The Baby (1973)

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Sick and twisted! That’s how I like my exploitation horror and that’s what this is, a film that goes full retard long before Lars Von Trier decided to cross the crass line. Baby (David Manzy) is the grown man in a playpen cared for by his indolent mom (Ruth Roman) and scary big-haired sisters (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor) and their idyll is interrupted by a nosy social worker (Anjanette Comer) with ideas of her own about what she might do to him… A surprisingly taut comment about society, family and perversion, written by Abe Polsky and directed by Ted Post with a great score composed by Gerald Fried. I’ve written about it at Offscreen:  http://offscreen.com/view/whole-lotta-motherlove. Great fun!

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Addams Family Values (1993)

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Those paragons of the paranormal are back. Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are entirely unhappy at the arrival of moustachioed Baby Pubert and plot his death at every possible opportunity so Morticia (Anjelica Huston) and Gomez (Raul Julia) hire a nanny. Problem is, Debbie (Joan Cusack), always with the ready quip, has eyes on Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) and persuades the folks that summer camp is the place for the kids while she commences her seduction. The scenes at camp are a hoot, with Wednesday falling for geeky Joel (David Krumholtz) and causing total havoc at an unforgettable Thanksgiving show run by horrifically perky Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski. This is a scream from start to finish with killer lines like, where all those Addams men come from: “It has to be damp.” Ricci delivers a peerless performance – what an extraordinary child she was! Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld from a screenplay by Paul Rudnick, adapting the Charles Addams characters in a slightly more macabre fashion than the original. Extremely funny indeed.

Rumble Fish (1983)

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If you could have written one book in your life and you had a choice out of everything what would it be? I’ll nail my colours here and say I would love to have been Susie Hinton and wish that I was capable of writing something so plaintively romantic and atmospheric and attracting Francis Ford Coppola to the camera when it came to adapting it for the screen. (Isn’t it better to have written a wonderful, meaningful, heartfelt book that is so small it fits in your pocket and everyone has read at an important time in their lives than a large tome nobody has?) He shot this back to back with The Outsiders, that other great short novel she wrote. And it all happened because her fans at a Fresno school petitioned Coppola to do it. It’s the story of smalltown Oklahoma teenage gangs. Rusty James (Matt Dillon) leads one of them. He lives with his drunkard dad (Dennis Hopper) and he’s not too smart. He worships his absent older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke channeling Albert Camus) who’s a pretty legendary guy around these parts, at least when gangs ruled the roost and he ruled the gangs. Rusty James breaks his brother’s anti-rumble pact, the Motorcycle Boy reappears and everything changes … A beautiful, stately, painterly work  (by Stephen H. Burum) in monochrome – with the exception of those colourful Siamese fighting fish! – when all the actors were young and oh so achingly beautiful (with the obvious exceptions of Hopper and trash star William Smith). This is one of those films you either get or you don’t. With an homage to Penrod, an amazingly choreographed fight scene or two, a love story with Diane Lane and a radical score by Stewart Copeland, there’s only one thing left to say:  The Motorcycle Boy Reigns.

Sisters (2015)

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Unresolved Sisterly Tension is a pretty good motif for any movie … then comes the thorny issue of plot. ‘How can one person have two colonoscopy stories?’ asks Tina Fey of sister Amy Poehler (I have three, but that’s for another kind of blog.) That’s what happens when you have a house party to commemorate the end of your life in the house where you grew up … twenty-five years later and you’re in your forties and you’ve lost your job (Tina), you’re divorced (Amy) and the folks (Dianne Wiest and James Brolin) are finally downsizing to somewhere smaller in the Orlando area. So it’s time to clear out their rooms. Unfair! The ladies go back and read their vastly differing old diaries, get on ‘social’ media and call up their fellow loser buds to PARTY! Waster Tina agrees to be Sober Party Mom so busybody divorcee Amy can have the kind of night she couldn’t allow herself to have as the good sister and get laid by the handyman James selling his dead folks’ house next door. The moms and dads show up, the saddos show up, the Koreans show up, the drug dealers show up but it takes the Lesbians to play big choons for everyone to let loose and there’s foam and paint and chimney-climbing and sex … while James is impaled on a ballerina music box (see, that colonoscopy idea never goes far from writer Paula Pell’s references). The plot twist happens when drunken Tina (she succumbs) finds Amy’s phone and realises her daughter has been hiding in Amy’s house for months and the climax is catalysed …  There’s some astonishingly lazy writing here by Pell (who wrote for SNL) and some scenes just seem like improv central – yet we love these ladies don’t we?! Hell yeah!

The Intern (2015)

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Nancy Meyers is a spectacular filmmaker:  she makes deftly witty social satires starring female protagonists and she’s been at it since 1980 when she co-wrote Private Benjamin for the heroic Goldie Hawn. There was a long gap between It’s Complicated (2009) and this – so long I wrote a book about her work, fearing the worst. Then she came back with another zeitgeisty comedy, starring Robert De Niro as the titular character, an active widower seeking more to do with his time and seeing an opportunity with a politically correct seniors internship programme at an e-commerce firm in his Brooklyn neighbourhood.  His boss is the driven company founder, millennial Anne Hathaway who runs this fashion seller with a sharp focus that somehow blinds her to the people around her – the wussy stay at home husband and cute daughter, the chauffeur who drinks (despite her espousing of bicycle riding in the warehouse suite), and the capacity of former businessman De Niro to assist her in the running of her firm because her financier wants to replace her as CEO. This jabs at a lot of contemporary targets – women and work, work-life balance, the generation gap, seniors in relationships (the brilliant Rene Russo is CRIMINALLY under-used as De Niro’s romantic interest) and corporate life. Even if Hathaway wasn’t originally intended to co-star (it was supposed to be Tina Fey opposite Michael Caine, then Reese Witherspoon), it has the unexpected slippage effect from her role in The Devil Wears Prada and we might see her as Andie all grown up in a dream(-ier) job where she’s the boss. De Niro is a flinty protagonist (she’s really the antagonist here) and this perhaps is where the film-story balance comes a little undone:  there are snotty, spiteful moms in the playground, her own awful mother hounding her on the phone, a dull spouse (couldn’t she do any better?! And pay a babysitter?!)  and a decided lack of interests outside of work – compare the narrative solution in Baby Boom in which Diane Keaton hit on a highly domestic answer to a business problem. This targets so many bases and is a lot of fun at times – even De Niro’s break-in caper with his dude co-workers – yet it doesn’t really say a lot about the specifics of this fashion website idea or why it’s so important to Hathaway, has remarkably conservative ideas about men and women and never feels like it truly exploits its characters:  Anne Hathaway needed to go really crazy at some point! She’s … aggressive passive. In the meantime, you can get my book about Nancy Meyers here: https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474702335&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

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Nell (Marilyn Monroe) is escorted to a hotel room by her uncle, bellhop Eddie (Elisha Cook Jr), on babysitting duty. Downstairs, pilot Jed (Richard Widmark) is dumped by his girlfriend, chanteuse Lyn (Anne Bancroft) in between songs. He retires to his room where he observes the beautiful babysitter across the courtyard. He phones her and mistakes her for a wealthy woman in need of some company. The little girl she’s looking after interrupts their conversation and bit by bit, the story comes undone and it’s clear Nell thinks he’s an old boyfriend whom we realise was killed in the war. Things get tricky and the little girl is in serious jeopardy …  Eventually the situation in the room becomes violent and all is revealed: we find out precisely where Nell has spent the last three years. Daniel Taradash adapted a novel by Charlotte Armstrong and it was directed by British man Roy (Ward) Baker in a very effective style. Monroe was lacking in confidence for this dramatic role and there are moments where her dissonant performance actually makes for a properly disturbing experience. Studio heads were not impressed. But her fan base was hugely effective in raising her profile and she got thousands of letters every week and the studio had no idea why. (Grace Kelly had a parallel situation at her studio). Co-star Widmark was not impressed by her in person but commented on her awesome impact onscreen. Anne Bancroft was a confident NYC actress making her screen debut (it was Monroe’s 18th outing) and she stated that in the scene they shared, in the hotel lobby, where Monroe had to play at being in pain and helpless, what greeted Bancroft was precisely that, and it was so powerful that it brought tears to her eyes. The women were not remotely similar but oddly, Bancroft left Hollywood to return to Broadway in 1957 (a year after Monroe also departed, deeply unhappy at the state of her career) making her screen comeback with an incredible performance in The Miracle Worker in 1962 – the year that Monroe died.

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

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I once asked an extremely famous screenwriter why he thought it might be that I have certain films (including one he wrote) on constant rotation chez moi, even if my head is telling me that some of them (not the ones he wrote) weren’t really for an intelligent woman. He said very simply – Because it makes you feel good. And that’s it, isn’t it, no matter how we might elect to rationalise our film choices. On the face of it, this seems like a film that no sensible female should like much less love. (Such as: Trainwreck, which was loathsome, is the least feminist movie you could imagine even with its foulmouthed female writer/star and if Kate Hudson had made it ten years ago with Owen Wilson/Matthew McConaughey she would have been hung out to dry. A woman who knows zip about sport and gives up her job to make her boyfriend feel better?? Really?! Reader, I wanted to vomit.) Here, Meg Ryan’s fabulous children’s bookstore (oh how I covet it) is ruined by a large book conglomerate which is shutting down independents everywhere (just go to Charing Cross Road in London and see if you recognise it from, oh, twenty years ago. The godless Hitlerites are everywhere). She gets some hope from the romance conjured up online (how clever was Ephron in ways to tell stories? She really uses the internet brilliantly here) and then finds out who her Romeo is … She’s Meg Ryan (Nora Ephron’s avatar – and a brilliant, underrated actress), he’s Tom Hanks. The emails that they communicate through may fall as they will. And of course because it’s an adaptation of the warmly remembered The Shop Around the Corner it’s readymade for criticism. Critic Hannah McGill wrote a superb essay on the issue of Ephron’s contradictory, inconsistent output which goes a way to explain the paradox of her treatment of love/mystifying cliches, in January’s Sight & Sound (a journal becoming bigger and more auteurist by the year!). So – despite everything, I love it. Because it makes me feel good. Sigh.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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Probably my favourite seasonal movie and definitely on the player the night before Christmas. Barbara Stanwyck is the homemaking expert whose New England farm and family are a fiction – which proves a problem when her publisher invites a war hero to spend the holiday with her. She has to move out of her coldwater city flat to save her job and make nice with all sorts. High merriment ensues in the company of Dennis Morgan, SZ Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Una O’Connor and Sydney Greenstreet. Properly packed full of snow, Christmas cheer, emotion, hilarity and sentiment. Simply wonderful classic entertainment.