Anything (2017)

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You don’t want to live in Hollywood. Struggling to cope with the death of his wife and following his own suicide attempt, Mississippi widower Early Landry (John Carroll Lynch) moves to Los Angeles to be near his sister Laurette (Maura Tierney) who works in development at Sony and lives in Brentwood with her wheelchair bound husband Larry (Bradley Wayne James)  and teenage son Jack (Tanner Buchanan). A stranger in the city, Early endures the dinner party from hell when a widow (Bonnie McNeil) says she can’t stop thinking about her dead husband. His life is changed forever when he gets a place of his own in Hollywood and grows close to his transgender prostitute neighbour Freda (Matt Bomer) and experiences a different kind of love in a ramshackle building where everyone’s got their own problems … When I first got here I had a pulse. That and a desire to die. Practically an essay in kindness and intersectionality, this very contemporary mood piece has its origins in a 2007 stage play written and directed by Timothy McNeil who does the main duties here. With beautiful impressionistic handheld cinematography by James Laxton (who works a lot with Barry Jenkins) we see downtown LA as Early gets to experience it:  shopping at Ralph’s, eating at Canters, hiking in the hills, stopping at the burger stand. These interludes and montages disguise the fact that most of the action takes place in Early’s new home. His interactions with his neighbours including songwriter Brianna (Margot Bingham) and her junkie boyfriend David (Michah Hauptman) are blunted with alcohol and he finally sees in these marginal people echoes of his own life and its limitations following a happy 26 year-long marriage.  Lynch is nothing if not an unconventional romantic lead – as Brianna says, like Andy Griffith’s sadder brother.  He imbues this supposedly simple man with incredible complexity and warmth. (Let us not forget Lynch is a fine director too, having helmed Harry Dean Stanton’s last film, Lucky). The abortive attempt to introduce Freda at a dinner party with Laurette and family is grindingly difficult and ends in tears:  rather fantastically, everyone behaves just as you’d expect but the writing it so good and lacking in crude stereotypes you’d expect elsewhere. This is all about pain and lack of empathy. Bomer is superb as the beautiful prostitute who cannot believe her feelings for this tightie Southern whitey and she endures the horrors of detoxing when Early decides they’ve got to quit their respective demons.  She’s a mess of feelings and conflicts with all sorts of arresting ideas and lines and a desire to change her life, it’s just that this relationship was definitely not on her agenda. It’s a sweet romantic drama with rough corners about acceptance and making the best of what and who you’ve got. In this small scale but rewarding film we are reminded that love and friendship find a way, no matter what we do to get in the way. In spite of all your love letters and your stars you really fucking hate me

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Happy 89th Birthday Clint Eastwood 31st May 2019!

The guy in the lab. Rowdy Yates. The Man With No Name. Dirty Harry Callahan. Clyde’s friend. The musician, composer, actor, producer and director and Hollywood superstar Clint Eastwood turns 89 today. Entering his eighth decade in the industry where he paid his dues in uncredited roles in movies and bit parts before regular work on TV and the spaghetti genre made him a worldwide figure, this year’s The Mule (practically a musical!) proves he’s still got the chops and the pull to make box office gold with something to say about the way we live now. Widely recognised as an icon of American masculinity, he found his particular space with the assistance of Don Siegel but exploited his personal brand in cycles of police procedurals, comedic takes on folklore and the country and western sub-genre as well as tough westerns. Unforgiven marked his coming of age as a great director, an instant classic and a tour de force of filmmaking. While some might think he has feminist sympathies he has rarely risked acting opposite a true female acting equal – a quarter of a century separated him from Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara and Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County. It took another decade for him to make the stunningly emotive Million Dollar Baby with Hilary Swank, which marked a different kind of turning point:  he has transformed his cinematic affect from what David Thomson calls his brutalised loner to bruised neurotic nonagenarian in one of the most spectacular careers in cinema. Many happy returns, Clint!

Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story (1998) (TVM)

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I want to be loved. 1940s New York City: Jacqueline Susann (Michele Lee) is a second-string theatre actress and well-known party girl who turns to journalism following her marriage to press agent turned producer Irving Mansfield (Peter Riegert). Though constantly surrounded by the glitterati of the theatre and social scene she doesn’t achieve celebrity status herself and has to endure the tragedy of a brain-damaged son who has to be institutionalised. Then when she’s 47,  she publishes the raunchy bestselling novel Valley of the Dolls. Outwardly committed to publicising her work and involved in regular cross-country media campaigns, she privately battles cancer and constantly questions her troubled relationship with her society portraitist father Robert (Kenneth Welsh) who never got around to finishing her picture …  Everything I do is for you. Everything I make is for you. Treading much straighter territory than Isn’t She Great (the Bette Midler version) this adaptation by Michele Gallery of Barbara Seaman’s biography Lovely Me ironically strays indirectly and presumably unintentionally into camp now and then, and it doesn’t really do justice to the genius of its subject but Lee is excellent as this spiky confrontational woman who did things her own way. For anyone interested in the backstage antics of NYC’s post-war theatre scene with big personalities like Ethel Merman (Gloria Slade), the evolution of publishing and the making of the notorious film of Susann’s most famous novel with Barbara Parkins (Annie Laurie Williams), Patty Duke (Melanie Peterson) and the lovely Sharon Tate (Leila Johnson), there are residual attractions, but the drivers of this biopic are the private tragedies of the woman who revolutionised modern publishing by establishing her own critic-proof brand of sex and sass. Directed by Bruce McDonald. You don’t cook, you don’t clean, you never stay in. My life is never going to be dull

Doris Day 3rd April 1922 – 13th May 2019

The legendary Doris Day has died at the age of 97.  The world’s highest paid woman singer after World War 2, she became a huge Hollywood musical comedy star and developed into a fine dramatic actress. Forever associated with the role of Calamity Jane she emerged in the late 1950s as an even bigger star paired opposite Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Garner in a series of scintillating sex comedies. She later became a TV fixture and saved the lives of so many of our furry friends. Our favourite actress, probably. Rest in peace.

 

 

Alvin Sargent 12th April 1927 – 9th May 2019

 

The screenwriter Alvin Sargent has died. He paid his dues on TV shows for a decade or so before finally breaking through with a co-writing credit on Gambit, a well constructed comic caper that provided a great showcase for Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine. He wrote a couple of very interesting films that starred Gregory Peck (The Stalking Moon, I Walk the Line) who was at something of a crossroads in his career but Sargent could be relied upon to add a dramatic twist to that predicament:  he worked on Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman and later co-wrote Hero for him with Laura Ziskin, whom he would later marry.  He was one of a number of writers who did uncredited rewrites on that behemoth A Star is Born for producer Ray Stark and Barbra Streisand and also had that distinction on projects like The Electric Horseman for Jane Fonda, who had starred in Julia, which he adapted from Lillian Hellman’s wholly untruthful memoir. He won his first Academy Award for his trouble. He had a particularly good ear for dialogue and a flair for women’s characters with Susan Sarandon benefitting from deft characterisation and astringent lines in White Palace and Anywhere But Here; while Diane Lane got an incredible role in Unfaithful, the film he adapted from the Claude Chabrol original.  He also got into the head of young people rather well, as his original screenplay Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing and the noughties Spider-Man films demonstrate; while the classic Paper Moon is a stunning evocation not just of Thirties nostalgia but of the shrewdness a child can have and yet still win our sympathy.  He did funny very well as he showed with his work on What About Bob? (he wrote the story) and Other People’s Money.  He liked to take his time writing. He spent more than a year adapting Judith Guest’s novel Ordinary People for actor turned director Robert Redford. What can we say? It was worth it:  he won his second Academy Award. He was quoted as saying, “When I die, I’m going to have written on my tombstone: “Finally, a plot.'” Rest in peace.

The Birthday of Orson Welles 6th May 2019

That radical filmmaker, director, screenwriter, producer and actor Orson Welles, would have celebrated his 104th birthday today. Still making news 34 years after he left our orbit with last year’s The Other Side of the Wind, we are still awed by his achievements in radio, theatre and cinema. Happy birthday Mr Welles.

Happy 80th Birthday Francis Ford Coppola 7th April 2019!

The extravagantly gifted, wayward and brilliant auteur director Francis Coppola celebrates his eightieth year on the planet. And aren’t we lucky to have him! The first of the great American filmmakers to get an MFA in Film, he earned his stripes first with Roger Corman and then by writing wonderful screenplays. He won five Oscars in four years and directed both Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro to Academy Awards in the role of Vito Corleone in The Godfather films. Some of his films are among my personal favourites alongside that Mafia saga – Rumble Fish, Apocalypse Now, Tucker:  The Man and His Dream. Sometimes his works are flawed and more miss than hit but are still wonderfully full of life – One From the Heart, The Cotton Club, Peggy Sue Got Married. And then there’s a genre workout like The Rainmaker which is perfectly formed. In recent years his output has been sporadic and unsatisfying but it seems that Megalopolis, only 50 years in the writing, might yet see the light of day. Happy birthday Mr Coppola. We are not worthy. I wanted to be like those great European filmmakers of the ’50s and ’60s, and if I was hit by lightning it was The Godfather; that changed my whole life. So I just want to get back to what I was doing when I was first falling in love with films.

Stanley Donen 13th April 1924 – 23rd February 2019

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Hollywood great Stanley Donen has died aged 94. Handsome, genial, witty and debonair he was an actor, dancer and choreographer who teamed up with Gene Kelly at a ridiculously young age and made screen history with the first musical shot on location, On the Town. They made the greatest musical in film history together, Singin’ in the Rain, the perfect integrated backstage Hollywood movie, the most brilliant, joyous blend of song and dance and storytelling. It transformed cinema. During the Fifties Donen continued learning his craft as director with romantic comedies and returning to his favourite form with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, another innovative iteration of the musical. He reunited with Kelly for It’s Always Fair Weather and then became an independent producer. He worked with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in the enduring classic Funny Face and then relocated to England and made some terrific midlife romcoms, including Indiscreet and The Grass is Greener before turning to thrillers with the great Charade, a Hitchcockian suspenser, back in Paris with Audrey Hepburn and another regular collaborator, Cary Grant. He followed that with another Peter Stone collaboration, ArabesqueTwo for the Road was his most personal film, a comedy drama about a couple in crisis, again starring Hepburn. His Seventies films were variable with Lucky Lady and Movie Movie the standouts, loving homages and pastiches of a Hollywood that he ironically had helped quash. He produced the 1986 Oscars, which boasted a musical number featuring a roll call of Hollywood musical stars:  Leslie Caron, June Allyson, Marge Champion, Cyd Charisse, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Esther Williams. His legacy is indelible;  he worked with the greats and made them better;  he mastered musicals, elevating them to a different level entirely with animation, editing and choreography;  romantic comedies; thrillers; and dramas.  Each time I see one of his films I feel a lot better about everything. He was one of my all-time favourite directors. Rest in peace.

The 2019 Academy Awards

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I haven’t seen some of the films, but then again, half the voters probably haven’t either. Everyone knows about the controversies:  the popular film category proposed and swiftly dropped – when Rob Lowe (himself a notorious former host appearing alongside Snow White without Disney’s permission) is Tweeting you’re a disgrace, you know you’re in trouble. Then the host/no host stuff. Then squashing boring categories into commercial breaks:  how about marriage proposals, anyone? Only having two Best Songs performed – to be frank, after the dreadful tosh last year, I don’t blame them. But this year they’ve got Lady Gaga (some say with La Streisand), so, that raises the stakes rather.  And with Bohemian Rhapsody the defiantly mediocre crowd-pleaser that could best the critics with songs to beat the band (the Popular film made it after all!) Queen are appearing with Adam Lambert. A bit better than some warbler with stage fright nobody ever heard of before. The various Guilds have thrown up so many surprises that the usual guarantees don’t hold. All bets are off, basically. So here is my tuppence ha’penny worth – and I am always, invariably, gloriously wrong so don’t go to the bookies on my account. Best Picture – Green Book. It is quite perfectly engineered and nobody got murdered or raped or left to drown by the bovine maid. Great after a big meal. Best Director – Alfonso Cuarón for Roma, a film made in black and white and Mexican that you can watch on your phone. Best Actor – Bradley Cooper for playing a narcissistic addict in A Star is Born and guiding his own performance! Best Director in disguise! Best Actress – Glenn Close for being married onscreen and toughing it out for 45 years. Best Supporting Actor – Richard E. Grant for bringing my beloved Withnail to 90s NYC. Best Supporting Actress – Regina King for being a mom in a worthy drama. Best Original Screenplay – The Favourite. Horrible horrible horrible and not mine but it reads well. Best Adapted Screenplay – Can You Ever Forgive Me? Nicole Holofcener rocks and everyone knows it. Best Song – A Star is Born‘s Shallow (play it alongside Killing Me Softly and spot the difference). Foreign Film and Cinematography will also go to Cuarón: Steven Soderbergh must be so teed off. All those years shooting orange filters and nobody gave a toss! Best Animation – Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse. Documentary – RBG.  Film Editing – BlacKkKlansman. Reader, I haven’t a clue. Does anyone care who wins an Oscar? We all do. Deeply. Deeply!

Too Late for Tears (1949)

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Just where did you stash my cash? Jane and Alan Palmer (Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy) are driving to a party in the Hollywood Hills when someone in another car throws a satchel into the back seat of their convertible. They open it and find $100,000 cash.  She wants to keep it, he doesn’t. They put it in a locker in Union Station. Then Danny (Dan Duryea) shows up at their apartment when Alan is at work and they scheme to get his money back, a once in a lifetime payoff from a blackmail/insurance scam. Jane persuades him to help kill Alan on a boat trip. She reports Alan as missing. Kathy Palmer (Kristine Miller) suspects Jane has murdered her brother and investigates with a man claiming to be his friend Don Blake (Don DeFore), who look into her dealings. Meanwhile Jane is plotting to keep all of the money for herself …  Looking down her nose at me like a big ugly house looks over Hollywood.  Scott has a great showcase as a ruthless, mutinous femme fatale, a silky smooth siren desperate to shake off the shackles of middle class unease:  the kind of people who can’t keep up with the bills every day and die a little. Duryea is good as the villain/accomplice, like a musical comedy star who’s wandered onto the wrong movie set and likes the fit of his suit but his taste for drink proves his undoing. Miller is particularly good as Kennedy’s sister. It was her second time to be paired with Scott following I Walk Alone; while DeFore proves the magic ingredient that unlocks the mystery of Scott’s first husband’s deathA vicious portrayal of venal post-war Los Angeles society, a cautionary tale laced with venom that is brilliantly conceived, shot and performed with lashings of good lines. Written by Roy Huggins (later famous as TV writer/producer of The Fugitive, Maverick and The Rockford Files) and adapted from his novel which was serialised in the Saturday Evening Post.  Directed by Byron Haskin.  I let you in because housewives can get awfully bored sometimes!