The Blob (1958)

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This independently made campy trash classic is mainly of interest these days because it stars Steve McQueen – and it boasts a fairly horrific theme tune by one Burt Bacharach. Steve’s out necking in his crush-worthy automobile with Jane when a shooting star that crashes to earth turns out to be … a parasitical blob of cherry Jell-O that infests humans! Well, what would you do, Daddy-O? Truly a product of its time but it looks pretty good and it must have been sensational at the drive-in paired with I Married a Monster From Outer Space!

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Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

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What’s good about this? It’s not actually Potterworld. So, no ugly children (well… maybe a few, but briefly) and no long-drawn out battle between Good and Evil. Maybe…. Because this moneymaker is now the first of goodness knows how many sequels due to the gazillions it’s already earned within a week of release. And it’s good. It’s not really what you’d expect. It’s got a muted palette with occasional jolts of monochrome to indicate who might be bad (that’s you, Colin Farrell) amongst the hoi polloi thronging the machine age streets  which are being subjected to some serious beast-action chopping through the bricks and cement. Meanwhile Eddie Redmayne is Edwardian magizoologist Newt Scamander, arriving at Ellis Island with some cute platypus-like creature called a niffler who has a magpie-like yen for silver and disappears in a bank looking for coins where a wannabe baker Jacob (Dan Fogler) takes his case by mistake after being turned down for a loan. Scamander is the future author of the eponymous book, which is found by Harry Potter, in other words he’s a former student at Hogwarts. He didn’t fight in WW1 – too busy fighting dragons, as it happens. NYC is on lockdown against magic and in denial about it so it’s not really a good time to arrive. Witches are on the menu and wicked foster mother Samantha Morton has her charges out campaigning against the subculture of which her eldest Credence (Ezra Miller doing Buster Keaton) is a part, which is very  unfortunate for her. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) wants to haul Newt in to the Magical Congress for importing his funny little creatures to the country but he needs to return one of them to the desert –  which he magicks with a Mary Poppins-like flourish out of the suitcase which has been retrieved: problem is now there’s a Muggler baker in on the secret only here he’s called a No-Maj.  There’s a race against time, as we are warned by the clock at the Congress which tells us of an impending doom-like scenario. There’s an extremely funny sequence at Central Park Zoo which you have to see to  believe but it involves a mating situation. And there’s a sidebar romance between Jacob and Tina’s mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) who likes this chubster.  And a scummy nightclub scene rather like one we know from Star Wars. And there’s the big issue: a certain angry teenager who might just … explode, as PO’d adolescents are wont. A politician suffers the consequences of his rage. And Graves (Farrell) wants to find him….  and Newt. This is an enjoyable wallow in nostalgia but instead of seeing those huge offices worked by people in Vidor’s pre-Depression classic The Crowd we have darkened rooms filled with typewriters which are … typing automatically! It’s a vision for those of us amused by gadgets and tricky machines, a steampunked 1926 filled with huge department stores and smog where women wear trousers and men are either brave eccentrics or weapons of the state. More than that, beneath the vision is a message about persecuted minorities and cults and the measures they take – not very nice betimes – to secure their own existence. Including white-out chambers where people are being lobotomised, or its nearest equivalent (‘obliviated’ as they call it here). So much for human rights under self-appointed dictators, eh? And this underground lot are led by a black woman, Carmen Ejogo. Will she turn out to be Fidelia Castro?! If I have any problems here it might be to do with casting – there’s enough money floating around this world so can someone please give Eddie Redmayne (wearing Benedict’s Sherlock coat or something very like it) assistance with his diction?  He could at least enunciate correctly now that he’s not confined to a wheelchair or concealing his male parts. I can’t decide whether he’s adequate to the task, really good in an underwritten part or just plain wrong. The relationship with beady-eyed Waterston is barely worked out:  in a way you don’t care because she’s not right either. But you should . This efficiently-tooled behemoth of parallel realities comes from the mythical Potter universe ie producer David Heyman and director David Yates. It’s oddly like Ghostbusters, but … different. And there are enough plot threads to function as a preview of several coming attractions.  The screenplay was conjured by the godhead herself, JK Rowling:  is there nothing she can’t do?

In & Out (1997)

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I miss Premiere magazine so much. Once a month,that cellophane-wrapped thud on the hall floor, after the postman had been by, struck joy in my heart. Specifically, I miss Paul Rudnick, that grade-A satirist whose campy sendups made me whoop with laughter. He was Libby Gelman-Waxner! But lo! Hollywood really did come calling to him hence his spot-on insider comments and this exquisitely rendered smalltown gayfest is true to classical tradition yet ever so sweetly rubs the generic nose in contemporary mores. Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is the inspirational smalltown Indiana high school English teacher who’s outed at the Academy Awards by his dimwit former student Hollywood actor Cameron Drake  (Matt Dillon) despite being three days from his very straight wedding to formerly fat colleague Emily Montgomery  (Joan Cusack). His wrist literally becomes limp when he’s called gay in front of billions of people. Mom Debbie Reynolds and dad Wilford Brimley want the wedding to go ahead and he’s sure he does too until showbiz correspondent Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) waltzes into town with the other paparazzi  – and stays. Just wait for the Selleck-Kline clinch! Howard’s Barbra Streisand-themed stag night is all for naught as he recognises his true nature and battles with the authorities to keep his job while his students eventually do an ‘I Am Spartacus’ act at graduation and Cameron rides back into town in his white sports car to save the day. Great fun, hilarious jibes and Kline gives an extraordinarily precise comic performance in a beautifully rendered upside-down satire of American family movies. Reynolds is especially good as the mother who will just die without a day in church. This was of course inspired by Tom Hanks’ unwitting outing of his former high school teacher when he was collecting the Oscar for Philadelphia. Adeptly directed by comedy expert Frank Oz.

Rebecca (1940)

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Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again … One of the most famous opening lines in a novel. Daphne du Maurier got the A-treatment by new arrival to Hollywood, Alfred Hitchcock, working closely with producer David O.Selznick to bring a hugely popular bestseller to the screen. It’s the story of ‘I’ (we never do learn her name) companion to obnoxious American woman Mrs Van Hopper, who escapes her bullying to marry Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), the widower of the eponymous Rebecca, a glamorous socialite who supposedly drowned. When she arrives at their country house Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) jealously guards her late mistress’ domain and tries to drive this innocent girl mad … Joan Fontaine made a spectacular impact as the ingenuous Second Mrs de Winter in a production dogged by censorship problems – look at what they had to do the ending! But the recovery from those issues (adapted by Joan Harrison and Robert E Sherwood) works beautifully and is adorned by superb performances elsewhere –  George Sanders as Jack Favell, for instance, can’t you practically smell the sweat on his adulterer’s shirt collar?! There are so many great scenes – the hotel bedroom when Mrs Van Hopper stabs out her cigarette, when Fontaine arrives at the costume ball in the dress Rebecca had worn, when Danvers encourages her to commit suicide, the boathouse …    And the overwhelming monogrammed R  … It’s a textual dream. The final images are unforgettable. Rumours abounded that Selznick took over the film and overruled Hitchcock one too many times leading him to edit in camera in future, but du Maurier’s work had a strong influence not just on the great director but on Forties cinema in general. I trace the powerful connections between this haunting drama and Hitchcock’s later Shadow of a Doubt, here:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Who-Knew-Too-Much-ebook/dp/B01KTWF08U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480331252&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

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Natalie Wood was tiny, barely five feet tall. You can see her footprints – the imprint of stilettos, probably – at Grauman’s on Hollywood Boulevard. And my mentor in LA took me to her grave in Westwood in Los Angeles. You could say I’m a fan. Have been, since I first saw her intense performance in Miracle on 34th Street when I was a tiny child myself. When I was carrying out research at the Margaret Herrick Library of AMPAS, I met her biographer, Gavin Lambert, one of my writing heroes. The book was about to come out and because I had reviewed one of his earlier biographies, we struck up a friendship before his untimely death. He and Wood were good friends and his book is a great tribute to a wonderful actress – she had starred in an adaptation of his Hollywood pastiche, Inside Daisy Clover. Bizarrely, on that same trip, I found myself on a flight out of LA  beside her babysitter’s neighbours – they said the woman had stayed at the Wood family home for 2 weeks following her death that terrible night 35 years ago. She was found near Catalina Island, having supposedly fallen off the Splendor, the boat she owned with husband Robert Wagner and named for what is her greatest performance in the astonishing Splendor in the Grass, where she met Warren Beatty. Wood and Wagner were hosting her Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken for the weekend. She was afraid of water. And she drowned. Eventually. Speculation persists as to how this occurred but I don’t know and whoever does isn’t telling. Wood played by Hollywood’s rules and survived, until that awful night. When she was raped by a major star who told her he’d always wanted to have intercourse with a child, she and her mother stayed quiet. (A recent documentary made it very clear who did it without having to verbalise it – he is the same nonagenarian thought to have murdered a little known actress from one of his films in another cover up a few years earlier: she just … vanished). What I do know is that Natalie Wood cracks my heart wide open every time I see her. She is just pure emotion. She could do comedy both sly and broad, straight drama, musicals, romance, slapstick, period and contemporary, and she even made Orson Welles look silly when she was just a kid. I adore her. She will never be forgotten. I still find it hard to believe she is gone.

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Rumor Has It (2007)

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Pasadena is a beautiful place, the California dream, an upmarket sinecure with nice wealthy people,  great restaurants and fabulous houses. And that’s where Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) is heading for her younger sister Annie’s (Mena Suvari) wedding, concealing her own engagement to Jeff (Mark Ruffalo) so as not to  take away attention at the gathering for this family from which she has always felt at one remove – not blonde enough, not a tennis player, not married – yet, even though she’s clearly adored by her widowed father (Richard Jenkins). At the rehearsal drinks her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine in horribly cutting mode) reveals that her late mom ran off for a week to Cabo with Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) her high school sweetheart, just before her wedding, and Sarah puts 2+2 together – their family really was the basis for Charles Webb’s The Graduate and the movie that followed … and she naturally pursues Beau and has a one-night stand. With the man who slept with both her mother and grandmother. And he just might be her father … There must be something wrong with me because I can see nothing wrong with spending the night with Kevin Costner. You?! Hey, it looks great, so sue me! In some countries incest is legal! Maybe. Written by Ted Griffin who directed this for 2 weeks before being replaced by Rob Reiner.

Gary Numan: Android in La La Land (2016)

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Gary Numan appeared like a Kraftwerk clone from another planet at the end of the Seventies with his band Tubeway Army and their earworms, Cars and Are Friends Electric? His appearance drew ire from the critics, who played no role in boosting him since he just … manifested, like a badass machine dream. His unique musical approach was to take Moog synth sounds and feed them through guitar effects pedals. It was the height of the New Wave and even within that loosely defined movement he was an anomaly. Not that you’d really learn this here because this concerns his move to LA a few years ago with his feisty former fan wife, their three lovely daughters and is really about mental health, financial woes and the difficult writing of his make or break album and emigrating to the US because he’s broke and needs to connect with more opportunities. We learn a huge amount about his (few) relationships;  his Asperger’s diagnosis when he was a kid; very little about his tunnel vision and determination; and the eventual difficulties with his manager father when he kept going on expensive tours that led to his folks going to ATMs at night and using their credit cards to pay the bills. He and his wife both succumbed to depression around his 50th birthday and the stress of keeping going and raising three small children whom they struggled to conceive is movingly told. It’s an engaging piece of work with some beautifully staged sequences including several mobile camera shots upside down which is presumably an objective correlative for his view of the world. And his wife’s hair colour is different in every scene. But there’s not enough about the music or what actually happened to make – and break up – Tubeway Army! Darn it! For another film, perhaps, or the Uncut version. Directed by Steve Read and Rob Alexander.

Match Point (2005)

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Who knew Woody Allen had it in him to make a tough sexy thriller? And here it is, a film that was transposed for financial reasons from NYC to London, featuring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, an Irish tennis pro on the make who weasels his way into British society and his plans are almost derailed by the vengeful wheedling American actress (Scarlett Johansson) with whom he has an affair. To a degree, we’ve been here before with Crimes and Misdemeanours (and Love and Death!) and the references to Dostoyevsky are writ large not least because Chris is reading Crime and Punishment and his preference for tragic operas and a belief in luck dictate his life. The Brit crits weren’t in love with this as they believed Allen’s use of London locations – opera, tennis clubs, posh bars and restaurants, theatres, and country houses – were classist. Did they seriously believe the Upper East Side to be representative of working class NYC?! When Johansson threatens Chris with revealing her pregnancy to his wife Emily Mortimer, whose brother broke off their engagement, there’s only one thing to do … The tension is stomach-churning, Rhys Meyers is superb in a very demanding dramatic role, a contemporary arriviste Raskolnikov, with ScarJo providing the eroticism in a field of wheat in the rain. All in all it’s a great exercise in life, sex – and luck. And just listen to Caruso …

Marilyn’s Last Day

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Marilyn Monroe is often on my mind. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of people who read the monthly Vanity Fair and people who are fans of Monroe I don’t know for sure but I think the common ground could be pretty significant. Natalie Wood’s anniversary is on my mind this weekend; so Warren Beatty is also on my mind. And his recent interview in Vanity Fair (November 2016) about his upcoming film concerning, among other things, Howard Hughes, and Hollywood, is very much on my mind. But mainly it’s the other things he mentions.  Buried in his summertime chats with Sam Kashner is a revelation that was suggested by Norman Mailer in his 1973 biography Marilyn; and again by Anthony Summers in Goddess (1985) and which elicits no real surprise on the part of the interviewer here or at least in how he presents the information. Turns out that Beatty really was at Peter Lawford’s on August 4th 1962, invited over for tacos and poker. He encountered Monroe there. They went for a walk on the beach. Then he took to the piano and she sat there, wearing a clinging dress, listening to him play and chatting to him. She asked him his age. She was drinking champagne. Beatty says she was tipsy by sunset. They didn’t play poker. If he said anything to Kashner about the time she left, or whether she stayed on for dinner, or who else was actually there, including Natalie Wood, it’s been excised. I wonder what if anything was said off the record because according to Summers,  Wood told someone in 1979 at Darryl Zanuck’s funeral that she too had been at the Lawfords’ that evening and had met Marilyn there. They were friends. For 54 years the myth has grown, exacerbated by Lawford’s own claim, and repeated by every one of the biographers over the past three decades since Summers’ book [and there are a lot] that she phoned him in a slurred voice that evening sometime after eight o’clock cancelling her visit (Fred Laurence Guiles, Norma Jeane, revised in 1984:  465). She was in his house. Is Lawford’s version of events even remotely plausible given that Monroe was certainly in distress if not actually dead by ten thirty and her body found in a clearly contrived situation? Beatty’s admission rewrites the narrative yet again.  I wish more people would tell the real truth. Her death still bothers me that much. How about you?

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

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What on this good earth could possibly be better than a biker film – unless it’s a biker horror film?! Adam (Stephen Oliver) and his crew The Devil’s Advocates (nominative determinism or tempting fate?!) are tooling around as bikers do until he falls under the influence of One (Servern Darden) and his cult… Donna Anders, appearing here as DJ Anderson (confusingly, her real name!) , plays his girlfriend Helen, who doesn’t like the hand of Tarot cards she’s dealt at the story’s outset. When they come across One and his gang in the deconsecrated desert church their food is drugged, she turns into a werewolf and soon infects Adam. (Is this a feminist act?!) They flee but get picked off one by one and when Adam and Helen transform in front of the others, the gang kill them. A few of them return to the church to kill the satanists but they recognise themselves in the procession …Notable for its footage of real-life bikers doing what they usually do, this was co-written by director Michel Devesque with David M. Kaufman. Oliver was best known for playing Lee Webber in TV’s Peyton Place between 1966 and 1968 and appeared in a number of other biker outings:  Motorpsycho (1965), Angels from Hell (1968), and Cycle Psycho (1973). You’ll recognise other cast members from The Last Movie. Cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky earned his stripes shooting for Encyclopaedia Brittanica but after this he made Scream Blacula Scream and in the following years got credits on films as diverse as The Muppet Movie, Somewhere in Time (sigh!), The Jazz Singer, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer:  a versatile talent.  Likewise Levesque, who followed this with Sweet Sugar, another exploitation outing, but who also had an impressive career as an art director on such fare as Supervixens, Beneath the Valley of the Super-Vixens, Carquake and Foxes. There’s a notable psychedelic soundtrack provided by Don Gere. This is pretty good as biker werewolf movies go, which is to say, what more could you want from such a fabulously preposterous genre mashup?! If you’re hairy you belong on a motorbike! You read it here. PS cat lovers beware.