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.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


POTICHE. The perfect treat for recuperating from an operation! I knew this would be ideal for sharing with visiting friends. Francois Ozon’s candy-coloured soufflĂ© is a delicious comedy set in provincial France in 1977 – the clothes, hairstyles, fabrics etc are all spot on. We begin with Suzanne Pujol (Catherine Deneuve) out jogging in her track suit, cooing to the wildlife and jotting down her poems. Her sexist pig of a husband treats her like a trophy wife and is having trouble at the umbrella factory began by Suzanne’s father. The workers are striking for better pay and conditions while the husband Frabrice Lucini does everything wrong and treats his mistress Nadege (Karin Viard) shabbily too. The upshot is the workers kidnap him and Suzanne takes his place at the factory when he is too ill to continue.

She of course soon sorts everything out with the workers, production is up but it is too good to last. The major Babin (Gerard Depardieu) has helped her and it turns out they have a history going back to when they were young. They become close again as they battle not only the scheming husband but also her daughter who plots against her over control of the factory. Suzanne turns out to be quite formidable as she then runs to become a MP – Deneuve is wonderful here as the woman who realises she has turned a blind eye to her husband’s infidelity and oafish treatment of her for too long.

It is all amusingly worked out, the disco scene is pure 1977 and a nice send-up of the SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER era. Amusing too is the way the son Laurent (Jeremie Rennier) progressively gets gayer as he starts designing at the factory. Whatever one feels about Deneuve and Depardieu they are to all extent and purposes the faces of French Cinema now and they deliver a lot of fun here. Ozon scores a popular hit in his varied movie-making career (its as deliciously camp as 8 FEMMES) and it is good to see Deneuve – with all the associations of her past movies (there are fleeting moments here that suggest UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT) – enjoying a fun movie here. Extensive extras on the dvd include an extended making-of (it was a lot of fun on the set), wardrobe tests etc.

Coming soon: a veritable feast of Deneuve - reviews of Demy's PEAU D'ANE (DONKEY SKIN), INDOCHINE, 2 by Techine MY FAVOURITE SEASON and HOTEL AMERICA, A CHRISTMAS TALE, and maybe PLACE VENDOME and THIEVES!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ripley's Game, 2002

RIPLEY’S GAME. This 2002 film by Liliana Caviani (THE NIGHT PORTER) seems to have slipped under the radar. It is the second film adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel “Ripley Underground”, the first being Wim Wenders’ 1977 THE AMERICAN FRIEND, a very hip iconic movie of the 70s ideally cast with Bruno Ganz as the dying picture framer Jonathan Trevanney and Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley. Here we have the odd casting of John Malkovich as a rather effete now-wealthy Ripley who annoyed by Jonathan (Dougray Scott) lures him into being a hit man to provide for his family after his fatal illness. Ray Winstone is ideal as Reeves, the rather fleshy thug [with that unfortunate male companion in his hotel bed when the gang calls...] who needs a hitman to bump off a rival as he asks old chum Ripley for help, but its not clear why Ripley and Reeves need to lure an outsider into their crime scenario.

Jonathan carries out the first murder, but the second one on a train goes wrong, but Ripley is there to take charge and events move rapidly as they barricade themselves in at Ripley’s home, that rather chilly Palladian villa in the Italian Veneto he shares with Luisa his harpsichord-playing girlfriend, as the three goons come for the final shoot-out. The women’s roles are not very important here as Ripley, Jonathan and Reeves stay centre-stage. In all, an interesting addition to the Ripley canon. It seems Cavani left the troubled production and it was completed by Malkovich, but never got an American theatrical release, certainly worth seeking out now.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Priest of Love

PRIEST OF LOVE. Only 1 review of this 1981 film on IMDb? Ian McKellen’s first starring role in 1980 as D.H. Lawrence, didn’t attract too much attention at the time; I passed over it myself as I did films like RETURN OF THE SOLIDER, perhaps there was a glut of costume dramas at the time, all those Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson films. This was directed by Christopher Miles (brother of actress Sarah) who also directed the Lawrence tale THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY in 1970 and is another look at that Lawrence era of the 1920s lovingly recreated. Here D.H. and his German wife Frieda (a rather too strident Janet Suzman) have to leave England in 1914 due to the outbreak of World War I and they travel to the United States pitching up in Taos, Santa Fe as guests of wealthy patron Mabel Dodge Luhan (Ava Gardner, enjoying herself hugely) and Lady Dorothy Brett (Penelope Keith, ideal as their deaf companion and fellow artist). Later we move to Italy as Lawrence’s health deteriorates after the banning of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and the burning of “The Rainbow” and the raid on the art gallery showing his explicit paintings. John Gielgud is very diligent in his pursuit of the filth in Lawrence’s books, having to re-read them to extract full value.

The casting here is the thing, even to the smallest role. It intriguingly begins suggesting D.H.’s bisexuality showing him leaving his Cornish farmhouse and sleeping wife for an early morning naked swim where he is joined by a strapping Cornish farmer – Graham Faulkner, required to strip again but showing a more robust physique than he did as St Francis in Zeffirelli’s BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON. In Italy too the manager of their estate, Italian pop singer/actor Massimo Ranieri is pleased to disrobe to pose for D.H.’s paintings. Other names in the extensive cast include Julian Fellowes (now writing DOWNTON ABBEY) and Gareth Forwood (the actor son of Glynis Johns and Anthony Forwood, later Dirk Bogarde’s partner). Scripted by Alan Plater and filmed at the places the Lawrences stayed at it looks handsome and perfectly in period. Miles directs with a sure touch (his sister Sarah appears in one of the deleted scenes) and the new dvd has extensive interviews (including a new one with McKellen) and additional material. One wonders how that other Lawrence expert maestro Ken Russell would have souped it up?

For Miles's THE VIRGIN AND THE GYPSY review, see Franco Nero label.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Downton Abbey returns, plus Jane and Alice ...

No sun-dappled gardens or gentle rustling of taffeta greets viewers as they return to DOWNTON ABBEY for Series 2. We are blasted straight into the trenches, where a mud-covered Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is heroically fighting the Great War. The first series began with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 when the Downton estate loses its male heir, and ended with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. It is now 1916 as we revisit Julian Fellowes’s “posh soap opera” featuring the Lords and Ladies of the Estate and their downstairs staff, who get equal screen time.

Previous classic costume dramas like UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS were a bit staid, but the fascinating thing about DOWNTON is that is done in the modern zappy American style. Each character – and there’s about 20 of them - have their own story arcs and there are some marvellous bits of humour here and there, as in the first episode here, the uppity new maid wanted the cook Mrs Patmore to save her some of the crepes suzettes from “upstairs” but she annoys the cook who takes pleasure is tossing the pancakes to the dog – it’s a little moment but a satisfying one.
While Armageddon rages abroad, life at Downton remains stultifyingly the same for the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockerty). By moving the action from the relative frippery of country-house living to war, Fellowes has wisely raised the stakes and given the actors more to chew on. Lady Edith is still a bitch but apparently will change, ditto Lady Sybil. Then there is Mr Bates the valet and his evil wife, ladies maid O’Brien is still as poisonous as ever, as the house is presided over by the butler and wise housekeeper (Phyllis Logan). The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith in a late great role) still has some biting retorts as she and Mrs Crawley (Penelope Wilton) try to gain the upper hand. But it is our star-crossed lovers – Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) the new heir and Lady Mary who fascinate.

Lots to look forward to here then as the Estate becomes a convalescent home, and will Matthew and that devious footman Thomas survive in the trenches? Overall, the sumptuous drama remains as inviting as before. Classic costume drama at it’s best then. Best though to record it and watch afterwards, zapping out the commercial breaks as there are too many of them, and how soon will the DVD be out?
During my recent hospital engagement I decided to read some old books which have become favourite films, so it was a pleasure to actually read the original BLACK NARCISSUS by Rumer Godden, first published in 1939 and never out of print, ditto her THE GREENGAGE SUMMER which became that intriguing 1961 film with Kenneth More, Danielle Darrieux and Susannah York, and also the 1950s novel by A.J. Cronin THE SPANISH GARDENER which became that popular Dirk Bogarde movie in 1956, but how they changed it! I was astonished to see that Jose is 19 and the father too is taken with his attractive physique, Jose though gets killed while trying to escape due to the father’s intervention. Bogarde was in his mid-30s then so Jose is a lot older (and provided with a girlfriend to keep his relationship with the boy innocent). The Rank Organisation were of course not going to kill off their 'Idol of the Odeons', so Jose not only survives in the film but sends the reconciled father and son happily on their way to their next posting - a total reversal of the ending in the book which is much bleaker with father and son now posted to Sweden and Nicholas resolved to get away from the unloved father and return to his mother as soon as he can! (Reviews of these at Bogarde, York, Deborah Kerr, Black Narcissus labels).

I now see that Jane Asher (who played the younger sister in THE GREENGAGE SUMMER (LOSS OF INNOCENCE) is playing Lady Bracknell in a new production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST and I imagine she will be terrific in the role. Asher is actually the same age (64) as Dame Edith Evans when she played the role. Several actresses have portrayed a younger sexier Lady Bracknell - Jane should be perfect! What a contrast to her dolly bird in Skolimowski's 1970 DEEP END, reviewed here (Jane Asher label), and just out on dvd.

Below: performers now have the internet in their dressing rooms!

Alice Krige has also turned into a fascinating presence - now in the BBC series SPOOKS as Peter Firth's lost love, and as Ralph Fiennes' ex-wife in PAGE EIGHT the recent film by David Hare (reviewed recently here). I did not see her Borg Queen in a STAR TREK film, but she has been quietly impressive so many different genres - that icy patrician Roman in the 2001 ATTILA (as played by Gerard Butler), SOLOMON KANE, and others since her debut in CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

Friday, 23 September 2011


THE RAILRODDER is an utterly charming short made in 1965 starring Buster Keaton going across Canada on a railcart. That's it - it was made for The National Film Board of Canada. I have not seen in ages but loved it at the time, I think it was about 24 minutes. This played at London's prestige Academy Cinema and in part rehabilitated Buster in his final years. The great stoneface rides his machine across all that scenery in all weathers, and has enough space for his food, coffee, papers etc. Its marvellously surreal and recalls the great comedian's glory days with THE GENERAL, OUR HOSPITALITY, and maybe his best STEAMBOAT BILL JR with that hurricane scene and the house falling on him, and others. He was always funnier than Chaplin for me.

Pretty soon Buster was in another short FILM by Samuel Beckett and Richard Lester added him to his zany comedy A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FURUM with Zero Mostel, young Michael Crawford etc. Buster was honoured at the Cannes Film Festival, and then died, aged 70 in 1966, but at least he had been rediscovered.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Happy Birthday Sophia !

Birthday greetings to a true legend: 77 on the 20th! A demonstration of Loren's star power: I remember being about 14 and reading about EL CID which we were eagerly looking forward to; it seems the early advertising featured Heston as sole name above the title [which would have been appropriate really: "Charlton Heston as EL CID"]. But there was a court case, whcih I read about in the papers, Sophia's contract stipulated equal billing, so the early campaign had to be pulled, which must have irked the Heston camp somewhat! She really was as big a star as Elizabeth Taylor then, and is still a legend.

How I loved HOUSEBOAT and IT STARTED IN NAPLES, and THE MILLIONAIRESS as well as BOY ON A DOLPHIN and LEGEND OF THE LOST .... and those later ones. It is fascinating now going back to her early 50s pre-Hollywood movies, when she was about 20 where she is marvellous in WOMAN OF THE RIVER, TOO BAD SHE'S BAD, GOLD OF NAPLES,SCANDAL IN SORRENTO, even in the silly TWO NIGHTS WITH CLEOPATRA one could see this is a girl who is going places!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Summertime blues ...

SUMMER THINGS, 2002. A quite amusing French comedy by Michel Blanc (MONSIEUR HIRE) who also wrote it. A disparate group go on vacation to Le Touquet: the wealthy Charlotte Rampling whose husband Jacques Dutronc decides to stay at home as his life is rather complicated – he has been having an affair with their friend, Julie a single mother, and is now seeing his personal assistant who seems to be a transsexual. Their friends Vero (Karin Giard) and her husband are broke and trying to keep up appearances – they are staying in a caravan site. Their teenage son Loic (Gaspard Ulliel – THE SEA WALL) hates this and manages to get a bed at the hotel as Vero is looking after Julie’s baby.
Julie falls for a hotel lothario, and Loic meets a rich girl who takes him sailing. There is also Michel Blanc who is insanely jealous over his beautiful wife Carole Bouquet as he imagines every man is having sex with her. Charlotte and Bouquet becomer friends and drink lots of champagne while poor Vero tries to keep up. Lots of comedy situations then, including Rampling and Dutronc’s sex-mad daughter who is in Chicago with an employee of his who has stolen some money for the trip and is promptly dumped by the daughter for a guy she meets on the plane – he is then mugged and robbed and left on his own in Chicago. By the end of it all Loic comforts Charlotte who is having a miserable time and gives her the courage to confront the holes in her marriage as she insists on separate bedrooms. It is all fitfully amusing in a Gallic way as Blanc works out his Robert Altman/Woody Allen inspired interweaving tales, it almost makes one feel like one has been on holiday too. Rampling is effective as usual in another of these late starring roles of hers (SWIMMING POOL, UNDER THE SAND, HEADING SOUTH etc).

SUMMER HOURS, 2008. A more sombre richly textured French drama by Olivier Assayas. Helene (Edith Scob – the mad doctor’s disfigured daughter in 1959’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE, reviewed here last year, French label) is the 75 year old matriarch facing her imminent demise as she sorts out the legacy she will leave for her 3 children. She was the mistress of a great artist so there are a lot of valuables which Museums are interested in. Two of the children though no longer live in France and rarely return – Juliette Binoche is the successful designer living and getting married in New York, Jeremie Renier and his family now live in China, only the eldest Charles Berling and his family live in Paris. He wants to keep the family home for all of them and their children to enjoy but the other two want to sell.

They get their way as we see the ramifications following Helene’s death. The house and grounds are loving explored, Isabelle Sadoyan is just right as the aged retainer. We see some pieces on display at the Musee d'Orsay as the house is stripped and teenagers have a farewell party there. There is a lot of sadness at the nature of how things change as families splinter and heritage takes over. A very satisfying movie then, like a good read with well-rounded characters.

10.30 PM SUMMER, 1966. A return visit to Dassin’s film of Marguerite Duras’s story which I had not seen since its release. A very oddball confection but with three people I like, heading by Melina Mercouri who is travelling around Spain with husband Peter Finch and friend Romy Schneider. A great cast then but it is all somehow very risible as Melina goes into over-drive. There is a murderer on the loose whom Melina tries to assist escape, as Finch and Romy also get involved. This provided a lot of hilarity at the time, I remember Pauline Kael being particularly choice on this version of exploring threesomes. For me though Finch and Schneider are always endlessly fascinating and I like Melina a lot too – I spent an afternoon with her once in 1968 when she was leading a protest march in London in Trafalgar Square about poverty in Africa – in Biafra then. I was an idealistic twenty-two year old and Melina looked terrific in a long red dress with lots of gold chains. The Dassin-Mercouri films get a lot of stick now but I like them! Melina can often resemble a croaky drag queen but she is certainlty intense here - that scene where she watches Finch & Schneider (a terrific pairing of favourite people of mine) together on the balcony as the rain beats down and the wanted murderer also hides on the roofs is brilliantly staged.


I will now be away for maybe two weeks - not alas on vacation as in SUMMER THINGS but have a hospital engagement (knee replacement surgery) followed by extensive physiotherapy, and I am not allowed my laptop! but I shall be returning with an appraisal of Visconti's LUDWIG, Antonioni's rare OBERWALD MYSTERY [below, with Monica Vitti] and his segment in I TRE VINTI, 5 Catherine Deneuve films (I shall keep her A CHRISTMAS TALE until that time), 4 versions of DORIAN GRAY, more silents like THIEF OF BAGHDAD and BEN HUR (1925), NATHALIE GRANGER and other Marguerite Duras films, KINSEY and other gay interest movies, and more People and Movies We Like and of course more Art, Trash and lots of Glamour!

Monday, 12 September 2011

For a friend in Brazil ...

For a friend of mine in Brazil who mentioned that glamorous '50s actress Lisa Gastoni - here she is on the cover of a free booklet which was given away with "Top Spot" and "Picture Show" magazines back in 1959 - I was 13 and loved it, full of photos and drawings of stars of the day, I shall have to include some.
Plus some Films & Filming covers: Graham Faulkner in Zeffirelli's BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON (below) which I enjoyed a lot back in 1973 - its a perfect Zeffirelli movie combining emotion, sentiment, religion, beautiful people and opulent settings. Graham Faulkner is ideal as St Francis and Valentina Cortese as his mother and the other others are all very special. He certainly learned a lot from Visconti, plus the cover with Fellini's SATYRICON - how I spoil people!