Sunset (1988)

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Blake Edwards’ adaptation of Rod Amateau’s unpublished manuscript about the friendship between movie cowboy Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) and real life Wyatt Earp (James Garner) had the potential to be something quite brilliant:  it doesn’t carry it off due to inconsistencies of tone (never quite slapstick, never quite thriller) and performance (Willis didn’t heed his director to take his role seriously) but it retains its interest. Hollywood’s well-preserved 1920s villas provide a magnificent backdrop to a story set in 1929 just when the industry was getting to grips with the transition to sound. Earp in real life had moved to Los Angeles in 1910 but here he’s newly arrived and hired on a silent movie set to advise Mix and they get embroiled in a murder at the Kit Kat Club, a high class brothel where the whores are movie star lookalikes (shades of LA Confidential) run by the cross-dressing Cheryl (Mariel Hemingway.) Earp tries to help his old girlfriend Christina (Patricia Hodge) who happens to be married to studio boss Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell), a thinly disguised version of Chaplin, and her son, who is in constant trouble and goes missing. The mystery at the story’s heart involves police corruption with those reliable villains M. Emmet Walsh and Richard Bradford and Warhol stud Joe Dallasandro showing up as a gangster. There’s a scene at that year’s Academy Awards (not anatomically correct, but still fun) and lots of really interesting performances in the wings including John Fountain playing his grandfather, the legendary John Gilbert. Willis’ unpreparedness made for a difficult time and Garner (a gentleman) commented on it, a rare instance of his speaking out against a colleague and his own performance really saves the film. Garner had of course worked with Edwards before – on Victor/Victoria. His interpretation of Earp is markedly lighter than his earlier one in Hour of the Gun.  There’s a cute running joke about his inability to drive a car – he does it a lot and in real life Garner was an accomplished racer and stunt driver particularly on The Rockford Files. In a neat nod to that, Dermot Mulroney makes his debut – he would play (my beloved!) Rockford in a TVM reboot. The other pluses are the LA locations used including the Ambassador Hotel, the Roosevelt Hotel, Melody Ranch, Bell Ranch and Orange Empire Railway Museum. Not great Edwards but worth a watch for the idea and Garner, with the usually reliable score from Henry Mancini as well as delectable photography by Anthony B. Richmond. A missed opportunity to make a satisfying Hollywood murder mystery but heck with all that talent I’ll take this anyhow.

The Banger Sisters (2002)

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Bob Dolman’s story of two former groupies hooking up again twenty years after their heyday is long over is a mild affair sparked by the wonderful pairing of Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. Suzette (Hawn) is fired from her job tending bar at the Whisky in LA and she needs money so decides to look up her old partner in crime Vinnie (Sarandon) who’s now a respectable Mom in Phoenix. On the way there she runs out of gas and picks up a phobic writer (Geoffrey Rush) who’s headed to the same destination to confront his bullying father. A prom night at their hotel sees Suzette bailing out Vinnie’s elder daughter (Erika Christensen) after a bad acid trip and the women’s reunion over the younger daughter’s (Eva Amurri, Sarandon’s own offspring) failed driving test starts the tightly wound Vinnie unwinding faster than you can say Cock Rock Photos (we don’t see what they look at in that drunken basement Polaroid fest).  There are some funny scenes that are underwritten – when Suzette sees the typewriter in the pool wasn’t there a smart line in that about rock star behaviour? More could have been made of the music backdrop and the family’s bizarre concept of their mother doesn’t ring true given the elder daughter’s penchant for sex in the pool.  (I’m still trying to figure out how Christensen got this gig.) Nobody really lets rip here, as one would have expected given the backstory … But the ladies are a terrific match and if it’s not Thelma and Louise it makes for a very good companion piece with Almost Famous, starring Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson a couple of years earlier. I’ve waited a long time for Hawn to act again:  please release her next movie, like, now, already!

Pillow Talk (1959)

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Producer Ross Hunter thought Doris Day could be sexy and her husband Marty Melcher resurrected a script by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene that had been loitering unmade since 1942, and with a rewrite by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin and a co-star in Rock Hudson, a new movie partnership was born. From the titles sequence to the original ending (reshot, making things legal) this romcom about an interior decorator (her) and a composer (him) sharing a party line (ie telephone!) whose lives cross, this skirts all sorts of sex and censorship issues using split screens with hilarious results. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Randall is her besotted suitor and his disgruntled friend, or that Thelma Ritter is the dipso housekeeper with rare repartee. A new era of sex comedy was born, with awards and profits flying in every direction and both Day and Hudson re-inventing their careers in the first of their screen collabs. A great looking film in every respect. Directed by Michael Gordon, who advised Hudson, Comedy is the most serious tragedy in the world. Play it that way and you can’t go wrong. If you ever think of yourself as funny, you haven’t got a chance.

My Friend Irma Goes West (1950)

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The famous radio sitcom gets another big screen go-round in this diverting entertainment whose principal attraction is the Lewis-Martin team, sidekicks to wannabe card sharp John Lund, Hollywood actress Wilson and singer Lynn. Lewis’ goofy scenes with a chimp are very funny and even the PC crowd will forgive him for redding up as an Indian. (Lewis, that is.) With gangsters, kidnapping, a loony tunes fake producer, TV stardom, and a typically good music track by Leigh Harline. Written by Cy Howard and Parke Levy, directed by Hal Walker.

The Nutty Professor (1963)

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This Jerry Lewis masterpiece is a cult favourite and not just at my house. Or France. Lewis had the genius idea to reinterpret Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a supposed exploration of his own dualistic personality – or maybe he’s just having a dig at his real-life (former) other half, the cooler-than-thou Dean Martin. Julius Kelp (a character that had earlier appeared in Rock-A-Bye-Baby) is the muddle-headed buck-toothed chemistry lecturer who wants to beat the bullies and develops a serum that transforms him into obnoxious hipster Buddy Love, a hit with the glorious student Stella By Starlight, Stella Stevens, who digs him but really prefers the real guy underneath. Great nightclub scenes when Julius’ unfortunate croak breaks through at the most inopportune of moments and there’s that legendary Alaskan Polar Bear Heater routine for the real fans. Wonderful looking, with Lewis really in command of the frame and costumes by the legendary Edith Head, an apt choice for this Paramount tale of transformation. Classic stuff.

Zootropolis (2016)

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Aka Zootopia. I cannot say I’m a fan of the latterday PC/even feelings have feelings/self-empowerment jag that characterises feature animations. But this Disney outing is kind of cute. Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy the bunny rabbit who goes to the big city of anthropomorphised animals and gets stuck being a traffic cop until she gets to help solve a robbery. Her ambitions are complicated by departmental shenanigans and the wily con artist fox Nick (Jason Bateman) she works with and who takes her back to her childhood:  they are a most unlikely double act who have to get to the bottom of a conspiracy involving predators that goes to the top of the forces of law and order… There are some good jokes (I especially liked The Godfather ones) and terrific action sequences as Judy realises she is the patsy in a horrible Darwinian plot. Nicely done.

How To Be Single (2016)

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What is marriage? No more spontaneous sex, no more travelling alone, no more being able to buy stuff without asking permission. That’s not my opinion (well….) that’s the bartender Tom (Anders Hom) with the hard-on who has no-strings sex with Alice (Dakota Johnson) when she takes a break from her long-term boyfriend – and then discovers he’s got a new girlfriend and she’s really single. (Tom probably knows because he cheated when he was married to Anne Hathaway in The Intern.)  This comedy about bedhopping in NYC is adapted by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox,  from Liz Tuccillo’s novel of the same name. And if you recognise her moniker then you’ve obviously seen it on the writing credits of Sex and the City and you might even have read He’s Just Not That Into You, which she c0-wrote. This isn’t so much Alice Through the Looking Glass as Alice Through the Bottom of a Glass After One Way Too Many because she parties like it’s 1999 with the hardest partyer in town, fellow paralegal Robin (Rebel Wilson), a crazy ass wild girl who sleeps around, drugs, dances and has the best hangover cure I’ve ever seen. Johnson is effectively straight man to comic tornado Wilson and her strangeness is squared against the likeable Aussie who (obv) has all the best lines, delivered in her familiar deadpan style. I can’t work out if Johnson is very authentic with great technique or a non-actress with no technique whatsoever. She bears no discernible resemblance to either of her superfamous parents, or her grandmother, for that matter. Alice is rooming with her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann) a lonely OB/GYN who’s delivered 3,000 babies plus their mothers’ waste products and doesn’t EVER want to be pregnant or have a baby – until she does, and opts for a sperm donor and IVF. She starts to date Ken (Jake Lacy) the new receptionist at Alice’s office because now she’s pregnant she’s horny but he might be okay because he was the good guy in Christmas With the Coopers. She just doesn’t want him to know she’s with child. Back at the bar, Tom is happy to help out Lucy (Alison Brie) who meets a series of useless men online and he pretends to be her boyfriend when a hen party of women she knows arrives and he saves her from yet another embarrassing encounter. Hey, he’s here to help. And have no-strings sex. This apparently feminist take on romcom wanders mildly around the usual tropes with somewhat atypical outcomes and its worth really resides in that female buddy pairing at its heart – with Brie and Mann (sounds like a cheese company) bringing up the rear. Much of it is about those age-old issues of compatibility, f**k buddies, friendship and sheer convenience over romance. There are some good seemingly throwaway truisms about your drink number (it’s a thing) and which holiday is the best to split up on. After an abortive relationship with property developer Damon Wayans who doesn’t want his kid to know her actual mother has died (tricky), Alison thinks her ex wants to get back with her, but Robin acccuses her of drowning in dicksand and sleeping with, you know, whoever happens along and says Alice doesn’t know who she really is. Their bust-up and the terms on which they get back together are the centre of the story which cuts through the sentiment with a narration telling us what being single is really being about – knowing how to like being alone. Aw, heck it’s Christmas. See it. With about 8 of your favourite bottles of beer. And without the local bartender. Let’s party! Directed by Christian Ditter.

The Masquerader (1933)

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What’s better than a Ronald Colman movie? A Ronald Colman movie with TWO Ronald Colmans! And this pre-Code drama about a dissolute English politician John Chilcote whose drug-taking is threatening to wreck his career is a curate’s egg in the sense that while both Colman as the politico and the (obviously identical) cousin, journalist John Loder, who impersonates him to save his reputation both generate very different kinds of heat, you’re looking for the physical seams and if you look hard enough you can spot them. However it’s the content which is truly surprising and this is an adaptation of a pretty nifty novel by Katherine Cecil Thurston which was then turned into a play by John Hunter Booth and very well served in Howard Estabrook’s interpretation, gifted by some great dialogue by Moss Hart. What a team! There are great scenes in parliament and with the women in the man/men’s life – both  Elissa Landi as the estranged wife and Juliette Compton as the mistress give incredibly good performances. Halliwell Hobbes is marvellous as loyal servant Brock. Really, some sharp stuff for its day and some lovely London fog! Shot by Gregg Toland and directed by Richard Wallace. And for another Ronald Colman ‘double’ don’t forget he did the same in The Prisoner of Zenda!

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

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This is just too cool for school. Much heralded for starring Madonna, it’s a brilliant study of female friendship and a treasure hunt and small ads and being a magician’s assistant and a bored New Jersey housewife! Susan Seidelman’s sophomore outing hit all sorts of buttons but mostly it was the trendsetting pop star’s clothing that made people sit up and take notice of this loose take on Celine and Julie Go Boating (not that the fans realised this was what it was). Writer Leora Barish (Craig Bolotin did uncredited additions) turns it into an American genre piece, with magician’s assistant Susan (Madonna) making off with some valuable Egyptian earrings from her criminal boyfriend and keeps up with her friend Jim with notices in the newspaper which alert wealthy Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) to their meeting in Battery Park. She follows the engaging kook not realising when she acquires her cool jacket from a thrift store that she is now on the hook for witnessing something she knows nothing about and the key in the pocket could literally unlock a Pandora’s box of problems and murder … Engagingly written, performed and staged, with Aidan Quinn providing love interest and Laurie Metcalf some rich quips, this tale of girl power seems like a movie from another planet nowadays. And that’s not a bad thing! Get Into The Groove! Watch out for the great comic Steven Wright, John Turturro, Richard Hell, Ann Magnuson, John Lurie and Shirley Stoler. What a cast from the NYC underground/alt scene! And what a prophetic title this is:  where has the director disappeared? Seriously, The Hot Flashes? Desperately Seeking Susan Seidelman!

Housesitter (1992)

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“She’s turning his house into a home …. hers!” I can never have enough of Goldie Hawn. She’s Gwen, the con artist/waitress who has a one night stand with architect Netwon Davis (Steve Martin), grief-stricken over longtime girlfriend Becky (Dana Delany) refusing to marry him and move into the dream house he’s designed for them in their small town. On the brink of reconciliation he arrives home to find Gwen has moved in, bought furnishings and food on his account and befriended his folks – having introduced herself as his new wife! Never let a crisis become a disaster:  Newton uses the situation to mend long-broken relationships. Both of them are liars, both of them use each other to get some sort of ultimate truth and personal salvation and in Newton’s case, a promotion at work.  Goldie jungle dances, Steve sings Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra and we all have a darned good time as they hit the comic beats perfectly. They make a great comedy duo. Hawn is especially good at creating a fully rounded character that expands the drama beneath. And there’s a good closing line. Which is just what the doctor ordered. Directed by Frank Oz and written by Mark Stein from a story he wrote with Brian Grazer.