Gilbert Lennon 17th April 2003 – 2nd August 2019

Gilbert10 May 05007.jpgGilbert in the Study 16 May 2005001.jpgGilbert 16 May 2005003.jpg

The world’s most charming and cine-literate cat died in my arms at 1120 today following a very short illness. Gilbert was the light of my life and accompanied me everywhere, including my travels on the internet to which he was a keen contributor and editor via this diary. I thought of a lot of things but not this. Now he is on the wild road with his brothers and sister. Vaya con Dios, amigo. You are the best of everything and Mondo Movies and I will not be right without you.

Great Day in the Morning (1956)

They sure are tight pants. Must make you uncomfortable. 1861, Colorado:  just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Owen Pentecost (Robert Stack) is a man from North Carolina who comes west to Denver on a whim. He encounters Ann Merry Alaine (Virginia Mayo), arriving from the East to open a dress shop. In a Denver hotel saloon, Owen wins a poker game tricking the owner Jumbo Means (Raymond Burr) into losing his estate on the last hand. Along with the hotel comes Boston Grant (Ruth Roman), who works there. Both women begin to fall for Owen. He has money on his mind, specifically the gold of the town’s Confederates, which turns out to be what brought him here. But the predominantly Union town wants the gold to fund the army and with the Civil War approaching, the town is split. Owen leads the Southerners in an escape attempt with the gold … What do you expect me to do? Shut my eyes and lose my shirt? Filled with droll lines, two visually and emotionally opposed independent women and an undercurrent of nastiness, this is not a film crying out to be liked. Stack is not an anti-hero per se, just a rather unpleasant type and as a consequence the ripple effect throughout the narrative – with even a young boy drawing a gun on Pentecost – is such that the genre’s tropes are stretched to the limit in a rather haunting setting. Sure, I’m loyal. I’ve got an undying loyalty to myself and no one else, nothing else. Caught between two women and two sides, cold-hearted Stack’s negotiating tactics are plotted against a plethora of psychologically challenging situations with Roman getting a superb showcase in a story of passions. Written by Lesser Samuels adapting a novel by Robert Hardy Andrew. Stylishly directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is a most unusual western. We’ve had enough of your gab. What’s your game?

Nowhere Special (2020)

His mother leaves him. His father dies. That’ll definitely fuck him up. Northern Ireland, the present day. 35-year-old window cleaner John (James Norton) devotes his life to raising his four-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont) as the child’s Russian mother deserted them six months after his birth. Their life is a simple one, made up of universal daily rituals, a life of complete dedication and innocent love that reveals the strength of their relationship. However, John only has a few months to live. Since he has no family to turn to, he will spend the days left to him looking for a new and perfect one to adopt Michael. He doesn’t want Michael to know that he is dying and tries to shield him so that he’ll forget he ever existed. Social worker Shona (Eileen O’Higgins) accompanies them to visits with prospective families whom official services have approved in advance. They encounter women desperate to give birth, a posh family keen to send the boy to boarding school, experienced foster carers, multi-racial multi-child households, a pair of truly scary control freaks and a single woman forced to give up her own child when she was a teen. Michael sees his father deteriorate yet they keep to their daily routine walking to school and cooking together and deseeding grapes and combing nits out but when John’s balance goes he has to stop working and the situation becomes more urgent … You should be dead proud of what you’re doing for him. This is a highly original take on parenthood or specifically fatherhood, the story of choice about masculinity since Kramer Vs Kramer made it the defining mark of being a contemporary male. Norton is perfect in the role – isn’t he always? – tall and thin and pale and scared inside and he stays true to the spirit of the writing in avoiding the pitfalls of melodrama despite the story. Tiny little Lamont (what a find) is a determined creature who keeps agreeing to meet these new friends but says firmly to his dad, I like home. They read stories and eat breakfast and go to the park and play together but increasingly we see John measuring their relationship against other people’s situations including a pregnant woman who helps them when they go grocery shopping. Little by little his own backstory and prognosis are revealed but there’s no mawkishness – John too was brought up by a lone working class father until he was four when he wound up in foster care. He doesn’t want history repeated. These guys dress alike in baseball caps and trainers and they like the same ice cream and lorries. Unlike Kramer there’s no regretful mom about to turn up to try and rescue them by salving her own conscience. This could have been sickeningly sentimental. But it remains touchingly clear-eyed and even humorous. It would drag tears from a stone. Written, directed and produced by Uberto Pasolini. This is the biggest decision of my life

House of Gucci (2021)

I want to see how this story goes. 1978. When Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family empire following her stalker romance with law student Maurizio (Adam Driver) to his sickly father Rodolfo’s (Jeremy Irons) disgust. Her ambition begins to unravel the family legacy but matters are complicated by the other fifty per cent owned by Rodolfo’s hands-on brother Aldo (Al Pacino) and his useless son Paolo (Jared Leto). When Rodolfo dies he has not signed over the share documents and Patrizia inspires Maurizio to take decisive action, triggering the ire of family lawyer Domenico De Sole (Jack Huston) and there ensues a cycle of betrayal, decadence and ultimately revenge when Patrizia consults her long-time psychic advisor Pina (Salma Hayek) to settle matters … Father, son and House of Gucci. Director Ridley Scott’s second film in as many months is a potentially high voltage crime drama with comic elements. A fascinating tale of real people and the peregrinations within a remarkably storied family has drawn some extraordinary performances from a great cast. Gaga wrings everything she can from the role of the unstoppably ambitious Patrizia even with what her own dialogue coach has labelled a Russian accent. The vague allusion to her father’s Mafia connections and the ironic adoption of gangster tactics by Maurizio while he coldly dumps his wife for his old friend Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin) are well done but very slow in fruition. There are marvellous performances and we cannot choose between an unrecognisable Leto, a deathly and louche Irons or Pacino’s storefront huckster screeching Konichiwa! at Japanese customers. Unfortunately they feel singular rather than part of a whole because the synapses are not snapping together in the writing which is largely a matter of sequences which feel very episodic. Each is introduced by needle-drops which place us in the precise time in a narrative that spans twenty years until Reggiani’s murder conviction which occurs as a coda, even in a film that lasts 157 minutes. The dramatic exchanges happen in unscored scenes which are very uncomfortable. Adapted from Sara Gay Forden’s book the screenplay is by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna and has a lot of detail but insufficient connectivity eliding key plot points and just presenting us with altered situations and even omitting two deaths which are mentioned in the end credits. It’s not quite nutty or camp enough despite the material and is fatally overlong. It looks fantastic for the most part with a great feel for foggy northern Italy and the luxe life and we’re there for the stylish trappings – a diptych of property porn and costuming – and amusement at the greatest collection of comedy noses and rhinoplasties in recent memory but this time The Riddler has not pulled it all together. Actions have consequences

Arlene Dahl 11th August 1925 – 29th November 2021

The death has taken place of the glorious Arlene Dahl, in many ways the epitome of midcentury movie magic with her stunning looks, elegance and capacity to appear with equal impact in modern comedy, musicals, westerns, historical sagas, adventure films or particularly film noir, teamed with stars like Red Skelton, Alan Ladd and future husband Fernando Lamas. Her best film might have been the unforgettable Reign of Terror aka Black Book which though made in black and white managed to display her to great effect and she was brilliant as a femme fatale in the ironically Technicolor noir, Slightly Scarlet. Both films incidentally were shot by John Alton. She had great timing and moved well, had a sense of humour and was adept at making a line land, making her a staple of MGM in the Fifties. While she had a huge hit in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, in the Sixties her screen career took her abroad mainly to France and she also made guest appearances in a variety of TV shows. By then her career as a writer, beauty consultant, columnist and savvy entrepreneur had taken off. Her astrology column would be syndicated in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. Later she would appear in soap operas and when her son TV star Lorenzo Lamas produced his own shows and films she was regularly in the ensemble. She will always be remembered as an elegant, sparkling actress and a great beauty. Rest in peace.

I considered the years in Hollywood nothing but an interim. What I always wanted to be was a musical comedy star

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019)

Sometimes a girl can find her best friend in her worst enemy. After her mother’s death, 16-year-old sleuth Nancy Drew (Sophia Lillis) and her lawyer father Carson (Sam Trammell) have moved from Chicago to the small town of River Heights. While Nancy struggles to fit in, Carson is active in local politics, fighting the development of a train line through the town. A local thug named Willie Wharton (Jesse C. Boyd) threatens Nancy one night to try to scare her father into backing down. While performing community service as punishment for a prank on a school bully, Nancy meets Flora (Linda Lavin), an elderly woman needing help with an apparent haunting in her home. Excited by the mystery, Nancy stays overnight at Flora’s home, along with Flora’s niece Helen (Laura Slade Wiggins), the girlfriend of the bully Derek (Evan Castelloe) who’s made Bess Marvin’s (Mackenzie Graham) life a misery and led to the girls and best friend George Fayne (Zoe Renee) taking revenge. That night in Flora’s exotic cluttered home, strange things begin to happen, with lights going out and then exploding, cabinet doors and drawers opening, and a cloaked figure in a pig mask appearing and warning Nancy to give up her mystery. The next day, Nancy believes that someone broke in and tried scaring them out. Nancy and Helen investigate, and they find a secret passage that leads outside, revealing how the supposed ‘ghost’ entered the house. The secret passage also contains props the intruder used to simulate a haunting, such as a rigged fuse box to manipulate the lights in the house. The rest of the strange phenomenon is explained by a rig that emits concentrated nutmeg through the house’s air conditioning, which triggers dangerous hallucinations. Later, Nancy realises her father, who is staying out of town on a business trip, has not checked in with her or her aunt Hannah recently. She calls her father’s best friend Nate (Jon Briddell) who tells her that Carson’s meeting is at a campsite and reception must be spotty. Nancy is not convinced, as Carson had told her he would be staying at a hotel. Worried that something has happened to him, Nancy and Helen head to Carson’s hotel. They discover that he never checked out, and his cell phone is still in his room. Security footage from the previous night reveals Carson was ambushed and kidnapped by Wharton … The way your brain works is so cool. Fans of the perennial favourite schoolgirl detective will always be interested in seeing new iterations because just as the ‘original’ books were the children of many, written and altered over different generations as tastes and sensibilities moved on, the film and TV adaptations have come to reflect the times in which they are made: from Bonita Granville’s 1930s’ movie heroine to Pamela Sue Martin in the 1970s’ TV version and a Canadian TV series set in the Thirties. There’s a series (three seasons since 2019) on The CW which we haven’t yet seen. This book in fact was previously adapted in 1939 although it was changed from the novel and this version is written by Nina Fiore & John Herrera. We don’t see a lot of those zesty sidekicks who are mostly confined to the introductory bullying subplot and Ned is missing in action altogether, replaced by police deputy Patrick (Andrew Matthew Welch) echoing a friendship from a more recent TV girl detective, Veronica Mars. However it shares with the 2007 feature a nice sense of legacy and a feel for modern comedy but it’s dogged by a kind of softness and sentimentality that didn’t affect the earlier film whose retro-fitted Hollywood setting was oddly more appropriate and was a lot sharper in execution. Carson is weaker and housekeeper Hannah Gruen is now his sister (Andrea Anders), portrayed as something of a loser who couldn’t cut it in New York. Lillis is rather charming and lively but Nancy was never a tomboy skater girl. The psychoactive conclusion at least features an interesting use of flamingo ornaments but it’s underplayed. Directed by Katt Shea (Ruben) who many will fondly recall from Poison Ivy but this doesn’t have that film’s claws although there is real jeopardy amid the fun and mystery. Executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres with a score by Emily Bear a musical prodigy who made many appearances on her TV show. Delivering justice isn’t a prank, it’s my duty

Seminole (1953)

Some things I felt that time alone could work out. Fort King, the HQ of the US Army in the Everglades, Florida, 1835. West Point graduate Second Lieutenant Lance Caldwell (Rock Hudson) is charged with the murder of a sentry. At his court martial, he recounts the story of the fragile peace between the settlers and the native Seminole Indians and how that peace is threatened by the inflexible and driven fort commander, Major Harlan Degan (Richard Carlson), who wants to wipe out the natives who he believes do not understand the agricultural potential of the land. Caldwell is a knowledgeable scout and he points out they mostly live in swamps but Degan refuses to hear him out. Caldwell’s childhood sweetheart, Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale) is romantically involved with Osceola (Anthony Quinn) a Seminole chief and old friend of Caldwell’s. Through respect for Caldwell, Osceola comes to the fort under a flag of truce, but is imprisoned by Degan. Osceola dies while in captivity and Caldwell is accused of his murder and jailed … The wounds are healing, but not the heart. Director Budd Boetticher does a fine job utilising his customary vigour, intelligence and straightforward storytelling in translating the real-life story of the Second Seminole War as chronicled by Charles K. Peck Jr., with double-crossing nasty Degan’s real name (Jesup) changed at the last minute to avoid legal action from his descendants. It’s a ferocious indictment of how the U.S. Army conducted itself in its efforts to wipe out the native population under the auspices of Andrew Jackson’s removal policy and has some lively performances especially by the marvellous Quinn as the heroic and charismatic martyr. Hudson was of course being groomed for greatness by Universal and he’s a solid lead as the ethical soldier opposite the evil Carlson: has that mild-mannered performer ever been so possessed by a role? That’s in an impressive cast that also numbers Lee Marvin as Sergeant Magruder who’s quite a fair-minded fellow and James Best as a guy who suffers from swamp fever. Hale is fine as the woman caught between two fascinating, purposeful men. The whole thing looks rather lovely, shot in glossy Technicolor by Russell Metty. I must believe there’s a chance for peace for both our peoples

The Lake House (2006)

If she’s not careful she could spend her whole life waiting. Chicago, 2006. Dr. Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) is leaving a lake house that she has been renting. Kate leaves a note in the mailbox for the next tenant to forward her mail, adding that the paint-embedded pawprints on the path leading to the house were already there when she arrived. Two years earlier in 2004, architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) arrives at the lake house and finds Kate’s letter in the mailbox. The place is neglected, with no sign of paw prints anywhere. During the subsequent restoration of the house, a dog runs through Alex’s paint and leaves fresh paw prints right where Kate said they would be. Baffled, Alex writes back, asking how Kate knew about the paw prints since the house was unoccupied until he arrived. On Valentine’s Day 2006, Kate is enjoying a sandwich with her mother (Willeke van Ammelrooy) when she witnesses a traffic accident near Daley Plaza and tries to save the male victim, unsuccessfully. She impulsively drives back to the lake house, finds Alex’s letter and writes back. Both Alex and Kate continue passing messages to each other via the mailbox, and each watches its flag go up and down as the message leaves and the reply arrives as they wait at the mailbox. They cautiously look around each time the flag changes, hoping to somehow spot the other. It is in vain as they are alone at the mailbox. They then discover that they are living exactly two years apart. Their correspondence takes them through several events, including Alex finding a book, Jane Austen’s Persuasion, at a railway station where Kate said she would have lost it, and Alex taking Kate on a walking tour of his favorite places in Chicago via an annotated map that he leaves in the mailbox. Alex continues his work designing condos and enduring a fractious relationship with his narcissistic father Simon (Christopher Plummer) a renowned architect whom his architect brother Henry (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) sees differently. He eventually meets Kate at her boyfriend Morgan’s (Dylan Walsh) party, however he doesn’t mention their exchange of letters because it had not happened to Kate yet. They kiss without his ever saying who he is and it’s witnessed by Morgan and Alex’s colleague Mona (Lynn Collins) whose advances he rebuffs. Kate later remembers the meeting as a vague memory in the past. As Alex and Kate continue to write to each other, they decide to try to meet again. Alex makes a reservation at the Il Mare restaurant – two years into Alex’s future, but only a day away for Kate. Kate goes to the restaurant but Alex fails to show. Heartbroken, Kate asks Alex not to write to her again, recounting the accident a year before. Both Alex and Kate leave the lake house, continuing on with their separate lives. On Valentine’s Day 2006 for Alex, Valentine’s Day 2008 for Kate, he returns to the lake house after something about the day triggers a memory … These two people meet, they fall in love, the timing isn’t right, they have to part. This fantasy romance has an unbelievable premise but the rhythm eventually insinuates itself into the viewer’s brain and after a while we recall Professor Brian Cox informing us just a few days ago (maybe) that space and time are not fundaments of nature because there is a deeper reality that even he doesn’t understand. So that’s fine then. And now. And there. The world and his wife wanted Reeves and Bullock back together since Speed and this remake of the 2000 South Korean film Il Mare plugs into that universal wish with a crazy plot that somehow explains why it took so long to happen in the metaverse at least. Life is not a book, Alex. It can be over in a second. Literary references aside, this is also a how-to on timing – when is it the right time to declare yourself romantically and when is it okay to change someone else’s fate. We think they got that right at least in a film about emotional architecture and saving lives. Watch out for that traffic, dude. Forget the logic and dive straight in with the music of Rachel Portman, Paul McCartney and Nick Drake among others to make you swoon. Written by David Auburn. Directed by Alejandro Agresti. What if there is no one? What if you live your whole life and no one is waiting?

Trauma Center (2019)

These guys killed a cop. They’re dangerous. You’re a witness. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, Madison Taylor (Nicky Whelan) is injured when she’s caught in the crossfire of two corrupt cops, Detective Pierce (Tito Ortiz) and Sergeant Tull (Texas Battle) when they kill Detective Tony Martin (Tyler Jon Olson). Madison wakes up in a hospital where she’s told she’s been shot in the leg. It’s the same hospital where her teenage sister and ward Emily (Catherine Davis) is being treated for an asthma attack. As a witness to a vicious crime, she’s placed under the protection of respected police lieutenant Steve Wakes (Bruce Willis) who puts her in an isolation ward in an empty and rarely used part of the building. Madison’s misfortune turns into a real nightmare when Pierce and Tull turn up to finish the job, realising she is the key to tracing them back to the crime. Trapped and hunted by Pierce and Tull inside the locked-down hospital, Madison desperately calls Wakes for help. But she must use her surroundings to fight back alone during this night of survival if there is any hope of making it out alive. Then they find her and she knows her sister is now in jeopardy too as they chase her through the building. Madison has evidence on a memory card which Wakes needs to prove his colleagues in Vice are guilty but she can’t get him on the phone and when she does she wants to save Emily … You’re not Mom. Fans of Bruce Willis will feel shortchanged by a narrative in which he tops and tails the action and at one point actually phones it in. As he puts it, Guys like me don’t stick around. Talk about on the nose. The dialogue is as basic and declarative as the plot, a predictable genre outing with crooked cops and a woman in jeopardy. Whelan plays said female very well in a mostly deserted hospital setting and gets to have some action fun on her hobbled leg. What’s strange is the notion of isolation wards in a pre-pandemic world. It may be the most fascinating element at play in a film that some label a Die Hard wannabe. Then there’s Willis’ non-performance which is jaw-dropping to witness. Oh, and in a complete Ripley’s, that’s Steve Guttenberg as Dr Jones. Mercifully short. Written by Paul Da Silva. Directed by Matt Eskandari. Don’t worry – we haven’t had any outbreaks of Ebola. Yet

Happy 70th Birthday Kathryn Bigelow 27th November 2021!

With her stunning aesthetic, trademark action cutting and cinematic intelligence, artist, actress, screenwriter, director and producer Kathryn Bigelow first attracted our attention with her debut The Loveless a beautiful outlaw biker art film that was all kinds of fetish to the point that one critic commented, Genet would have loved it. With strong male and female protagonists and cult stylings, it was Point Break that finally sent her mega, an exhilarating surf film that broke the genre out of the low budget kitsch realm. In between films in a career that has seen her spend years between productions, she shot music videos and TV and did some teaching and returned to the masculine realm of brilliantly executed and exciting yet serious thrillers, minus the kind of denigrating humour that plagues that kind of filmmaking. She was finally rewarded with an Academy Award for directing The The Hurt Locker, a stunning representation of contemporary warfare. She doesn’t make enough films but what she makes are simply great and they are on her terms. Many happy returns to a modern classicist.