The Train (1965)

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He won’t leave the train. I’m beginning to know him. In August 1944 art connoisseur German Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) is planning to take the great art works from the Jeu de Paume gallery under the curatorship of Rose Vallard (Suzanne Flon) out of Paris before it’s liberated. She approaches officials at the SNCF to stop the train crossing out of France and into Germany with some of the greatest paintings ever produced. Labiche (Burt Lancaster) and his Resistance colleagues (Michel Simon, Albert Rémy, Charles Millot, Jacques Marin) do everything possible to keep train no. 40,0444 running late, diverting it through disguised stations and interfering with the tracks but the Allies have a new plan … Keep your eyes open. Your horizon’s about to be broadened. Decades before Monuments Men came this gripping actioner, directed by francophile thriller maestro John Frankenheimer. Scofield and Lancaster are mesmerising as the men who are protagonist/antagonist to each other, with their unreeling taking very different forms. In this scenario adapted by Franklin Coen, Frank Davis and the blacklisted Walter Bernstein from Rose Vallard’s Le Front de l’art, the political just got personal. There’s a deal of portentous and pretentious verbalising about art and its meaning to the nation, but at base this is a great cat and mouse chase and you’ll learn more than you ever knew was possible about rail yards, tracks, lines and switches. Moreau has a nice two-sequence arc as a hotelier who helps out while there are really fantastic smaller roles for a marvellous lineup that includes Franco-Irish actor Donal O’Brien (as Sergeant Schwartz) who would appear the following year for Frankenheimer in Grand Prix and then enjoy a career in Italian spaghetti westerns, horrors and giallos.  Maurice Jarre’s score is intense. And the ending? Straight out of Sartre. Parfait. No one’s ever hurt. Just dead

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L’Amant Double (2017)

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Aka Double Lover. I often imagined I had a sister. Yes. A twin. A double who would protect me. Chloé (Marine Vacth) a 25-year old model with a fragile mental state now working in a museum, falls for her psychoanalyst, Paul (Jérémie Renier). When she moves in with him a few months later, she discovers a part of his identity that he has been concealing, his identical twin Louis, also a therapist but with a startlingly different approach that involves having sex in the office with his clients …  Lying to seduce is common among pretty women. Especially the frigid ones. The films of Franςois Ozon (who has just won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale) usually come in one of two varieties:  cool, psychological thrillers or gleefully funny, parodic comedy dramas. The screenplay by Ozon and Philip Piazzo is freely adapted from the 1987 Joyce Carol Oates novel The Lives of the Twins, written pseudonymously as Rosamond Smith. It fuses the two strands of Ozon’s filmmaking (appropriately, in the womb) in an erotically charged Hitchcockian homage that also calls to mind that epic Cronenberg masterpiece of twin gynaecologists, Dead Ringers but goes straightforwardly beyond that tragic body horror work to become a spin on duality and sex and narcissistic obsession. Vacth is adequate rather than compelling, reprising her confused temptress act from Jeune et jolie and enjoying the dated trashy silliness of it all. Rather wonderfully, Jacqueline Bisset turns up in (what else) a dual role. Utilising every visual opportunity to exploit and express the possibilities, this is fluid in the language of cinema and sure-footed in each dramatic step yet also threatens to tip rather pleasingly into the realm of camp at every juncture without boasting the serious nuttiness of a De Palma outing. Tongue in cheek psychosexual kink with graphic sex scenes and a really great cat (or two) but ultimately seems to be in two minds about what it is. When it comes to twins we assume that if we know one we know the other

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

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Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.  Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a free-spirited teacher at a Scottish girls’ school during the 1930s. She encourages her young pupils to embrace romantic ideals, educating them about love and art rather than hard facts.  She instructs them in poetry and literature and femininity and regales them with tales of her lost love, fallen in Flanders. However, her controversial teaching style draws the ire of the school’s headmistress, Miss Mackey (Celia Johnson), and, as Miss Brodie becomes entangled in a love triangle with art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens, who was married to Smith at the time), her behavior towards her favourite students including the lovely but treacherous Sandy (Pamela Franklin) becomes increasingly manipulative…  That’ll teach you to look at an artist like that. An interpretation of the stage version of Muriel Spark’s novel, this is a straightened-out story jettisoning some of the religious references and making composites of some characters to render the narrative easier to follow. At its heart is a barnstorming, beguiling performance by Smith as the charismatic leader of ‘gels’ hoist by her own sexual petard. Spark’s novels are cunning constructions that seem linear and obvious – until you realise the trick that has been played.  Miss Brodie truly makes people in her own image until she realises too, too late that she was never in control of a simulacrum with bad intentions. Is she being saved from herself? Are the girls being saved from her? The very conventionality of the setting juxtaposed with the fascistic politics has its own dynamic power. It’s witty, ferocious stuff, with a great cast acting their socks off in a brilliant tragicomedy.  This is a masterful technical production that is powered by emotional devastation. Written by Jay Presson Allen and directed by Ronald Neame.  Remember you are a child very far from your prime

The Face of Love (2013)

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Are you going to run away on me again? Five years after her artist husband Garret (Ed Harris) drowned while they were on holiday in Mexico, Nikki Lostrom (Annette Bening) sees a man at the LA County Museum of Art who is a dead ringer for him.  He’s Tom Young (Ed Harris), a divorced art teacher who takes up painting again just as they commence an affair. She pursues him, determined to resurrect Garret.  Tom’s ex-wife Ann (Amy Brenneman) asks him if he’s revealed his heart problems to Nikki:  he doesn’t want her to know. Nikki doesn’t want her neighbour Roger (Robin Williams) to see Tom because he and Garret were friends. When her adult daughter Summer (Jess Weixler) arrives on a surprise visit from Seattle she becomes hysterical in shock at Tom’s resemblance to her father and Tom leaves … Well, kids huh? They’re just one long grieving process. A characterful study of grief and deception, this is a wonderfully performed pas de deux by the leads who are both engaged in duplicitous behaviour, but we’re not sure where either of their limits might lie. Bening gives her role the expected precision and Nikki’s gamesmanship proves as damaging to herself as it is to Tom who is acted in a more diffuse way by Harris, mainly because the script leaves too many holes.  However it is resolved rather wonderfully in a final sequence conjoining art and life and in between there are metaphors galore in the ideas about architecture and designs for life – Nikki dresses houses for realtors and lives in a home that was Garret’s dream for her;  Tom’s abode is like an art museum. With excellent costuming by Judianna Makovsky, this is a splendidly shot (by Antonio Riestra) ode to Los Angeles. Directed by Arie (Chumscrubber) Posin who co-wrote with Matthew McDuffie. What are you doing?/Making new memories

Age of Consent (1969)

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Aka Norman Lindsay’s Age of Consent. I think we’ve found a haven. We’ve got it made. Australian artist Bradley Morahan (James Mason) has become jaded by his life in New York City. His agent persuades him to rejuvenate his interest in painting and he takes off to an island on the Great Barrier Reef where he becomes acquainted with a young woman Cora (Helen Mirren) who sells fish to a local shop and whom he asks to model for him … You crazy virgin! Come back! It’s meant to be a compliment, you stupid bitch! The great Michael Powell’s next-to-last film, this is a breezy account of an artist, gamely played by Mason, who co-produced. The pair had wanted to work together for a long time before this came Powell’s way – he had even wanted to shoot a version of The Tempest with Mason and Mia Farrow. Another island story would have to do. Lindsay’s 1937 book was semi-autobiographical and while this is hardly a penetrating account of the production of great art it’s very attractive and nicely dramatised (with some significant changes to sybarite Lindsay’s material) by Peter Yeldham. Mason is typically convincing and empathetic but it’s Mirren in her first major role that you watch – this is a great showcase for her with its balance of comedy and drama including an excess of eroticism that proved too much for the censors back in the day.  Jack MacGowran has a lovely supporting role as Brad’s old flighty friend Nat and Neva Carr Glyn is larger than life as Cora’s coarse old gran, perhaps tilting the otherwise relaxed atmosphere somewhat. Mason has a lively sex scene with Clarissa Kaye whom he later married. This is a refreshing take on falling in love again with your art and your muse and nature and it’s beautifully shot by Hannes Staudinger with stunning underwater work by Ron and Valerie Taylor. Lindsay’s life would be revisited in Sirens.  Godfrey the dog is a delight. People misjudge her because her mother was the town bike. Cora’s different

Hudson Hawk (1990)

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I’m being blackmailed into robbing a bank by a psychotic American corporation and the CIA. Thief extraordinaire Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) has just been released from prison and all he wants is a nice cappuccino which his partner in crime Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) is happy to provide en route to their co-owned bar which has been yuppified beyond recognition. However, before he can enjoy his favorite beverage, the highly eccentric and wealthy Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) and his equally odd wife, Minerva (Sandra Bernhard), rope Hawk into an ambitious series of heists involving the local Mafia, the Mario Brothers. Into the fray enters CIA honcho George Kaplan (James Coburn) and before he knows it, Hawk is transported to Rome where he encounters the beautiful Anna Baragli (Andie McDowell) at an art auction.  Soon Hawk is stealing major works by Leonardo Da Vinci, priceless pieces that the Mayflowers plan to use in an exceedingly nefarious way but behind the conspiracy is there another conspiracy?You cease to amaze me, convict.  You are a terrible cat burglar. What one character calls glib repartee is what sustains this breezy exercise in the ridiculous, or what might have been called a vanity project for Willis, who devised the story. It’s a daft, beautifully shot (grazie a Dante Spinotti!) heist caper, with the wisecracking smart aleck Willis repeatedly conned into stealing great works of art. At the conclusion da Vinci’s theory that man would fly is proven. McDowell is cute as the undercover nun, the charismatic Coburn does a witty nostalgic twist on his Our Man Flint character and Grant and Bernhard are reliably ridiculous as the insanely villainous Mayflower Industries husband and wife team. Taken the right way, as a comic book (and part-musical with Willis and Aiello warbling big tunes during their artful burglaries) you won’t worry too much about logic. I have fond memories of it because back in the day, when director Michael Lehmann was a name (Heathers! Meet the Applegates!) I won all of his work on VHS from either Empire or Q. Sigh. The Nineties. Truly another (better) time. Written by Stephen E. de Souza and Daniel (Heathers) Waters.  I’ll torture you so slowly you’ll think it’s a career

Cocktail (1988)

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You get the women, you get the bucks. Ex-soldier Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise) desperately wants to be a success and after working at his uncle’s bar takes an evening job at a New York City tavern run by Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown) while studying business at City College by day so that he can get a marketing job. Flanagan is mentored by the cynical Coughlin who tells him to watch out for rich chicks and together their showy tricks and charisma command large crowds and tips at a nightclub where they plan to set up a business together. When they have a falling out over the affections of photographer Coral (Gina Gershon), Flanagan moves to Jamaica to raise enough money to open his own bar and he falls in love with vacationing waitress and wannabe artist Jordan Mooney (Elisabeth Shue) but he takes the bait from honeymooning Coughlin, himself married to a Rich Chick (Kelly Lynch) and gets involved with wealthy Manhattan executive Bonnie (Lisa Banes) ... Coughlins’s Law:  Anything else is always something better. It’s only taken me thirty years to get around to seeing a film I was too snobby to watch when it was trailed in my local cinema. Kids, eh!  Yet it’s one of those that was tailored to confirm Cruise’s superstardom – another tale of a daredevil on the make, this time on the ground (albeit after he’s served his country, perhaps as a Navy flyer). And we’re in materialistic NYC in the Eighties where everyone was promiscuous because nobody ever heard of AIDS. As if.  Yet there is a Faustian story going on which was watered down before being served. There were a lot of re-shoots to make the material more upbeat and incorporate improbable bartending tricks while Maurice Jarre’s original score was replaced. Shue is rather ill-served by a misogynistic narrative, Brown moreso since his worldview permeates the theme albeit it informs the conclusion, but it’s great to see Ellen Foley, Lynch and Gershon in the ensemble. Does it complete me? I’ll get back to ya in another three decades! Adapted by Heywood Gould from his dark semi-autobiographical novel and directed by Roger Donaldson.  I am the last barman poet / I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make / Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake / The sex on the beach / The schnapps made from peach / The velvet hammer / The Alabama slammer. / I make things with juice and froth / The pink squirrel / The three-toed sloth. / I make drinks so sweet and snazzy / The iced tea / The kamakazi / The orgasm / The death spasm / The Singapore sling / The dingaling. / America you’ve just been devoted to every flavor I got / But if you want to got loaded / Why don’t you just order a shot? / Bar is open.

Chronically Metropolitan (2016)

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You of all people should know there’s no such thing as fiction. Just ask your father. Famous New York novelist Christopher Dillane (Chris Noth) crashes his car into a truck full of crab while having one of his female students go down on him and the other do drugs. His son, first-time novelist Fenton (Shiloh Fernandez) returns from California unannounced, ready to reclaim his lost love, Jessie (Ashely Benson) who, unbeknownst to him, is engaged to be married to gallerist Victor (Chris Lowell). He walks into his family’s Upper East Side apartment to find his mother Annabel (Mary-Louise Parker) buying weed from his best friend John (Josh Peck). It’s her way of getting over her philandering husband’s headline news while he recuperates in hospital. When Fenton enlists his headstrong sister, Layla (Addison Timlin) and John to help him win Jessie back, his actions set in motion a chain of events that affect the lives of everyone around him for better and for worse… Nicholas Schutt’s screenplay reeks of Salinger X  The Royal Tenenbaums, the fate of every NYC-set story about a wealthy family with a creative bent;  Woody Allen, less so, since humour is not much of an issue – Noth’s lines and text messages regarding his young lovers lack comedic grit and Fernandez is just miserable while he tries to write. Effectively this is a father-son relationship film with some flim-flam attached while they get their mojo back courtesy of the women they use.  The backstory is that Fenton alienated Jessie and her entire family by writing a story about them that was published in a magazine. There are nice touches (and we presume Parker was cast just for her association with TV’s Weeds) but it’s not terribly involving despite some brightly cynical moments. Writer’s block is a terrible thing! And the end is a reversal of The Graduate, just so you know. Directed by Xavier Manrique.

Great Expectations (1998)

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Why had she told me?  She told me to wound me. Orphan Finn (Jeremy James Kissner) is being raised by his older sister Maggie (Kim Dickens) and her boyfriend Joe (Chris Cooper) a fisherman on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Finn fatefully makes the acquaintance of an escaped con, mobster Arthur Lustig (Robert De Niro) whom he tries to help get away from the police but the man is caught. He helps crazy old Nora Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft) and her beautiful niece Estella (Raquel Beaudene) by doing the gardening around their old mansion. Finn shows the old woman his art and she has him do a portrait of Estella.  When they are teenagers Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) reveals in a passionate encounter that she knows Finn (Ethan Hawke) is in love with her, then disappears to study in Europe. In the ’80s a mysterious lawyer Jerry Ragno (Josh Mostel) turns up and offers to finance a show of Finn’s work in New York where he pursues his career in art, leaving the fishing business where he’s been working with Joe for years. He once again encounters his beloved Estella, now engaged to rich, snobby Walter (Hank Azaria)…  I’m not going to tell the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.  Director Alfonso Cuarón glories in the ironic world envisioned by Dickens now transposed to a very different, much lusher and contemporary locale by screenwriter Mitch Glazer. With the incredible production design and setting on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Paradiso Perduto the overgrown and crumbling tropical mansion decaying around Miss Havisham’s newest iteration, her every appearance serenaded by Bésame Mucho, the scene is set for a very modern retelling of a tragic romance. With Pip as Finn the lovelorn child and artist, surrounded by the wonders of Nature, the opportunity to relate the love story through pictures gives it a different level of expressionism.  Paltrow is the epitome of the cool Nineties blonde – think Carolyn Bessette, as she may have done, and her impossible persona of Estella and the snobby world of tastemakers she inhabits makes sense. Bancroft is perfectly lurid as the sad and wicked old dame to whose wise words Finn is deaf – his love for Estella is simply too overwhelming as her revenge plot against treacherous men unfolds. The contrast between the wonderfully blue seas and overgrowing gardens familiar to us from a few great private eye novels (and even Grey Gardens) with New York’s glittery art scene couldn’t be more pronounced and Uncle Joe’s arrival at Finn’s opening night is horribly embarrassing and sad. The shocking return of Magwitch/Lustig is perfectly achieved and we see Finn finally grow up in this tragically transforming tale from innocence to experience. A bewitching, stylish interpretation with stunning photography and lighting by Emanuel Lubezki and art by Francesco Clemente. The voiceover from Finn’s older and wiser perspective was written by David Mamet. What is it like not to feel anything?

Knight of Cups (2015)

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For optimal sound reproduction the producers of this film recommend that you play it loud. Screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) tries to make sense of life in Hollywood. We follow him on an odyssey through Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a series of adventures with colorful figures, identified by eight tarot cards, with Rick as the Knight of Cups who sleeps with a half dozen women, leaves his own wife and impregnates another man’s…  Or as I like to call it, another episode in an occasional series known as When Good Auteurs Go Bad. See also:  Phantom Thread. Terrence Malick disappeared up his own fundament a while back:  if anyone thought To the Wonder was anything other than nonsense then they never saw real art house films.  This latest version of Hollywood Eats Itself functions as allegory:  of what, we don’t know, because it’s unnecessary.  All those years of living the life of someone I didn’t even know These movies have been around almost as long as Hollywood itself – but this is the experimental version. Cate Blanchett is Judgment, Natalie Portman is Death, Antonio Banderas is the Hermit, Brian Dennehy is the Hanged Man, and oh, for goodness’ sake, it looks wonderful. There are situations that almost approach coherence, particularly in the (only developed?) scenes with Portman;  an excursion to that simulacrum of plasticity in the desert, Vegas, in the company of a stripper; and the apartment burglary when the thieves bemoan Rick’s lack of possessions. Rick is haunted by the death of his brother Barry (Wes Bentley) who brings him on a tour of LA’s homeless. There are some insights amid the dissociative witterings and fragmentary musings and overheard bites of conversation inspired by The Pilgrim’s Progess but for the most part you won’t believe your ears as Christian’s character thinks he’s Christ wandering through his midlife crisis. Pity the actors, who had no script. Peter Mathiessen tells Rick that a man living in a cave eating nettles doesn’t concern himself with this sort of thing. Those desert monks had a point. This was in an edit suite for two years. After a cold compress go watch Sunset Blvd. Or 8 1/2. Whatever happened to visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick? We are too media-savvy not to understand the metaphors. We know that not all narratives are ordered or complete. But it’s a filmmaker’s job to get us at least some of the way there. And why squander the talents of these marvellous actors?  Presumably their best work wound up on the cutting room floor, as is Malick’s wont. Just to, you know, show them. As Forster would counsel, Only connect.  Woulda coulda shoulda. Begin