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.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Amour, again

Another recent classic its been a pleasure to re-watch is Michael Haneke's 2012 prize-winner AMOUR, also of course a rather painful watch as it deals with a subject we would rather not think about: how people age and fade away ... we see or saw it happen to our parents ... this is a meditation on age and what it does to us as we spend time with that ageing couple in their well-appointed Paris apartment and how they suddenly have to deal with infirmity and its indignities ... this is what I wrote back in 2012:
AMOUR, the second Michael Haneke film in a row to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes is an instant art-house classic, a chamber-piece about love but also mostly about impending death ... a devastating, but humane memento mori, for those - like me - who have been witness to the decline and deaths of our parents .... I fear London is becoming provincial in regard to European films. The buzz about AMOUR started back in May when it won at Cannes (see French label) - but we have had to wait till November for it to open here. 
In a pair of heartbreaking performances Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired married music teachers enjoying a comfortable old age, (in their 80s so things cannot continue indefinitely). They are happy in their Paris apartment with their books and music and occasional concerts, and are devoted to each other after a long marriage. The films opens with an unsettling flash-forward which renders all that follows a foregone conclusion, as fire-men break into the locked apartment: one morning at breakfast Anne suffers a small stroke. We are shown her deterioration in all its horror as she gradually loses control ...... Georges tends to her with devotion as she makes him promise she will not be put into hospital ...... then there is his final act of devotion, and the aftermath.

Haneke here gives us a love story, compassionate and intelligent, there is also a ghost story element. The two stars are superlative, as is Isabelle Huppert as their daughter, who leads her own life and tries to tell her father what to do, but in vain..I only know Riva (now 88) best from Melville's LEON MORIN PRETE (Riva label), while Trintignant is one of France's leading men ever since Vadim's AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, and an attractive presence in films like LE JEU DE LA VERITE and ATLANTIS CITY UNDER THE DESERT, as well as those hits we still like, like Lelouch's UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME, Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST, Costa-Garvas' Z, Rohmer's MY NIGHT WITH MAUD, Chabrol's LES BICHES , and I have recently acquired several of his with Romy Schneider (at least 3) to see and review soon. This is my first Haneke film, but I am now curious to see the others like THE WHITE RIBBON and HIDDEN. It would be perfect to see Trintignant and Riva (now in their 80s) nominated for awards .... if only for their courage here in showing what age does to  us. AMOUR isn't for everyone, but for those who have first-hand experience of parental decline, it will be a profound and moving experience, not depressing but cathartic.

AMOUR remains a tender, scrupulous, rigorous, demanding, two-hour examination of a romance well beyond boundaries, as it shows human existence in its most intimate and most elegiac state.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Once again: The Passenger, 1975

THE PASSENGER: This melancholy, languid and hypnotic existential anti-thriller by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the great Italian directors, stars Jack Nicholson as a soul-sick television reporter on assignement in the North African desert, who decides to assume the identity of the dead man in the hotel room next to his and decides to see where it leads him. The dead man turns out to have been an arms dealer - and Jack is soon up to his neck in danger as he travels around Europe meeting arms dealers, with the carefree girl who travels with him, while his wife and colleagues want to meet the dead man who they think was the last person to see him alive .... it all comes together in that astonishing final sequence. We like Antonioni a lot here, as per the many posts on him and his films, as per label. 

THE PASSENGER (or PROFESSIONE: REPORTER) does not crop up much in the television schedules these days, so when it does one has to have a look, or as I did, record it to look at again (the dvd with Jack's commentary is filed away).  This is what I wrote about it last time: - with more at The Passenger label).

Movies one becomes obsessed by: at different times I was obsessed about EAST OF EDEN, and then about THE MISFITS, and BLOW-UP and KLUTE, and then the 1954 A STAR IS BORN and 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY etc - and those favourite Hitchcocks, Michael Powells, Wilders, Mankiewiczs, Hawks etc. When I was 30 in 1975 I became as obsessed about Antonioni's THE PASSENGER as I did about his Monica Vitti films and BLOW-UP (ZABRISKIE POINT not so much), THE PASSENGER has another screening today on our Film4 channel as part of its Jack Nicholson season. 
My 1976 review,  see Passenger label

I was dazzled by THE PASSENGER then in 1975 and, as per The Passenger label, had a full page analysis of it published in a film magazine of the time, the very good FILMS ILLUSTRATED which gave readers a page each issue to talk about a film - quite good in that pre-internet pre-video age (whereas now we can write to our heart's content about whatever it is we want to...). The tone of the article makes me wince a bit now, but hey - it was 1975 and I was 30! (the full text is at the Antonioni label). Then the next year I became obsessed about TAXI DRIVER and OBSESSION and ....

Back to THE PASSENGER: Antonioni began shooting his anti-thriller (co-scripted with Mark Peploe) in 1973, with locations in Africa, Germany, London and Gaudi's Barcelona ... it finally emerged in 1975. It remains a key '70s movie for me but was probably overshadowed by Nicholson's mega-hits of the time like CHINATOWN and CUCKOO'S NEST ... Jack in that check shirt and green combat trousers in that riveting African section at the start still looks as iconic as Hemmings in the white jeans in BLOW-UP (and after the cluttered muddy look of a modern film like MAGIC MIKE the clean sharp clear photography here is an absolute dream). I must play the Nicholson dvd commentary ...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Audrey / Sabrina

Another joyous look at SABRINA, that Billy Wilder perennial from 1954, cementing Audrey Hepburn's stardom after her ROMAN HOLIDAY sensation of 1953. Here are some comments of mine from a previous review on it:

She has some great looks in SABRINA, where she seems one of the most gorgeous creatures ever put before a camera, whether at the start up in that tree watching the Larabee's party, or on her return from Paris when David Larrabee (William Holden) zooms up to the station to drive her home with her new French chic, or that dress she wears to the Larrabee party, or that black dress with the little hat, against the New York skyline. Is there anything more chic, even after 60 years practically - well of course there is Audrey's look in FUNNY FACE, the whole BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS thing, the various Sixties looks she adopted for CHARADE (the mustard yellow coat!), TWO FOR THE ROAD, HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, as Givenchy and Edith Head gowned her for those movies, which are still adored today.
I love how in SABRINA (of course Bogart is too old for her, as Linus - but it doesn't matter, just like it doesn't that Fred Astaire could practically be her grand-father in FUNNY FACE) Mrs Larrabee tries to put the chauffeur's daughter in her place at the party by telling her that she must come up to the house to cook something special for them to show them what she has learned in Paris. The way Sabrina says "Oh, I've learned a lot" is perfect ...SABRINA is a marvellous black and white film too, and remains a Billy Wilder perennial. Oddly enough, I hate his other one with Audrey: 1957's LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, another Audrey in Paris movie and a supposed tribute to Lubitsch, but a collapsed souffle for me, much as I love Gary Cooper he is simply to old with Audrey here and the film is just a damp squib. Billy regained his touch though with his next one - the funniest comedy ever made: SOME LIKE IT HOT. Indeed.
Most tributes to Audrey (like ballet dancer Darcey Bussell's recent television documentary) focus on fashion icon Audrey, but she was a marvellous actress too, as in THE NUN'S STORY, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, THE UNFORGIVEN, and I loved her later THEY ALL LAUGHED, all at Audrey Label. 

Bad things

Before moving on to some classy repeats on television this week (Antonioni's THE PASSENGER and Haneke's AMOUR - I have covered them both previously, but more in due course), here's a round-up of some trashy items we enjoyed or endured recently ...

Its always a pain to see performers one likes doing something rubbishy later in their careers, say hello to HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN a so-called shocker from that year of Trash Classics 1970 - its by Curtis Harrington who gave us the campy delights of WHATS THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, WHOEVER SLEW AUNT ROO? and GAMES (reviews at Horror label) but this one is dull fare indeed and wastes the talents of Anthony Perkins (perfecting his twitchy neurotics a decade after PSYCHO) and one of my great favourites Julie Harris (see label) in a thankless role.
After an eight-month stay in a mental hospital, a tormented man comes home to live with his sister; but a mysterious boarder may be trying to kill him.
Its a drab affair, that also features Joan Hacklett, and is thankfully only about 70 minutes.

More campy and glamorous is 1973's NIGHT WATCH, which re-unites Elizabeth Taylor with Laurence Harvey, and adds in Billie Whitelaw. 
Ellen Wheeler, a rich widow, is recovering from a nervous breakdown. One day, while staring out the window, she witnesses a murder. But does anybody believe her?
This is one of those campy thrillers with a twist ending - think Doris Day in MIDNIGHT LACE or Lana in PORTRAIT IN BLACK. They also ramp up the glam here with Liz in different gowns and furs and diamonds for every scene .... she and Larry were much more fun in BUTTERFIELD 8, both their careers were on the slide by this time, he was terminally ill and died later that year. NIGHT WATCH is an efficient potboiler which passes the time agreeably as one laughs at it, as dully directed by Brian G Hutton, who also helmed Liz's other 70s Trash Classic ZEE & CO. One cannot reveal the twist .... but its a howler. 

On to 1998 and VERY BAD THINGS - a thriller starring Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz.
A group of friends head to Las Vegas for a bachelor party.. only things go wrong and a woman is killed. Soon, the bodies are piling up and the friends find themselves turning against one another as the cover-up builds.
The main interest in this now is that one of the guys (the one who accidentally kills the prostitute) is an almost unrecognisable Jeremy Piven (right), well it was 17 years ago - a long way from his sleek MR SELFRIDGE which entertains us on Sunday nights here now.
Its a dark black comedy which keeps one watching, as director Peter Berg mixes laughs with chills as bodies get cut up to be buried out in the desert. Daniel Stern is good too and Cameron is ace as the bride-to-be from hell. Chunky hairy Piven is deliciously sleazy and its certainly ramps up some scuzzy Tarantino-esque fun as we watch some good guys do evil things as events get progressively out of hand. VERY BAD THINGS remains a polarising movie, with some either loving or hating it.

Back to 1944 for FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, a costume drama about pirates from a novel by Daphne De Maurier, with her REBECCA star Joan Fontaine. This is now a Spanish dvd: EL PIRATA Y LA DAMA (The Pirate and the Lady), by that interesting gay director Mitchell Leisen. Mexican Arturo de Cordova is the pirate, with hissable Basil Rathbone, dependable Cecil Kellway and blustering Nigel Bruce. 
Joan is the noblewoman who tires of her husband and his decadent friends in bawdy Restoration London and who decamps with her children to her country estate, run by kindly Cecil, in remote Cornwall. She soon finds out that a French pirate moors his ship in a nearby cove and has been using her house and bedroom. They get to meet and have a chaste affair.  She soon enjoys herself dressing up a his cabin boy and getting involved in his pirate activities. 
Then her husband and suspicious Basil turn up as the plot works out to a satisfactory, for its time, conclusion as she has to give up her pirate lover and settle for dull marriage and looking after her children. Joan gives it her all and gets to wear some nice gowns. Arturo and his pirate gang seem a gay lot .... a subtext picked up by my IMDB pal melvelvit, who commented:  "I see what cinema scribes mean when they speak of Leisen's "gay sensibility"; the camera practically caressed Arturo's hairy (unusual for the time) chest and there were lots of lovingly photographed bare-chested pirates" ... A sometimes campy, sometimes dull swashbuckler then. Joan's and Basil's fight to the death on the stairs is certainly well done and packs a punch! 

Monday, 23 February 2015

The annual Wild River review, now its on Blu-ray ...

WILD RIVER – what a blissful way to spend an afternoon, re-watching Kazan’s 1960 WILD RIVER – it is so perfect and involving one loses track of time - particularly now on a "Masters of Cinema" dual-format Blu-ray, where it looks mint new, I would not change a frame of it.  Clift is quite animated here (after walking like a zombie through SUDDDENLY LAST SUMMER in '59 after that road accident during RAINTREE COUNTY...), perhaps Kazan had better rapport with him than Huston for his next two (THE MISFITS where he is really side-lined for most of the film, and FREUD). He is the Tennessee Valley Authority man who arrives to oversee the flooding of an island and the removal of the owners before the land is flooded to harness the river - this is the rural Deep South in the depressed 1930s ...
The revelations here though are Lee Remick and Jo Van Fleet. Lee is utterly spellbinding in every scene as her emotionally stunted widow comes back to life, she and Clift are such a perfect team. There is that marvellously nuanced scene where they return to the house she lived in with her late husband ... Then there is Jo Van Fleet, 45 playing over 80 as the old Ella Garth. There should have been at  least nominations for them.
Jo Van Fleet & Lee Remick
The plot is dreamlike and takes it’s time as we get used to the TVA and the locals (and the thorny subject of equal pay for black and white) and Ella’s island and her stubbornness in not wanting to leave her land. It has to be my favourite Kazan [I used to be obsessed about EAST OF EDEN, maybe now it will be WILD RIVER - I was never bothered about SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS as much, maybe I should return to it]. Bruce Dern is an uncredited extra and that 1930s rural poverty is so tangible it permeates everything. The poster tried to makes it look like an actioner, but it is mainly a quiet, reflective film. It may be my favourite Clift role (apart from THE HEIRESSFROM HERE TO ETERNITYA PLACE IN THE SUN), he hardly strikes one as the action hero as he squares up to the local bullies ... Remick too, after Kazan introduced her in A FACE IN THE CROWD in '57 has one of her best roles, right after her sexy Laura Manion in 1959's hit  ANATOMY OF A MURDER... (Remick label).

Kazan's drama combines a lyrical romance worthy of D.W. Griffith or John Ford with the natural poetry of Robert Flaherty, as we are almost in that early 20th century Americana period of silent films, in a very convincing 1930s setting as outsider Clift and wistful, vulnerable widow Remick are drawn together and find the resolve to stand up for themselves. It is a great Fox Cinemascope film too from that great era of Fox films, often from literary sources (HEMINGWAY'S ADVENTURES OF A YOUNG MANTHE SUN ALSO RISESTHE DIARY OF ANNE FRANKNO DOWN PAYMENTTHE WARWARD BUSTHE SOUND AND THE FURY etc - which are great to catch up with now - Dramas label.
Its nice to remember that when we saw Remick at the BFI (NFT) in 1970, she was watching that scene with us (sitting next to me, as I had two seats in the front row and my guest could not make it, so she asked to sit in the spare seat while the clips were on) where she and Clift are so perfect crossing the river. Her scenes with Clift are so leisurely and well-paced, she is so reflective here as her character listens all the time, and slowly blossoms back to life. She said several times in interviews that its her favourite role and she enjoyed working with Clift. 
Last time I wrote about it, my friend Daryl added: "For years it was unavailable because the Deluxe color had faded badly (even the negative had turned all pink) and it took years for the color restoration (done with the financial backing of Martin Scorsese, just before Kazan's death). Now it has retained its lovely color, and the film is finding its place as one of Kazan's great works."
Well the Blu-ray edition certainly works, good commentary and booklet too. One of my favourite films just got better. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

My alternative Oscars, again ....

Its an all-night show here in the UK, I may record it and see it Monday morning over breakfast .....
Slick show, not watching it live means one can speed up the boring bits!  Loved the "Everything is Awesome" number, and the clever use of clips in Neil Patrick Harris's opening number, plus Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews ..... Scarlett Johansson ruled the red carpet, and I am generally happy with the results, at least THE IMITATION GAME got best adapted screenplay, and THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL scored 4 technical awards. Though again of course several major films (MR TURNER, NIGHTCRAWLER and even PADDINGTON) were snubbed, or ignored, and its fun seeing actors, even you Julianne, turn into dribbling wrecks once they get that award.... If only the artists were prepared to send up the pomposity of being named better than their peers for a year, but they probably feel its their turn to get one (no doubt Cate Blanchett will be launching her next Oscar campaign once CAROL. from Highsmith via Todd Haynes, finally opens). Thankfully its all over for another year, it got rather wearying seeing Eddie gulp his way through another acceptance speech ... but really at four hours or so, it becomes an endurance test and needs to be tightened up, groups of people making speeches gets boring after a while and the emphasis on gowns and jewelry and red carpet posturing somehow lacks gravitas. Just saying ... 
A favourite Oscar photo: 1961's Best Actress Sophia Loren presented Gregory Peck with his 1962 Best Actor award, while 1961's Best Actor Maximilian Schell presented the 1962 Best Actress statuette - but winner Anne Bancroft was on Broadway so Joan Crawford had arranged to accept her award if she had won, Bette Davis who had been nominated (for WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? with Joan) was left fuming backstage as Joan, not nominated but clutching an Oscar (so what if it was Anne Bancroft's) and looking marvellous, joins the winners .... with Max looking like her hot date for the night! 

 I am reprinting this 2011 post of mine, with my main alternative Oscar awards ! as today's "Sunday Times" had a list of their top 100 Oscar movies: 50 that won and 50 that did not win anything .... so lets play Alternate Oscars !

Danny Peary’s book ALTERNATE OSCARS has been well thumbed over the years, with its alternative suggestions for best film, actor and actress choices since the Academy Awards began. We all have our own list of Oscar injustices, though one would be hard pressed to list last year's winners, it was a different story though back in the '50s and '60s...

Also, there has only been one tie, in my lifetime, in 1968 with Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand, which seemed entirely appropriate at the time. I have a few more!
Here are my own top 12 alternative choices:

• 1950 – Bette Davis & Gloria Swanson. Davis and particularly Swanson must have been regarded as old timers back in 1950, thus allowing the new girl [Judy Holliday] to win (as new girls Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly did in '53 and '54, and a decade later those two new Julies), but for me 1950 has to be the year of Bette and Gloria. SUNSET BOULEVARD and ALL ABOUT EVE remain imperishable.

• 1954 – Judy Garland. I like Grace but it seems she won for looking dowdy in a cardigan and glasses. THE COUNTRY GIRL isn't that revered today, A STAR IS BORN certainly is - Enough said! In retrospect though we can see that there was no way Garland who was perceived as "difficult" and washed-up could have won then. [This is the year I came in, seeing movies aged 8 and STAR was one of those first unforgettable choices...]  It was of course Brando's year but James Mason as Norman Maine is my winner.

• 1955 – Ernest Borgnine was worthy but how could they ignore James Dean ?

• 1959 – Stephen Boyd for Best Supporting Actor for BEN HUR - his Messala is the black heart of the film and he must have trained as hard as Heston for that chariot race .... We like Hugh Griffiths who won for his arab sheik but he really is comic relief for a few scenes.
Or how about Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis tying for Best Actor for SOME LIKE IT HOT ?

• 1960 – Deborah Kerr & Jean Simmons. The two British girls who went to Hollywood and were very big stars indeed. The '50s was their heyday (Kerr did 3 films in 1959 and usually averaged two a year). It would have been the culmination of their great years if the friends and three-time co-stars had tied in 1960, for THE SUNDOWNERS (Kerr) and ELMER GANTRY where Simmons was not even nominated (her co-stars Lancaster and Shirley Jones got their awards here). Taylor would still have her 1966 win which she richly deserved.
[Alternatively, Kerr could have won in 1957 for her lovely portrayal of Sister Angela in Huston's HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON, and Simmons to win in 1960 for ELMER GANTRY - '57's winner Joanne Woodward, nominated in 1973 could win then - Glenda Jackson didn't need a second oscar (in '73) for a comedy which I had no interest in seeing!]

• 1960 – Peter Finch. We have to acknowledge Peter Finch's towering performance as Oscar Wilde in the 1960 THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE where he is richly witty and affecting - it's a great performance.

• 1962 – Lee Remick. All 5 female nominees in 1962 (as in '61) were richly deserving (Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Geraldine Page, Lee Remick and winner Anne Bancroft) , but for me it has to be Lee Remick for her totally brilliant performance as the wife taking to alcoholism in DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES. Seeing it again lately, it is as affecting as ever.

 1963 – Dirk Bogarde & Maurice Ronet. Sidney Poitier won in 1963 - he should have won at some stage (1967 maybe, he had 3 big movies that year), but was this his best role? Dirk Bogarde in THE SERVANT and Maurice Ronet in LE FEU FOLLET both re-defined themselves with their mesmerising performances [though of course in the real world these British and French films could not be nominated, but can in my alternate universe]. There's also Burt Lancaster re-defining himself in THE LEOPARD ....

 1967 – Audrey Hepburn. The wrong Hepburn won in 1967! Kate seems to stroll through that Kramer film, whereas Audrey re-defines herself in Donen's TWO FOR THE ROAD, and was also in WAIT UNTIL DARK. Of course it was the first time Katharine had been back on screen in years and with Tracy - who knew she would come storming back the next year with the very deserving win for THE LION IN WINTER? Faye Dunaway's BONNIE is also a major contender ...

 1971 – Dirk Bogarde & Peter Finch. Instead of Gene Hackman this year, I would honour career best performances by Bogarde in DEATH IN VENICE and Finch in SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, both of which are acting on the grand scale and totally affecting. (Gene could have his for THE CONVERSATION).

 1974 – Faye Dunaway & Ellen Burstyn. Instead of winning for NETWORK, I would give Faye her win for her endlessly fascinating Evelyn Mulwray in CHINATOWN, which is as much her film as it is Nicholson's. Ellen has to share it with her...

• 1976 – Robert De Niro. As I have already honoured Peter Finch twice, I would make the sole winner in 1976 Robert De Niro for his unforgettable Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER.

• 1978 – Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. For their astonishing mother and daughter act in Ingmar's AUTUMN SONATA, one cannot take one's eyes off them during that piano playing scene, a masterclass in screen acting.

• 1980 – Romy Schneider. For me THE female performance this year is Romy Schneider as the woman who is told she is dying in DEATH WATCH (LE MORT EN DIRECT) and her dying days are observed for a television show by Harvey Keitel (with a camera in his brain) as they flee to remote Scotland in this odd sci-fi tale [with Max Von Sydow and Harry Dean Stanton to complete its odd mix of indie and arthouse]. Romy is totally affecting, and would die two years later ...

• 2006 – Julie Christie. It would have been perfect if Julie had won for her Alzheimers role in  AWAY FROM HER, 40+ years after her first win for DARLING in 1965. Only Hepburn could have matched that distance between major wins, but it was not to be ... It looks like Julianne Moore is sure to win this year for her woman succumbing to Alzheimers, with Marion Cotillard (who won in 2006) also nominated again. 

2012 – Surely any actress would have been embarrassed to have been chosen over Emmanuele Riva in AMOUR .....

Some of the Best Picture wins seem incomprehensible now (GOING MY WAY, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS) but they were the biggies of their day - even more incomprehensible is no Best Picture awards for CITIZEN KANE, 2001, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS or ....

These have been discussed further here, as per labels on those named...

Say Hello To Yesterday, 1970

Say hello also to tedium and annoyance as this twee 1970 'romance' unfolds ..... I intially thought I would not mention it, but I have covered some other 1970 Trash Classics here, like GOODBYE GEMINI and DORIAN GRAY (see 1970 label), and its a fitting companion piece in that cinematic junkyard - its a fascinating era really as the British Cinema deteriorated into tat after those great decades of the 1940s and 1960s, and the 1950s were not too bad either!

Lets look at the blurb for this effort:
One of the most under-rated British films that was produced between the end of the swinging sixties and the beginning of the hippie seventies. Leonard Whiting plays a young dreamer who is trapped in a working class existance: living in a council house with a father who has no  horizon higher than working in the local factory. Jean Simmons is the mature woman living in a leafy Surrey house with her stockbroker husband and two children, but is desperately unhappy with her life.
When the two unlikely lovers meet on a train to London, Whiting begins his charm offensive of the older woman across London's 1970s landscape. this is one of the most insightful films to deal with the thrill and inevitable puncturing of the balloon that signifies the love affair between these two unikely protatonists. Directed and co-written by Alvin Rakoff, music by Riz Ortolani. 

It is always nice to see Jean Simmons and she tries her best here in this underwritten role. Whiting is beyond annoying as his "charm offensive" in 1970 looks like sexual harrassment and he would be arrested these days as he keeps bothering her on the train full of stuffy commuters. And the horror - his family live in a council house! where his salt-of-the-earth dear old Mum (Constance Chapman) slips him a fiver as he heads off to Cobham station where Jean is boarding the first class compartment.  Our leads have no names here, they are listed as just Woman and Boy. He finally wears her down and yes they end up in bed but not for long. She flees back to her Surrey estate and he is left with those balloons which can signify whatever one wants .... Evelyn Laye appears as her wise mother. If Jean is the older woman here, then her mother must be ancient! 
There was a vogue for older woman/younger man romances, like the play and film of FORTY CARATS which was rather amusing, as per my review (Liv Ullmann label), but that was a well-written Broadway play. This suffers by comparison. Whiting may have been right for Zeffirelli's ROMEO & JULIET, but seems quite ordinary, if annoying, here. He wears a nice velvet suit of the period, not the same one he wore when I saw him at the BFI later that year. The dvd has a useful interview with Simmons, from sometime in the 80s. 
Thanks to Colin for this Twitter photo of Leonard in San Francisco recently for a showing and Q&A on ROMEO & JULIET in January. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Oscar forecast

LOVE IS STRANGE finally limped into town last week, the last of last year's big ones screened at the BFI's London Film Festival last October, and without any Oscar nominations to give it extra cachet. It is not even playing at my local multiplex, so if its still around next week I may have to catch it when uptown next, otherwise its wait for the dvd! The critics though regarded it as the perfect Valentine Day movie instead of that over-hyped FIFTY SHADES OF GREY ...
Timing it seems is everything in the Oscars race. Take 1950 - Bette Davis for ALL ABOUT EVE and Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD may either or both have won if they had appeared in different years, but clashed together thus paving the way for newcomer Judy Holliday to win. Apparently at the ceremony Swanson leaned over and said to Holliday: "For heavens sake, couldn't you have waited till next year?" - it being Gloria's final bid for Oscar glory. (Another point of view of course is that in 1950 both Bette and Gloria were seen as old timers and not as revered as they are now: Bette was all washed up having left Warners while Swanson was just a "silent star", and it seems Judy Garland was also seen as washed up and difficult as well in 1954 thus the vote went to the current golden girl Grace Kelly. THE COUNTRY GIRL may be largely forgotten now (I certainly don't like it), but the love for A STAR IS BORN just keeps on growing....).

Back to this year: THE IMITATION GAME boys must have thought they had it all sewn up. Posh boy Benedict as gay martyr Alan Turing (though we don't see him actually do anything like you know, gay...) who it seems single-handedly cracked the Enigma Code in a cracking period drama (Keira looks a picture in those 40s fashions) crammed with British talent. But then comes along an even posher boy (Benedict went to Harrow, Eddie is an Eton boy who was at school with Prince William) as the even more impressive Stephen Hawking, not only a genius but with that major disability card which Oscar so loves ..... so thats in the bag then. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is a more feel-good picture too, and yes Redmayne is astonshing - the perfect mix of actor and role as he looks just right here. 

I am not enamoured with BOYHOOD, as per my review, but it too seems unstoppable now .... and Julianne Moore is certainly worthy and paid her dues, though her film is not opening here until March. Patricia Arquette is a worthy win too. We shall see ...

Great nights in the theatre, continued ...

When I began this blog a few years ago, I did some pieces on 'great nights in the theatre' - highlighting some shows that really were superlative - as per Theatre label: Maggie Smith as HEDDA directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1970, Glenda Jackson and young Marianne Faithfull in THREE SISTERS at the Royal Court in 1967, the original London production of FUNNY GIRL with Barbra Streisand in 1966, Ingrid Bergman in  A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY, Gielgud & Richardson in HOME, various HAMLETs and more .... Here's a couple more to remember:
SWAN LAKE - Matthew Bourne's stunningly original re-working of the classic ballet SWAN LAKE has been described as "as heartbreaking as BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, as romantic as BEAUTIFUL THING, as camp as PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT and as erotic as Bel Ami porn". Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne's long-running production is stunningly designed, imaginative and joyously funny. Its been revived several times since it first began twenty years ago. The dancing is always flawless whichever version you see. I saw it well over a decade ago and was of course blown away too. It tells the story of the young prince (Scott Ambler)  trapped in a life of dull duty with his ice queen mother. He escapes the palace and gets drunk one night at "a seedy club" mixing with the lowlifes and gets slung out. He staggers to the park and to the lake where he sees those swans ...... that music soars and the muscular swans take to the stage. Our prince is saved from suicide by the vision of the bare-chested lead swan (Adam Cooper) who dances and dances and leads him into a pas de deux as the prince confronts his desires and longing to be loved.
By replacing the iconic flock of female swans with a group of menacing muscle-bound men (and those four very camp cygnets), Bourne overturns one of the most beautiful sequences in classical ballet, and it still works perfectly with that marvellous Tchaikovsky score. Alas, the prince's happiness does not last, as the swan is transformed into the black swan at the royal ball (both swans played by the same dancer, as is the tradition) as the stage is set for the final act. Tchaikovsky of course was a frustrated gay man unable to live the life he wanted ...  

Bourne's version for his company "Adventures in Motion Pictures" dance company was first staged in 1995 at Sadlers Wells in London. Collecting over 30 international theatre awards including three Tonys, it has been acclaimed as a landmark achievement on the international stage. It has become the longest running ballet in the West End and on Broadway and enjoyed four hugely successful tours in the UK and thrilled audiences all over the world. There is also a dvd of the first iconic production which made stars of Adam Cooper and of course it also features at the climax of BILLY ELLIOTT. We also liked Matthew Bourne's eclectic versions of CINDERELLASLEEPING BEAUTY and CARMEN (the sexy CAR MAN set in a garage!).

Another astonishing show, as mentioned before, is that Royal Court production of Samuel Beckett's NOT I, with that tour-de-force performance by the recently departed Billie Whitelaw, which I saw back in 1973. We sit and watch a totally black stage where a mouth that floats eight feet above the floor recites a babbling stream of monologue that can mean whatever one wants it to. It only lasts 15 minutes but was agony to perform. In fact only 1 other actress has attempted it: Lisa Dwan did it a year or two ago. Its certainly an emotional experience. 

MY NIGHT WITH REG - we liked and recently reviewed this modern gay classic, now back in the west end. One of its cast Julian Ovenden explained on television that it is no longer "a gay play" or "an Aids play" as its depiction of gay life in the 1980s has become to much part of the mainstream culture. Also getting raves after transferring from the Old Vic is that stark new production of Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, with powerhouse performances from Mark Strong and Nicola Walker. One to catch before it finishes ...

Next week its Sondheim's ASSASSINS (below) and then in April that new production of GYPSY .... bring them on! 

Jazzing up the kitchen ...

Spring is on the way, the daffodils are out, and a squirrel has discovered the recent bird feeder in the garden, by hanging upside down from the branch he can get at the food .... I must get a photo.

Time to make one's kitchen more glamorous and fashionable, so to go with the recent Italian kettle, there's a Pantone blue coffee maker, a pink pepper mill, a royal blue teapot, and mint green digital radio. Its a start ...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Amazon Queen of Atlantis

Fun peplums! Here are two cheap and cheerful ones, One I have not seen since I was a kid, and the other a new discovery, and on YouTube yet!

George Pal's ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT for MGM in 1961 is still great fun now, and we get to see clips from other movies too ....
A Greek Fisherman rescues a girl he finds in the ocean - she is a Princess from a strange country and she charms him to take her back .... it is of course Atlantis, where he is enslaved. The King is being manipulated by an evil sorcerer who is bent on using a natural resource of Atlantis to take over the world. The slaves of Atlantis are forced to mine a crystalline material which absorbs the suns rays to create weapons of destruction. Then, the volcano explodes, can our hero save the Princess and flee back to the boat ...

This is a delicious farrago, with two wooden leads: Anthony Hall and Joyce Taylor as Princess Antillia, but solid support is provided by Edward Platt as the high priest, and John Dall chewing the scenery as the evil Zaren, using his deadly rays to vaporise boats out of the sea. It is all well made and imaginative (a mad scientist is even experimenting with turning men into swine!), and on a budget. Nice to see some props - those funny hats - and that marvellous statue of a pagan god which Lana Turner worshipped in THE PRODIGAL - turn up again here - right. Then as Atlantis erupts there is a crowd scene of people fleeing and I recognise it immediately from QUO VADIS! There are also shots from THE NAKED JUNGLE and more from THE PRODIGAL included. MGM were good at recyclying their old moves (a 1959 African adventure WATUSI used extensive footage from their 1951 KING SOLOMON'S MINES). It is all still great fun now, the trailer crams it all into 2 minutes:

Two musclemen take on a tribe of Amazon Women. Rod Taylor made this in 1960 either before or after THE TIME MACHINE - his stint with George Pal, I suppose a peplum made in Italy seemed fun at the time. Ed Fury is the other muscle guy, and he is quite fun too - its a bigger part for him than those walk-ons in American films, or those muscle magazines. The two pals are drugged and taken by sea to the island ruled by the Amazons. I think Rod decided the only way to play this was to camp it up and his Pirro is a bit swishy, as indeed are most of the men here, but in a nice way, as they fuss over their laundry and cleaning. Its the women who are the warriors, and theres a good trio here: Gianna Maria Canale as the Queen, all alone without love, while Daniella Rocca and Dorian Gray are two of her rival officers seeking to out-do each other. Rocca keeps falling down a lot, and Gray (whom I only know from Antonioi's IL GRIDO) is nicely droll too. 
It is all very tongue in cheek.  Between loves and duels, plots and ruses, the pirates will bring together Amazons and Greeks to live in harmony.
IMDB says: Loaded with homo-erotic subtext and dreadful dialog watch this for its camp value and a star on the rise. It does not take itself seriously and pokes fun at the genre. The beatnik-y jazzy lounge music soundtrack is a camp delight too!
Rod went on to that rather good swashbuckler SEVEN SEAS TO CALAIS (Rod label) and then the two big ones: one of THE VIPs and then Hitch summoned him to Bodega Bay ...