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.

Friday, 31 October 2014

"Riveting, Unique and Unforgettable" - it sure is!

I did a round-up of horror/fantasy/trash movies earlier this month (like Schrader's CAT PEOPLE for my own 'October Horror Challenge' (see Horror label), like they do over at IMDB's Classic Film Board,), so for the last day of the month and Holloween, I finally took down Pedro Almodovar's recent and highly-praised THE SKIN I LIVE IN from 2012 which, much as I love Pedro, I seemed in no hurry to watch - and boy is this an October treat! It is another unique, fascinating movie - just as I had recovered from Wes Anderson's magical GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (below).

I somehow imagined this would be a riff on Franju's 1959's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, but that is just the starting point! The blurb says:
Released to rapturous reviews: "Stunning" (The Guardian), "Astounding" (The Observer), Pedro Almodovar's contemporary classic sees him reunited with Antonio Banderas in this sumptuous and spell-binding tale of obsession and beauty.
Haunted by past tragedies, a brilliant plastic surgeon sets out to create the perfect synthetic skin and to do so he needs the perfect living guinea pig. It is their wildly volatile, surreal and sensual relationship that fashions this "ravishing must-see movie with a must-keep-secret twist".

It looks marvellous of course, and (like Pedro's BAD EDUCATION) contains a dizzying story on many levels, with a jaw-dropping twist one does not entirely see coming .... The surgeon loses his beloved wife Gal in burning car accident, their daughter Norma gets raped at a party when she and the rapist (Jan Cornet as Vincente) are both high on pills, this drives her to suicide as her father plots revenge. Then there is his housekeeper Marilla (Marisa Paredes, from ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER) and the secret of her two sons - 
one of whom Zeca, dressed like a tiger, intrudes and causes havoc ..... not least on Vera (Elena Anaya), the woman kept prisoner who wears that synthetic skin, but who is she really .... ? Pedro structures the film so we go back and forth between the various disasters, each time getting nearer to the truth. You will certainly not be bored at this one ! It is all intoxicating cinema, particularly with the tiger Zeca on the rampage ! I can't say no more about the plot ...

After the misfire of I'M SO EXCITED which nobody liked, its great to see Almodovar firing on all cylinders. I now must to back to VOLVER and BROKEN EMBRACES, and maybe those terrific earlier ones like LAW OF DESIRE and WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN and the endlessly fascinating ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER and BAD EDUCATION and his others.. 
Next: another spell-binding astounder: Paul Sorrentino's THE GREAT BEAUTY.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

My new favourite film: The Grand Budapest Hotel

GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent.

This simply has to be my new favourite movie, I absolutely loved every mad minute of it. It is beautiful, funny, smart, silly, sad, and full of fantastic lines delivered by that incredible cast. Even the long end credits are a joy with that zingly balalaika music. It all looks incredible - I don't care whether its a real hotel or CGI every shot of it amazes. 
Ralph Fiennes is our lead - he has been quite quirky of late, with his British Prime Minister in PAGE EIGHT, the bishop in BBC tv series REV, and films like IN BRUGES, he excells himself here as  Gustave H, as we follow the zany antics at the hotel and how he and pals escape from prison. Tilda Swinton is unrecognisable as the aged Countess, and we also get Adrien Brody as her son, Jude Law as the young writer, Harvey Kietel, Willem Dafoe as the unstoppable killer, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and so many more. I barely noticed Owen Wilson or Jeff Goldblum. This is my first Wes Anderson fim - he also scripted, from stories by the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN and I have his biograhy of Marie Antoinette), so I shall be on the lookout for Anderson's other features. 
The colour and sets are all intoxicating, not only the Hotel but also Mendl's confectionery shop, and that very bleak prison. We follow the adventures of the new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) who becomes best friends with the mercurial Gustave - F. Murray Abraham as the owner of the hotel recounts the tale to young writer Jude Law and we are off on a whirlwind ride. I shall be checking in to the Hotel again before too long.  

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Cat people, or bewitched again ....

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, 1958. A pleasure to see again yesterday. John Van Druten's play [the Harrisons - Rex and Lilli - had done it on the stage] is nicely transferred to screen in '58 by Richard Quine, with his muse of the time, Kim Novak at her zenith here as the witch who cannot fall in love - enter publisher James Stewart who has moved into the apartment above .... Its a lovely look at New York in the '50s, Stewart and Novak are teamed again right after Hitch's VERTIGO. The great supporting cast includes Jack Lemmon (just before SOME LIKE IT HOT) as her warlock brother, Ernie Kovacs as the writer on the lookout for witches, and Hermione Gingold as head witch, aided by Elsa Lanchester at her most ditzy, plus Janice Rule as Stewart's bitchy girlfriend, who it turns out was at college with Kim. Pyewacket the cat is super too. 

This is a great New York movie, and would be a terrific, if long, double bill with BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S -  which also has a great cat. 

Amusingly, this has now been seen in a gay context. Druten it seems was gay, and the coven of witches with their hidden culture and their own nightclub (presided over by la Gingold) could be read as coded for the secret life of gays in '50s New York. "They are all around us" Lemmon happily tells the bewildered Kovacs ... The Zodiac Club too is a great beat haven - in fact gays and beatniks are not too hard to find here in this Greenwich Village. It is tres amusing at the Club when Stewart and Janice turn up, and Kim causes a return of those thunderstorms which plagued Janice so, back at college. It was also Stewart's last as a romantic lead [he is 50 here], he really slipped into character parts with his next, the still terrific ANATOMY OF A MURDER, plus those father parts. [Nice to see him and Novak re-united handing out an award on one of those 80s Oscar shows].
Richard Quine directs with a light touch, ably assisted by James Wong Howe's lovely camerawork making New York at Christmas in the snow, positively enchanting. Daniel Taradash did the script (he also scripted FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) and the nice score is by George Duning. Kim makes a magical rather beatnik witch, always in black and that nice cape for the snow scene - with her shop of primitive art - then at the end when she is human she is in lavender and yellow and her shop is now "Flowers of the Sea" with sea shells - perhaps this, VERTIGO and STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET are her key roles. Pyewacket excels too ..... BB&C remains a welcome treat anytime. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

More British treats from the 1950s ...

Away from art-house movies and cult and trash items, and some interesting new releases, we also like those old-fashioned, genteel British movies of the 1950s - as reviewed at British, London labels. We grew up on these back in Ireland in the Fifties and feel an affection for them. The 1940s and the 1960s may have been the great decades for British films (with Lean, Powell, Losey, Schlesinger, Lester, Dearden etc) but the 1950s were a lot of fun too with those Rank Organisation and Ealing items. Here is another round-up:

OUT OF THE CLOUDS, 1955. A busy day at London Airport – follow the lives and loves of the crew and passengers.
This 1955 concoction from Ealing Studios is a delight for anyone wanting to see what flying and airports were like back in the ‘50s. Basil Dearden directs and keeps several storylines in the air (get it?) – as we follow dependable Robert Beatty, James Robertson Justice and Bernard Lee as airport types, young pilot Anthony Steel tempted to smuggle stuff past customs, and stewardesses like Eunice Gayson, Melissa Stribling and Isabel Dean as they give individual attention to the passengers, who include Esma Cannon, Marie Lohr, Abraham Sofaer and gambler Sid James. This is one airport one would happily spend all day lounging in. David Knight and Margo Lorenz are two passengers on different planes who meet and suddenly fall in love, but the airport staff play fairy godmother so they finally get to be on the same flight …. Can’t see it happening at Heathrow ! A great airport movie of that era like JET STORM, SOS PACIFIC or THE CROWDED SKY (see Airlines label).

MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER, 1956. Magazine editor Valerie Carr lives in London (a perfectly 50s home in posh Highgate Village) with her two daughters –Jan, aged 17, and Poppet, 13. When Jan is invited to a party at The Savoy she meets dashing young Tony Ward Black (“the Debs’ Delight”) who is mad about jive, owner of a Bentley, and supposedly running through a legacy. Attracted to the daring young man, she rejects Mark, a young farmer who is in love with her. But it soon beomes apparent to everyone but Jan that neither Tony’s fortune, nor even his name, may be his own and her association with him will lead her into delinquency and danger.
America may have had REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK and THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE on those problem teenagers and their new music, but it was MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER here in the UK – they have now called it TEENAGE BAD GIRL perhaps to make its sound more alluring, but this kitsch delight delivers in spades. Dear Dame Anna Neagle, a war widow, frowns as teenage Jan starts going to basement dives and learns to jive – this sinful dance drives teenagers wild! as they dance to the same number (“Get With It”) over and over. 
Jan’s young man is not all he seems and she is soon in prison and before the judge, as the rich old aunt Tony goes to borrow money from drops dead and he is accused of murder. Will Jan get off and be reconciled with her mother? And her young sister Poppet and her adorable dog? This is all perfectly enjoyable, another Herbert Wilcox production starring his wife. There is something likeable about Dame Anna and she excels here, with Wilfred Hyde-White as her magazine boss, Norman Woodland and Kenneth Haigh. (This opus was also fondly called MY STONE AGE MOTHER by those witty Sunday Times critics.) 

NO TIME FOR TEARS, 1957. Doctors and nurses at a children’s hospital confront the challenges of their profession.
A pleasant tear-jerker directed by Cyril Frankel (no, not Herbert Wilcox this time) this features Anna Neagle as the understanding matron and this time Sylvia Syms is the young nurse. Flora Robson is the older wiser nurse, and Anthony Quayle is the surgeon and George Baker, Michael Hordern, Joan Hickson, Rosalie Crutchley, Angela Baddeley and Joan Sims as another young nurse also feature. It is in widescreen and colour and shows us the hospital staff getting involved with a pair of unruly children whom they save from an abusive mother who cannot cope with them. Various dramas ensue but all ends happily for Christmas. Maybe the success of this led to the television series (and subsequent film) LIFE IN EMERGENCY WARD 10 ?  

Sylvia Syms - a great British dependable, like Muriel Pavlow or Yvonne Mitchell, is 80 this year (like Dames Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, and still keeps working (as in the recent series REV). She was also terrific as Bogarde's puzled wife in VICTIM in 1961 and FLAME IN THE STREETS, ICE COLD IN ALEX, WOMAN IN A DRESSING GOWN etc. We barely recognised her as the Queen Mother to Helen Mirren as THE QUEEN in 2006).  

WONDERFUL THINGS, 1958 – Another of those ‘The British Film’ reissues (in slim case dvd boxes) re-issuing long unseen rarities from the British ‘50s and ‘60s. This is another of those Anna Neagle-Herbert Wilcox productions, featuring their singing star Frankie Vaughan, who was popular at the time (he made 4 films for the Wilcox’s before heading to Hollywood and Marilyn Monroe in LET’S MAKE LOVE, as per Frankie Vaughan label). This 1958 piece of nonsense finds him and Jeremy Spenser as fishermen brothers in Gibraltar, who are not too successful at making money from the fishing or the tourists. Pretty Jackie (later Jocelyn) Lane (who went on to star with Elvis in TICKLE ME) pouts as Pepita, the local beauty who loves Carmello (Vaughan) but while he tries to be successful in London, she and his brother Mario (Spenser) get entangled … Spencer, that forgotten actor (he was the young prince in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, as well as in SUMMERTIME, ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE, FERRY TO HONG KONG and others) comes across like a British Sal Mineo here. 
Frankie finds it tough in London as he tries being a waiter, and busks to cinema queues before working in a fairground. Enter rich girl Jean Dawney with her society friends and wealthy father, Wilfrid Hyde Whyte …. Jean promptly falls for Carmello but will he choose her or go back to Pepita and where does Mario fit in? This is amusing tosh, like a  woman’s magazine story of the time, but the ending is surprisingly nice. It’s a lot of fun, like Wilcox’s previous with Vaughan: THESE DANGEROUS YEARS. Frankie went on to star with Dame Anna in the 1959 THE LADY IS A SQUARE.

ALIVE AND KICKING, 1958. Why does IMDB persist in listing this as a 1964 title? –  it was released in 1958, I knew I saw it then when a kid, and now the new dvd cover confirms it was released in December 1958 (when Richard Harris was doing small parts in Irish-based movies like this – by 1964 he was A Star working with Antonioni in Italy and Peckinpah in USA, and being difficult with both). Well, whatever, this remains a blissful British comedy full of great players.
Dora, Rosie and Mabel, room mates at a home for elderly ladies, discover they are to be split up and placed in other homes. Dismayed by the prospect of separation, they decide to run away together. Heading for a remote island off the Irish coast where it seems they can live without the fear of being parted, the three fugitives quickly turn the situation to their advantage.
Dame Sybil Thorndike is in her element here, ably assisted by Kathleen Harrison and Estelle Winwood. It is hilarious how they make their escape and end up running things at that Irish island, where they create a cottage industry of knitting Aran sweaters which are sold in London. They also have three ideal little cottages side by side, which are actally owned by visiting American Stanley Holloway, who conveniently vanishes, and the locals include Marjorie Rhodes and Liam Redmond as well as Harris. Good to see it on a proper dvd at last – a treat for anyone who loves British comedies of the ‘50s with all those eccentric players. Also directed by Cyril Frankel.

I now see Tommy Steele’s 1958 THE DUKE WORE JEANS and TOMMY THE TOREADOR are on dvd, along with Max Bygraves' CHARLIE MOON, BOBBIKINS and SPARE THE ROD, but maybe that’s a step too far, despite my affection of 50s British movies

Monday, 27 October 2014

Falling for Fred & Ginger again ...

It was fun discovering those Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals back in the Sixties, when I was a young movie buff. Back then one either saw them if on television or we trekked along to the National Film Theatre or other revival house if they were doing a season on Fred & Ginger, like they would do on Garbo so a new generation saw them for the first time. The BFI even ran an all-night Fred & Ginger marathon which some pals and I went to (as we did to their Mae West and Marilyn all-nighters)! Now of course, these musicals are always with us on disk and tape and constant revivals, like now as our BBC screen them once again. 
My favourite has to be THE GAY DIVORCEE which I have been watching a lot this last week. particularly that "Night and Day" and "The Continental" sequences, which repay endless replays. TOP HAT is terrific too and as for that "Pick Yourself Up" number from SWING TIME (with Eric Blore) - I can simply watch it on a loop. "I Won't Dance" is from ROBERTA, 1935. The great thing watching these numbers is they are shot full frame so we see their whole bodies dancing, and with no cuts - unlike modern musicals (CHICAGO) where it is all done in the editing ...

SILK STOCKINGS from 1957 was a treat again too ... Fred and Cyd - just as good as Fred and Ginger - not only here but also THE BANDWAGON. Bring them on ...

Showpeople: miscellaneous photos

Here are some random photos of various people we like ....
A lovely shot of Romy Schneider, and a nice shot I had not seen before of the young Lee Remick (thanks, Colin); Lilli Palmer and Romy in 1958; Sophia, Romy and Alain Delon at that 1962 Cannes Film Festival; Sophia and Ingrid, also 1958, Sophia and Barbra at the FUNNY GIRL opening night in London in 1966 (I saw it during its run then), and Sophia and Robert Redford this year. We are looking forward to Sophia's new book out next month, with perhaps her final word on her life and career ... 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

RIP, Jack Bruce

Veteran rocker Jack Bruce (1943-2-14) has died of liver disease aged 71. One third of Cream (alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker) his contribution to British rock music is invaluable. Bruce played bass, sang and was the principal songwriter in Cream, and had one of the great rock voices, (like Steve Winwood). He looked good too in his prime, and did some interesting solo work after the Cream years. Those Cream albums will be getting a replay this weekend. He had a new album out this year too, one to investigate.

Back in 1968 two huge rock shows in London were Cream's Farewell Concert at the Albert Hall (see below), and The Doors and Jefferson Airplane at the Roundhouse. My hippie pals and I (22 at the time) went to the Doors, as per my posts on that (Doors label), but I really wish I had gone to see Cream too ... of course they reunited briefly in 2005, for a while. We like Clapton a lot too, but Eric may have slipped into well-paid middle of the road stuff, but Jack was something else. RIP. 
Also: Alvin Stardust (1942-2014)... another great glam rocker. 

Its back!: Zabriskie Point, 1970

Even us Michelangelo Antonioni fanatics find his 1970 ZABRSKIE POINT his most difficult film, not widely liked at the time, it seemed that having done Swinging London in BLOW-UP, he now attempted the distill the essence of the U.S, counterculture in his second English-language film, made in America, also for Carlo Ponti and MGM. Its a time capsule full of enigmas and ellipses, student politics of the late hippie era and Pink Floyd songs, cinematic imagination and lots of coupling in the desert. 

Now re-released in a new digital print, at the Curzon Mayfair, who have this to say about it:
Digital reissue of Michelangelo Antonioni's coutercultural classic featuring original music by Pink Floyd. By using special effects, documentary-style footage and unusual camera angles, Antonioni's suburb surreal film succeeds in revealing how societal conflicts lead to violence. 
Mark (Mark Frechette) is a student radical. Daria (Daria Halprin) is a beautiful, restless young woman. Their meeting sparks a deep passion in this visually stunning fantasia on the 60s counterculture when fate brings Mark and Daria together in Death Valley's desolate yet stunning Zabriskie Point. 
Daria is driving to a meeting with her employer. Mark has been forced to steal an airplane to escape from Los Angeles. The two become entranced both by each other and by the fleeting beauty of the shifting desert sands, but their time together is shattered by a tragedy that will haunt Daria forever.

Sam Shephard and Antonioni regular Tonino Guerra worked on the so-so screenplay. Today, from our perspective, the behaviour of Mark and Daria makes no sense, but back in that hippie era of 40 years ago ... 

It will look great on the big screen, and has that terrific soundtrack, including Patti Page and the Rolling Stones as well as Pink Floyd. What lets the film down is the blankness of the two leads - who had not acted before (Rod Taylor plays Daria's nasty capitalist boss/lover). They both had a few more roles afterwards, but Mark Frechette died in mysterious circumstances, aged 27 in 1975 (in prison after a bank raid) which I have touched on before here, at Antonioni label

We liked Antonioni's 1975 THE PASSENGER, his third for Ponti/MGM, a whole lot more and it remains a key '70s movie for me (THE PASSENGER label) but ZABRISKIE POINT has a lot of pluses too - those stunning widescreen landscapes, and that amazing final sequence where Daria imagines that stunning house being blown-up. Writer Mark Peploe who was at the filming, explained how they did it at that Antonioni retrospective at the BFI back in 2005 - with lots of cameras to catch it all from different angles, but they could only do it once .... then there is that orgy or love-in, another druggy fantasy in the desert - which also makes fascinating viewing. 
Its certainly a blast at American consumerism and I imagine not what MGM were expecting, but yes, its a fascinating time capsule now of that fascinating era 40 years ago, and for those who do not know it, one to catch up with. MGM were also exploiting student revolution with their lesser THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, GETTING STRAIGHT and the like. 

and again, here is that Dick Cavett almost painful non-interview with Frechette and Halprin (who barely speaks) in 1970 (also with Mel Brooks and Rex Reed):

Friday, 24 October 2014

Jacques Tati: Playtime et Trafic

Two more enduring comedies:
PLAYTIME, 1967: Regarded by many as Jacques Tati's masterpiece, PLAYTIME is a surreal, comic vision of modern life (and this was the 1960s, 50 years ago) in which the director's much-loved character, Monsieur Hulot - accompanied by a cast of tourists and well-heeled Parisians - turns unintentional anarchist when set loose in an unrecognisable Paris of steel skyscrapers, chrome-plated shopping malls and futuristic night spots, not to mention that nightmare cube office! It all look fabulous on Blu-ray, as though shot yesterday ...

Monsieur Hulot has to contact an American official in Paris, but he gets lost in the maze of modern architecture which is filled with the latest technical gadgets. Caught in the tourist invasion, Hulot roams around Paris with a group of American tourists, causing chaos in his usual manner.
The action is divided into the following: Arrivals at Paris airport / the office maze / Barbara's photos / The trade fair / The travel agency / Rush hour / Apartment windows / The restaurant opening / The Royal Garden / At the Drugstore / Demolition / Last-minute shopping / Carousel and departure.
The centre-piece for me is the long, hilarious restaurant sequence where chic Parisians try to dance on the tiny dance-floor as the lounge music grows more insistent and the harried waiters serve the tables, its just got to be seen to be appreciated. Then there is the nightmare office sequence with workers in their separate cubes, as well as looking it at all those glass windows of apartments, and the all glass travel agency, rush hour on the buses as we follow those bemused tourists around. Hilarous too is the tourist Barbara trying to photograph the precariously-placed old flower-seller on that crowded pavement!

PLAYTIME is not all about Mr Hulot, who is an interloper here, the set though is amazing conjuring up a real yet absurd version of Paris - or indeed any large city. The set was dubbed "Tativille", where 100 construction workers built two buildings using 11,700 square feet of glass, 38,700 square feet of plastic, 31,500 square feet of timber, and 486,000 square feet of concrete, but the film was not a financial success at the time, leaving Tati in debt for years. 

TRAFIC, 1971, Tati's final outing as Mr Hulot, is equally enjoyable and has that authentic fuzzy 70s look. Who knew watching people driving could be so much fun. Here, we have the bumbling, amiable Hulot as the designer of an absurd camper van which has to go to a motor show in Amsterdam. He accompanies the the van as the satire on man's obsession with motor transport mixes wonderful observational comedy with some laugh out-loud moments, as every possible disaster happens en route so the show is over by the time they finally arrive. When I saw this originally in the cinema it was so funny when the fluffy dog was mistaken for the sheepskin jacket under the car-wheel ! Tati's typically subtle choreography of people and cars is a rewarding lesson in how to see the world anew, as the blurb ideally puts it. 
Again, the centre-piece is a brilliantly choreographed traffic accident with cars banging into each other as bits fall off, and that delirious scene at the police station as they have to display the camper van in it's his glory to the traffic cops. Amusing too is the PR girl, Maria Kimberley, with the fluffy dog and her snazzy yellow sports car whizzing in and out of traffic, who starts off a pain but becomes more human by the end, as she and Hulot disappear into the wet throng of people with umbrellas. 
One should keep Tati's films near to hand for wet boring afternoons or for when one needs a lift. Like Buster Keaton he is one of cinema's great clowns and innovators. One has to go back now to MON UNCLE and his earlier films. Tati (1907-1982) died of pneumonia aged 75, but his legacy goes on. Whenever I want a good laugh in future I am putting on that restaurant scene in PLAYTIME!