lucy's life forever but, once back in England, how will her experiences in Tuscany affect her marriage plans?

Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are perfection of course as the spinster aunt and the novelist Miss Lavish, Florence looks marvellous, the period detail looks perfect, there's wonderful Fabia Drake, Daniel Day Lewis as the prissy Cecil Vyse, Rosemary Leach, Denholm Elliot and that amusing scene where the Reverend Beebe (portly Simon Callow - I almost said Cowell !) joins George and Freddy (Julian Sands and Rupert Graves) for a naked swim as the ladies walk by .....  England and Italy both look great and the soundtrack and music and captions are ideal, as of course is Helena Bonham-Carter as Lucy Honeychurch. It all ends very satisfyingly with our couple back at their room with a view and the spinster aunt happy for them in her single bed. It all though makes one want to run off to Florence right now ...
There was another ROOM WITH A VIEW, a tv version in 2007 right, scripted by costume veteran Andrew Davies (also responsible for the great BBC 1995 PRIDE & PREJUDICE and the filleted new version of BRIDESHEAD REVISITEDsee Costume Drama label). There is no ambiguity about the Reverend Beebe (Mark Williams) in this one ("not the marrying kind" according to Forster), he chats up Italian youths and has a leer in his eye as joins the boys stripping off .... Cecil in this one is James Fox's son Laurence .... like the recent tv version of SENSE & SENSIBILITY it amuses but is not as good as the film. It did though tack on a meaningless coda showing Lucy back in Florence in the '20s, George having perished in WW1!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Summer re-views: Lee and pals at Roddy's in 1965 ....

We have not done a Lee Remick post for a while either. Let's return to Roddy McDowell's home movies, now available to all on YouTube. I like this particular one where Lee looks marvellous in several closeups. Also enjoying the lazy Sunday at Malibu are Hayley Mills, Tuesday Weld, Suzanne Pleshette, Ricardo Montalban and more. 
Lee is in some of the other home movies as well, along with Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, Julie Andrews (with naked toddler), Simone Signoret, James Fox (both filming in Hollywood then) and others. Can you imagine a group of actors in a situation like this today - they would all be tweeting and posting pictures of themselves with their celebrity friends - but back then it was a group of friends and co-workers enjoying a quiet sunday afternoon away from the studios, at Roddy's Malibu beach house. . See Remick label for more on these. 

Sadly, most of these are long departed now .....   Remick is with her then husband Bill Colleran who seems to be pestering her and being a nuisance, they later divorced before her re-marriage and move to London, and yes Martin, I will repeat that I had a nice meeting with her in 1970, as detailed at labels, and I also saw her on stage in London in BUS STOP in 1976.
We might now have to re-watch ANATOMY OF A MURDER, WILD RIVER, DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES or NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY ...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Rio 2016

We are enjoying the Rio olympics as much as the London ones in 2012.. Lots of other associated programmes on here too, like that enjoyable trawl through "The Girl From Ipanema" story with lots of Jobim footage - I have had to dig out the CDs, and of course THAT MAN FROM RIO and OSS 117 LOST IN RIO.

The oiled up Tonga athlete Pita Taufatofua was the star of the opening ceremony, and the synchronised diving was as jaw-dropping as ever. Good to see Tom and Dan making the bronze - the Chinese of course will continue to be unstoppable, but we have Tom's solo diving coming up next week, and the fascinating Triathlon too, with those amazing Brownlee brothers. They swim, cycle and then run, run, run ..... Adam Peaty, Chris Mears & Jack Laugher (below) and more amazed and struck gold too. Max Whitlock getting two golds in two hours. Bravo!
We are in awe too of the Brownlee brothers Alistair, 28 and Jonny 26 - first and second again in the Triathlon, in that brutal gruelling Rio heat - just as they were in London 4 years ago (when Jonny got bronze, now its silver). How do they do it? - of course they train and train but still ... Thebrothers shared a touching moment at the end of the race as they collapsed and hugged on the finishing line, after that swim in the choppy Atlantic and then that long cycle race over the hills of Rio.