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, 17 September 2014

Broadway babies !

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. This delicious Pre-Code Warners musical is not as well known now as some of those others like 42ND STREET or DAMES. Its only over 80 years old!  When I was a young movie buff back in the '60s old musicals like this were camp heaven and one would troop along to the National Film Theatre to enjoy them ..... but 50 years later they are hardly seen now. This new edition is a Spanish dvd which also has 42ND STREET, but I already have that. So, its back to 1933 ...

Broadway babies Joan Blondell, Aline McMahon and Ruby Keeler are out of a job as the new show they are going to open has been closed. Its the Great Depression and everyone is broke. The girls share a cold-water apartment and have to steal a bottle of milk from next door .... Ruby is pals with that nice young chap Dick Powell - he of course is a secret millionaire.   Brassy Ginger Rogers (who opens the film with "We're in The Money" with those risque costumes, gets wind of a new show and soon they are all busy again. We're "Petting in the Park", and the climax is that stunningly staged "Remember My Forgotten Man" a hymn to the men returned from the war who now are shuffling in bread lines for free meals from soup kitchens.  Polly (Blondell), Trixie (McMahon) and Carol (Keeler) are the chorines, and Ginger is the knowing Fay.
The choreography of course is by Busby Berkeley, with some of his best routines, its snappily directed by Mervyn LeRoy, costumed by Orry-Kelly, cinematography by Sol Polito,  and also in the cast are Warren William, Guy Kibbee, Eric Blore, Busby himself (the call boy), and a young Jane Wyman is one of the  Gold Diggers !

The production number of "Shadow Waltz" has to be one of the best in this musical genre; the music was by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. . That number and of course that Depression anthem "Remember my Forgotten Man" as sung by Blondell, show Busby Berkeley at his best.  Its fun seeing the young Ginger and Joan here, Ruby is endearingly clunky as usual, and its fascinating seeing the young Aline McMahon, whom I know from her older roles in films like I COULD GO ON SINGING in 1963, where she plays Judy's assistant/confidante, making a real character out of a role that barely existed on the page. The older Blondell too was terrific in THE CINCINNATI KID among others. How Depression audiences must have lapped these up back then, and we can still enjoy them today. 

Beatniks !

Bad movies we love, or at least want to laugh at: THE SUBTERRANEANS - no wonder its never shown these days, but  I sourced a copy a while back, and wrote about it then - Trash label - but we had another look at it the other day, and its so hilariously awful I just have to mention it again.

I had never heard of director Ranald McDougall until now - he also directed Joan's QUEEN BEE as well as this lulu: has anyone actually seen 1960's THE SUBTERRANEANS ? - its never been shown here in the UK for as long as I can remember: Its an MGM production from Arthur Freed - his last - which tackles Jack Kerouac's beat novel with George Peppard, Leslie Caron and Roddy McDowell (left) as beatniks! "Love among the new bohemians" indeed! The female lead was black in the novel, but somehow ended up French in the movie - The mind reels. must have had a good jazz score though! (with Previn, Mulligan etc).  Beatniks of course must have been a dangerous new exotic cult at the time, so the movies had to get in on the act and present them on screen ...
Poor Leslie Caron; she was GABY, and LILLI and GIGI and had just been filming George Bernard Shaw with Asquith and Bogarde (THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, as reviewed recently, Bogarde label), now she was saddled with this, before being FANNY. Peppard at least had that gig at TIFFANYS lined up with Audrey ....

Disk jockeys !

A film I hate: THE BOAT THAT SANK ... 
We like to talk about movies we like here at The Projector, maybe get lesser known films some airtime - there are also of course movies we absolutely LOATHE with a passion. That BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL was one .... (Trash label).  Then there is the abomination that is THE BOAT THAT ROCKED from 2009, Richard Curtis's supposedly affectionate tribute to the Sixties Pirate Radio ships .....

"The Boat That Rocked" is an ensemble comedy in which the romance takes place between the young people of the '60s and pop music. It's about a band of rogue DJs that captivated Britain, playing the music that defined a generation and standing up to a government that wanted classical music, and nothing else, on the airwaves. The Count, a big, brash, American god of the airwaves; Quentin, the boss of Radio Rock -- a pirate radio station in the middle of the North Sea that's populated by an eclectic crew of rock and roll DJs; Gavin, the greatest DJ in Britain who has just returned from his drug tour of America to reclaim his rightful position; Dave, an ironic, intelligent and cruelly funny co-broadcaster; and a fearsome British government official out for blood against the drug takers and lawbreakers of a once-great nation.
Everything about it is wrong though - it was actually Harold Wilson's Labour government, and particularly the revered Tony Benn, the then Postmaster-General, who shut down the pirate ships, Radio Caroline in particular, and Radio London (so everything we see here is total fantasy). The BBC then re-structured its radio shows, creating Radio 1 in 1967, where a lot of the Caroline disk jockeys ended up, Tony Blackburn, Kenny Everett, Dave Lee Travis, Johnny Walker etc, as they created names for themselves. I was 19 or 20 then, listening to pirate radio myself on my little transistor. 

The other thing that jars is that as this was the 1960s the guys were playing sixties records, the current hits of the time, on 45's. They were not rare records then, just the current top 20 - if a Dee Jay lost any records, they just replaced them at the record shop, or the record company provided more. They were not rare artefacts to be hoarded or risk your life to save if the ship is sinking.... it was of course the era of the 45 single, buying an album, like The Beatles latest, was an event. But we were living that time then, it was the present for us - not "The Sixties" as we look back at that era now. Incidentally, there is no Beatles music included here .... and some of the music used is not quite the right period, its set in 1966 but a lot of 1967 music is featured - like that album we see by The Incredible String Band (a folky combo that the hippies liked, I had a copy of it myself then) - The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" dates from 5 years later, and it must have seemed very clever to re-create the cover of the Jimmy Hendrix "Electric Ladyland" gatefold album cover of naked ladies. The montage of record albums (including Joni Mitchell's BLUE) is a nice touch at the end, showing how the music goes on.

The plotting though is dire, full of sub-plots -  I can't even go into them, it seems mean to be unkind to all round-good guy and tireless charity fundraiser Richard Curtis, but this of all his films seems totally misconceived. He called in his pals though: Philip Seymour Hoffman is the Emperor Rosko lookalike dee jay here, and theres Emma and Ken. Branagh is simply ghastly as the cartoon (supposedly Tory one imagines) government minister who is a total killjoy out to stop pop music being broadcast, and his sidekick (Jack Davenport) is named Twatt - no wonder he looks glum here, saddled with an impossible role.  As the many negative reviews on IMDB say: the humour is pitiful and crude, the characters obnoxious, and the plot unengaging. 
It is all so relentlessly heterosexual too - Simon Callow of course made his name in the movies as the exuberant gay who topples over dead in FOUR WEDDINGS, while the lesbian sub-plot in LOVE ACTUALLY (headmistress Anne Reid looking after ailing Frances De La Tour) was shunted to the dvd extras ...

Also now, in the light of the recent Jimmy Savile revelations, the casual sexism and using the girls as groupies willing to have sex with anyone, even a naked Nick Frost (sorry, Nick) leaves a nasty taste. It is all just hopelessly wrong and peurile in the worst way. Bill Nighy seems to be enjoying himself though. 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

January in autumn

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY, 2014. The novel by Patricia Highsmith isn't, franky, one of her top-notch ones, but it makes a serviceable thriller in the hands of Hossein Amini (who also scripted DRIVE and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMEN - still in my pending pile).

The charismatic Chester MacFarland and his alluring younger wife Colette are in Athens during a European vacation, in the early Sixties. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal, a young Greek-speaking American who is working a a tour guide, scamming tourists onthe side. Drawn to Colette's beauty and impressed by Chester's wealth, Rydal gladly accepts their invitation to dinner. But all is not as it seems with the MacFarlands as Chester's affable exterior hides darker secrets. When Rydal visits the couple at their hotel, events take a more sinister turn as he finds himself compromised and unable to pull free ... Based on the best-selling novel by Patricia Highsmith (author of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY) and from the producers of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY is a tense, psychological thriller, as per the dvd blurb.

Viggo Mortensen, so terrific in EASTERN PROMISES (Viggo label), is rather low key here, until he erupts into action; Kirstin Dunst is perfect as Colette, while Oscar Isaac scores as Rydal - his INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is high in my pending pile, to maybe see this week, after THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB ....

Rydal helps Chester dispose of that unwelcome caller, when he arrives at their hotel to return the bangle Colette left in the taxi - events then spiral out of control as our trio move on to Crete, where a disaster happens, and then on to Instanbul, as the serpentine plot unravels. Its the kind of thriller where one cannot reveal too much .... a lot of the key moment though take place in almost darkness and the pace gets too slow ..... but it looks good and is a welcome addition to the Highsmith canon.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Final round-up of late summer repeats

That magic waterfall from UNCLE BOONMEE
A final look at some late summer/early autumn repeats from British television, before we go on to some new stuff ... there's been lots to look at again!

THE QUEEN. A  huge hit in 2006 and still great entertainment now. One just knew Helen Mirren was on course for that Oscar. The glimpses of the real Diana brings back memories of that crazy time in 1997 .....
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, 1998. S I L is a huge hit on the stage here in London now - the film though is the one for me, stupendous cast, great costumes and sets, and that endlessly witty script by Tom Stoppard. If Elizabethan life was not like this, it should have been. I particularly like one of Judi Dench's 8 minutes as Queen Elizabeth laughing at the dog.  Its a perfect romance too ....... Joseph Fiennes is one of the most attractive guys ever here. More on him at Fiennes label, and my long review of the film.
KHARTOUM, 1966. I had forgotten how good KHARTOUM is, directed by stalwart Basil Dearden, and 2nd Unit (presumably those battle scenes) by veteran Yakima Canutt (the chariot race in BEN-HUR etc). It has two towering performances - Charlton Heston, steadfast as usual, as General Gordon, and a mesmerising turn (in a handful of scenes, but dominating the film) by Laurence Olivier as The Madhi - 
he is almost unrecognisable, blacked up here. This was Olivier's great late period, running the National Theatre, films like TERM OF TRIAL and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (where he is almost ordindary) He was also playing OTHELLO to great acclaim at the time, also blacked up as the Moor, (it was also filmed, with Maggie Smith). 
His Madhi is a stunning creation.  The film is quite topical now, showing as it does the confrontation between Western imperialism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism - this time in the Sudan of the 19th century. Add in Ralph Richardson as Gladstone, and familiar faces like Richard Johnson, Marne Maitland, Peter Arne, Nigel Green, Michael Hordern, Alexander Knox, Douglas Wilmer, Johnny Sekka. The fascinating story of how General Gordon (a fanatic to some) manages to hold Khartoum as the Madhi's forces attack is well told here and its totally engrossing. 
SPEED. Popcorn movie time: SPEED is 20 years old now, a hit from 1994 - we loved it at the time, and I still like it now. Maybe Keanu and Sandra's best moment - well, till GRAVITY for Sandra (though I like THE PROPOSAL too). Buffed up Keanu is ideal here and De Bont's film delivers stunt after stunt on that bus, the runaway underground train, and that plunging elevator at the start. Jeff Daniels is dependable as usual and Hopper is the ideal nasty villain. As a popcorn classic its up there with Petersen's AIR FORCE ONE and the Indiana Jones movies. 

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, 2010. If there is one director whose work is suffused with a contemporary kind of magic, something you can't quite put your finger on, its Thai art-house sensation Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This sometimes bizarre, always enchanting, film is his most accessible, telling the last days in the life of Uncle Boonmee and the importance of caring and of being cared for, as we roam over his past and maybe future lives.  
My full review (Boonmee label) goes into it in more detail. Its a meditation on death and re-birth as we see those various apparitions of his past lives as animals, perhaps that water buffalo in the moonlight at the start - the the mysterious catfish which makes love to the princess with that waterfall in the background. I like that long scene with when Huay, Boonmee's wife who has been dead for 19 years, reappears at the dinner table and they all talk to her as though she only left yesterday. 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Separate Tables, 1958

Terence Rattigan's 1954 play SEPARATE TABLES is a Fifties time capsule now, capturing as it does that genteel Bournemouth hotel with its residents at their separate tables ... the play is in two acts, with the main two leads playing different characters in each act, the other residents stay the same. In the original production it was Eric Porter and Margaret Leighton. But the Hecht-Hill-Lancaster production team when they made the popular 1958 film in Hollywood, combined them both into one continuous narrative, thus 4 stars were required for the main 4 characters, who are now Burt and Rita Hayworth, and David Niven and Deborah Kerr. This required a lot of dexterous pruning of the original script, which Rattigan himself did with John Gay and an uncredited John Michael Hayes. 
In the theatre when played as two acts, the acts are 18 months apart time-wise, but in the film we are in the continuous timeframe of the first act. This means a lot of the young couple (Rod Taylor and Audrey Dalton, below right) has been removed, and new material inserted, like scenes between Sybil and Mrs Shankland (Kerr and Hayworth) (who do not meet in the two separate act orginal).
The young couple stay as we see them in the first act - but in the second act of the play (18 months later) they are now married with a baby, which takes up all the mother's time - she sides with dragon-lady Mrs Railton-Bell to get the bogus Major, who has been exposed as a fake and a pesterer of women at the cinema, expelled from the hotel. Her husband does not agree and sides with the other residents. It makes for more interesting drama, but all that has to go for the film. 

There is a lot more of Miss Cooper, the hotel manageress, too in the play, but Wendy Hiller managed to scoop Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film. Niven of course won the Best Actor, but it seems a blustering fake performance, but then he is playing a blustering fake. Kerr is marvellous as the downtrodden Sybil, who finally stands up to her bully of a mother - Gladys Cooper being very malevolent here, as she was to Bette Davis in NOW VOYAGER. Hayworth and Lancaster add the Hollywood gloss and are perfectly adequate. The film is one of 1958's big enduring ones, up there with I WANT TO LIVE!, THE DEFIANT ONESTHE BIG COUNTRY, THE VIKINGS, SOUTH PACIFIC, AUNTIE MAME etc. 

I have seen a few other productions - John Schlesinger directed that 1983 television film, long unavailable, which goes back to the two act structure, with Julie Christie and Alan Bates playing both sets of leads, with Claire Bloom perfect as Miss Cooper, and Irene Worth, a monstrous suburban bully, as Mrs Railton Bell. Liz Smith shines too as the racing-mad spinster and Brian Deacon (from THE TRIPLE ECHO) as the young husband. - as per my fuller review, at Rattigan/Bates/Christie labels, which also goes into another version of Rattigan's work ...

I have now seen a BBC 'Play of the Month'  from 1970 with Porter and Geraldine McEwan in the lead roles. It is perfectly satisfying but a bit low-key. It is part of the BBC Terence Rattigan boxset (a nice companion to the Noel Coward boxset, again with interesting productions which I must return to), which also includes part of another version I saw on stage in the 70s, with John Mills and Jill Bennett.  

I also saw Rattigan himself at the BFI giving an entertaining talk also in the early 70s. The 1958 film though, directed by Delbert Mann, is the version most people know and like, even though it does not do full justice to the play and Rattigan's plea for tolerance for those who are 'different'. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

RIP, continued ...

Its been a tough year: Stritch, Bacall, and now Joan Rivers (1933-2014) aged 81. Comedienne, writer, producer, actress and television host widely noted for her often controversial comedic persona where she was alternately self-deprecating or sharply acerbic toward others, especially celebrities and politicians. She really made her name in the 1980s as a stand-up comedienne with all those Elizabeth Taylor jokes, and she went on since then attacking celebrities, and their fashion disasters, and commenting on current events with that acerbic wit. Not since Phyllis Diller was there such an individual comedienne. Joan came to prominence in the '60s on THE TONIGHT SHOW with her mentor Johnny Carson, which established her comic style. She also acted in films like Burt Lancaster's THE SWIMMER (in 1969). Her later tv shows, like FASHION POLICE were syndicated to lots of countries, and she worked in the UK a lot, where she was very popular, and not just with the gays. She died due to complications following throat surgery, she had often made fun of her extensive plastic surgery. 

Sinden & Stritch: TWO'S COMPANY
Donald Sinden (1923-2014). Another 90 year old - We like Donald a lot - good, that he became a Sir. He is personable in those '50s Rank Organisation comedies like AN ALLIGATOR NAMED DAISY in 1955  (below)- a childhood favourite, I think I will have to have another look at that. Plus of course DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (and AT LARGE), THE CRUEL SEA etc. He also pops up memorably in films like Burton's VILLAIN, with Glynis Johns as that mermaid Miranda in MAD ABOUT MEN in '54 (the recently departed Dora Bryan was another less attractive mermaid), EYE WITNESS, DECLINE AND FALL, and of course out in Africa as Grace's husband in MOGAMBO
He had an illustrious stage career too, where his distinctive, rich fruity voice was an asset, I remember him vividly as the fop in a 1970s production of LONDON ASSURANCE, at the Aldwych, with young Judi Dench and Elizabeth Spriggs as Lady Gay Spanker !  He also did Shakespeare: a KING LEAR and Malvolio in TWELFTH NIGHT, and THE WARS OF THE ROSES. I vaguely remember that sitcom TWO'S COMPANY he did with Elaine Stritch in he '70s, where he was the unflappable butler, just part of his long and varied career in television as well as stage and screen. RIP, Sir.

Ian Paisley (1926-2014). Ian Paisley (Baron Bannside) was many things in his time to many people. I am not going into the whole Northern Ireland thing, but I just want to focus on this, from Wikipedia: Paisley preached against homosexuality and supported laws criminalising it. Intertwining his religious and political views, "Save Ulster from Sodomy" was a campaign launched by Paisley in 1977, in opposition to the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (Northern Ireland), established in 1974. Paisley's campaign sought to prevent the extension to Northern Ireland of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which had decriminalised homosexual acts between males over 21 years of age in England and Wales. The campaign failed when legislation was passed in 1982 as a result of the previous year's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Dudgeon v United Kingdom
It seems astonishing now that such old-fashioned attitudes held sway a mere 40 years ago, like racism back in the '60s..I wonder how old bigots feel when they see equality enshrined and their efforts come to nought ? Like with Mrs Mary Whitehouse time has a way of solving everything. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

"The High 40's"

When we think of the Forties now...
English film magazine SIGHT AND SOUND has kindly given me permission to quote from an article, "The High 40's", in their Autumn 1961 issue. It is about cinema-going in the Forties by the esteemed critic and author John Russell Taylor. Taylor (10 years older than me) wrote this when he was in his mid-20s and of course in 1961 (53 years ago!) the 1940s were just over a decade in the past (rather like us looking back at films of the 1990s now) .... so people of his age did their early cinema-going in the 40s. 
I am a '40s baby myself, born in December 1945 just after the war - but I am a child of the '50s as my movie-going began in 1954, when I was 8, as per previous posts here. John Russell Taylor makes some marvellous comments, which I wanted to share ...... as he begins:

Who went to the pictures in the Forties anyway? Well, of course, everyone did. Women in turbans heading for night shifts shouldered their way in to weep, among the sleeping soldiery, over the sufferings of Joan or Greer. Sailors on leave sat goggle-eyed, imprinting on their memories the images of Betty Grable and Alice Faye to warm the long winter evenings at Scapa Flow…… and needless to say everyone spent at least some of the time saved from dodging doodlebugs in London patiently queueing to catch the afterglow of a vanished Thirties glory in GONE WITH THE WIND...

The Forties were a woman’s world if ever there was one: the real men might be off at the war, but women were guarding the Home Front and in the front line were to be found all the great survivors, led of course by the indomitable trio of Bette, Barbara and Joan. When it came to an all-out woman’s picture none of the relative newcomers could better them, and only Greer Garson managed a look-in, largely be inventing her own genre and suffering in the cause of humanity instead of merely love or money ... There were any number of temptresses, who can forget Joan Bennett ordering Edward G. Robinson to paint her toenails in SCARLET STREET

He goes on to discuss the essential stars of the '40s - Veronica Lake with Alan Ladd in their noirs, were they as good as Bogart and Bacall? and Maria Montez, star of all those exotic sand-and-sandal movies - as essentially 40s as Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda or Hedy Lamarr. He also discusses the everyday movies audiences saw back in the 1940s, at those fleapit cinemas during wartime, as opposed to the Hollywood classics which is what most people see of the '40s now - the CASABLANCAs and GILDAs, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, MILDRED PIERCE, LAURA and CITIZEN KANE, and those "Bette Davis classics", when the Hollywood dream factory in full flow with items like MEET ME IN ST LOUIS and MRS MINIVER as the war raged in Europe where dreadful things were happening, and of course out East and in the Pacific. The Forties was perhaps the last great decade for cinema, which was popular entertainment then, before television began to make inroads in the '50s. - everyone just went to "the pictures", some several times a week as most towns had several cinemas. 

My mother particularly liked Alice Faye singing "You'll Never Know" in HELLO FRISCO HELLO (she used to sing it to us), and RANDOM HARVEST, men like Ronald Colman and Walter Pidgeon were the kind of reliable men housewives liked; she continued going to the cinema less often into the early '60s, by then television provided all the entertainment the family needed.

Taylor's article reminded me of Alan Bennett in one of his memoirs, recollecting his aunts, working career girls, in their swagger coats, "consulting the mirror in their power compact" and straightening their nylon seams, as they dished out putdowns to the men who presumed on their favours ...

My own early '40s favourites included Ty Power and Gene Tierney in the South Seas in SON OF FURY, and Ida Lupino as that very hard-boiled chanteuse in ROADHOUSE (with Richard Widmark in manic mode), or Linda Darnell in any number of films, 
and those noirs with rootless drifters in those diners and rooming houses as dark secrets unfold... (which I caught up with at Sunday matinees in the '50s).

I did a piece a while back, on a season on the 1940s which the then National Film Theatre (now the BFI) ran in 1971 - again, only 22 years after the 1940s finished, and over 40 years ago now - but I still have the brochure (left) and I listed what they showed then - as at 1940s-A label. 

Mr Taylor wrote a terrific guide to THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL, with John Kobal, and other titles I remember like CINEMA EYE, CINEMA EAR, and books on Hitchcock and various others like Welles and Vivien Leigh. He moved to California to teach film at the University of Southern California. He was also the last editor of my favourite magazine "Films & Filming" from 1983 to its closure in 1990. There is an interesting profile on Dirk Bogarde by him, at this link:  

It has been fun going through the old editions of SIGHT AND SOUND and "Films & Filming" which I acquired recently, issues from before my time, from the 1950s an early '60s ... so much nostalgia there to recap. (SIGHT AND SOUND of course is still published every month, as the mouthpiece of the BFI - I wrote on their new Top 100 Films, a year or two ago - Hitchcock label), but "Films & Filming" ceased in 1990, as I worked there for a while and knew the owner and have a lot of back copies, I feel I keep their legacy alive...).

Soon: Back to the 1930s and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 - only 80 years ago ! 

Bad Neighbours

"Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne's marrieds are exhausted in their new home with their newborn baby and their weariness is exacerbated by their rowdy new fraternity neighbours, led by cocky Zac Efron (who doesn't appear to have a comic bone in his buff body) and Dave Franco (funnier). A war of attrition ensues in another peurile comedy from the absurdly unfunny Rogen."

No, that is not me being snarky, but what one of the quality weekend papers said about this new dvd release. In my previous post on it, when the film opened here a few months ago, I quoted from the Sunday Times critic, a lady who does not mince her words - to recap: "BAD NEIGHBOURS is such an appallingly moronic comedy that will make anyone with a working pair of ears and eyes never want to see a film again. Rogen plays exactly the same character he’s ever played: a stupid, lubricious, fat loser paired with a woman who wouldn’t look at him twice in real life (because of course all schlubby guys in these kind of movies deserve hot girls) … this is a horrifyingly dumb mess that makes ANIMAL HOUSE look like Antonioni."
Well I would not have put it like that, but maybe we just don't get frat boy humour here in the UK, and of course this kind of movie is not made for my generation, but one has to feel sorry for today's kids if they really think this is funny. Zac was fine in THE PAPERBOY but is on autopilot here, and I saw Seth recently in THE GUILT TRIP, because it was a Streisand film, and the disk was a gift from a pal, who saw it and did not need to keep it. (See Seth, Zac labels for reviews).

I had actually been looking forward to this, but I barely laughed once - the De Niro party was a good idea but nothing was made of it, and its a grim plod towards the ending where Zac now works shirtless for Abercrombie, and Seth goes topless too. Rose Byrne comes off  best here - though she also gets her own gross-out moment. Perhaps she needs more quality control over her scripts though ... Lisa Kudrow amused too as the Dean. The IMDb comments on the film make some funny reading ... but you will forget it all immediately after seeing it. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Babylon revisited

I was fascinated to see details of a German Blu-ray of Oliver Stone's 2004 opus ALEXANDER. There were several versions released - with the 'gay stuff' taken out, or ramped up - depending on what one heard, including a Director's Cut, but this promised to be something else: ALEXANDER - REVISITED (The Final Cut), and indeed it is. Having recently acquired Blu-rays of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE LEOPARD, GANDHI, CLEOPATRA, 55 DAYS AT PEKING etc. I simply had to add an Alexander blu-ray to the collection.

Was it really ten years ago that Oliver Stone delivered his magnum opus? - a visionary director giving us his view of the great ancient conqueror, and the howls of derision and incomprehension with which it was received (there are over 1,300 conflicting opinions on it over at IMDB). A lot of the critics panned it too, so I knew it would not be around for long, but caught it on a giant screen and got the later dvd. As an Alexander and ancient world and epic/peplum fan from way back, there were lots in it that I loved. I had no problem with Colin Farrell who looked the part, and the CGI reconstructions of Babylon and Old Ptolemy's Alexandria were terrific. 
Richard Burton though in his 1956 rather turgid ALEXANDER THE GREAT had Fredric March and Danielle Darrieux as his warring parents Philip of Macedon and Olympias, here Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie are not quite in the same league, but it all looks stunning, and the likes of Brian Blessed and Christopher Plummer also pop up, and Jared Leto is an interesting Hephaistion. 
America though it seems was not ready for a gay or at least bisexual hero - but hey things were different in the ancient world, and Stone was not going to give them another Superhero comic strip. This is a movie made with passion, and a feel for the ancient world (respected historian and Alexander expert and author Robin Lane Fox was advisor, his biography of Alexander remains the best for me), as I have detailed in my previous reports on the film - Alexander label. Right: Darrieux and Burton in the 1956 ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Looking at it again now, it is fascinating to see the changes. It is no longer a linear narrative as the giant battle of Gaugamela comes right at the start, after Ptolemy's introduction at Alexandria, before the flashbacks to Alexander's youth in Macedonia, and we go backwards and forwards from Alexander's childhood to events in the Hindu Kush and India, with that other mesmerising battle. 

As Old Ptolemy begins the narration: "Our world is gone now. Smashed by the wars. Now I am the keeper of his body, embalmed here in the Egyptian ways. I followed him as Pharaoh, and have now ruled 40 years. I am the victor. But what does it all mean when there is not one left to remember - the great cavalry charge at Gaugamela, or the mountains of the Hindu Kush when we crossed a 100,000-man army into India? He was a god, Cadmos. Or as close as anything I've ever seen". 

Vangelis's score is still terrific - there is even an intermission with music, the battles are amazing and more visceral, the scenes in Babylon and in far off India amaze too. Its a film of astonishing riches, which one can return to ..... 

TV: A new Mapp & Lucia !, and back to Lillie ...

I have done several posts here on MAPP AND LUCIA, the 1980s British tv series based on the 1930s novels by E.F.Benson. The comic adventures and social snobbery of  Mapp, Lucia and Georgie Pillson were spread out over 6 books, and made a perfect 10 part series in 1983. They have just been repeated here actually, and the dvd is also available, and there are in fact at least 4 new novels. written in the style of E F Benson, so it seems Mapp and Lucia are here to stay. Left: the original 1980s trio. 
Quaint Irene with Georgie ?

I am now surprised to see that the BBC in its wisdom has made a new 3-parter titled MAPP AND LUCIA, also filmed at Rye, where E F Benson lived, and where the original series was shot. As it is just a three-parter I imagine it covers just the main book of when Lucia moved to Tilling (Rye actually) and became the queen bee in the town, supplanting the envious Miss Mapp (soon Mrs Mapp-Flint!) who tries every trick in the book to get the better of Lucia, but is always thwarted. Lucia's friend Georgie (soon to be her husband) assists Lucia and it is all deliciously comic, what with their servants and local friends also playing their part.
Anna Chancellor and Miranda Richardson are the new Mapp and Lucia, or rather Lucia and Mapp - though each could play either part. Georgie though is Steve Pemberton, who seems an odd choice - he is terrific in BENIDORM as the tightwad father of the Garvey clan, but as he is also scripting this it must be a labour of love for him. Here he is, with Georgie's wig and moustache!  It screens sometime this autumn, and the Benson purists will be out in force to see this latest incarnation of our favourites. Mark Gatiss is also in the cast as Major Benjy - I would have thought he and Pemberton would be better cast if they swiched roles ?

More blissful costume drama re-runs. I liked the 1974 British series JENNIE, LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL again recently, where Lee Remick made a marvellous Jennie (Remick label). ITV also did another perfect costume series in 1978 - LILLIE - about The Jersey Lily, Lillie Langtry,the beauty who fascinatated the likes of Oscar Wilde and the Prince of Wales, as she quickly charms her way through London society and wins the heart of the Prince. I have the dvd, but it also is being repeated now. 
Egan as Oscar
Oscar calls her "The New Helen" and champions her. Francesca Annis is simply marvelous here, so cool and poised and radiant as she soon drops her mourning outfits to dazzle society drawing rooms. Whether out riding side-saddle, or coping with her boorish husband, or indeed the King of the Belgians who goes too far during those morning visits of his .... It is a big series of 13 episodes (directed by John Gorrie, Christipher Hodson and Tony Wharmby) with a large cast, and was very popular, as our tempestuous and calculating heroine (she could give Scarlett O'Hara a run for her money) fights adversity, it also covers Oscar's rise and downfall ...  
Polanski's MACBETHs 
Annis was a child actress and is still working now. She was CLEOPATRA's handmaiden in 1963, and then one of those PLEASURE GIRLS in 1965 (Annis label), and indeed was Lady Macbeth for Roman Polanski in 1972 with Jon Finch, and also effective in later tv hits like CRANFORD, but LILLIE is her crowning moment. She also played Lillie in 1975 in a series BERTIE about the Prince of Wales, and intriguingly played the Romy Schneider part in a BBC version of GIRLS IN UNIFORM in 1967, opposite Virginia McKenna. Prince cast her in his UNDER THE CHERRY MOON, and she even played Jacqueline Onassis in a 1988 ONASSIS telemovie! as well as DUNE and a MADAME BOVARY in 1975, plus those early 60s items WEST 11 and SATURDAY NIGHT OUT (reviewed at Annis label), and she famously played Gertrude to Ralph Fiennes HAMLET on stage ...

Dennis Lill (Major Benjy in the original MAPP & LUCIA), is the Prince, with Sheila Reid (also in BENIDORM as Madge!) as his mother Queen Victoria, Anne Firbank as Princess Alexandra, and Jenny Linden (WOMEN IN LOVE) as Lillie's confidant. Peter Egan makes a perfectly exquisite Oscar Wilde, with Brian Deacon as artist Frank Miles.
John Castle is another Prince and one of her loves, by whom she has a child. Poor Mr Langtry (Anton Rogers) gets short shift though. Its all perfect of its kind, as we see how high society arranges its assignations and how smart professional beauties make their way in the world. Make-up and costumes are excellent too as the characters age ... Mrs Langtry (1853-1929) went on the stage where she did very well, tourng America, and continued to fascinate .... and wrote a lively menoir "The Days That I Knew". Ava Gardner played her in Huston's THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN in 1972.