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.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Madame Faye

Here is a treat: Faye Dunaway as the BEVERLY HILLS MADAM, does 1980s glitz get any better? 
Faye plays this 1985 trash like its gold-plated. Its now on YouTube in 4 parts, each one a lulu. (For some reason, it won't allow me to post the clip itself...).

Its all so deliciously '80s and Faye looks fabulous in those fashions .... See Faye label for more on it, she is of course one of our main favourites and has been since the Sixties. 

Who's afraid of ....

Just one priceless moment from WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? - Elizabeth doing Bette's "What A Dump" - from BEYOND THE FOREST of course! 

BBM now

Sticking with westerns (of sorts) we also had another look at BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN again - as I have now got the Sky Movies package so re-seeing lots of items of interest (WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is being recorded right now for later, the dvd is packed away). 

Dramas don't come more intense than BBM, and it is almost a decade on from it now. I have not written about it as such (I started this blog in 2010) and it became such a cliche and simply known as "the gay western", so going back to it, after almost 10 years, was certainly interesting. I was rivetted by it at the time and by Heath Ledger's incredible performance, certainly up there with Brando and De Niro or Bogarde or Mason, as among the best male performances which stay with one. Ang Lee too makes the most of the locations (as he did with SENSE & SENSIBILITY) and brings the slim novella by Anne Proulx, as scripted by veteran Larry McMurty (HUD, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, LONESOME DOVE etc) to life, and of course he is tremendous with actors and creates a perfect canvas. It all looks marvellous too of course, with those Canadian locations.

A raw, powerful story of two young men, a Wyoming ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 sheepherding in the harsh, high grasslands of contemporary Wyoming and form an unorthodox yet life-long bond--by turns ecstatic, bitter and conflicted.
I had little patience with Jack and Ennis initially (back in 2005) - and echoed the usual complaint: why didn't they run away to San Francisco or any big western city, and maybe work in a jeans store or similar job and be together, if that is what they wanted - lots of others did. But of course they are country boys and that is their milieu and time. They are obviously bisexual but Ennis is too closed-up and too scared to live his life openly, and it was 1963 - and of course he had that vision seared in his brain of what he saw as a child when two other men living together where brutally killed.  Other unconvincing moments include their fishing trips, but not bothering to bring back any fish! 

The two women, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are brilliant too. As the story progresses through the years we see them mature and develop as Ennis becomes more isolated and closed off from human contact - that scene of him eating his apple pie alone in the diner pierced me at the time with the intensity of it, like how he crumples when Jack drives off after their first season on the mountain. We forget we are watching a same-sex romance but get involved with these two human beings and their impossible relationship.
We see Jack change too as his frustrations boil over and he takes to having sex with other men when Ennis cannot meet him, and we notice how he is told that Lureen has a rich father before he chats to her at the rodeo. Family pressures get to him too as he gets annoyed with his interfering father-in-law; and there is that perfectly judged scene where he is propositioned by the eager, also married, business associate with talk of his cabin where they could go and drink whiskey and get away from it all .... other folk obviously are able to deal with that repressed era in the early sixties, before The Beatles hit America and then later Swinging Sixties when young, isolated rural gays must have realised they had more choices ... by then Ennis and Jack were trapped in their family situations and mindset. 

The ending too is haunting, as we imagine Jack's death as told by Lureen on the phone to Ennis, and see Ennis's visit to Jake's parents, his crushed, knowing mother, and those two shirts, and he telling his daughter to marry the man she wants. BBM is even more a classic now (there are over 2,000 reviews of it at IMDb, and will be more remembered than CRASH which did win Best Picture that year) - Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are characters that stay with one, and it will remain a key movie for many reasons, a huge sensation at the time (as all those reviews attest) bringing gays into the mainstream, and maybe paving the way for films like THE NORMAL HEART; BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is a Cannes prize-winner, and movies on other gay couples like LOVE IS STRANGE or CLOUDBURST come and go without any fuss. . Ennis and The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT remain Ledger's monuments, a great actor, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, also gone too young. Jake has continued to impress too, particularly this year with NIGHTCRAWLER ... 

Interesting comments from www.the in their 'Top 100 Gay Movies' where BBM is number one: 
Jake Gyllenhaal is flawless as Jack Twist in, arguably, the movie’s most difficult role. But Heath Ledger’s heartbreaking portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, a walking cautionary tale of homophobia’s logical end result, is a revelation — a total acting transformation made all the more tragic by Ledger’s death. But the indignities and injustices that Jack and Ennis faced did not end at Brokeback Mountain’s closing credits. Upon the film’s release, the movie’s makers and fans were subjected to a six-month orgy of tasteless jokes from clueless comedians and bile-filled commentary from right-wing pundits. All of this negativity culminated when the movie, long considered the Oscar front-runner, lost Best Picture to a fine but unremarkable movie called Crash, perhaps the most egregious upset in Oscar history and almost certainly the result of lingering homophobia in Hollywood’s old guard.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

McCabe & Mrs Miller,1971, again

Staying with westerns, a blissful another look at Robert Altman's McCABE & MRS MILLER, that dreamy but very realistic western from 1971, it is still unlike any other western - maybe only the comic John Wayne NORTH TO ALASKA in 1960 conveys the same idea of what living in a gold rush frontier town would be really like - and that was played for laughs. 

Few laughs here in this bleak Pacific Northwest mining town as winter sets in .... Altman's regulars are present and correct and Leonard Cohen's songs like "Travelling Lady" and "Sisters of Mercy" add an extra layer of lament and regret, as does Vilmos Zsigmond's photography. Keith Carradine is the young cowboy who does not last long here, and Shelley Duvall is the widowed wife who has to turn to prostitution, working for Mrs Miller - the laconic madam played by Julie Chrstie. Warren Beatty is John McCabe the gambler and businessman who thinks he can make it big in this bleak western community, with its half built church. He goes into business with the enterprising Mrs Miller who knows how to run a decent brothel and keep the girls clean and in order. Soon they have a thriving business as the miners settle in for the long winter, but their whorehouse/tavern attracts big business who want to take over the mining interests of the town and buy out McCabe, but on their terms, and then when he refuses, their gunmen are let loose, as the snow blankets everything and Mrs Miller is taking opium to blank out her bleak life ...
It is not a traditional western but is one to cherish and return to, and maybe Altman's most accessible film after MASH or NASHVILLE where his overlapping dialogue fits in perfectly here, and it remains a key Seventies movie. It is a study of place and character rather than a typical western - no redskins attacking forts or stagecoaches in Monument Valley here! but the bleak and grubby west as it must have been as the miners, the women and the gold-diggers made the best of it. Beatty and Christie are in their element and have a lot of fun creating these characters of the two-bit gambler and realistic madam as they and Altman subvert the Western genre as the wind howls through the trees and the snow and rain endlessly fall ... 

Now for 2 other top westerns: Clint Walker in YELLOWSTONE KELLY, 1959 and Budd Boetticher's 1960 classic COMANCHE STATION where Randolph Scott as Jefferson Cody (a perfect Western name) searches for his missing wife, abducted by Comanches ...

Stanwyck out west

Few of Hollywood's leading ladies looked as capable with a gun holster and riding a horse as 'Missy' (to her friends) Barbara Stanwyck, who seemed to spend most of the 1950s out west - apart from being on the TITANIC in 1953, and CLASH BY NIGHT or ESCAPE TO BURMA or that EXECUTIVE SUITE. Joan Crawford of course made the west her own in 1954's JOHNNY GUITAR (the first film I ever saw, aged 8, as mentioned before), but Barbara had all guns blazing in westerns as diverse as oaters like THE CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA in '54 or THE MAVERICK QUEEN in 1956 - how we liked those as kids.. 
1955's THE VIOLENT MEN was a tense one where she is the deceitful wife of crippled Edward G Robinson (they were both in DOUBLE INDEMNITY - below), during the climax she throws his crutches into the blazing house and hopes he is trapped there, as Glenn Ford and her lover Brian Keith shoot it out ... Sam Fuller's FORTY GUNS is another terrific one where she takes the bullet at the end, and Anthony Mann's THE FURIES is a delirious one in 1950 where Babs wields that scissors at rival Judith Anderson .... add in Beulah Bondi and Blanche Yurka for extra Furies. 
One I liked a lot is 1957's TROOPER HOOK where, following Ford's THE SEARCHERS, she is a white woman rescued from the Indians,with a halfbreed son, and his Apache father in hot pursuit ..... review at Stanwyck label. 

Barbara earlier in the 1930s took to the west in ANNIE OAKLEY in 1935, and UNION PACIFIC in 1939, and later, after her hits like THE LADY EVE and Sugarpuss O'Shea in BALL OF FIRE and her "maybe I'm just a dame and didn't realise it" in THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN, and guesting in various tv westerns, had her own western tv series THE BIG VALLEY, and of course she was a hit in THE THORN BIRDS and certainly enlivened THE COLBYS!. 
Maybe not a western as such, she was re-united with Gary Cooper in the 1953 torrid melodrama down Mexico way in BLOWING WILD where she lures husband Anthony Quinn to his death by oil derrick, while Ruth Roman is the good girl here, and yes again there is a bullet with Barbara's name on it ... (Below: FORTY GUNS).
We will have to re-see her 1962 Trash Classic WALK ON THE WILD SIDE again soon, with that terrific cast of Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter, Stanwyck dominating all and Laurence Harvey sleepwalking through it all as usual ...

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Kate and Maggie at the BFI

The British Film Institute is now doing a two part retrospective on Katharine Hepburn during February and March, but in fact are showing about half of her output - 27 titles out of 52!  
The Maggie Smith two-parter was about similar, but included all her main items (apart from DEATH ON THE NILE), 
but then, apart from her acknowledged classics, Smith did a lot of lesser stuff one does not need to see now (KEEPING MUM anyone? or that feeble 2012 QUARTET). The BFI also showed the contents of that MAGGIE SMITH AT THE BBC boxset: their "Plays of the Month" THE MILLIONAIRESS, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (plus MEMENTO MORI) and those 1960s interviews with her and Kenneth Williams. Great to see again her sparring with Rex Harrison, Burton, Rod Taylor, and working for Susan Hayward (THE HONEYPOT, left) like she did with Bette, below, and her star turns in ROOM WITH A VIEWTHE LONELY PASSION OF JUDITH HEARNE etc - as per reviews at Smith label. 
The Hepburn retro covers all the usual main titles, ignoring her lesser seen ones now - surely her 1944 DRAGON SEED where she plays an Eurasian is worth discovering now? (but as my pal Daryl says "There are movies that are better forgotten") - review of it at Hepburn label. But none of her offbeat choices in the '70s: the flop MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT, Cacoyannis's THE TROJAN WOMEN in 1971, or A DELICATE BALANCE where she is teamed with Scofield in Edward Albee in '73; and none of her later work after ON GOLDEN POND - do we really need to see that again or GUESS WHO'S .... I like some of her later TV films - that Cukor THE CORN IS GREEN set in Wales, in 1978 - or the amusing LAURA LANSING SLEPT HERE; still, it may be nice to go see SUMMERTIME and THE LION IN WINTER on the big screen again, and as for the extended run of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, I just don't like it that much! 

The New World, 2005

After Ken Russell (below), another visionary director, though a less prolific one: Terrence Malick. We liked BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN back in the '70s. Today we are looking at his 2005 THE NEW WORLD, another polarising movie it seems - some love it, others find it unutterably tedious and boring! I have had the dvd for years (and also his more recent THE TREE OF LIFE), but have only got to it just now. 

Captain Smith is spared his mutinous hanging sentence after captain Newport's ship arrives in 1607 to found Jamestown, an English colony in Virginia. The initially friendly natives, who have no personal property concept, turn hostile after a 'theft' is 'punished' violently on the spot. During an armed exploration, Smith is captured, but spared when the chief's favorite daughter Pocahontas pleads for the stranger who soon becomes her lover and learns to love their naive 'savage' way of harmonious life. Ultimately he returns to the grim fort, which would starve hadn't she arranged for Indian generosity. Alas, each side soon brands their own lover a traitor, so she is banished and he flogged as introduction to slavish toiling. Changes turn again, leading Smith to accept a northern-more mission and anglicized Pocahontas, believing him dead, becoming the mother of aristocratic new lover John Rolfe's son. They'll meet again for a finale in England.

This slow-paced film full of astonishing images of nature and the life of the Native Americans draws one in slowly as we see what life was really like for those voyagers to the new world as we see the cultures of both the English and the Natives. We have grown to like Colin Farrell in recent years, he was a terrific ALEXANDER (see label), but does not seem to be doing much here.  Q'orianka Kilcher is a very expressive Pocahontas, at one with nature. The film is perhaps self-indulgent and takes it time to take us on this journey. It is not standard Hollywood fare to say the least! but this is a real film-maker, like Antonioni or Fellini, creating a special universe where we stop and take in the flowing waters and the towering forest and the people who live there, it is certainly epic in scope. 

The ending is more complex, as we move from the Virginia settlement to London as Pocahontas is now married to John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and history tells us she died and was buried in London, a long way for her ideal forests and wildlife. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Devils, 1971: "Hell holds no surprises for them"!

Viewing Ken Russell's THE DEVILS now (Sky Movies are showing it, uncut as far as I can see, several times) after a gap of 40 or so years, is a potent, sobering experience. I initially saw it on the big screen on its initial run in that year 1971 of big movies one had to see, like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, DEATH IN VENICE, THE STRAW DOGS, SOLDIER BLUE etc. all pushing the boundaries on what could be shown on screen. Ken's THE DEVILS topped them all, even more so than his previous ones, THE MUSIC LOVERS and WOMEN IN LOVE.
After seeing Oliver Reed sleepwalking though so many later movies it is amazing to see him here .... ditto Vanessa Redgrave's Sister Jeanne, a deformed hunchback nun (both her actress daughters worked for Ken too), and the usual team of Russell regulars are all present and correct .... Graham Armitage is a treat as the very effete King, particularly when he produces that box with the relic which sends them all into a frenzy, and then he shows them it was an empty box! and I love his "bye bye blackbird""! Michael Gothard too tops all his other crazy roles as the demented torturer in chief, doing the bidding of devious Dudley Sutton, a pawn of Cardinal Richelieu who wants the city of Loudon demolished, but Father Grandier stands in his way ...

Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of seventeenth-century France, but need to destroy Father Grandier - the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial.

What follows is both a savage satire and critique of religious mania (like Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE) and a crazed, over the top excerise in Grand Guignol, all based on historical fact. Only Russell could have gone this far, showing religious hysteria and human depravity as Grandier is shaved, tortured and cooked before our eyes, and the hysterical nuns strip and run amok, while the inquisitors and their torture instruments seek out evidence of devils ...... it is of course based on Aldous Huxley's novel and John Whiting play "The Devils of Loudon". Ken's vision was realised by Derek Jarman's expressionistic sets and Shirey Russell's costumes, and that cast, including Murray Melvin, Max Adrian, Georgina Hale, Brian Murphy, Christopher Logue - there is perhaps too much of Gemma Jones as the young innocent love of Grandier's. The depictions of plague and torture from that opening image of maggots crawling out of a rotten corpse held high on a wheel, are images not easily forgotten. 

After its initial run THE DEVILS was probably considered too shocking by Warners (who also had problems with Roeg and Cammell's PERFORMANCE) - this was two years before THE EXORCIST - and was unseen for a long time. Now it is back on television and uncut on dvd, it may be time to re-appraise it a one of Ken's best. I caught up with his LISZTOMANIA and VALENTINO last year, - see Russell label for reviews - which I did not like much though liking the grand vision behind them, though I like THE MUSIC LOVERS and his later THE RAINBOW. We still have to see his SAVAGE MESSIAH and MAHLER. TOMMY of course was a big hit in 1975 - we had to go to a late night show to see it. 

Reed was also amazing in Russell's BBC film on Rossetti in 1967: DANTE'S INFERNO, and Vanessa is a revelation here, stepping into Glenda Jackson's shoes .... Ken did THE BOYFRIEND next. THE DEVILS remains a shocking, searing experience but if you can bear the more gruesome moments, then you will find it fascinating viewing, and no matter how hard you try you won't be able to ignore its intensity. 1970s audiences eventually got tired of  Ken's excesses and he fell from favour, dying aged 84 in 2011, but his key works continue to fascinate.  

Monday, 26 January 2015

About a boy ...

Or BOYHOOD - is that it? The dvd blurb says: "Filmed over 12 years using the same cast, BOYHOOD is a ground-breaking story of growing up and a unique film experiment.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette lead the cast as the parents of Mason (Eller Coltrane) who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Exploring the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before and set to a chart-topping soundtrack, including Coldplay's "Yellow" and Arcade Fire's "Deep Blue", BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting."

Well, yes, some people see it like that. A lot others too, as per the reviews over at IMDb, are less complimentary. A lot of it feels like watching some family's home movies, where kids play, ride their bikes, go bowling, but nothing really happens or develops. We are denied a narrative structure, so scenes seem random, as we see the years going by and Mason develops from a nice kid to a grungy early teen and then the nice young man of 18.  
But really I could have photographed my nephew - now 20 and at university and a similar nice young man - over the last 12 years when I saw him once or twice a year and it could look to be pretty much the same. It does though remind us of the little moments which make up our lives and which we forget in everyday living. It also paints a realistic picture of blue collar America and growing up there, as the father comes and goes, and the mother has two other unsatisfactory marriages (shown in a bloodless undramatic way) but is finally happy doing her own thing, as Mason leaves for college. That scene where she says his leaving is the worst day of her life is particularly true for me, as my own mother said the same thing when I left home at 18 for the bright lights of London .... Arquette delivers the most nuanced performance as her character changes over the years. 

There are other movies where nothing much happens (like Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA) but there is a structure where the director leads us - there seems to be no structure here just randomly put together scenes and then the film just stops.  I can see its a profound experience for some, but others may be itching to reach for the fast-forward button after half an hour or so, of this two and a half hour film. It is written and directed by Richard Linklater and its certainly an achievement to create and see the project through over that time period (the BBC did a similar project photographing a group of children every 7 years as we see them grow to adulthood), and it is up for lots of awards. But did the 5 year old child really understand what he was doing or told to portray? - as though for a 'structured reality' tv show. Fascinating seeing him grow up though .... dealing with family and two other fathers.. He does not really have to act as such, the camera just observes him doing ordinary things from childhood onwards - even his telling his second stepfather that he is not his dad is not played for any dramatic playoff. It was probably a good idea for Linklater to place his daughter as part of the family, as Mason's sister, which should have helped focus the family unit over the years of filming. 

Other commentators are much harsher, as in (from IMDb): 

Be warned: This is NOT a drama. The movie is the opposite of a carefully constructed work of art. It's nothing but a re-enactment of memories, a collection of unmeaning scenes we may or may not know from our own lives (bowling, playing video games, reading Harry Potter etc.). I think it is only fair to ask: What is the point? . The basic idea of filming a boy growing into a young man during twelve years is interesting, yes, but sadly the film offers nothing more than that. This is not enough! Sadly, many critics seem to have liked the basic idea so much that to them it didn't even matter if the director would be able to make it interesting or not.
The film which is much too long follows an unstable family and focuses on the life of Mason, a character that has absolutely no interesting characteristics whatsoever. Mason walks through this film as if he was in a coma or half asleep; he has no ambitions. At some point he gets his first kiss, gets interested in photography, goes to college at which point the film ends. I kid you not, this is the whole movie. The mother becomes a teacher at a local college and always seems to attract the wrong guys. The father is an unemployed loser who only talks about pop music and ends up being a square. Mason's sister (the director's daughter) grows up too and that's pretty much all you can say about her.

It did though come first in the "Sight & Sound" recent Top 20 Films of 2014.

Popcorn movies: a top 6

We like a good popcorn movie too here at the Projector. Some we can tune into whenever they crop up and we sit there enraptured all over again. Here are just some we like:

Nothing can beat Indiana Jones - and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is the classic one can happily watch anytime, all those priceless moments ...
Harrison is also terrific as the President in Wolfgang Petersen's 1997 AIR FORCE ONE, a terrific thriller, with Gary Oldman as the pitiless villain, and Glenn Close as the V.P. We love it when Harrison says "Get off my plane" to Oldman. 

Renny Harlin is another expert at high octane thrillers, we loved THE DEEP BLUE SEA at the cinema and enjoyed it yet again over the weekend on tv. Everything works here, the cast being picked off one by one, led by Saffron Burrows and Thomas Jane (in that wet suit) and that stunning storm at sea which wrecks the research facility containing the super sharks - then there is LL Cool J and his squawking parrot ..... 
Then there is the visual delights served up by Paul Verhoeven, What can one say about STARSHIP TROOPERS that has not been said before. We love every crazy minute of it - those beautiful people showering and those invading giant ants.    

I am not really one for CGI effects as such - I hated the shallow empty TROY and Scott's KINGDOM OF HEAVEN - but it all worked perfect for the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, particularly the first instalment with its perfect creation of  the hobbits' homes and Rivendell and all the characters we loved from Tolkien's books. 

The James Bond franchise got a stunning re-boot with the 2006 CASINO ROYALE. We can (and have) watched that a lot too ... the airport sequence being particularly edge of seat with a great pay-off. Great locations, great villain in Mads Mikkelsen, and a great Vesper with Eva Green ... SKYFALL was more of the same, and we await the next ...

We also go dizzy over Jan de Bont's SPEED with Keanu just perfect buffed up a treat, and of course Quentin's KILL BILL - particularly PART 1, where The Bride takes on everyone in the restaurant scene (where the violence is too stylised and comic to be taken seriously, its like a comic strip) and that delirious duel in the snow with the blue sky, between her and O-Ren Ishii - Lucy Liu in dynamic form!  Cinema doesn't get much better, and what a soundtrack to go with those images...and PART 2 is even better with the Bride buried alive, Daryl Hannah with an eyepatch and that black mambo!. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is another we like a lot, and I will finally get around to DJANGO UNCHAINED this week ... 
Spielberg needless to say, scores too here with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, JAWS, E.T., those Indiana Jones movies etc.