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, Jorge in Sao Paulo, Martin in Derry & Colin, and Donal.

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 no A DELICATE BALANCE where she is teamed with Scofield in Edward Albee; 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. 

The New World

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

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, 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.... INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is another we like a lot, and I will finally get around to DJANGO UNCHAINED this week ...

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Showpeople: stars go to the theatre too

When filming THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL in London in 1956, Marilyn gamely trouped around the theatres with husband Arthur Miller, and Olivier and Vivien Leigh, to attend a production of Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE.  
Kay Kendall and Lauren Bacall do not seem terribly happy though at the Royal Court in 1959 - I wonder what they were seeing?

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Red carpet season

We have had the Golden Globes and soon it will be BAFTA time and then the lead-up to The Oscars. The big movies are all playing (though a few have not opened here in the UK yet). I now see they are creating new posters for THE IMITATION GAME, (highlighting its 9 BAFTA, 8 Academy Award and 3 SAG nominations) as it may have peaked too early, following the success of Eddie Redmayne at the Globes. It now seems one's moral duty to honour the Turing film to make up for how he was mistreated. 
The battle lines seemed to be drawn: which posh boy playing a tortured genius would succeed: Benedict Cumberbatch as gay code-breaker Alan Turing or Redmayne as crippled Stephen Hawking? Cumberbatch seemed to be in the lead, with his nuanced performance and Turing has practically been canonised of late, also its Benedict's first lead movie role after his TV SHERLOCK and all those other roles. Talk about an actor being on a roll 
.... then THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING came along (I have only seen the trailer as yet) with a flashier role for its lead actor. The Academy of course loves actors playing serious disabilities (MY LEFT FOOT et al) or losing or gaining weight, and it seems a more emotionally involving story of Hawking's first marriage, as opposed to the more repressed Turing (whose gayness is not depicted in any serious way). THE IMITATION GAME though has the Harvey Weinstein clout behind it, so we shall see.  It now seems of course that Turing and Hawking may cancel each other out (as Bette's Margo Channing and Gloria's Norma Desmond did in 1950) as Michael Keaton comes up fast on the comeback trail with a movie everyone is talking about too: BIRDMAN .... Among those who fell by the wayside: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh's MR TURNER, and Jake Gyllenhaal in NIGHTCRAWLER

Freddie Fox - is he or isn't he?

Speaking of Jake, it is almost a decade on from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Actors are still playing gay but now seem to be courting publicity by hinting or teasing that they may be or turn gay in real life ... step forward Freddie Fox, (actor son of actor Edward) - one of those actors (like Tom Hollander or Jude Law at one stage) who seems to play gay a lot - we saw him on stage a year or so ago as Bosie to Rupert Everett's Oscar Wilde in David Hare's THE JUDAS KISS (Theatre label) and a right petulant Bosie he was too, and he was in the recent PRIDE and now in a new tv series getting a lot of publicity, CUCUMBER, part of a new trilogy by QUEER AS FOLK creator Russell T Davies. QAF caused a sensation back in the '90s with its frank depiction of young gays in the Manchester 'gay village', whereas CUCUMBER focuses on older gay men. Freddie is one of the main younger characters here, another petulant young beauty who is rampantly bisexual. Freddie though, in not one but in several interviews (as in gay ATTITUDE magazine), keeps going on about how he has dated girls in the past but may conceivably fall in love with a man. Who the hell cares? Is this news? Acting is acting - 

This is the start of a latest interview, in today's INDEPENDENT with Patrick Strudwick :
Playing disabled – which sounds arrestingly offensive – has long been noted as a swift route to Oscar glory.
But now there is a new toy for actors: not just playing gay (Brokeback Mountain is 10 years old) but flirting with homosexuality off-camera. It is a new flow chart of orchestrated ambiguity, social-media wildfire, ratings and fame. Virtual, viral gayness.
This week, Freddie Fox, who flickers, resplendent, as the sexually omnivorous lust beacon in Channel 4’s new gay drama Cucumber, gave an interview straight from the Hedge Your Bets textbook.
“I wouldn’t wish to go, ‘I am this or I am that,’ because at some time in my life, yes I’ve had girlfriends, but I might fall in love with a man,” he said. “The majority of my life to date has been as a straight man. But who knows what will happen next?
Hollywood of course wants to keep its actors in the closet and their toxic attitudes resurfaced this week in the body of Billy Crystal, so embraced by Tinseltown that he has hosted the Oscars nine times. Crystal spoke of gay television characters “pushing it a little too far”, and of their sex scenes: “I hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our faces.” 
Which leads us back to Freddie Fox. ..... He would have invited much less cynicism about his motivation if he had said: “Yes, I fantasise sexually about men.” Or if he had actually owned the label bisexual. That he didn’t leaves three possibilities: he is merely playing another part, that of a keep-’em-guessing heart-throb; he is a coward; or he does not understand that until bigotry ends, using terms such as gay and bisexual to come out, to stake our identity, to become a visible social force, is the single most potent weapon we have. And one significantly tougher, braver and in-your-face than a blasted cucumber.
Meanwhile out gay actors like Andrew Scott or Russell Tovey just get on with acting without having to give interviews to discuss their sexuality and how it may change; Olympic diver Tom Daley comes out perfectly on YouTube and can now get on with his training (as fans fantasise on his relationship with Dustin Lance Black) and actors matter-of-factly disrobe in the current revival of MY NIGHT WITH REG.   

Posters - an occasional series

Today's choice: LA NOTTE BRAVA, that 1959 Mauro Bolognini discovery I liked so much the other year. From a script by Pasolini featuring lowlife layabouts and prostitutes but glamorised by Bolognini by casting attractive people like Brialy, Terzieff, Milian, Demongeot, Schiaffino, Martinelli etc. The various posters give a taster.  I like that "The moral bankruptcy of desperate youth ... " Reviews at Bolognini, Brialy labels.
 It is on YouTube too: 
Next: the more wholesome Troy Donahue in PARRISH!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Something camp for the weekend 3: a lesser Agatha Christie

A star-laden Agatha Christie from 1974: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. We quite like those camp all-star Agatha Christie adaptations popular in the '70s and '80s, started by MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and getting camper as they went along: DEATH ON THE NILE, EVIL UNDER THE SUN, THE MIRROR'S CRACKED (see Christie label). A lesser one is AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which features a fascinating round-up of Euro-players, and is set in a luxury hotel in Isfahan, Iran - and features rare footage of the little-seen ancient city of Persepolis, where Alexander the Great hung out. Despite all this, there is something cheap about it though, its very much a minor Christie, but none the less camp for all that. 

A group of ten people, strangers to each other, have all travelled to a hotel located deep in the deserts of Iran. Upon arrival they discover that their host is mysteriously absent. Though some find this odd they decide to make the best of the situation and settle into the isolated but luxurious hotel. But soon they are accused by a tape recording of having committed various crimes in the past which went unpunished by the law. Then one victim dies of poisoning. Then another is strangled .... and the remaining guests deduce that their unseen host is determined to kill them one by one .... and as there is no-one else at the hotel, the killer has to be one of them ..... finally, there are just two left - one of them has to be the killer - or is there a twist ? 

This hoary old Christie chestnut has been done several times. I have not seen the 1930s one, but this 1974 version follows the amusing 1965 British TEN LITTLE INDIANS almost line by line, scene by scene - they are almost comedies. That black and white one was set in an Alpine fortress and had a fascinating 1960s cast with Bond girl Shirley Eaton and Hugh O'Brien, exotic Daliah Lavi, and Fabian, with British stalwarts Dennis Price, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway and Leo Genn.  

Here in '74 we have Oliver Reed and Elke Sommer as the rather bland leads, with French Stephane Audran and Charles Aznavour, and two Bond villains Gert Frobe and Adolfo Celi, plus Brits Richard Attenborough and Herbert Lom. If you know the twist its reasonably amusing. This one is a Harry Alan Towers polyglot co-production, directed by Peter Collinson. At least it reminds us how much we like the very slinky Stephane Audran, who is marvellous here. Aznavour sings one of his popular hits "Dance in the old fashioned way" before he croaks .... and thats when the fun starts ! Oh, and the voice on the tape machine is Orson Welles ! 

Something camp for the weekend 2: glamour photos

Some luridly colorful star photos: (I couldn't figure where else to put them). Bette, Susan, Gina, Anita, Kay Kendall, plus Tab, Guy, Charles Farrell, young Gary Cooper, and Cary and Randy at lunch. ... glamour in spades!