The Odyssey (2016)

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Aka L’Odyssée.  A whole world waiting to be discovered. I’m just old enough to remember re-runs of Jacques (-Yves) Cousteau’s TV show – a weekly adventure in the ocean depths with a vast array of colourful marine life on display. He was a superstar who has all but vanished from contemporary iconography: a diver, oceanographer, inventor and TV personality who demonstrated that we only know the surface of the world’s oceans – he brought us what lies beneath. Director Jérôme Salle and co-writer Laurent Turner take memoirs by Cousteau’s chief diver Albert Falco aka Bébert (Vincent Heneine) and his son Jean-Michel (Benjamin Lavernhe) and create a portrait of the life of this man over thirty years, from his days in the French Navy (and an accident preventing his continuing as a pilot) whose passion for diving became a way of life, a journey encompassing family, the co-invention of the aqualung, fame, world travel and the neverending desire to achieve more.  His groundbreaking film The Silent World was the first documentary to win the Palme d’Or. The tensions with his son Philippe (Pierre Niney plays him as an adult) are exacerbated first by boarding school and later at the caricature he feels his father has become.  JYC admits he should never have had children. His wife Simone (Audrey Tautou) is now old and alcoholic, just as she threatened years earlier when she discovered his philandering. When he arrives back at The Calypso (funded by his mother in law’s jewellery) wearing a red beanie, he announces It’s telegenic. Jean-Michel returns after years studying architecture but it’s the other relationships which dominate JYC’s life, principally with his financiers.  I feel like I’ve spent my entire life chasing money. His quest for money dominates his life while Philippe’s spirals in another direction – the environment, triggered when he sees the ship’s cook dumping the trash in the water and his own work as a cinematographer and filmmaker diverges from the family business. On this issue father and son finally come back together but only when JYC’s sponsorship dries up.  Inspired yet again by Jules Verne, they travel on a foolhardy mission to Antarctica and see the true wonder of the world:  from taking money to promote oil exploration, Cousteau starts the Society that bears his name and tries to save the oceans, bringing the attention of the world to the imminent tragedy of pollution. It’s handsomely photographed by Matias Boucard but finally the difficulty reconciling the father and son drama with the story of the ego that brought the wonderful world of the sea to the screen proves as challenging as it was in reality, even with that awesome cast: Wilson is terrific as the marvellously charismatic pioneer whose travels are finally brought to an end by a tragedy. It’s all about him, after all.

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

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When we’re young, we looks at thing very idealistically I guess. And I think Woodsworth means that… that when we’re grow-up… then, we have to… forget the ideals of youth… and find strength.  1928 Kansas. High school football star Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and his sensitive high school sweetheart, Deanie Loomis (Natalie Wood), are weighed down by their parents’ oppressive expectations, which threaten the future of their relationship. Deanie’s mother (Audrey Christie) and Bud’s oil baron father (Pat Hingle) caution their children against engaging in a sexual relationship, but for opposing reasons: Deanie’s mother thinks Bud won’t marry a girl with loose morals, while Bud’s father is afraid marriage and pregnancy would ruin Bud’s future at Yale… One of the great performances, by Wood, in one of the great movies from a Hollywood negotiating carefully between outward sexuality and the censorship mores which wouldn’t be properly thrown out for another half-dozen years. William Inge’s screenplay of adolescent yearning and learning falls plumb in the middle of his own playwriting and screenwriting run, with director Elia Kazan expertly treading the lines governing behaviour and desire in a small-minded society living in stultifying olde worlde interiors. Wood gives a total performance:  from the poetry-loving 1920s kid to the girl who falls heavily for Beatty’s rich boy and doesn’t know what to do with the burgeoning wish for sex that overwhelms her very being.  She literally goes crazy for want of him. Beatty is a superb match for Wood in his screen debut: and how beautiful are they together?  He was an important actor for Inge, having done his only stage performance in A Loss of Roses. His soft questioning hooded face seems to hold all the answers to the playwright’s questions:  Is it so terrible to have those feelings about a boy?  Barbara Loden (Kazan’s future wife) is good as Beatty’s slutty sister Ginny and Hingle is superb as his demanding father facing ruin when the stock market fails. Christie is frightening as Mrs Loomis. There are a lot of scenes set around water – it forms part of the narrative’s sensual mythology that envelops the players:  they are literally drowning in love. Kazan coaxes hysteria from an actress who was herself troubled enough to go into analysis (it was her offscreen tormentors who really needed it) and her heartbreaking expressive emotionality makes this utterly unforgettable. This is a film that takes teenagers seriously. Moving like few other films, this is a stunning and tragic evocation of repression, lust, desire and love. Wood is simply great.

The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968)

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Paul Newman had an amazing run of hits in the 1960s. The Hustler. Hud. Harper. Newman got to have a thing about the letter H so that he became superstitious and wanted it in the titles of all his films. Ross Macdonald’s delightful private eye Lew Archer became Harper to satisfy the star. That was directed by Jack Smight, as is this WW2 outing. Cool Hand Luke immediately preceded it, so … One of my favourite writers, Peter (Charade) Stone, who had the lightest of touches, co-wrote the screenplay with the writer who originated the story, Frank Tarloff. Five Allied generals are captured by the Nazis in an Italian villa and apparently lack the ingenuity to escape which is rather embarrassing for Ike. A US private with a penchant for escaping the military stockade in England is doing little to help the cause so he’s promoted with a mission that he has no option but to accept. And so Newman winds up living among some friendly Italians while the comtessa (Sylvia Koscina) whose villa it is holes up in the gate house. It’s pretty tame and more like Hogan’s Heroes (TV, 1965-1971) in sensibility than The Dirty Dozen. In a bizarre turn, the lovely Koscina invested in a very lovely villa in real life and when those pesky tax inspectors turned up when her income started to diminish, she too, had to give up her home. Art/life, etc.

Carnage (2011)

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Roman Polanski’s films are always cause for anticipation. His frequent theatre adaptations are of variable interest – sometimes one wonders how this master of cinema chooses material which seems narrow and stagebound. This however is a chamber piece of depth which improves upon multiple viewings. Two couples are brought together by an act of violence between their children in a Brooklyn park. They degenerate into chaotic children themselves as their standards deteriorate in this one-acter by Yasmine Reza (Art). It helps that they are played by Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly as the parents of the son who is losing his teeth and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet as the parents of a boy whose father calls him a thug and a maniac. It involves barfing on rare art books, a hamster, terrible cake and dubious episodes of political correctness which get the derision they deserve. This is the third most produced play of the 2000s. It’s funny.