Sliver (1993)

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Get a life. Book editor Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) moves into the exclusive building on East 38th St in NYC – but her resemblance to the previous resident in her apartment Naomi Singer (Allison Mackie) gets her strange glances:  Singer supposedly threw herself off the balcony. Carly is quickly befriended by an elderly academic who tells her he suspects murder and then he’s found dead in his shower. Novelist Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) hits on her but he seems to be particularly close to next door neighbour model Vida (Polly Walker). And Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin) also takes a fancy to Carly and she to him. Soon they’re having sex – and being watched. Because Zeke likes to watch. He has a bank of surveillance monitors since he owns the building and rigged every apartment. He shows Carly what’s going on in everyone’s apartment and tells her Jack was involved with Naomi. Then she finds Jack with Vida in the stairwell after Vida has been stabbed and calls the police. Adapted by Joe Eszterhas from Ira Levin’s novel, this was extensively reshot for censorship purposes – and changed the killer. So whatever point the film may have had about the links between voyeurism, the surveillance society, the sex drive and the uncontrollable urge to kill is erased. Not just daft but utterly sleazy. Ho hum. Watch Rear Window instead. Directed by Philip Noyce.

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Less Than Zero (1987)

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Clay (Andrew McCarthy) is back in Los Angeles for Christmas following his first semester at college and finds that his ex-girlfriend Blair (Jami Gertz) is now using cocaine and his best friend Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) whom he found sleeping with Blair over Thanksgiving is a serious cokehead indebted to the tune of $50,000 to the nasty Rip (James Spader – frighteningly reasonable) who runs a rent boy ring and gets his creditors to service his clients. This portrait of life in the higher-earning echelons of LA is chilling. Bret Easton Ellis’ iconic novel is a talisman of the mid-late Eighties coming of age set and the icy precision of his affectless prose is inimitable. Once read, never forgotten. Harley Peyton’s screenplay is a fair adaptation but the casting lets this down – with the exception of Downey who is simply sensational as the tragic Julian, gifted with a record company for graduation by his father (Nicholas Pryor) and then simply dumped when he screws up.  This lovable loser’s mouth drools with the effects of his addiction when rehab doesn’t work and he spirals unhappily trying to bum money off his uncle to open a nightclub. Watch the scene when he talks to Clay’s little sister as though she’s a lover who’s pushing him away – knockout. The Beverly Hills scene with its horrible parents and their multiple marriages and awkward dinners with exes and stepchildren, making teenagers grow up too fast, is all too real.  While McCarthy and Gertz just don’t really work – McCarthy’s supposed to be a vaguely distanced observer but he doesn’t convey much beyond a bemused smile, Gertz looks confused and both look too old – the shooting style is cool and superficial, like the lives it critiques. Directed by Marek Kanievska.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

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In the summer of 1958 several layers of Roman society collided in the flashing lightbulbs of celebrity, with Hollywood actors, aristocrats, drug dealers, designers, artists, writers, prostitutes, journalists and street photographers engaging in salacious conflicts that kept several scandal rags going with outrageous tales of a demimonde that seemed to congregate around the Via Veneto. Federico Fellini was taking note. A photograph of Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi Fountain seemed to encapsulate the scene and a story took root in his brain. Along with Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi and some uncredited assistance from Pier Paolo Pasolin, he came up with the script that would define the time and the place like no other. Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) is the urbane gossip journalist who secretly hankers after the life of his intellectual friend Steiner (Alain Cuny, playing a character loosely based on Cesare Pavese) but cannot cease his lifestyle of instant gratification. The opening shot is stunning:  a helicopter is taking a statue of Christ across a football field surrounded by ancient ruins, and chased by another helicopter. All at once the image shows us Rome ancient, imperial and modern, and God is leaving the city, opening up a world of self-indulgence. Marcello is in the second chopper and dallies with some beauties sunbathing on a roof. Right there we have some very economical socio-cultural analysis about contemporary values.  38 minutes in, the film’s raison d’etre occurs:  Fellini re-stages the Ekberg image, starring Ekberg herself. Surely this is the ultimate post-modern shot in cinema. This is a very glamorous film about incredible people in a state of pure decadence. It was much criticised at local level but Fellini had tapped into fascism’s true expression – the cultivation of image above meaning, the use of culture to promote an antithetical belief system, the failure of humanity, mob rule. Popular culture was the vehicle through which fascism was transmitted. Fellini was working as a caricaturist during Mussolini’s alliance with the Nazis, he was involved with several of the neorealist classics made right after the war and he had already made a couple of classic films:  his concept of reality did not mean the subtraction of meaning. Christening the scattini (street photographers) Paparazzo was only the start of it. He understood the power of voyeurism. Marcello’s disenchantment as he pursues his personal satyricon is groundbreaking and inimitable. The role changed Mastroianni, as he admitted. You cannot walk through Rome and not see it as it is here – ironically, Fellini recreated most of it at Cinecitta (a Mussolini factory that lured so many American filmmakers to free up their frozen profits and enjoy the sweet life):  that’s how I discovered the real Via Veneto is very hilly.  Rome is Fellini, Fellini is Rome. And as for Nino Rota’s score! As Jonathan Jones said some years ago, Fellini thought of everything first. We are still catching up. Simply great.

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My review of Shawn Levy’s book Dolce Vita Confidential which excavates in scrupulous detail the circumstances leading up to the film’s production is here:  http://offscreen.com/view/dolce-vita-swinging-rome.

Zoolander 2 (2016)

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Adam, Eve and … Steve. It’s a long time since we first met Derek and tried Blue Steel and social media appears to have radically filtered our narcissistic reality in the interim but this isn’t exactly Chanel No. 5 no matter how you cut the advertising. Justin Bieber never did anything to me but a lot of people enjoyed watching him getting machine gunned to death in the first few minutes. The setting in Rome is delectable. The cast are game. It’s a supremely silly satire about fashion vanity and everyone you have ever heard of is in it. YOU are probably in it. The story is about Fashion Interpol – run by Penelope Cruz – who get Derek and Hansel to help uncover the villain behind the assassination of pop stars. Derek finds his son in an orphanage and is horrified by his obesity. Hansel has fathered a bunch of children in Malibu (presumably an in-joke). Sting meets the irrelevant pair at St Peter’s and tells them an alternative tale of models’ origins which has a vague similarity to Christianity. Mugatu is back attempting world domination. Funny, daft, utterly inane. What did you expect?! Written by John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, Justin Theroux and Ben Stiller, who also directed.

The Naked Truth (1957)

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Aka Your Past Is Showing.The wonderfully smooth Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price) is a London tabloid magazine publisher who makes a fortune blackmailing his subjects to stop horrible stories about them going to press. After a couple of his targets expire – naturally and by suicide, he goes after a new lot of slebs:  TV star and fake Scot, Sonny McGregor (Peter Sellers), Lord Henry Mayley (Terry-Thomas), novelist Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount) and model Melissa Wright (Shirley Eaton). After some very funny schemes taken independently to tackle this noxious man (who drives a very neat car), they team up to try and take him down rather than pay him off. Sellers gives his first truly comic feature performance, with an array of impersonations which would be a preview of later work, including an almost Behan-like trip to a Dublin pub looking for gelignite, as you do. There’s a very amusing sendup of Agatha Christie by Joan Hurley. Written by Michael Pertwee and directed by Mario Zampi, who gets an amusing shoutout by Terry-Thomas prior to the ill-fated conclusion. A product of its time but gives you a clue as to why some of those cleaner-than-thou names appear with alarming regularity at the Daily Mail‘s annual yacht party at Cannes, hmm???

In & Out (1997)

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I miss Premiere magazine so much. Once a month,that cellophane-wrapped thud on the hall floor, after the postman had been by, struck joy in my heart. Specifically, I miss Paul Rudnick, that grade-A satirist whose campy sendups made me whoop with laughter. He was Libby Gelman-Waxner! But lo! Hollywood really did come calling to him hence his spot-on insider comments and this exquisitely rendered smalltown gayfest is true to classical tradition yet ever so sweetly rubs the generic nose in contemporary mores. Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is the inspirational smalltown Indiana high school English teacher who’s outed at the Academy Awards by his dimwit former student Hollywood actor Cameron Drake  (Matt Dillon) despite being three days from his very straight wedding to formerly fat colleague Emily Montgomery  (Joan Cusack). His wrist literally becomes limp when he’s called gay in front of billions of people. Mom Debbie Reynolds and dad Wilford Brimley want the wedding to go ahead and he’s sure he does too until showbiz correspondent Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) waltzes into town with the other paparazzi  – and stays. Just wait for the Selleck-Kline clinch! Howard’s Barbra Streisand-themed stag night is all for naught as he recognises his true nature and battles with the authorities to keep his job while his students eventually do an ‘I Am Spartacus’ act at graduation and Cameron rides back into town in his white sports car to save the day. Great fun, hilarious jibes and Kline gives an extraordinarily precise comic performance in a beautifully rendered upside-down satire of American family movies. Reynolds is especially good as the mother who will just die without a day in church. This was of course inspired by Tom Hanks’ unwitting outing of his former high school teacher when he was collecting the Oscar for Philadelphia. Adeptly directed by comedy expert Frank Oz.

Sweet Charity (1969)

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Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) was an enormously popular Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film in which his real-life wife Giulietta Masina played a naive Roman hooker with a heart of gold who keeps falling for the wrong men. Neil Simon took the material and adapted it into a Broadway show which became Bob Fosse’s directing debut, a smashing musical romp through NYC from the perspective of the exuberant kooky taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine, played by Shirley MacLaine in an extraordinary performance. The songs by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields are unforgettable and staged in graphic, distinctive style – Hey, Big Spender, Rhythm of Life (Sammy Davis Jr!) and MacLaine’s signature song, If They Could See Me Now, to name but a few. Songs to die for! And most homes had this soundtrack album in the Seventies. If you can get past some unfortunate shot choices in the opening sequence by Robert Surtees – dissolves and zooms, very Sixties! – you can earn some balm for your troubled soul.  Screenplay by one of my very favourite people, Peter Stone, with costumes by Edith Head and a great supporting cast in Chita Rivera and Stubby Kaye and John McMartin but Shirley’s the whole show!

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

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With Bridget Jones back in our lives like it was 2001 all over again, surely it was time for those other old drunk birds Patsy and Edina to re-enter the fray, this time on the big screen. The Four Js are back and it’s much as before – a small idea stretched too far but with enough funny moments to make you realise you missed them. Edina (writer/creator Jennifer Saunders) is no longer a hot London PR – she’s only got Lulu, Baby Spice and a boutique vodka to her name and her memoirs are rubbished by a prospective editor. Patsy  (Joanna Lumley) hears from her editor Magda (Kathy Burke) that Kate Moss needs new representation so Edina uses her half-African wealthy granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holmes) as bait. Unfortunately it goes wrong and Edina ends up pushing the world’s most famous model into the Thames. Threatened with prison for manslaughter and the pariah of the whole world and not just the world of PR/fashion, she and Patsy decide to go on the run to the South of France (bien sur) where Mother (June Whitfield) is partying, with Saffy (Julia Sawalha) and her boyfriend DI Nick (Robert Webb) on their tails as they come up with an ingenious idea for a profitable marriage and a whole new life of luxe involving a drag act … Aside from the usually silent and Garboesque La Belle Moss, there are as many slebs here as you’ll find in Vivienne Westwood’s diaries:  models, designers, actors (with a couple of great cameos) as well as the usual suspects and a brilliant opportunity (not used enough IMHO) to see the inside of Pierre Cardin’s fabulous bubble (a propos…!) house in Saint Tropez. It’s as rackety as the series always was, Joanna Lumley the whole show with her deathray stare – but weirdly (given the plot) no reference to a famous episode when she admitted to a sex change in Morocco back in the day. For cult TV afficionados Wanda Ventham (Sherlock’s mum) makes a welcome appearance and for the yoof there’s Glee’s Chris Colfer and the cool factor is supplied by Jon Hamm reliving his de-virginizing at Patsy’s hands:  he’s stunned she’s still alive. There’s not much new here and the story is as coke-thin as a supermodel, nor is it well directed by TV veteran Mandie Fletcher, making just her second film, paired once again with Jane Horrocks (Bubble) from Deadly Advice two decades ago.At its essence this is a movie about two women who are best friends lumbered with people who don’t want to have fun any more. However in a year of few good films this fashion flick is like water in a desert. And I gasped at the Botox injection scene (yikes!) Welcome back, ladies. God I miss the Nineties!

Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

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Giulietta Masina suspects that her event manager husband is a philanderer and a mystic confirms her worst fears so she hires a private eye to follow him and get the proof. That’s it, in a nutshell. Except it’s SO much more. She’s more contained, conventional, bourgeois than her cliquey flamboyant friends who show up to have a seance to celebrate her birthday. They all have artistic lives, huge hats, exotic lovers and her equally worldly sisters have beautiful little children to add injury to insult. The woman next door entertains her lovers in a tree house:  when Giulietta returns her cat she demurs from their offer to join them. She enters a world of fantasy and flashback, frequently finding an amusing correlative on TV for her woes and Fellini indulges his wife’s character in all kinds of daydreams and psychic excursions, memories of frightening nuns from childhood, intimations of sex in a brothel. She’s so different from the artificial environment in which she finds herself which is incredibly photographed and looking as fresh as if it were made yesterday. The images are like jolts to the senses:  this was the maestro’s first feature in colour and boy did he revel in its painterly possibilities with Gianni De Venanzo’s cinematography making pictures that sing. Critics argue about the film’s significance and whether it was his explanation to Masina for his own extra-marital life, but it is sheerly wondrous, a throwback to when films mattered.

Zoolander (2001)

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Y’all know this one:  Derek Zoolander is the thickest man on the planet – he’s a model, doh! So he’s recruited by evil designer Mugatu as a Manchurian candidate to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia (the cue is Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax). The centrepiece of the movie is his walk-off against fierce rival Hansel, moderated by David Bowie (he loses.) Another highlight is the meeting with conspiracy theorist David Duchovny who used to be the world’s greatest hand model. And what about the guys playing with gasoline hoses at the forecourt and then lighting a cigarette … Yikes! The looks are of course legend – Blue Steel is how Derek made his name! The aphorisms are hilarious, the set ups are to die for and you know, above all, Moisture is the essence of wetness and wetness is the essence of beauty. I know you know that because I’m telepathic: bulimia is so cool. Anyone who read Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama knows that this was lifted pretty wholesale and uncredited (they settled out of court). But this is way funnier! If you don’t crack up better check your pulse, dude.Directed by Ben Stiller and written by him, Drake Sather (yeah, right) and John Hamburg. And Bret Easton Ellis.