The Goodbye Girl (1977)

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Ask an actor a question you get his credits. A confection so tonally sublime it’s ridiculous. Neil Simon wrote a screenplay about Dustin Hoffman’s early days starring Robert De Niro and directed by Mike Nichols. De Niro was all wrong – comedy not quite being his thing – and Nichols quit and Simon went back to the drawing board and came up with this and a far more simpatico cast several months later with a new director, Herbert Ross. Paula (Marsha Mason, ie Mrs Simon) is the former Broadway dancer who finds out her married lover has abandoned her and daughter Lucy (the brilliantly smart-assed Quinn Cummings) to do a movie in Italy (with Bertolucci!) and without her knowledge has sublet his apartment where they live to a colleague straight in from Chicago. Actor Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss) is self-conscious, neurotic and driven and fussy and moves in to Lucy’s bedroom as Paula realises she has nowhere else and won’t move out and needs someone to pay the rent. Elliot is preparing to give his off-off-off-off-Off Broadway Richard III for director Mark (Paul Benedict) who wants him to play it as ‘the queen who wants to be King.’ Elliot succumbs. As Paula tries to get fit and lose flab to return to the stage, Elliot’s camp-as-a-caravan site Richard flops terribly and her sympathy for him becomes something else. Their living arrangements are suddenly rendered more complicated … The humour, the performances and the text are tightrope-worthy:  Paula could be a shrew in the wrong hands (Simon famously declared he hated actresses…); Elliot could be plain irritating (Dreyfuss is simply perfect in an Oscar-winning role); and the screamingly funny queer reading of Richard III just couldn’t be done nowadays (unless a woman were playing it….) because the millennials/snowflakes/whatever identity politics you’re having yourselves would be crucifying everyone concerned. And Quinn Cummings, who later became a part of the wonderful TV show Family, is simply brilliant as the snarky daughter whose man crush is taken away from her. All of the performances were recognised in this perfectly handled backstage comedy but these are roles that couldn’t even be conceived nowadays. The Seventies. Love them. Love this.

Happy 50th Birthday Nicole Kidman 20th June 2017!

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The remarkably versatile American-Australian actress Nicole Kidman celebrates her 50th birthday this week – now doesn’t that make us all feel old. Who would have predicted that as the wife of Tom Cruise playing mostly supporting roles she would step out of his shadow (and their marriage) so decisively and with such impact? She has done big genre pieces and smaller independent movies;  tackled the erotic and the slutty, the withdrawn and widowed;  the comic and the horrible; the mad and bad; the active and the intellectual. Her range, ambition and daring ensure her longevity just as her porcelain looks make her so memorable. Happy birthday to a constantly surprising screen presence.

Cafe Society (2016)


Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) arrives in Hollywood straight outta the Bronx  c.1935 to work with his movie agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell) and falls for his assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Everything looks beautiful, bathed in magic moment sunshine and swoony evening light and people talk about Irene Dunne and Willie Wyler but it turns out Vonnie is Phil’s mistress and he leaves his wife to marry her leaving Bobby brokenhearted and back in his beloved Bronx working front of house for his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll) in a glamorous nightclub. He marries divorcee Veronica (Blake Lively) whom he promptly rechristens Vonnie. She has a baby and her time is taken up caring for her. Then Phil and Vonnie visit while passing through NYC and a romance of sorts recommences but as Bobby realises, Vonnie (this Vonnie) is now his aunt … This is a film of two halves, which do not mesh.  The leads are in their third film together but Stewart is much too modern to play her role, Eisenberg is quite weird – that hunched-shouldered look doth not a schlub make – and the good performances are in supporting roles:  Jeannie Berlin and particularly Ken Stott as the Dorfman parents, Stoll, who is literally criminally underused and Stephen Kunken as the brother in law who inadvertently causes Bobby’s sister Evelyn to have Ben murder their neighbour. Despite the episodes of violence, the talk about what is reality and what is cinema, and the central idea about marriage and what people do to keep relationships going despite clear incompatibility – and there’s a strange (self-?) reference to a man with a teenaged mistress… – this just doesn’t work. The faraway looks in the leads’ eyes at the unsatisfying and inconclusive climax, a country apart, merely highlight the vacuum at the story’s centre. Minor Allen to be sure. It looks great though, so thank you Vittorio Storaro.

Daniel Day-Lewis

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I like to think I discovered Daniel Day-Lewis. When I was a kid I watched all the plays on BBC2 and one evening he appeared as a rather standoffish British officer in Jennifer Johnston’s How Many Miles to Babylon? He had a huge nose and a dreadful character and a commanding presence and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Who on earth was this exotic creature? My father had given me a book written by his father, The Otterbury Incident. That was all I knew. Then he had a supporting role in another TV adaptation, Antonia White’s Frost in May and the world got to hear about him a couple of years later as a gay bovver boy in My Beautiful Laundrette swiftly followed by his masterful sympathetic interpretation of Cecil Vyse as a tragically self-aware failed Romeo in A Room With a View. There were some more TV appearances in the mini-series My Brother Jonathan and in the film The Insurance Man but for a while it went sort of pear-shaped. He was dreadful in the prestigious and perhaps misconceived The Unbearable Lightness of Being, amongst others, but then somehow gave a touch of greatness to the portrayal of disabled Irish writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot, leading to an Academy Award. He managed the unthinkable – a great performance as an action hero in the brilliant The Last of the Mohicans. He struck up a working relationship with Martin Scorsese for The Age of Innocence, a beautifully achieved if slightly stilted Wharton adaptation, following it with another Jim Sheridan collaboration in his adopted home Ireland (that of his father, the poet and novelist Cecil Day-Lewis) with In the Name of the Father. After that and The Crucible, which introduced him to surrogate father Arthur Miller, whose daughter, writer-director Rebecca, he married, his performances became more sporadic. He worked again with Scorsese in Gangs of New York, that overheated crime movie, and with his wife in The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and won another Oscar for Paul Thomas Anderson’s singular There Will Be Blood in which he towered over the screen in what seemed to be an overwhelming impersonation of John Huston in Chinatown. He was lured into being Lincoln by Steven Spielberg a role which had long been meant for Liam Neeson and it brought him back to the Academy Awards. In between he had appeared in an execrable adaptation of Nine and gave an appropriately excruciating performance. He has announced his retirement. Supposedly another film for Anderson, Phantom Thread, will be his last. He has had his scuffles with the popular press, principally for an extravagant love life and a famous encounter with his late father onstage for a matinee performance of Hamlet: it was that Oedipal episode that I missed when I first went to London and my train was late for the show at the National Theatre. My loss which I felt bitterly at the time is now monumental because it extends to his film career. He has made a scant 20 films since that first uncredited role as a stone-throwing kid in Sunday, Bloody Sunday and even if the films have not always been great, he still retains that indescribable quality:  you cannot stop watching him. Well now he has decided that you must.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

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Everybody knows you never go full retard! Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr) is the Aussie Method actor par excellence in blackface giving retrospective advice to Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) the ludicrously vain Hollywood star who made that very mistake in his quest for Oscar. Now they’re in the jungles of Vietnam doing their version of the War years after everyone else has stopped those kinds of movies and causing no end of difficulties for hapless Brit director (Steve Coogan) who is killed in the fray. Back at the studio the vile boss Les Grossman (an unrecognisable Tom Cruise) just sees insurance $$$$ when Speedman gets separated from the crew as they go shooting guerilla style in a self-defeating move – and he’s kidnapped by drugs lords who make him act out Stupid Jack, the only film they have on VHS. Only Tugg’s agent (Matthew McConaughey) cares about his charge. The other actors, who include Fatties franchise star Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) decide to rescue Tugg without realising their director is dead and this is not a movie any more … This is a Hollywood satire that also operates as a proper action movie and what a rare feat that is. Just when you think it’s a sketch show that goes on too long, Tugg kills a panda (he’s crusading for their rights on the back of Vanity Fair) and Danny McBride calls Nick Nolte ‘the Milli Vanilli of patriots.’ Gut-bustingly funny when it works, and you know all the movies it’s spoofing, Grossman was apparently all Cruise’s idea and some might say it’s a rather vicious take on Sumner Redstone as revenge for booting him off the Paramount lot when he jumped on Oprah’s couch. From a story by Justin Theroux and Ben Stiller, written by Etan Cohen. Directing by Ben Stiller. Dancing by Les Grossman!

Happy 100th Birthday Dean Martin! Born 06/07/1917

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June 7th marks 100 years since the birth of the King of Cool, Little Ol’ Wine Drinker Dean Martin, that icon of midcentury masculinity. A wonderful singer, his comic chops developed with Jerry Lewis and they made a cycle of amusing films culminating in some good work with live-cartoon auteur Frank Tashlin before making a really great impression as a serious actor in The Young Lions and Some Came Running, where he was teamed with Frank Sinatra. He then became part of The Rat Pack, and later in the Sixties was Matt Helm, that spoof spy par excellence. In between he would become master of the sex comedy with regular forays into comedy westerns. His TV show made him part of everyone’s lives and he remains a keen part of the culture through his masterful performances in all these genres. What a career! He may have died Christmas Day 1995 but there are those of us who still raise a glass to celebrate him. Happy birthday, Mr Martin.