Last Holiday (2006)

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I’m just gonna blow it. Diagnosis of a terminal brain condition prompts introverted saleswoman Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) to reflect on what she realizes has been an overly cautious life where the biggest thrill is singing in a choir. Her health plan won’t cover treatment. She withdraws her life savings and jets off to Europe – first class, to a top hotel outside Prague – where she lives like a millionaire for the last three weeks of her life during the Christmas holiday. Upbeat and passionate, she charms everybody she meets, including renowned Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu). The only one missing from her new life in which her luck suddenly seems to be changing and her fortunes paradoxically altering for the better is her longtime crush Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) and then her medical report is reassessed … This is a remake of the J.B Priestley screenplay which was made in 1950 – starring Alec Guinness! That darkly ironic and witty piece of work is turned into something softer here with a sweetly endearing if occasionally sceptical turn by Latifah as Georgia. (It was originally meant for the late, great John Candy). The twist ending remains but in altogether more positive mode than the original. There’s a lot of fun living out Georgia’s last days doing death-defying winter sports and getting to know a pompous self-help writer. Certainly different from a trip to Dignitas…  Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman and directed by Wayne Wang, who has a way with women.

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Hot Enough for June (1964)

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Aka Agent 8 3/4.Dirk Bogarde is a louche unpublished London writer who happens to speak Czech so he’s whipped off the dole queue by British Intelligence and winds up hapless in Prague, trying to bring back a coded message he doesn’t understand, not even realising he’s been hired as a spy. This breezy spoof was one of many films riding on the coat-tails of the James Bond phenomenon and the versatile Bogarde is perfect in a role originally intended for Laurence Harvey, in this colourful mix of homage, pastiche, satire and romance, with buckets of tension as he eventually makes a connection in the Gents’ at a glass factory and makes out with the gorgeous Sylvia Koscina (making her English-language debut) who conceals her role for the secret police. There’s great byplay between spymaster Robert Morley and his opposite number, Leo McKern, and some wonderful dressing up as Bogarde tries to get back to London in one piece. Great location photography (in Padua, since the Cold War was ongoing!) by Ernest Steward distinguishes this attractive time piece. Adapted from Lionel Davidson’s The Night of Wenceslas by Lukas Heller. Directed by Ralph Thomas and produced by Betty Box, this was one of the later of their thirty-plus collaborations.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

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How much do we love Tom Cruise? So few actors (or actresses) that are truly likeable have come up in the last … twenty years? Likeability can’t really be manufactured or they’d all be at it. It’s depressing to see how many cookie-cutter performers are out there and while I’m aware studio generic fare and bad writing are contributing to the problem, who can truly say that anyone can match Cruise, Depp, Downey or Hanks? When he turned to producing and wanted to take the old TV show to the big screen, everyone thought he was mad. Until The Fugitive had the tills pinging. So he assembled a crack team: Brian De Palma to direct, and Steven Zaillian, David Koepp and Robert Towne on writing duties. Stephen Burum DPing, U2 reworking the theme as an electronic Top 10 hit. Cruise is Ethan Hunt, prime suspect in the apparent murders of his own IMF team while on assignment in Prague where the first two stunning set-pieces are staged. He teams up with two other disavowed agents, Ving Rhames and Jean Reno and they infiltrate CIA HQ in Langley in a sequence that had me breathless the first time I saw it. The film’s climax on the top of a Chunnel train is stunning. It’s an expertly plotted thriller, all bone and sinew, nothing extraneous. Nobody puts a foot wrong in the first of what has become an incredibly satisfying franchise with Cruise having the smarts to hire directors who have a kinetic, fizzy visual sense. After 20 years, it’s still brilliant. I write about it in my book about legendary Hollywood screenwriter Robert Towne: https://www.amazon.co.uk/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1471307491&sr=8-2&keywords=elaine+lennon