The Passionate Stranger (1957)

Aka A Novel Affair. You see! You shut me out! Just like the others! Upper-middle-class housewife Judith Wynter (Margaret Leighton) is a best-selling author of steamy bodice-rippers. As her beloved husband Roger (Ralph Richardson) convalesces from polio and is now presently wheelchair-bound, the couple’s new Sicilian chauffeur Carlo (Carlo Justini) discovers Judith’s latest manuscript about a housewife unhappily married to a disabled man she despises and has a passionate affair with the family chauffeur. He jumps to conclusions that create increasingly awkward situations for them all as he attempts to imitate lines and scenes from her book which features a concert pianist with a jealous and disabled husband and a lusty Sicilian driver … There are stories all around you if you know where to look. There’s probably one right under your nose. From husband and wife producing and directing team Sydney and Muriel Box (who also co-wrote the screenplay) this fitfully amusing comedy has a fatal flaw – the film within a film which is made in colour and lasts more than half of the film overall is very heightened reality and played too straight:  the hilarious silent movie in Singin’ in the Rain should have been the model for this, or even the Gainsborough romances, instead it’s a bourgeois melo. Then in the return to monochrome ‘reality’ in the final third there is a slippage of tone when Carlo’s plan to imitate the book goes very wrong and a tragedy seems on the cards. It pulls back just in time but the narrative emphasis is at fault. Nonetheless it gives Patricia Dainton a delightful chance to change pace from sly Scottish-accented housemaid Emily to coquettish plotter Betty while Richardson is a grumpy old man and Leighton is a more extreme incarnation of her writer self. Megs Jenkins is a pub landlady in the film within a film. Made at Shepperton with exteriors at Chilworth in Surrey. I do not forget! I never leave you! Ever!

Pain and Glory (2019)

Aka Dolor y gloria. I don’t recognise you, Salvador. Film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is ageing and in decline, suffering from illness and writer’s block. He recalls episodes in his life that led him to his present situation – lonely, sick – when the Cinematheque runs a film Sabor he made 32 years earlier with actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) and they haven’t spoken since due to the performer’s drug use. But now Salva is in pain and following the reunion with Alberto prompted by his old friend Zulema (Cecilia Roth) will take anything he can including heroin to ease his pain from multiple disabling illnesses. He recalls his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) working hard to put food on the table;  moving into a primitive cave house; his days as a chorister whose voice was so beautiful he skipped class to rehearse and got through school knowing nothing, learning geography on his travels as a successful filmmaker. Now he is forced to confront all the crises in his life and his mother is dying … Writing is like drawing, but with letters. Pedro Almodovar’s late-life reflectiveness permeates a story that must have roots in his own experience. His protege Banderas gives a magnificent performance as the director pausing in between heroin hits and choking from an unspecified ailment to consider his path. The stylish visuals that often overwhelm Almodovar’s dramas are used just enough to textually express the core of the film’s theme – love, and the lack of it. Life is just a series of moments and they are recounted here with clear intent, plundering the past in order to reclaim the present. A triumph. Love is not enough to save the person you love

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

I hope you know that you made today a very special day by just your being you. There’s no one in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are. 1990s New York. Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an investigative journalist for Esquire magazine who receives an assignment to profile beloved children’s educational TV host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood . He approaches the interview with typical hard-nosed scepticism, as he finds it hard to believe that anyone can have such a good nature. But Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency chips away at Vogel’s jaded outlook on life. He’s happily married to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) with a young baby but the encounter with this unique celebrity forces the reporter to reconcile with his painful past, starting with his sister’s wedding which is attended by the father Jerry (Chris Cooper) he utterly loathes and they have a violent fight ... I don’t eat anything that had a mother. The general truth about Tom Hanks is, he’s a saint (even with that early, uh, brush with a cocaine habit). And Rogers’ saintliness is put to the test in this construction. The overall effect is to render Hanks’ patented sincerity inauthentic. The melding of the real with toytown is creepy as … whatever you’re having yourself. Much of this rings false and frankly sinister. The point where Lloyd is miniaturised to enter the TV world is like a bad trip and cheap psychology as if Screenwriting 101 and Self-Help got scrambled in the manipulation blender.  You have to care about Lloyd’s problem to empathise with this concept. I didn’t.  Adapted from Tom Junod’s article Can You Say … Hero? by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harper. Directed by Marielle Heller. Anything mentionable is manageable

Ordinary Love (2019)

How do you say to someone, Don’t die? Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) Thompson are a happy, long-married couple who enjoy a quiet life until she discovers a mass in her breast and makes an appointment to see a doctor who confirms she has a lump. When it is removed along with many lymph nodes she then proceeds to have chemotherapy. Her recovery is difficult and painful and she befriends the terminally ill teacher Peter (David Wilmot) of her late daughter. Her hair falls out, her temper frays and she and Tom have a major argument when she is at a low point and taunt each other.  They have a nice night together and make love before her double mastectomy. After Peter’s death they prepare for Christmas and decide to invite Peter’s boyfriend to join them … Putting sick people together:  how is that going to make anybody feel better? Even a marriage of kindness and vulnerability can hit a rocky patch. Facing up to a cancer diagnosis can bring out the worst in anyone, even briefly. Asking tough questions of a doctor when it’s not your illness makes you the rude guy; likening your bystander role to that of the person being mutilated and burned in operating theatres and treatment rooms makes you intolerable. For a while. This is also a story about bereavement and a Sixties Modernist house empty of personal touches because a child died, we’re not sure when. Even the goldfish dies. Death is contagious, it seems. And in the midst of that atmosphere somehow a marriage of true friends carries on, through hospital appointments, surgeries, horrific medical solutions and the deaths of other people in the ward. Manville and Neeson are tremendous in a subtle piece of writing by Owen McCafferty. Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn and filmed in Northern Ireland, with a score co-written by producer David Holmes.  A triumph of intimacy, in the best sense. You’d rather be worse than better

Palm Beach (2019)

Palm Beach

It’s what they’ve dreamed of for themselves is not what they’ve turned out to be. Frank (Bryan Brown) is flying in his lifelong friends for his big birthday at his beautiful home overlooking the bay at Palm Beach, north of Sydney. Now retired from his tee-shirt business which made him very wealthy, he and his wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi), feckless son Dan (Charlie Vickers) and medical student daughter Ella (Matilda Brown), are hosting the remaining members of The Pacific Sideburns, the band he managed in the Seventies who made the cover of Rolling Stone back in 1977 when they had their one big hit song. Now Leo (Sam Neill) is a journalist based in New Zealand, married to teacher Bridget (Jacqueline MacKenzie) and stepfather to her teenage daughter Caitlyn (Frances Berry). Billy (Richard E. Grant) is an ad man married to actress Eva (Heather Mitchell) who thinks at 60 she’s too young to be cast as Nicole Kidman’s mother. Holly (Claire van der Boom) is the daughter of their late lead singer Roxy and she arrives with her lover, an older man called Doug (Aaron Jeffery) in tow. Tensions erupt over money, career, cars and homes and then there’s a secret which has been niggling at someone’s conscience … The Pacific Sideburns go down as the voice of adult incontinence. Directed by that lovely actress Rachel Ward (who is of course married to leading man Brown), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joanna Murray-Smith, in her second theatrical outing behind the camera, this is a kind of Big Chill for a different generation and at a different stage of their lives. Fans of Australian cinema will be thrilled with the cast (which also includes blow-ins Grant and Scacchi), with Neill and Brown co-starring for the fifth time. This time out they’re in a production about rites of passage among friends (and frenemies) which isn’t afraid to be tough on its characters, none of whom is without baggage or post-60 year old issues. There are all kinds of relatable tensions over ageing, health and money with the added frisson of questionable DNA. The issue of whether Dan might be fathered by Leo becomes the main plank of the narrative particularly since Frank and Dan are permanently at daggers drawn. But Billy – who has made an ad for adult diapers in France using the band’s big hit – is envious of Frank’s money and taunts him about the chimneys on a neighbouring property blocking the view so often that Frank does something about it, leading to the film’s comic high point:  retirement is not for chickens, as his anti-depressants prove. Bonding over building a pizza oven is no picnic. It’s pretty hard to bond with the Gestapo, growls Sam Neill. The women have their own problems but try to get them out of their system with some therapeutic white wine-assisted yoga by the pool and tough conversations with their terminally self-obsessed men. The father-son relationship between Frank and Dan results in a terrible accident and it finally brings them all to their senses in a well managed conclusion to the comedy drama. This family affair also involves Brown and Ward’s real-life daughter as Frank’s daughter; while the film within a film is Ward’s 2001 short, The Big House. The songs are by the band The Teskey Brothers in a soundtrack peppered with great tunes. An extremely winning production with fantastic performances and smart writing, this is an amazing showcase for New South Wales in a location familiar to viewers of TV’s Home and Away. Very easy watching indeed. I’m on my way ASAP, especially if I can stay in that magnificent beach house. I call it uninvited clarity

 

A Man About the House (1947)

A Man About the House 1947

It may be an advantage to have a man about the house. The unmarried British Isit sisters Agnes (Margaret Johnston) and Ellen (Dulcie Gray) unexpectedly inherit their uncle’s Italian villa and have to deal with his sinister major-domo Salvatore (Kieron Moore) who manages the villa and vineyard. Agnes is overwhelmed by him and they marry, so he ends up owning the estate that once belonged to his family, believing Agnes to be the sole inheritor. Ellen’s suspicions are aroused when Agnes’s health begins to deteriorate and she consults Agnes’s former fiancé, visiting English doctor Benjamin Dench (Guy Middleton) …  Spinsters aren’t safe with such a man. A fun Gothic melodrama with an early opportunity to see Gina Lollobrigida in English-language cinema the year she came third in the Miss Italia pageant. Moore had played Salvatore in the theatre production of Francis Brett Young’s 1942 novel (which is adapted here by J.B. Williams) and he relishes his badness here – his speechifying about the differences between dried up Italian women and young unmarried Englishwomen has to be heard to be believed. Watching the sisters’ emotional unfurling as the vines are harvested is well done, their suppressed instincts vividly described against the emotional Italians nicely gauged in montages and changes of hair and costume.  It’s supremely ironic that it’s the stiff upper lipped older sister played by (the frankly weird) Johnston who succumbs to the determinedly sexual lure of the sleazy butler with murder in mind. Directed by Leslie Arliss. It is our duty as Englishwomen to set an example and not succumb to their lax foreign ways

 

 

The End of the Affair (1955)

The End of the Affair 1955

Trust is a variable quality. London during World War 2. Novelist Maurice Bendrix (Van Johnson) meets Sarah Miles (Deborah Kerr) the wife of civil servant Henry Miles (Peter Cushing) at their sherry party. He is asking Henry for information to help with his next book. Maurice is intrigued by Sarah after he sees her kissing another man. They become lovers that night at his hotel. After his rooms are bombed when they are together there, she ends their relationship and he suffers from the delayed shock from the bombing and from her ending the affair. After their break-up and the end of the war, Bendrix encounters Henry, who invites him for a drink at his home, especially since Sarah is out.  Henry confides that he suspects Sarah is unfaithful and has looked into engaging a private investigator, but then decides against it. Sarah returns home before Bendrix leaves and is curt with him. Bendrix follows through with hiring a private detective agency on his own account. They come across information which suggests that Sarah is being unfaithful, which Bendrix shares with Henry in revenge. Bendrix then obtains Sarah’s diary via the private investigator Albert Parkis (John Mills) which reveals that Sarah is not having an affair and that she promised God to give Bendrix up if he was spared death in the bombing. Then they meet again … I’ve learned that you must pray like you make love – with everything you have. A deeply felt narrative revolving around love, sex and religious belief sounds like a melodramatic quagmire but Lenore Coffee’s adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1951 semi-autobiographical novel is a rich textured work with impressive performances by the entire cast. Kerr and Johnson might be perceived to be something of a mismatch but that’s the point of the story:  he is fated to forever misunderstand her and as he tries to navigate his way through her complex emotions and her deals with God, he responds with just one emotion – jealousy. His unruly misunderstanding in a world of good manners and looking the other way means he flails hopelessly while we are then persuaded of her beliefs via her diary, the contents of which dominate the film’s second half, leading him to regret his desire for revenge. Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other. The ensemble is well presented and their individual big moments are sketches of superb characterisation, Mills’ pride in his snooping a particular highlight. It’s extraordinarily well done, very touching and filled with moments of truth which never fail to hit home in a story that is cunningly managed and beautifully tempered with empathy. Kerr is simply great. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. The ‘not done’ things are done every day. I’ve done most of them myself

True as a Turtle (1956)

True as a Turtle

You’re in a taxi rank, skipper! Newly married Tony Hudson (John Gregson) offers his young wife Jane (June Thorburn) a cruise on a yacht as a honeymoon trip with his rich industrialist friend Dudley Partridge (Cecil Parker) who is sailing with his family, insurance man Harry Bell (Keith Michell) and his wealthy landlubber girlfriend Ann (Elvi Hale). Jane suffers from chronic seasickness but agrees and they go on board the Turtle, a fine ketch which initially has difficulty leaving port. A lot of misadventures await – including Partridge’s niece Susie (Pauline Drewett) catching German measles, crossing paths with a counterfeit gaming chip scam when they arrive at the French port of Dinard and then dealing with a real pea-souper fog that just might scupper their return … I hate boats. Don’t you? Jack Davies, Nicholas Phipps and John Coates adapted Coates’ novel, a marital comedy involving a lot of messing about in boats while the newlyweds really navigate their relationship. Gregson’s casting tips the wink that this is a kind of reworking of the beloved Genevieve, with Kay Kendall’s role being taken by Hale; while there are more than a few riffs on the plot of Brandy for the Parson but director Wendy Toye has a light touch and the intrigue and setting give this its own particular charm. It’s nicely shot on location in Dorset, Hampshire, London and France by Reginald Wyer. Look out for Clement Freud playing a croupier. You’ll soon get used to things being wet

Mask (1985)

Mask

I look weird but I’m real normal. Azusa, California. It’s 1978. Roy ‘Rocky’ Dennis (Eric Stoltz) is an intelligent, outgoing and humorous teenager who suffers from a disfiguring facial deformity called “lionitis” and has now outlived his life expectancy:  he’s always being told he’s got 6 to 8 months. He’s happy go lucky and indulges his passion for baseball card collecting. His single mother Florence ‘Rusty’ Dennis (Cher) struggles to fight for his acceptance in the mainstream public school system, where he proves himself to be a highly accomplished student at junior high and wins friends by tutoring them. Though Rocky endures ridicule and awkwardness for his appearance, and the classmate he’s sweet on has a boyfriend, he dreams of travelling to Europe with his best friend Ben (Lawrence Monoson). He finds love and respect from his mother’s biker gang family the Turks and particularly likes Gar (Sam Elliott) who eventually reconciles with Rusty and moves in, frequently acting as peacemaker between mother and son. He even experiences his first love when he is persuaded to volunteer at a summer camp for blind kids where he meets Diana (Laura Dern) but then her parents try to keep them separated and Ben lets him down when he says he’s got to move to Chicago ... I want to go to every place I ever read about. Absurdly moving, this wonderfully sympathetic evocation of real-life Rocky Dennis and his mom benefits immensely from being simply told, allowing the characters and the performances to do the heavy lifting. Stoltz has such a tough role but carries it with dignity and aplomb; while Cher is a revelation as the mom whose tough love and wild lifestyle add up to a complex emotional picture. Beautifully written by Anna Hamilton Phelan and sensitively directed by Peter Bogdanovich, this is a life-affirming story of real courage and love. When something bad happens to you you’ve gotta remember the good things that happened to you

The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

The Last Time I Saw Paris

I’ve been having a bad day for a year now, maybe I’m growing up. Novelist Charles Wills (Van Johnson) returns to Paris to claim custody of his young daughter Vicki (Sandy Descher) and recalls his life there… On VE Day in Paris, American journalist Charles Wills is on the crowded streets of Paris when he meets an unknown woman Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) who kisses him and runs away. He discovers who she is when he encounters her lovely sister Marion (Donna Reed) in a cafe and is smitten. He meets their father James (Walter Pidgeon) and finds a man from the Lost Generation who is flat broke but encourages his daughters to live in his lackadaisical fashion, dreaming big dreams but making no firm plans. Charles falls in love with Helen and they marry but when he parties away the unexpected dowry from James’ oil investments it drives a wedge between them then his ambition to write a book sunders them completely … What kind of wife are you, dancing with other men?  Adapted by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and director Richard Brooks from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story Babylon Revisited, updated to after WW2, this is a wonderfully atmospheric portrait of the Lost Generation and the clash with the post-war world of the Forties generation (which altogether alters the story’s theme). Sensitive to both male and female perspectives, disappointments in life and love and tragic to the core, this is an unusual production because it’s chiefly from the perspective of the male protagonist and even if Johnson’s no dream boat he acquits himself well. Taylor is rather wonderful and Reed is equally good as the responsible older sister who settles for dull marriage to a decent man, prosecutor Claude Matine (George Dolenz). Roger Moore has a good role as Paul Lane, a tennis pro who romances Taylor; while Johnson is diverted by Eva Gabor. A good old-fashioned melodrama, beautifully made despite the constraints of the studio set. Happy VE Day. I’m sick to death of death. I want to enjoy things, have fun, live every day like it’s the last day. Wouldn’t that be nice, a lifetime full of last days?