Happy 30th Birthday Margot Robbie 2nd July 2020!

Many happy returns to one of the most vital, talented and fascinating actor-producers on the current filmmaking scene. Margot Robbie turns 30 today. She not only starred in the startling and brilliant I, Tonya, she produced it too. She’s excellent in drama and comedy alike, she was a stunning Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots and the true heart of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. She is the one and only Harley Quinn! Can’t wait to see what she does for the next 30 years! Happy birthday!

Happy 60th Birthday Psycho (1960) 16th June 2020!

Psycho theatricalJanet Leigh in PsychoPSYCHO shower scene stills

The film that changed everything premiered on this day at the DeMille Theater in New York City sixty years ago. From its mordant premise to its stunning performances and exquisite mise-en-scène, the cod Freudianism and the cutting – culminating in the shower scene, that masterpiece of montage, this is Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest achievement. Happy birthday to Psycho!

Bugsy (1991)

Bugsy

I don’t go by what other men have done. Gangster Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel (Warren Beatty), who works for Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) and Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano (Bill Graham), goes west to Los Angeles and falls in love with Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) a tough-talking Hollywood starlet who has slept around with several men, as he is regularly reminded by his pals, who he meets on a film set where his friend George Raft (Joe Mantegna) is the lead.  He buys a house in Beverly Hills and shops at all the best tailors and furnishes his house beautifully while his wife Esta (Wendy Phillips) and young daughters remain in Scarsdale, New York. His job is to wrest control back of betting parlours currently run by Jack Dragna (Richard Sarafian) but life is complicated when Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) robs one of his places – Bugsy decides to go into business with him instead of punishing him and puts him in charge of casinos, while Dragna is forced to admit to a raging Bugsy that he stole $14,000, and is told he now answers to Cohen. On a trip to a deadbeat casino in the desert Bugsy dreams up an idea for a casino to end all casinos, named after Virginia (Flamingo), bringing the stars to Nevada but the costs overrun dramatically and his childhood friend Lansky is not happy particularly when it seems Bugsy might be aware that Virginia has cooked the books … Looks matter if it matters how you look. Warren Beatty’s long-cherished project was written by James Toback and Beatty micro-managed the writing and production and the result is one of the most powerful and beautiful films of the Nineties:  a picture of America talking to itself, with a gangster for a visionary at its fulcrum, building a kingdom in the desert as though through damascene conversion while being seduced by Hollywood and its luminaries, watching his own screen test the most entertaining way to spend an evening other than having sex. It sows the seeds of his destruction because his inspiration is his thrilling and volatile lover and making her happy and making a name for himself but it’s also a profoundly political film for all that, as with most of Beatty’s work. It’s undoubtedly personal on many levels too not least because the legendarily promiscuous man known as The Pro in movie circles impregnated his co-star Bening who was already showing before production ended. They married after she had his baby and have remained together since. His avocation of the institution is an important part of the narrative and gangsterism is a version of family here too but he chases tail, right into an elevator and straight to his penthouse too. Perhaps he wants to show us how it’s done by the nattiest dresser in town. It’s a statement about how a nation came to be but unlike The Godfather films it’s one that demonstrates how the idea literally reflects the image of the man who dreams it up in all his vainglory:  he enjoys nothing more than checking his hair in the glass when he’s kicking someone half to death (perhaps a metaphor too far). He is a narcissist to the very end, charming and totally ruthless while Ennio Morricone gives him a tragic signature tune. Impeccably made and kind of great with outstanding performances by Beatty, Bening and Kingsley. Directed by Barry Levinson. I have found the answer to the dream of America

Happy 90th Birthday Clint Eastwood 31st May 2020!

The guy in the lab. Rowdy Yates. The Man With No Name. Dirty Harry Callahan. Clyde’s friend. The musician, composer, actor, producer and director and Hollywood superstar Clint Eastwood turns 90 today. Entering his eighth decade in the industry where he paid his dues in uncredited roles in movies and bit parts before regular work on TV and the spaghetti genre made him a worldwide figure, he continuously proves he’s still got the chops and the pull to make box office gold with something to say about the way we live now. Widely recognised as an icon of American masculinity, he found his particular space with the assistance of Don Siegel, in an astonishing turn from TV cowboy to director, but exploited his personal brand in cycles of police procedurals, comedic takes on folklore, car movies and the country and western sub-genre as well as tough westerns. Unforgiven marked his coming of age as a great director, an instant classic and a tour de force of filmmaking. While some might think he has feminist sympathies he has rarely risked acting opposite a true female acting equal – a quarter of a century separated him from Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara and Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County. It took another decade for him to make the stunningly emotive Million Dollar Baby with Hilary Swank, which marked a different kind of turning point:  he has transformed his cinematic affect from what David Thomson calls his brutalised loner to bruised neurotic nonagenarian in one of the most spectacular careers in cinema. He is a true icon. Many happy returns, Clint!

Happy 87th Birthday Joan Collins 23rd May 2020!

Bikini Baby

Today marks the birthday of one of the biggest characters on the acting scene in Britain and the US of the last seventy years. Joan Collins celebrates her birthday today and she had a bit of a head start with her dad in the business but her accounts of her early days sound as problematic as for any young actress with poor husband material and the inevitable sexist experiences although she says her talent agent father had given her fair warning of what to expect. After some supporting roles in decent British crime films where she variously played juvenile delinquents, girlfriends and prostitutes, to great effect in productions like The Good Die Young and Turn the Key Softly, she had a terrific run in Hollywood, including a role as Princess Nellifer in Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs, a Widescreen extravaganza that is still underrated but tipped the nod towards Cleopatra for which she campaigned but lost out to Elizabeth Taylor and wound up instead in Esther and the King. She played opposite Bette Davis, Gregory Peck and Paul Newman but in the Sixties following her marriage to Anthony Newley leading roles were harder to come by although she made memorable appearances in classic TV shows like The Man From UNCLE, Batman and Star Trek.  After working with Newley in a quasi-autobiographical production that marked the end of their relationship she returned to Europe and did some interesting work on terrific cult British items like Inn of the Frightened People aka Revenge, Quest for Love, Fear in the Night and Tales That Witness Madness, as well as adaptations of her novelist sister Jackie’s notorious bonkbusters The Stud and The Bitch. She attracted the interest of TV showrunner Aaron Spelling who needed a femme fatale for Dynasty, his wildly entertaining soap opera about a wealthy Denver family and her legend was truly born as the outrageous Alexis Carrington Colby, a character sharp of tooth and claw, as her devastating put downs and catfights with her ex Blake’s wife (played by Linda Evans) proved. She then powered her way into producing several glamorous TV miniseries of her own as well as writing several novels, beauty bibles and memoirs. She has never been afraid to put her money where her mouth is and has helped fund films like Decadence and The Clandestine Marriage when they might otherwise have never got off the ground or been completed. Recently she was reunited with Pauline Collins (from a great Tales of the Unexpected episode back in the day) for The Time of Their Lives and she’s been having great fun in TV’s The Royals as well as having a fabulous dual role in the 2018 season of the terrifying American Horror Story.  Never afraid to send up her image (is there a less likely candidate to play Roseanne‘s cousin?!) and even with her personal life played out in public she’s a straight talker and a great survivor, a hugely entertaining talk show guest, a total trouper and an all round good sport. Happy birthday, Dame Joan. You are a true star!

England Is Mine (2017)

England Is Mine

Do you ever wake up and think, I wonder if I could have been a poet. Shy and sullen Steven Patrick Morrissey (Jack Lowden) is the unemployed and depressive son of Irish immigrants growing up in 1976 Manchester. Withdrawn and something of a loner, he goes out to rock gigs at night and then submits letters and reviews to music newspapers as well as keeping a diary. His father (Peter MacDonald) wants him to get a job, his mother (Simone Kirby) wants him to follow his passion for writing, and Steven doesn’t quite know what he wants to do. His friend, artist Linder Sterling (Jessica Brown Findlay) a nascent feminist, inspires him to continue to write lyrics and urges him to start to perform, but she eventually moves to London. Forced to earn a living and fit in with society his income from office work permits his gig-going but Steven’s frustrations and setbacks continue to mount. Although he eventually writes some songs with guitarist Billy Duffy (Adam Lawrence) for the band The Nosebleeds until Duffy breaks it off, and he tries his hand at singing and enjoys it, nothing substantially changes in his life, and Steven seems at the end of his rope until another teenage fanboy who can play guitar Johnny Marr (Laurie Kynaston) shows up on his doorstep in 1982… The past is everything I have failed to be.  A biography of The Smiths’ singer-songwriter and solo artist Morrissey before he became famous, this is hampered by the lack of The Smiths music (because the makers didn’t own the rights) but nonetheless forms another part of the puzzle that is is the man. In many respects it hymns the kitchen sink realist films that he himself paid homage in so many songs, colouring in his Irish background in the northern city of Manchester but pointedly avoiding his later songwriting and sexuality and stopping at the moment he meets Marr, the guitarist, which is where most of his fans come in. Instead it’s a portrait of a bedroom loner, a fan who fantasises about being famous and in that sense paints a fascinating picture Billy Liar-style of someone who manages to rise above their miserable circumstances and then (after the film) in protean style fashions fame from their influences and obsessions despite the apparent lack of propulsion in his life. In that sense, it’s a portrait of celebrity and how it can inspire people to escape their humdrum lives and find their own voice. The songs on the soundtrack from New York Dolls and Mott the Hoople to Sparks and Magazine are as much a part of the narrative as the arch teenage diary entries which echo the later mordantly amusing lyrics and the performance by The Nosebleeds is the most thrilling sequence in the film. Anyone who ever lived in Manchester will recognise the dreadful rainy place Morrissey wrote has so much to answer for. Director Mark Gill who co-wrote the screenplay with William Thacker gets into the head of one of the most singular talents ever produced on the British music scene and perhaps the best ever Irish band on the planet, The Smiths, the only band that mattered in the Eighties. He’s played quite charmingly by Lowden who livens up a drama that may cleave much too closely to the exhausting reality as lived in Northern England at the time. Today is Morrissey’s sixty-first birthday. Many happy returns! If there was ever a revolution in England, we’d form an orderly queue at the guillotine

Happy 80th Birthday James L. Brooks 9th May 2020!

Happy birthday to a man whose innate decency, humour and optimism have kept US TV on an even keel for the last, oh, fifty years or so: Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Taxi and The Simpsons, to name but a few. And he’s gifted us with some ace movies too, winning lots of Academy Awards for his actors as well as cleaning up with Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Best Director for his debut, Terms of Endearment. James L. Brooks is eighty years old today! Many happy returns!

Happy 80th Birthday Al Pacino 25th April 2020!

Al Pacino is eighty years old today. How is that possible? Not just the greatest American actor but the most liked of that triumvirate because he shares the accolade with De Niro and Hoffman. Somehow Al just seems a lot nicer. And it’s not because he plays nice characters. He embodies Michael Corleone, a role he played in just his third film, The Godfather. It is the greatest role any actor could attempt on screen. Watch him move. Watch his eyes change. Watch his very self transform. I watch it every night and I observe different levels of complexity each time. His utter believability is flawless. It’s as though he arrived fully formed, real. It’s an iconic role and it is in a way the prism through which we view all his other performances. That idea of evil is something he carries with him – in his other iconic role, Tony Montana, in Scarface;  and physically, in his beloved The Local Stigmatic, a strange poetic work that was his talismanic project and which hardly anyone has seen but which he shows at private screenings.  He has made perhaps one bad film per decade –  Revolution is perhaps the most egregious. He has made films for friendship. He even shot a few himself, theatrical works that co-starred those he most admires –  Chinese Coffee, Salome.  He is not afraid to be ridiculous – he even won an Academy Award for it in Scent of a Woman. Can you think of a more outrageous performance?  Dog Day Afternoon, probably. He gets away with it because he is brilliant, committed, special. He has spent some of the last two decades impersonating a gallery of truly problematic real-life characters – Jack Kevorkian, Phil Spector, Joe Paterno – and he does it with total conviction, style, aplomb. Al Pacino is the greatest living actor, the greatest American actor, the one we watch with a slightly tempered nervousness because we love him so. He never lets us down. His name will always be in lights.   Happy birthday.