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.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

"She lives the life".

Italian week: 2 - Early Fellini

"Welcome to a bittersweet world of episodic adventures and strange encounters. Welcome to a sordid, nocturnal world of ruthless, callous boyfriends and stray movie stars looking for seedy kicks. Welcome to the harsh, unforgiving streets of a crumbling Rome, where hope can still prevail and dreams cradle the lost. Welcome to the world of Cabiria, a feisty, loud, outspoken and somewhat naive prostitute waiting for a miracle, and one of the most unforgettable and endearing characters of European cinema.

Eventually remade in Hollywood as SWEET CHARITY, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA is an often humorous, poignant, unflinching and vivid portrayal of one woman's picaresque existence and her perseverence through adversity. Starring Fellini's wife Giulietta Masina as the irrepressible protagonist, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA marked Fellini's last foray into gritty neo-realism before venturing into the surreal satire and dream logic of LA DOLCE VITA and EIGHT AND A HALF".

Thus that boxset of early Fellini movies describes NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. When I was 12 my "Picture Show" Annual for 1959 (which I still have) had a photograph (right) from it among the previous year's Oscar winners - and its taken me all this time to see it! I absolutely loved I VITELLONI (Italian label) when I saw it last year - its one of the great coming of age movies and it applies to life in any small town, I saw my own Irish one in it vividly - more mixed feelings though about CABIRIA - we are back in that Fellini world of happy go lucky prostitutes and their pimps who all seem a friendly gang looking out for each other, with visits to the country, and to the music hall. At the start someone asks who Cabiria (who has just been fished out of the river) is and what does she do. "She lives the life" a young lad answers.

"She works hard for the money" as Cabirina has her own (jerry built?) house and no pimp looking after her - its just her boyfriends who rob her blind as she naively trusts them time and time again. At the start one of them pushes her into the river and grabs her handbag - but at the climax (after selling her house and getting all her savings together) she has lost everything but still manages that smile .... we do not actually see her "working" apart from when the movie star picks her up, there is a lovely sequence of her dancing and Masina is indeed of course a great clown - and that disturbing sequence when she gets caught up in a religious pilgrimage at a local shrine where she seeks the Madonna's intercession to change her life and be loved for herself .

But of course now one keeps seeing Shirley McLaine as Charity Hope Valentine singing "If My Friends Could See Me Now" or making a meal of that climax in Central Park. Masina keeps it more real as she turns up to meet her latest man - Francois Perrier (who also ruined GERVAISE - French label) - who suddenly looks very shifty in those sun-glasses .... CABIRIA could be seen as a bleak, often depressing film as Cabiria seems too naive and so desperate for affection, she is almost simple-minded with her bundle of money for her latest beau - will she now end up living in a hole too? - like that older prostitute she recognised in that strange sequence with "the man in the sack" feeding the poor who live in underground caves ... one wants a happy ending for her. It is one of the great endings though, and the whole film captures that post-war Italy (like in Pasolini's grimmer ACCATONE or MAMMA ROMA with Magnani) before the LA DOLCE VITA highlife took over...

Masina made her first appearance as Cabiria in THE WHITE SHEIK in 1952 which I imagine I will like a lot, it will be my next Fellini (shortly) along with, finally, LA STRADA. I also recently got EIGHT AND HALF as a gift (thanks Jerry)  which I had not seen since the '60s, - and of course I loved AMARCORD and ROMA - perhaps Federico's most accessible films, and also have SATYRICON - how we rushed to that in 1970. I have not seen Masina's other great role JULIET OF THE SPIRITS since the '60s also, and liked Fellini's CASANOVA a lot too in 1976. So there are some other late Fellini's (like GINGER AND FRED, AND THE BOAT SAILED ON to catch up with too then ....  some Antonioni rarities next though. Of those Italian titans it has always been Antonioni I gravitated towards most but Fellini and Visconti make up that great triumvirate who came to prominance after Rossellini and De Sica.

I had another view of Masina too today in HELL IS THE CITY (Nella Città l'inferno by Castellani) or CAGED, made in 1959, a great scene where she is leaving prison and Anna Magnani is still locked up - its a stunning sequence on YouTube at:

Monday, 28 May 2012

Helen, Aphrodite, Ulysses, Attilla .. oh, and Alexander

 Italian week: 1 - Peplums  "If you want something visual, thats not too abysmal, we could take in an old Steve Reeves movie" - The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Some early classy peplums - those sword & sandal mini-epics of the '50s and early '60s, the heyday of the genre. 1955's HELEN OF TROY is a Warners film made in Europe by Robert Wise (who has turned his hand to most genres after editing CITIZEN KANE, with films like I WANT TO LIVE, THE HAUNTING, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and his STAR! which I posted about here recently, see below). His HELEN is one of the better epics with great sets and is very visual and utilises a great cast even if the leads are rather blank.
Rosanna Podesta is quite lovely as Helen, there is something otherworld about her - is her voice dubbed perhaps? but Jacques Sernas as Paris is rather dull. But there are British stalwarts Stanley Baker (Achilles), Harry Andrews (Hector), Ronald Lewis, Cedric Hardwicke and Nora Swinbourne add gravitas as Priam and Hecuba, and Janette Scott impresses as Cassandra - it all impressed me as a child and I still like watching it now. Oh, there is also young Brigitte Bardot being very amusing as Helen's man-mad slave ... something for everyone then. The fall of Troy is nicely depicted too ...

HELEN gets a hommage of sorts in 1957's APHRODITE, GODDESS OF LOVE as Jacques Sernas again is lying in the surf as a beauty approaches - he calls her Aphrodite in HELEN, but she really is Aphrodite here, or rather Iride the model for the statue of Aphrodite being created by the famous scuptlor Praxitiles who lives nearby.
Iride is Rank Organisation starlet Belinda Lee, who looks terrific here. Sernas is the macedonian  on the run whom the army is looking for, but she and Praxitiles take him in and shelter him - but as Iride and Sernas fall in love Praxitiles (Massimo Girotti) gets jealous and betrays them .... it looks great with good production values and there is a happy ending for our lovers overlooking the sunlit sea. We also get lots of waves crashing on the beach .... (more on Belinda at Belinda Lee label).

ULYSSES is a De Laurentiis-Ponti production in 1954 which is also a great view now, Kirk Douglas as the wandering Ulysses, Silvana Mangano as his wife Penelope and the enchanteress Circe, Anthony Quinn (on a busy trip to Europe for ATTILA and LA STRADA also features) as does Helen, Rosanna Podesta. 

Quinn scores again as ATTILA, also 1954, who he plays as a blood-thirsty savage who kills his own brother who wants to make peace with the Romans. Henri Vidal is the Roman general Aetius and Sophia Loren is Honoria the greedy ambitious Roman who allies with Attila [her death scene was a vivid memory since I first saw it aged 12], and Irene Papas is good as Attila's discarded woman who can see the trouble Loren will bring .... it is splendid stuff, again with great Ponti-De Laurentiis production values.  The blurb says: Attila, the leader of the barbarian Huns and called by the Romans "The Scourge of God", sweeps onto the Italian peninsula, defeating all of the armies of Rome, until he and his men reach the gates of the city itself. They are then defeated by the power of Christianity and turn back as a giant cross illuminates the sky - peplums don't get more mind-boggling than that! Talk about De Mille's SIGN OF THE CROSS (see below!) Sophia (then 19) was, like Quinn, churning them out that great year 1954 (and of course they did 2 later in Hollywood: BLACK ORCHID and HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS. Quinn must have been one of the 50s busiest actors, along with Vincent Price.
Jack Palance also essayed a frightening Attila that year in Sirk's delirious SIGN OF THE PAGAN with Jeff Chandler, as well as his Simon the Magician who thinks he can fly in Warners THE SILVER CHALICE, which I also loved as a kid in 1954. [Gerard Butler's ATTILA in 2001, complete with eye-liner and wearing what looks like a big nappy, is nowhere near as good, though Alice Krige as usual impresses as a very tough Roman].

By the late '50s Steve Reeves had arrived with all those HERCULES movies which Joe E Levine shrewdly packaged for international audiences and soon other like Gordon Scott and Ed Fury were heading to peplum-land. I have just seen Steve Reeves in THE GIANT OF MARATHON (which seems to be his best, direted by Jacques Tourneur and lensed by Mario Bava, with Mylene Demongeot),and still have THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and THE WHITE RUSSIAN to catch as well as Palance and Anita Ekberg in THE MONGOLS, Jeffrey Hunter in GOLD FOR THE CAESARS, while Belinda was a terrific MESSALINA, and in JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS and CONSTANTINE AND THE CROSS with Cornel Wilde; and Jeanne Crain as NEFERTITI QUEEN OF THE NILE as well as Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget in the hilarious PRINCESS OF THE NILE.
Steve and the boys in whities at Marathon
These peplums are sometimes cheesy, made on a shoestring but have humor with action and drama along with kitsch and camp plus the beefcake and cheesecake - qualities lacking in humourless recent attempts like TROY with its unreal CGI effects and a cast with no idea how to play this material - apart from O'Toole as Priam (or Russell Crowe in GLADIATOR which at least re-invented the genre).  More on these later then ...

One I like a lot is Oliver Stone's take on ALEXANDER and his determination to get it made and then the reaction to it (as middle America did not want a gay or bisexual hero). Its a splendid looking film with some staggering set-pieces - even the CGI recreation of Babylon looks stunning. Its not really a peplum as such but a major work by a visionary director. More on this at epics label. By contrast Fox's 1956 ALEXANDER THE GREAT is rather turgid with a blonde Burton, but Claire Bloom, Stanley Baker and Harry Andrews again and Peter Cushing all command attention. This impressed me as a kid though - Andrews as the fleeing Persian king Darius, and those great shots of Danielle Darrieux as Alex's mother Olympias on the castle battlements ...

One has to include 1962's camp delight SODOM AND GOMORRAH by Robert Aldrich (before he went on to BABY JANE...) with its sometimes hilarious moments as Anouk Aimee as the slinky lesbian queen, Stanley Baker as her hissably evil brother, Stewart Granger with Pier Angelia [pillar of salt], Rosanna Podesta again (rather wasted here) and the stunning Scilla Gabel are all great to look at. It looks like Sodom is hit by a nuclear explosion at the climax but what happened to Gomorrah?
Then of course the heights of the genre are BEN HUR (I really must watch that 1925 silent version), EL CID, SPARTACUS, CLEOPATRA, FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and then the rather tatty GENGHIS KHAN and the still stunning THE VIKINGS - and of course studio fodder like Warner's LAND OF THE PHAROAHS, MGM's THE PRODIGAL, Fox's THE EGYPTIAN and 300 SPARTANS. 1961's COLOSSUS OF RHODES by Serio Leone is eye-catching too with Rory Calhoun and Lea Massari. DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS is huge fun for an American peplum in 1954, that great year for biblicals - I must find and include that posed shot of Susan as Messalina dragging a chained Ed Fury around on all fours.   more on all these at epics label. All these look terrific now on widescreen HD televisions.

A brilliant site by the way is:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Cannes 2012

After a long spell of dreary wintry weather summer seems to have finally arrived in London, so it was amusing to see they were having a downpour at the Cannes Film Festival, as captured in this great photograph by Ian Langsdon in "The Daily Telegraph", as poster girl Marilyn presides over the wet arrivals (click photo to enlarge).

Fellini, Moreau, Antonioni - Cannes 1960
Film festivals seem to be high-jacked by big American productions these days, but interesting early word of mouth too on the next crop of ones to watch for, like Haneke's AMOUR with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (now in their 80s), as well as RUST AND BONE, THE HUNT and the very bizarre sounding HOLY MOTORS by Leos Carax. Bring them on ...

Delon, Loren, Schneider - Cannes 1962
Is it just me though but does Cannes not seem slightly declasse these days?-  as the festival is taken over by reality tv stars and those who use it to sell the products they are paid to advertise. The likes of Cheryl Cole, Kelly Brook, Kim Kardashian and even Jane Fonda still selling her wrinkle creams at 74 may have scooped acres of publicity but it is not about the films any more, unlike back in the day when the real  A-listers like Loren and Bardot and Delon and Schneider and Bogarde were there to promote their movies. These companies use the prestige of Cannes which is now just another red carpet to work with borrowed diamonds, endless champagne receptions and gift suites for the girls in town to sell their image and endlessly promote themselves. What was once an elegant celebration of film-making has now surely been debased and diluted by the presence of the pluggerati who flock to the South of France as the big brand names are still willing to spend big to promote their luxury brands. Or maybe I'm being too jaundiced ... ?

Hockney & Royal Diamond Jubilee

600th post! When I began this 2 years ago I had no idea I would even come up with 100 posts, let alone 600. There will be a few more too ....

We are gearing up for the Royal Jubilee here next week, so cue lots of parties, long holiday weekend etc.  What I found perfectly marvellous was the Royal visit to Ireland last year and the goodwill it caused, as Bono told Her Majesty at the Royal Academy Gala for the Arts, which was the place to be this week as 800 of the great and the good of the Arts world turned up to celebrate. (I have got my own personalised ticket for the seating outside Buckingham Palace for the events on 5th June). People will have 2 days off work and the weather might be good too.

David Hockney designed the cover for the programme on his iPad; he received The Queen's Order of Merit 2 days before, and he praised The Queen for hosting a party to celebrate Britain's culture. As he said: "The arts aren't a luxury, they're an essential." Dame Judi Dench introduced to Hockney said "I can't believe it. I've been a fan for years".
Bradford's golden boy of the '60s, after those very productive years in California and Paris among others now seems at home back in England (and at the pinnacle of the arts world) and after his recent very successful Royal Academy exhibition of those large new landscapes that delighted us so much. More on the grand old man of art at Hockney label. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Baby you can drive my car

Is there a dinkier car in movies? Nice to chill out in front of Wyler's 1966 comedy HOW TO STEAL A MILLION again, as not seen it for a very long time. Seeing this in the cinema originally at the time it seemed so laid-back it was almost horizontal, compared to the frenetic ARABESQUE that year with its non-stop action, editing where Greg Peck and Sophia Loren were another ideal team, she with a new Balmain outfit for every scene. Here, Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn are of course another perfect pair (as he would go on to be with Kate Hepburn, and she with Albert Finney). Its all a good addition to Paris in the movies (Paris label).

Now though MILLION is the mid-60s in a nutshell, as Audrey in those Givenchy outfits drives her little car; Peter's yellow sports car looks dull by comparison. Hugh Griffith (having a lot of fun again as he did in BEN-HUR and TOM JONES) is her art forger father and somehow Audrey must get back that Cellini Venus statue lent to a gallery before it can be authenticated .... enter Peter's burglar, but whose side is he really on? This is more of CHARADE then but on a bigger canvas. The heist itself is amusing done if almost in real time, our couple seem to spend about an hour confined in that store cupboard ... as we get to spend time with them up close and personal. Eli Wallach does a droll turn too, like he did in THE MOON-SPINNERS. The gloss piles on with scenes at The Ritz where Audrey looks amazing in that lace mask, and the restaurant is probably Maxim's. 
Audrey of course always looks at home when back in Paris (where she spends most of her movies it seems) and Peter (I had seen him in the stage play RIDE A COCK HORSE the year before) was at his pinnacle (I also loved LORD JIM) and also seems to have fun back in Paris after WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT, with that posse including Romy, Capucine, Paula and Ursula, also 1965. It was Audrey's third with Wyler. O'Toole's next hit would be THE LION IN WINTER while Audrey had TWO FOR THE ROAD with Albert, back with Donen again.


The red car was an Autobianchi Cabriolet.
As The Beatles said: Beep beep'n beep beep yeah.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Tennessee and Mrs Stone and those others ...

Time for some lurid melodramas? That Tennessee Williams boxset some years back was an ideal compendium of his greatest hits, with A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (with new added material like Brando's screen tests etc), CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, BABY DOLL, NIGHT OF THE IGUANA and the 1960 film of his story THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE.
Not included but we had it anyway was SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER from 1959 and it is even more lurid now, particularly when Taylor dons that white bathing suit and finally shrieks out what happened to Sebastian last summer: "they DEVOURED him" ..., Monty though goes through it like a zombie and Hepburn, while apparantly not liking the material, made a meal of her spectacular entrance and exit in Oliver Messel's splendid set, and that speech of hers above seeing God as the baby turtles try to get to the sea as the birds descended ... Mankiewicz filmed it all in the UK!

STREETCAR, CAT and SWEET BIRD may have been diluted for the cinema of the '50s and early '60s, but their power is still there with great performances and staging. Newman and Taylor are so perfect together in their young prime, Gooper and Sisterwoman and Big Daddy and Big Mamma are also just right and that language endures. IGUANA is just perfect as directed by John Huston and thankfully updates the play and removes those Germans in the background. Again, Kerr and Gardner do some of their best screen work.  (Claire Bloom was a wonderful Blanche in that 1974 STREETCAR production, left - theatre label).

What interests me now though is THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, where Vivien Leigh is again ideal as the ageing actress fleeing from her public and taking up residence in Rome where she "drifts" after her husband inconsiderately dies next to her on the plane. She avoids concerned friends like Coral Browne, but soon falls prey to predatory creatures like the Contessa and her stable of young beauties for every taste (viz the old gent meeting his trick in the opening credits). No-one suggests decadence like Lotte Lenya and she certainly scores here, as Mrs Stone is soon bedazzled by Paolo (Warren Beatty in his debut) who treats her mean and takes her money, but as Mrs Stone becomes addicted to sex she throws caution to the winds after coolly resisting Paolo's casual blandishments at the start. Soon though he is mocking her and arranging other dates with that young actress new in Rome (Jill St John), while the homeless young man stalking Mrs Stone (Jeremy Spenser) becomes more bold ... finally the abandoned Mrs Stone throws down her keys to the vagrant and thinks that five years more is all she wants ... one almost laughs out loud at Beatty's youthful beauty and petulence as Vivien again sketches her desperation (this of course captures her after the Olivier years) - if the film had been better (it was directed by theatre director Jose Quintero) it could have been one of her great roles equalling Scarlett O'Hara or Blanche DuBois, or THE DEEP BLUE SEA or her last appearance in SHIP OF FOOLS. (On re-reading Pauline Kael's I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES she says: "The Tennessee Williams novella is about a proud, cold-hearted bitch without cares or responsibilities who learns that sex is all that holds her to life, it is the only sensation that momentarily saves her from the meaningless drift of her existance" and who used her youth and beauty to get ahead and now finds she is reduced to purchasing both. 

(What incidentally happened to Jeremy Spenser ? - one of those actors who just disappeared after being a child actor and in several '50s films: a scene with Katharine Hepburn in SUMMERTIME; as the young prince sharing scenes with Monroe and Olivier in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, with Vivien here, and in other films like FERRY TO HONG KONG and WONDERFUL THINGS .... then, zilch ...his last credit was 1967). 

(There was, incidentally, a 2003 remake of MRS STONE with Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez - they may have shown more flesh and Helen did her usual thing, but (like THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY where they also trowel on period detail) it just couldn't catch that 1960 oringial, and Anne Bancroft in one of her final roles as the Contessa was somehow all wrong, her decadence amounted to stealing the chocolate biscuits...). 

Then there is 1961's SUMMER AND SMOKE, Peter Glenville's under-rated film with another defining role by Geraldine Page as Alma, the small town spinster in love with local rake Laurence Harvey, with Una Merkel as her dotty mother, Rita Moreno as the local spitfire and Pamela Tiffin as the nice girl she loses Laurence to ... we feel and share Alma's gentility and pain and her refusal to give in to her baser instincts, as she loses the man she loves ... as IMDB succinctly puts it: "Plain, repressed spinster falls for a dashing young medical student, but he prefers the wilder life, until it's too late"

THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED is another interesting one from 1966, with Natalie Wood (see INSIDE DAISY CLOVER post below..) ideal and certainly looking her best as the girl who falls for railroad guy Robert Redford in this appealing tale of the small town beauty used by her mother to lure men to her establishment, as the story is told by Mary Badham.  This one plays very nicely now and captures that mid 60s moment perfectly, as the movies were changing, just before BONNIE AND CLYDE etc came in. Scripted by DAISY's Gavin Lambert and directed by Sydney Pollack.
The blurb says: A railroad official, Owen Legate comes to Dodson, Mississippi to shut down much of the town's railway (town's main income). Owen unexpectedly finds love with Dodson's flirt and main attraction, Alva Starr. Alva and Owen then try to escape Alva's mother's (Hazel) clutches and the town's revenge. After INSIDE DAISY CLOVER recently, this is one I am going to re-watch very soon.

A canter through Tennessee's greatest hits then? One I have not seen is the 1962 film of Tennessee's comedy PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT about newly marrieds with Jane Fonda headlining. Other Tennessee's of course include THE GLASS MENAGERIE, THE ROSE TATTOO (which I did not care for overmuch when I finally saw it a few years ago, Magnani seemed totally over the top and highly resistable, whereas I thought she was perfect and liked her a lot in Cukor's WILD IS THE WIND in 1957...) and there is Lumet's oddity THE FUGITIVE KIND in 1960 which should have been stupendous but somehow wasn't with that dream team of Brando (wearing that snakeskin jacket), Magnani and Woodward.

and of course BOOM!, Joseph Losey's Burton and Taylor extravaganza in 1968, with that great set in Sardinia - he of course was too old and she too young for those parts, but its oddly compelling, Losey gives it his baroque gloss and of course there is Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri. Would that stage version with Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter have been as much fun? - we would have ran to see that... as we would to that first production of NIGHT OF THE IGUANA with Margaret Leighton (as Hannah) and Bette Davis (Maxine) who was playing to the gallery ...

More on these later then.... and those other torrid dramas of the time like SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, Joanne Woodward as THE STRIPPER  - both from William Inge dramas, as was THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS (1960) - and TOYS IN THE ATTIC, that long-unseen 1963 Lillian Hellman drama with another great cast in Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Gene Tierney, Dean Martin and Yvette Mimieux.
Beatty went on to be terrific in ALL FALL DOWN (1962 label), the troubled LILITH shoot and Penn's MICKEY ONE -which are included in the BFI's season on Beatty next month, they are not though showing KALEIDASCOPE or his so-called comedy with Leslie Caron PROMISE HER ANYTHING ("but don't take her to this" as critic Judith Crist advised in '65). One could create a new label for some of these: Classy Trash!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Kids, Kinsey, Gods, Monsters, Love, Death, Long Island

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT - Finally I got around to Lisa Cholodenko's 2010 film which attracted a lot of attention, and one can see why. It is another of those oddball screwy comedy-dramas like CRAZY STUPID LOVE or FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, but its oddly engaging and keeps one involved, I liked it a lot but with reservations. 

Annette Bening is perfect as the controlling Nic - she deserved the Oscar for that Joni Mitchell song at the dinner table and then she finds out what is really going on, just as she is warming to Paul ... Julianne Moore though seems to be channelling Diane Keaton a lot here, its as if Keaton was playing the role of Jules who is a bit of a flake trying different businesses, currently she is trying landscape gardening, as Nic supports her. Some questions though: do lesbians really get off watching vintage gay male porn ? 

It is all set in motion by the two kids Joni (yes she is named after Ms Mitchell) and Laser - Mia Wasikowska and Josh  Hutcherson - decide to track down their sperm donor father (the girls must have used him twice then?). Mark Ruffalo is ideal here as the initially bemused Paul who finds himself attracted to the two kids he helped create and then to Jules, but she casts him  aside at the end as does Nic at the front door when he comes to make an apology. We end therefore with Nic and Jules together again with Laser, as they see daughter Joni off to college. Cholodenko though seems to have nothing to say about her characters or their lifestyle,  the plot is just propelled by absurd turns of events as absurdity piles upon absurdity, is it a comedy-drama or just a farce about different lifestyles. Paul though is left with the command to go and create his own family. Is Jules really attracted to him or just experimenting having sex with an attractive man ... ? and is Paul so hot that even the middle-aged lesbian just has to have him ?

I like Bill Condon's 2004 film KINSEY about the creation of those Kinsey Reports back in the repressive '40s and '50s. Liam Neeson has one of his key roles, like in SCHINDLER'S LIST, ably supported by Laura Linney as his wife. Peter Sarsgaard is amazing too, particularly in that scene where he strips and comes on to the Professor in their hotel room, it is so full-on without any coyness. Lynn Redgrave (the aunt of Neeson's wife Natasha Richardson) contributes a terrific little cameo too. The large cast includes Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Tim Rice and John Lithgow, and the period detail is nicely conveyed without being trowelled on. Condon also scripted.

Though the film tries to depict Kinsey as a social pioneer, it doesn't shy away from (nor does it condemn) his dubious breaches of ethical standards, such as encouraging sexual activities among his staff and their wives. At one point, Kinsey interviews a creepy subject played by William Sadler who has maintained a detailed record of all of the thousands of people he has had sex with (including children) and the implication is clear that he and Kinsey are two sides of the same coin. (Neeson was a terrific Oscar Wilde too on stage in THE JUDAS KISS, a late '90s play by David Hare - Tom Hollander label).

Condon's GODS & MONSTERS, 1998, is another vastly enjoyable foray, this time into the final days of director James Whale (director of the original SHOWBOAT as well as those '30s  FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN classics) marooned in '50s Hollywood, with just his disapproving German housekeeper Hanna (another splendid turn by Lynn Redgrave) for company, until he takes on that hunky gardender played by Brendan Fraser. Ian McKellen has one of his best roles (before Gandalf came along) as Whale - there is a hilarious interlude at George Cukor's residence at one of his famous parties where Princess Margaret is in attendance.

Whale has had a stroke and is slowly dying. He is a lonely man in need of companionship and inner peace. He tries to find this solace in Clay Boone (Brendan Fraser, in a rare serious role). The blossoming relationship between the two is the plot focus of the film - but how true is it really, did Whale die in the swimming pool ? Was there really a Boone for Whale to project his fantasies onto? the film is more than just an homage to old Hollywood and echoes some of the themes of SUNSET BOULEVARD in its portrayal of a Hollywood veteran, who has been forgotten by the industry of the early '50s and has retreated into a private world of his own making where he still directs the scenes.
I had a pleasant conversation about it with Ian McKellan one evening (early morning actually) out in clubland, a decade or so ago, when everyone wanted to talk to him about the LOTR films, but I was able to tell him I had bought GODS & MONSTERS that week and how much I liked it. Condon has since done the so-so DREAMGIRLS and the TWILIGHT saga ...

Another nice comedy drama with an amusing gay angle is the film of Gilbert Adair's novel LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND from 1999. Cirtic Adair died last year (RIP label) and the movie is a faithful visualisation of his novel, itself a hommage to DEATH IN VENICE (Thomas Mann's book and Visconti's film).  Giles De'Ath (John Hurt) is a widower and lofty intellectual who doesn't like anything modern. He goes to the cinema to see the latest E.M. Forster heritage movie but goes into the wrong cinema at the multiplex and falls in love with its teen star, Ronnie Bostock. He then investigates everything about the movie and Ronnie, and gets a machine to play Ronnie's movies; then he decides to track Ronnie down, so he travels to Long Island city where Ronnie lives and gets meets him, pretending that Ronnie is a great actor and that's why Giles admires him. Ronnie's girl friend (Fiona Loewi) though begins to see through Giles after she has brought him and Ronnie together ... this is delightfully orchestrated by director Richard Kwietnioswski, who does not seem to have done anything of note since.

The character of Giles could so easily have been a caricature, a bumbling old fogey; Hurt shows that, while he is indeed out of touch, he is also highly intelligent and unapologetic about his fusty ways. It is one of this very individual (and busy) actors best roles. Jason Priestley is rather good too as the slightly dim Ronnie, and Sheila Hancock is as splendid as ever even if she has nothing much to do as Giles' housekeeper.
There is a touch of Nabokov too as European high culture brushes with American teen culture. Hurt's performance is dignified, perplexed and slightly tragic; he makes Giles one of the most touching "stalkers" in film history. Much like James Mason's Humbert in LOLITA (or Dirk's Aschenbach in DEATH IN VENICE) Giles is a man of culture finding beauty in callow youth and being changed by it. McKellen and Hurt though have done some of their best work here as these older men obsessed with younger beauties ...

Before too long: another look at that BBC series THE LINE OF BEAUTY from Alan Hollinghurst's novel (an adaptation of his THE SPELL would be nice), along with those newies like SHAME, TINKER TAILOR..., TREE OF LIFE, that new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE which looks fun,  THE SKIN I LIVE IN and some other Almodovars.