Wonder Woman (2017)

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Diana (Gal Gadot) is the stroppy kid brought up in an Amazonian matriarchy by mom Connie Nielsen and tough as hell trainer aunt Robin Wright. She cannot be told of her godlike origins in this society of strong women. Then WW1 crashes into their ancient Greek Island world in the form of airman Chris Pine, a double agent for the allies, kitted out in German uniform with their army hot on his tail as Diana drags him out of his plane. There’s fighting on the beach of a kind you don’t often see – bows and arrows against German gunfire. And when her aunt dies saving her, it’s up to Wonder Woman to take serious action against the god Aries whom she deems responsible for the global conflict. She heads to London with her newfound companion, there’s some very amusing and sexy byplay, a departure to the Front with an unpromising crew, some displays of camaraderie and great costume changes, excellent combat and truly evil Germans. And Aries is not who you think he is after all…. After years of snarky annoying movies about silly superheroes all shot in greyscale this is actually a colourful and proper good-versus-evil plot about gods and monsters that threatens but never actually tips into full camp (those first scenes gave me the wobbles but right prevailed), the humour is spot-on, the performances tonally perfect and I am pleased to agree with many others that this is really terrific. Well done director Patty (Monster) Jenkins and the screenwriter Allan Heinberg, working from a story by himself, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs. Miraculously it all seems to make sense. Based  – of course – on the comic book by William Moulton Marston. The soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams is fabulous – but what I really wanted to hear was …. you know!!

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The Guns of Navarone (1961)

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A friend of mine is under the weather at the moment so I prescribed holiday viewing:  The Great Escape and its fraternal twin, this, one of the best men on a mission action adventures to come out of WW2. It’s 1943.  An Allied commando team is deployed to destroy huge German guns on the Greek island of Navarone in order to rescue troops trapped on Kheros. They’re led by British Major Franklin (Anthony Quayle) and include the American Mallory (Gregory Peck), Greek resistance fighter Stavros (Anthony Quinn) and reluctant Brit explosives expert Miller (David Niven). Facing impossible odds, the men battle stormy seas and daunting cliffs. When Franklin is injured, Mallory takes command, and the infighting begins. They have to impersonate Nazi officers and work with local resistance fighters Irene Papas and Gia Scala. There is a spy  in the camp – but who can it be? There’s interrogation and explosives and betrayal and all kinds of good stuff. This is sublime fun and contains probably my favourite movie line of all, from the inimitable Niven:  Heil everybody! Adapted from Alastair MacLean’s novel by blacklisted screenwriter and producer Carl Foreman (who made a lot of changes to the material) and directed by J. Lee Thompson (taking over from Alexander Mackendrick one week before production – that old saw, ‘creative differences.’) Narrated by James Robertson Justice and shot by the peerless Oswald Morris with a majestic soundtrack by Dimitri Tiomkin. Definitely taking this to the desert island. Or even a Greek one.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

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Producer Judy Craymer had a brilliant idea for a theatre musical:  use the songs of Abba for a jukebox production, wrapped into a story written by Catherine Johnson. And then she hired Phyllida Lloyd to direct it and it became a huge global hit – and then Lloyd got to do the film version too. Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, the twenty-year old daughter of hippie single mom Meryl Streep who’s brought her up in splendid desolation  on a Greek island in a rundown hotel. She’s engaged to be married to Sky (Dominic Cooper) and when she finds her mother’s diary realises her father could be one of three men – Planned Parenthood not being a priority round these parts. So she invites all three candidates to the nuptials without telling Meryl, who’s bringing her own besties, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski:  the potential dads are Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. The Rule of Three is used a lot in this film of Greek choruses. Sophie figures she’ll know her father when she sees him. She doesn’t. There’s intrigue, slapstick, group choreographed singalongs and then everyone begins to twig what Sophie has done.There’s a showdown in front of the Irish priest at the wedding. Everybody sings, the men are notably terrible. It’s awfully badly made. It’s camp as a caravan site and tasteless in the extreme. It’s a truly, truly terrible film. It’s also one of the most enjoyable you’ll ever experience and definitely the best karaoke session you’ll ever have. And you ain’t seen nothin’ till you see some of the finest actors on the planet disgrace themselves discoing during the end credits sequence. Inexplicable.

Summer Lovers (1982)

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“They spent a Summer of Love – to the sounds of Chicago.” I was way too young to see this when it first came out but all those music videos gave me pause for thought – what about a threesome on a Greek island?! Such is the power of pop. College grad Daryl Hannah is the beautiful photographer holidaying in Santorini (and Crete, Delos and Mykonos) with long-term boyfriend Peter Gallagher and it doesn’t take long for them to be seduced by the nude bathing when he spots cute French archaeologist Valerie Quennessen on a dig and pairs up with her and utters the deathless line, It’s not you it’s me… then the ladies decide they would like to expand the arrangement. The settings are astonishing and if it’s a bit rich to describe this louche fantasy as an exploration of sexual politics, well, that’s precisely what it is, with lashings of free love to beat the band when the ladies take charge. It all goes kinda meta when Daryl says, I used to dream I was a mermaid … that would take a couple of years. She and Peter and Valerie (a princess in Conan the Barbarian) spend most of the movie partially nude if not fully nekkid so it’s not so hard to put together why they’re all in it:  what a holiday they are having. Until Barbara Rush turns up during an olive oil party to see daughter Daryl before matters domestic are fully sorted out. Just the thing to unleash your inner twentysomething libertine on a snowy winter’s day! Written and directed by Randal Kleiser, that clever fellow. He had previously auditioned Hannah for the role that Brooke Shields played in Blue Lagoon, his other isle of dreams.  If you’re in Santorini you can visit the villa they shot in which is christened for the film – it’s been a gift shop since 1987. Quennessen worked under the supervision of archaeological experts and uncovered artifacts c3,500 years old. She died distressingly young in a car crash.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

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Time has been kind to this. Or perhaps it’s the fading November light and my depleted brain cells, damaged from an excess of Halloween Pringles and pumpkin soup. I admit I could not make it through the novel by Louis de Bernieres – I’m a quick reader but after two weeks and 13 pages I threw it over. I found it unreadable. The fact that the film was ‘trailed’ by Julia Roberts at the end of Notting Hill, a Working Title film I despised at the time, did not help. Nor did I like this film particularly when it was released. It’s the story of a musical Italian, Antonio (Nicolas Cage) who along with his battery of fellow soldiers (who have never fired a shot) disrupts life for the locals on the Greek island of Cephalonia during WW2 particularly that of Pelagia  (Penelope Cruz) daughter of the local doctor Iannis (John Hurt) and engaged to an illiterate fisherman turned resistance fighter Mandras (Christian Bale). Antonio tries to woo her while training his men to sing as a choir. Then the German pact with Italy falls apart, Mandras returns briefly but disappears to the hills and the Nazis arrive and the most apparently civilised of them, Captain Gunther Webber (Steven Morrissey) tries to befriend his opposite number and date a local girl. That’s before orders come from above … Shawn Slovo adapted the novel with some major episodes softened for cinematic tastes and John Madden directed and it has improved for me over time, even with residual misgivings about casting and accents. No quarrel with the great Irene Papas as Mandras’ mother though. The cinematography by John Toll is exquisite. This is really an epic tale of endurance and a tribute to all those thousands of Italians murdered by the Nazis in September 1943 for the hell of it. And people wonder why the Brits voted for Brexit?! The spectre of an island being overrun by murderous reasonable Germans is just too, too much. Nobody’s memory is that short. People can only take so much totalitarian fascism, nicht wahr?!

The Moon-Spinners (1964)

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Classic romance based on the novel by Mary Stewart, one of my favourite writers and one to try if you like midcentury Gothic thrillers. She was huge in the Fifties and Sixties. I didn’t know about this for the longest time and was delighted to find that it starred my Disney heroine, Hayley Mills. Nicky Ferris (Mills) is a teenager spending time in Crete at a small inn called The Moon-Spinners with her Aunt Frances (Joan Greenwood), a musicologist. One day Nicky discovers a handsome young man, Mark Camford (Peter McEnery), wounded in an empty church nearby. They’ve already met at the inn and he makes a very favourable impression, the life of the party and handsome to boot. It turns out that Mark was once a London bank messenger, but he lost his job after a major jewel robbery. Tagged as a suspect, he has made his way to the inn to gather evidence against the inn’s owner, Stratos (Eli Wallach), who Mark thinks is the real jewel thief. It’s run by his unsuspecting sister played by Irene Papas. Nicky and Mark fall in love and decide to capture Stratos together.This is a rather different Peter McEnery than we saw in Entertaining Mr Sloane, which he would make several years later:  he was contracted to Disney and this is really a kids’ movie. Here he distinguishes himself by bestowing upon wonderful Hayley her first proper screen kiss. It’s not a great genre piece by any means, with much  of the villainy of the novel rendered rather juvenile in the adaptation by Michael Dyne:  but it looks great – much of it was shot on location around Elounda at a time when Greece was opening up to tourism;  it sounds good, with Terry Gilkyson’s song and the folk music enhancing a pretty soundtrack; and the cast is extremely personable. If you’re a silent movie fan there’s the opportunity to see the fabulous Pola Negri in her last feature film, as the extraordinarily wealthy Madame Habib who has a particularly charming big cat. There are also terrific supporting roles for John Le Mesurier and Sheila Hancock. All in all, a lovely way to spend your afternoon. Directed by James Neilson.

Jason Bourne (2016)

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It’s surely a sign of an unhealthy cinema summer when the audience is going in droves to an exceedingly mediocre action movie.Tony Gilroy’s writing smarts (he knew what to do with Ludlum’s brilliantly tricksy emblematic character) are gone. In their stead is a cobbled together action-chase sequence from returning director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse that trades on an Oedipal-type scenario with Bourne’s dad linked to the original Treadstone, uncovered by a very odd looking Julia Stiles who’s in league with a kind of brutal Julian Assange skinhead character. A Facebook company run by the twisty Aaron Kalloor (Jewish … Indian?!) that appears to have done a deal with the CIA for client info is repeatedly juxtaposed with faded images of Pop’s cryptic comments before he was blown up.Cyber memories are made of this. Ho hum. So 2010. We commence with bare-knuckle fighting, protests in Greece and fetch up in Las Vegas with a major street scene starring ugly baddie sniper Vincent Cassel while a bloodless performance by Alicia Vikander as right hand woman to the CIA’s Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is enough to make your teeth itch. Political correctness is just plain irritating and to make everything even worse is the horrendous cinematography by Barry Ackroyd. It’s like Jeremy Corbyn’s wet dream. Free non-existent houses and jobs for everyone! Yawn. Bring back Tom Cruise. Or Pierce Brosnan! For a real ReBourne.Please.

They Who Dare (1953)

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Operation Anglo is the subject of this screenplay by novelist Robert Westerby. It’s the story of six Special Boat Service men plus their local guides as they land on the Dodecanese in the Greek Islands with orders to blow up two German airfields. Loyalties are compromised, tempers fray and men are captured. At the end just two have kept going and  the tension is nigh-on unbearable:  Denholm Elliott screams at Dirk Bogarde, “I hate you for never giving up!” This is not great WW2 drama but it’s pretty damn good and Lewis Milestone makes particularly good use of the beautiful landscape.

High Season (1987)

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The life of the screenwriter can be challenging, that of the writer/director even moreso, particularly if you’re a woman. Clare Peploe has mostly been associated with her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, but she has forged her own directing signature. It has a variable imprint. This story of a hard-up photographer (Jacqueline Bisset) in Rhodes falls on its sword despite an enviable location, lovely cast and some sharp scenes.  The tone falls between stools – Bisset’s good friend Sharpie (the rarely seen Sebastian Shaw) has given her a vase that she can sell to the unscrupulous Konstantinos  (Robert Stephens) to save her house since her philandering sculptor husband (James Fox) has taken a commission from Lord Byron fanatic Yanni (Paris Tselios) to lure tourists that sets his patriotic fanatical mother (the wonderful Irene Papas) crazy. An English couple turn up – played by Kenneth Branagh and Lesley Manville – and they are the equivalent of Charters and Caldicott on holiday. Their scenes are hideously wrong. Peploe has no idea how to control them and they ruin the film’s delicacy which ultimately turns on the identity of the infamous Tenth Man. There is neither rhyme nor reason to the film’s opening sequence but hopefully DoP Chris Menges had a nice holiday.  The location photography is stunning.

Two Faces of January

Patricia Highsmith’s chill pulp is just the thing to smooth the transition from Spring to Summer. With The Two Faces of January reminding us that even minor keys can strike major chords, the news that Carol, The Blunderer, Deep Water and This Sweet Sickness, are all to be adapted for the screen, should strike pleasing levels of trepidation in all but the strongest of constitutions.