84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

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Elizabeth will have to ascend the throne without me. Teeth are all I’m going to see crowned for the next couple of years. In 1949 New York City script developer and bibliophile Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) writes to the London bookshop Marks & Co at the titular address in search of some titles she has not been able to turn up locally. Nobody reads English literature in New York City?! Store manager Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins) responds politely to her chatty letter, and over the course of two decades, a deep, long-distance friendship evolves against the backdrop of post-WW2 society, food rationing in London, Frank’s family life with his second wife and two daughters, the day to day business of the book shop, Hanff’s solitary life (her fiance was killed in combat), her career as a TV writer (Ellery Queen!) and her ravenous appetite for great words in her little apartment and cheap overstuffed chair. Helene Hanff’s autobiographical book of letters exchanged with a bookseller at Marks and Co. was a bit of a hit back in the Eighties, along with the two-hander play adapted from it. Produced by Anne Bancroft’s hubby’s company (Mel Brooks’ Brooksfilms), this runs with the conceit, breaking the fourth wall, bringing post-war NYC and London to life through the gabby and acerbic Jewish Hanff and the more reserved yet quietly interesting Doel. It initially seems like a drab tapestry but it becomes enriched by both of these different protagonists’ passion for writing which they evoke in their very individual ways. This is a romance, of a kind. That the two never meet compounds the tragic aspect. Now that all my favourite bookshops on Charing X Road are closed due to spiralling rents I felt quite tearful throughout as I watched these two lives unwrap like those transatlantic parcels they regularly exchanged and opened  – Hanff sent care packages of food from Denmark for Doel and his co-workers, family and friends at regular intervals with the kinds of goodies (vegetables! eggs! ham! bananas!) they could only get otherwise on the black market with just 2 ounces of meat per person and one egg a month permitted per head at the time. As a booklover and someone who whiled away many hours in shops just like this (oh how I miss Zwemmers!)  I found this absurdly moving and could practically smell the must and feel the foxed pages coming off the screen. It really shouldn’t work. In many ways it doesn’t. So what? The performances are pitch-perfect in this most fascinating portrait of friendship. It’s a lovely way to celebrate both Hopkins’ 80th birthday and New Year’s Eve. Adapted from James Roose-Evans’ play by Hugh Whitemore  and directed by David Jones.

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Finding Nemo (2003)

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Sure we could jaw about the recuperative power of the paternal and how it became a thing in US movies after 9/11 but we’ve done that, kinda, and we could jar about how irritating animations are since the Noughties cos they’re always about parents trying to be heroes to their kids (yawn) … but there’s a reason this was Prince’s favourite film. Mom is dispensed with in a horrible tragedy opening our story. Then Little Nemo with his underdeveloped fin swims too close to a boat despite his pop Marlin the Clownfish’s warnings. He gets stuck in a dentist’s aquarium with the threat of an awful ginger child coming to take him away. Meanwhile pop teams up with the irritating if affectionate bluefish Dory – complete with goldfish memory – and literally goes through hell and high water to rescue his son. Nemo finds his fins in captivity and there’s one great reunion. It’s exciting, tense, witty, adventurous, full of danger. Maybe I wouldn’t love this as much if I hadn’t witnessed an act of heroism in my own fishtank one day when Basil swooped down to take a huge food flake out of Hector’s little mouth (and promptly ate it himself). He saved his life. And this enchantment under the sea might save yours. Just keep swimming.

Come Dance With Me! (1959)

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It’s always good to see Brigitte Bardot, even in a lesser crime drama. She’s the young wife of the dentist (Henri Vidal) who has a one-night stand (with Dawn Addams) that is photographed in a bid to blackmail him. She follows him to the dance studio where the tryst took place and finds him with his lover’s corpse and a gun in his hand – then goes undercover as a teacher to root out the real culprit… Adieu, trystesse! Interesting for an excursion to a drag club, a gay villain and the performance of Serge Gainsbourg as Addams’ lover and it’s the final film of Vidal who died immediately after shooting. The dialogue is a little on the nose for what is essentially a comic mystery. But the more BB finds out, the more revealing her costumes become and she dances up a storm, as you’d expect from a trained ballerina. Gainsbourg sings the title song in a film which made less than BB’s previous hits yet she earned more than she ever had before in terms of salary, leading her producer, Raoul Levy, to sever their collaboration, claiming she was finished. Incroyable!