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 December 2016

2016 RIP

Last post of year. Yesterday's papers featured this terrific montage by Chris Barker, a graphic artist, showing 2016's casualties in a brilliant pastiche of Peter Blake's SGT PEPPER's iconic album cover. I am sure they won't mind my posting it here so more can see it. Below, with additions Liz Smith, George Michael, Carrie Fisher ...

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

RIP, continued ...

2016 hasn't finished with us yet.

Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016), aged 84. A day after the passing of her daughter Carrie, it is sad indeed to hear that Debbie has died too. I shed a tear for the passing of this irrepressible Hollywood legend, who was screen-tested after being crowned Miss Burbank 1948.
She entertained us throughout our 1950s and '60s with items as choice as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (when she was just 19), THE TENDER TRAP with Sinatra, TAMMY, IT STARTED WITH A KISS, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN, the oddball GOODBYE CHARLIE, DIVORCE AMERICAN STYLE etc. and, er, THE SINGING NUN! She held her own against Bette Davis in THE CATERED AFFAIR in 1956, a nice dramatic role.  Then she found a whole new career as  a sassy grandma gay-icon, particularly as Grace's mother in WILL & GRACE and films like MOTHER and IN AND OUT., and practically unrecognisable as Liberace's mother in BEHIND THE CANDELABRA Then there was her work preserving Hollywood history and costumes, and she kept busy. She was fab too in the camp horror flick WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN?, acting up a storm with Shelley Winters,  in 71. (review at Debbie label). She was a wicked mimic too, as per her impression of Streisand at:   RIP to a game gal.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016), aged 60.. Carrie Fisher was Hollywood royalty, her parents being Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Carrie was a teen in SHAMPOO in 1975 and then of course immortalised as the plucky Princess Leia with that hairstyle in the first STAR WARS films, and she returned to the latest one last year, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. She actually clocked up 90 acting credits, and was also that acerbic, funny writer, who wrote POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and that campfest THESE OLD BROADS for her mother, Taylor, McLaine and Collins. Her colorful private life included a brief marriage to Paul Simon. She was her usual witty self on television here only a few weeks ago.

Liz Smith (1921-2016), aged 95. Veteran character actress Liz was much loved and so very individual, across British television, stage (I saw her in the original ONCE A CATHOLIC) and film - particularly A PRIVATE FUNCTION (she and Maggie Smith were a perfect double act) and WE THINK THE WORLD OF YOU. She only began acting at 50, after a hard early life. She stunned in those early Mike Leigh films like HARD LABOUR and BLEAK MOMENTS. Her most loved role though was as Nana (with some priceless one-liners, as scripted by Caroline Aherne, who also left us this year, in the long-running BBC hit THE ROYLE FAMILY, RIP to a favourite of ours. She also excelled in that TV SEPARATE TABLES in 1983, and the film APARTMENT ZERO.  

Richard Adams (1920-2016), aged 96. Best-selling author of WATERSHIP DOWN which became a worldwide success and that enjoyable film.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Love & Friendship

A delicious end of year treat is Whit Stillman's LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, a quite popular movie this year, and is on several end of year best lists. It is based on a rare Jane Austen novella "Lady Susan" and exceeds all expections of Austen costume dramas.
Set in the 1790s, Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter.

Like in those other Austens smart women in those days had to secure a rich husband and a position in society. How Lady Susan manages it is deftly handled here and offers Kate Beckinsale her best role ever which she grabs with both hands, 
The film looks great, the supporting cast glitters (Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Tom Bennett), it was filmed in Ireland, and is a fun, briskly-paced romp through those country house settings. We are now looking forward to Stillman's earlier THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, also with Beckinsale. 

Querelle & Fassbinder

One of the most bizarre movies is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's QUERELLE, a 1982 item from the novel by Genet - but in Fassbinder's vision it becomes a lurid if not sensational potboiler of repressed (and not so- ) homoerotic passions with all those matelots in those eye-catching outfits hanging out in waterfront dives in Brest in France, as our hero Querelle (Brad Davis) has the hots for his superior officer, a moody Franco Nero, right.. 
Add in Jeanne Moreau of all people, wearing those enormous ear-rings, intoning Oscar Wilde's "Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves" and Querelle submitting to her brutal husband, who likes getting off with those sailor boys.   It was all too much at the time, how would it fare now? It was actually released after Fassbinder's death in 1982. 
The Fassbinder we really like is his 1974 FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, reviewed here a while back, see Fassbinder label - where the director himself plays the loutish lottery winner taken to the cleaners by his smart new boyfriend (Peter Chatel, right) and his grasping family who need Fox's money to prop up ther ailing business. It ends on a very downbeat note as Fox's body is robbed by kids in a metro station.  

Other Fassbinders (once as prolific as Almodovar or Ozon) we liked then include FEAR EATS THE SOUL, his stylish hothouse lesbian drama THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT, EFFI BRIEST, THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRUAN, and the fascinating mess he made of Nabokov's DESPAIR with Dirk Bogarde, the director's last before his untimely drug-related death in 1982, aged 37. Still, he clocked up 44 credits ...  . 
A FOX memory - between 1976 and 1979 I was working at Dillons University Bookshop (now Waterstones) in London's University quarter, not in the bookshop but in an office upstairs, working with a German woman, Monica, who became a friend (we both loved Dietrich and Romy Schneider); one day she was expecting a guest for lunch and asked me to talk to him until she came back from a meeting. In walked this guy whom I recognised as Peter Chatel, the actor from FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, he sat on the edge of my desk and we talked about that until Monica returned, Chatel died aged 42 in 1986, another Aids casualty, 
Below: Andy Warhol visits the set, with Fassbinder and Brad Davis.

Monday, 26 December 2016

George Michael, RIP

2016 (not over yet!) continues to be the year of living dangerously for music legends, starting with Bowie back in January. It seems cruelly ironic and shocking to hear, late on Christmas Day, that George Michael (1963-2016) has also departed, at the early age of 53. 
George of course was one of the major stars of the Eighties and forged a fascinating solo career. I love his OLDER album, and those songs like "You Have Been Loved", his lovely vocal on "Jesus To A Child" ("you have always been my love") and that title track which speaks to all older gays. Then there were the stunning videos, like "Outside", and those duets. I love the one with Mary J Blige for their take on Stevie Wonder's "As" where they play all the people in the club - very clever. There were the duets with Aretha and Whitney, and I like his one with Astrud Gilberto, where George perfects his admiration of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Its a fascinating collection of music and videos over albums (PATIENCE is terrific too) and singles (including that controversial "Shoot The Dog") and a lasting legacy. We had worries about his health in recent years and some erratic behaviour and headlines (It was brave coming out when he did (unlike today) plus his fights with Sony over artistic control, and then there was his unapolagetic stance over cruising) and his reclusiveness in recent years, but now its all about the music and the man   He had a droll sense of humour too, as shown on his appearance on The Catherine Tate TV Show. RIP indeed.
It reminds me of one of those crazy nights back in 1985 - when I was in Brighton a lot with my disk jockey friend Rory - we were walking along the seafront late on a Sunday night when a car pulled up and to my surprise there was Andrew Ridgeley in the passenger seat, they knew Rory and wanted to know where to go for some late night after hours drinks, so he was able to point them towards The Beacon Royal, a late night gay hotel, so off they went. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Festive cheer 3

O HENRY’S FULL HOUSE – This 1952 20th Century Fox compendium of 5 O Henry stories has never surfaced anywhere during my years here in England, so when I saw it on Amazon I just had to get it, and its quite nice if nothing very special. Odd for a film about one writer’s work it is introduced by another: the much better known John Steinbeck (whom I had not seen on film before) who links the stories. It has that early ‘50s Fox look and a lot of those young Fox players of the time, but the most interesting sequence is a practically wordless one of hobo Charles Laughton trying to get back into jail for the winter – Marilyn Monroe appears for maybe a minute as the streetwalker he insults, and its just great seeing them together.
Oddly enough the story directed by Howard Hawks works least of all and is rather bizarre - but Fox stalwarts Henry Hathaway, Jean Negulseco, Henrys Koster and King direct the other episodes: cop Dale Robertson having to arrest old school pal Richard Widmark (guying his tough guy image) is a lively diversion; poor newly weds Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger trying to afford Christmas presents is nicely touching; and sisters Anne Baxter and Jean Peters play in an amusing anecdote with Gregory Ratoff.
Its a nice little diversion for this time of year. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Festive cheer 2

Two treats lined up for holiday viewing: two Katharine Hepburn movies ideal for this time of year. THE LION IN WINTER, now spruced up in a new edition with lots of features, is an ideal Christmas film and is of course a feast of acting with Hepburn and OToole firing on all cylinders as Henry II and his warring brood celebrate Christmas at Chinon in 1183, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine is left out of prison for the holidays. Anthony Harvey crafts a solid entertainment from James Goldman's play, and John Barry's faux medieval score is one of his best. It looks great too. I had already met Jane Merrow (label) and seen Timothy Dalton on the stage, so knew how good they were, and John Castle was fresh from BLOW-UP.
It was marvellous seeing it for the first time on the widescreen of the old Odeon Haymarket back in 1968, I still have the souvenir brochure. Hepburn dazzled us then.
DESK SET from 1957 is a more recent discovery, and may be my favourite Tracy-Hepburn, but has that long central act at the office christmas party, where Kate, splendid in red, does a delicious tipsy scene with Joan Blondell, Tracy is fun for a change, and Kate even sings "Night and Day"! (More on DESK SET at Kate label). 

It may also be time to have another look at CAROL, taking us back to that Christmas in 1950s New York, when Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara meet at the department store ......

Festive cheer

Our Strictly Come Dancing marathon is finally over, with the deserving winner Ore Oduba, a BBC sports presenter who had never danced before, but he and dance partner Joanne Clifton certainly ramped up the dances in a great final with runners-up Danny Mac and Louise Redknapp. Here is Ore and Joanne's stupendous tribute to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN from the final (with Gene Kelly's widow in the audience), and we also love Danny and Oti's charleston from a few weeks back.
Other favourites are, again, Jay McGuinness and Aliona doing that inspired version of the PULP FICTION dance, which surely won it for them last year. 
We also love previous winner Louis Smith in that delicious charleston with Flavia Cacace, and back in 2011, another delicious charleston with Holly Valance and partner Artem. 

RIP, continued ...

Michele Morgan  (19202016) aged 96. Glamorous French film actress, who was a leading lady for three decades in both French cinema and Hollywood features. She was the inaugural winner of the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1992, she was given an Honorary Cesar Award or her contributions to French cinema. 
I recently reviewed her as FABIOLA, one of the first peplums in 1949, with her then husband Henri Vidal, left, a favourite of ours, see label, who died in 1959. Morgan's best films include LE QUAI DES BRUMES in 1939 with Gabin, and THE FALLEN IDOL.She did PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES with Bogart. She certainly made a raincoat and beret the essence of French chic. 
Other venerable French legends include Danielle Darrieux now 99 (100 next May) and Micheline Presle, 94. Even Jeanne Moreau is 88, and Emmanuelle Riva 89.

Zsa Zsa Gabor (1917-2016), aged 99. The last of the legendary Hungarian Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa (Miss Hungary in 1936) became one of the first celebrities famous for being famous, but she was a witty, funny lady with all those quips about husbands (she had nine, including George Sanders) and jewels. She was the QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, and also effective in Huston's MOULIN ROUGE in 1953. She was deliciously funny too in WE'RE NOT MARRIED in 1952. She also pops up in Orson's TOUCH OF EVIL, one of her many cameo roles. RIP dahling.

Jean Dawnay (1925 - 2016), aged 91. Another lady of style and elegance, Dawnay was one of the original British supermodels of the 1950s and 60s. Princess George Galitzine, who has died aged 91, was prominent in many charitable enterprises, most notably the Prince George Galitzine Library in St Petersburg, the Terence Rattigan Society and UK Youth, having been world-famous as Jean Dawnay, a top model for Christian Dior and the last remaining “supermodel” from the 1950s.
She epitomised style and elegance and was both quick-witted and clear-thinking, as evidenced by her performances as a panellist on the popular television series What’s My Line? She was an optimist, and everything she did was conducted with not only wisdom but also sparkle and zest.
I knew the name and the photos, but did not realise what a fascinating life. She was working at Bletchley Park during the war years, then became one of the first air hostesses, and acted as hostess for Terence Rattigan (he based the character of Anne Shankland in SEPARATE TABLES on her). She tried acting as well, with Frankie Vaughan in the enjoyable 1958 WONDERFUL THINGS, and then married a Russian prince.  

Thursday, 8 December 2016

New Goodfellas trailer

Personally approved by Scorsese, for its re-release, as we await the arrival of his lauded new film SILENCE. 

RIP, continued ...

Two more titans of British television depart, and another music legend and one of our most esteemed journalists/critics, as this busy year runs away .....

Andrew Sachs (1930-2016) aged 86. The nation mourned at the passing of Manuel, the dim waiter "from Barcelona", at the centre of FAWLTY TOWERS tv series, a classic of British television, endlessly repeated and loved (there were only 12 episodes). Sachs' perfect creation was the equal of John Cleese's Basil, particuarly in episodes like "Basil the Rat". His many other roles included QUARTET, and a lot of television series including CORONATION STREET, HOLBY CITY, EASTENDERS, etc. 

Peter Vaughan (1923-2016) aged 93. One of the most recognisable character actors who kept busy into his 90s with his role in GAME OF THRONES. Also notable for OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH, PORRIDGE, and a slew of film and television roles - and stage too: he originated the role of Ed in Orton's ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE in 1964. His air of menace was just right for so many productions and kept him busy. Films included STRAW DOGS, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY, BRAZIL,  
His first wife was the marvellous Billie Whitelaw, another favourite of ours. 

Greg Lake (1947-2016), aged 69 - another major musician from my misspent youth: Greg Lake, bassist and founding member of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, one of the great progressive rock bands of the late 60s and 70s. Lake has died at 69, just 9 months after the passing of Emerson .....  ELP were very popular then (I had their album "Pictures At An Exhibition"), and he co-wrote (with King Crimson's Peter Sinfield) that Christmas anthem we will be hearing this season: "I Believe in Father Christmas".

AA Gill (1954-2016), aged 62. AA (Adrian) advised us only 3 weeks ago that he had cancer, and now it has taken him 3 weeks later. We have always liked his witty, trenchant TV reviews for "The Sunday Times" where he was also restaurant critic, with all those witty, erudite reviews in that dazzling prose. He was also the scourge of the television producers ("Tristams") and wrote moving reports from world crisis spots,like Syria or Darfur. AA will be much missed, The "Sunday Times" editor said he was the soul of the paper. He was also author of several books, including one on The Ivy restaurant. Today's paper features his last writing on his cancer diagnosis and treatment. We should all be so strong facing life's challenges, 
"AA Gill is away" indeed.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

End of year ...

The new "award season" will soon be underway, with a lot of prestige titles jostling for inclusion. As ever we have to wait a while for the interesting new releases here .... at least Tom Ford's NOCTURNAL ANIMALS was well-received and should be a major contender.
We have to wait until January for LA LA LAND, February for MOONLIGHT, March for Verhoeven's ELLE with that stunning Isabelle Huppert performance ...
Meanwhile, I have LOVE & FRIENDSHIP, THE NEON DEMON, THEO & HUGO, and an interesting new Irish movie SING STREET to see and relish ... Bond and The Beatles too, as we have finally seen SKYFALL and SPECTRE, and EIGHT DAYS A WEEK
Reviews coming up, including another French rarity MALE HUNT (LA CHASSE A HOMME) an all-star 1964 item, with only Belmondo, Brialy, Deneuve & Dorleac, Laforet, Presle etc. 
Not bad for December, now for all those end-of-year reviews ... Of the Sight & Sound Top 20 of 2016
I have only heard of half of them, most of them have not opened here yet until next year, and Hollywood mainstream movies are mainly absent (apart from LA LA LAND and MOONLIGHT, if they are considered mainstream). 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas reading list ...

More Christmas treats .... Thanks to Colin for this bumper glossy coffee table book - a combined birthday/christmas present. I promised I would not open it beforehand, but I did! 
Stunning black and white portraits by Raymond Cauchetier who was photographer on seemingly all those New Wave French films of the late Fifties and early Sixties: They are all here: Belmondo, Brialy, Seberg, Karina, Anouk Aimee, Jeanne Moreau, Francoise Dorleac, the very dapper young Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Demy etc. I love it. 

I am awaiting delivery of this new TCM one, it should be a delicious treat too ...

I loved her in the movies

Another enjoyable addtion to the Christmas gift list is Robert Wagner's new book I LOVED HER IN THE MOVIES, his recollections of all the great actresses he knew and worked with, decade by decade, starting with the 1930s.
Whatever one thinks of Wagner as an actor, he is fairly lightweight and agreeable (insufferable movie snob Martin will probably think he should be a shoe salesman too, like his judgement on Kerwin Matthews) and, like Dirk Bogarde in England, Wagner knew everyone (he and Natalie visited the Bogardes in the South of France on one of their European trips). Unlike his contemporaries Jeff or Tab Hunter, Wagner was a Hollywood kid, growing up there - he went to school with Norma Shearer's son, so knew Norma well in her later retired years, and he dated Gloria Swanson's daughter, and writes affectionately about Gloria, she was not like Norma Desmond at all.
We also get affectionate tributes and stories on Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Crawford, Davis (Natalie played her young daughter in THE STAR and she and Wagner were friends for a long time), Stanwyck, Loretta Young, Katharine Hepburn (whom he knew through friendship with Spencer Tracy with whom he co-starred twice), Claudette Colbert and Jean Arthur. He certainly moved in the right circles! 
There's also Lana Turner, Greer Garson, Susan Hayward (very helpful to the novice actor on WITH A SONG IN MY HEART, left), Ida Lupino, Jennifer Jones, Claire Trevor, Betty Grable, Ann Sheridan, Joan Blondell, Lucille Ball, Linda Darnell and Gene Tierney, the impossible Betty Hutton, as well as characters like Thelma Ritter, Maureen Stapleton and Eve Arden. Wagner knows too how difficult it was for actresses to maintain long careers ...

The 1950s saw him pals with Doris and Debbie, the young Marilyn, Janet Leigh, June Allyson, Jean Peters, Joan Collins, Angie Dickinson, Debra Paget. He was at Romanoffs that famous 1957 night when Jayne Mansfield usurped Sophia Loren's debut (left) - he later played Loren's husband in De Sica's THE CONDEMNED OF ALTONA in 1962 and writes very affectionately about her, and also Capucine (Cappy) from THE PINK PANTHER, There were some difficult ladies too - Shelley Winters for one! 
Joanne Woodward and Glenn Close also come in for some respectful praise, and of course there's Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and Natalie. 
Wagner, now in his mid-80s parlayed his looks into a long career on film and television. He was good enough for Olivier for his TV CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF in '76. Its always fun seeing him as PRINCE VALIANT in that wig! His first memoir PIECES OF MY HEART is an agreeable read about it all too. 
He was a 20th Century Fox boy and Natalie was a Warner Bros girl, so he got to know Jack Warner well too - and is hilarious about the abuse Warner heaped on Judy Garland (who would have been so ideal for GYPSY in 62 with Natalie), and he also recounts Vittorio De Sica's hilariously rude comment on Raquel Welch who was driving them mad with her delays on THE BIGGEST BUNDLE OF THEM ALL .... Star gossip does not get much better. As he says: "Movies and TV go on forever - only the delivery system changes ...".