Hampstead (2017)


What am I, your cause of the month now? Couldn’t get anywhere with global warming, no?An American widow Emily (Diane Keaton) living in the London suburb of Hampstead and an Irish man Donald (Brendan Gleeson) who lives on the Heath in an illegally erected shack form an unlikely alliance against unscrupulous property developers in the neighbourhood  as they both confront the fallout from their respective romantic entanglements … Diane Keaton has done rather well in work about ageing, particularly in the films of Nancy Meyers. Her ditzy carapace shields a core of steel and her charm is very winning, used correctly. Here she’s just doing it somewhere else – London – and she has a grown up son (James Norton) who’s relocating abroad and she’s got a mountain of debts left by her philandering husband.  Using a pair of binoculars she finds while trawling the attic to find anything she might sell to make ends meet, she spots a man being attacked on the heath. He’s the guy she spotted swimming in the pond. Their meet cute happens at Karl Marx’s grave which is a nice trope for the class and money basis of the unlikely narrative which is in all other matters pretty superficial. While her neighbour Fiona (Lesley Manville) tries to set her up with creepy ukulele-playing accountant James (Jason Watkins) who has designs on her, her campaign to save Donald from an eviction order pits her against Fiona’s property developer husband. The tone is mostly light but Donald’s character is given some heavy lines and the bear-like Gleeson does the drama here which lends this an unevenness that is inappropriate to something that otherwise might have played like a screwball comedy. Somehow he and Keaton cancel each other out instead of making a great couple. They each have great lines but the reactions are not right because they’re mostly in differing scenes. Keaton ‘becomes’ Keaton – she spots a beret in a window and eventually her drabness is transformed into a figure we know on- and offscreen as her character gains in confidence.  She now has a cause beyond her own immediate concerns about the taxman, but her occasional shrillness can’t compensate for what feels sometimes like an underwritten script by Robert Festinger:  she only gets angry at her husband’s grave and we learn at the film’s conclusion it appears Fiona likely knew about the mistress and didn’t tell Emily. Norton’s cursory appearances seem like a last minute addition and do nothing to characterise her predicament which was devised as a fictional device to complement the real story of Hampstead Heath squatter Harry Hallowes. Phil Davis and Simon Callow are terrific in the courtroom scene but this lacks the chemistry between the leads that might have pulled it up beyond its bogus plot contrivances:  even the ending has a very obvious metaphor about navigating your path in life! These fish out of water are destined to swim away from each other, methinks. Directed by Joel Hopkins.

Wolfen (1981)

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Summer’s lease really is up. Autumn is turning the leaves to red and gold and you know what? Halloween is right around the corner. Not that I need that as an excuse to watch horror movies but, you know, sometimes it helps. Particularly when it comes to the exchanging of souls, as Whitley Strieber described in his Seventies novel The Wolfen, adapted by director (former editor) Michael Wadleigh, Eric Roth and David Eyre. Albert Finney is the cop assigned to investigate deaths presumably caused by feral city animals. He and criminal psychologist Diane Venora (how wonderful is she?) find themselves amongst Native Americans who believe they have a special relationship with wolves and their leader Edward James Olmos warns them of a mythical creature and the havoc that will be wrought upon a city ripe for development … On the one hand this is a police procedural;  on the other it’s a mystical exploration of the clash of civilisation with the animal world. This mix caused immense confusion to the studio who treated it as exploitation: it’s anything but. With wonderful photography by Gerry Fisher and a resonant score by James Horner, it’s as if Peter Weir’s themes were transmitted to another continent and it’s just THIS short of being great. One of the best of the Eighties.

Nothing But the Best (1964)

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Social mobility was a 60s theme and a number of films took the baton and ran with it. This black comedy starring Alan Bates as an estate agent on the make who eventually makes a killing – literally – is very much of its era with an eye on ‘A-type ladies in E-type Jags’ as our feckless hero James Brewster espouses. A sharp picture of the time adapted by Frederic Raphael from Stanley Ellin’s story The Best of Everything. Co-star Denholm Elliott is the con who trains Brewster up; Millicent Martin is the lady he squires and she was a veteran of TV satire That Was The Week That Was (Willie Rushton can also be seen in the ensemble – and look fast for Patti Boyd). Wonderful title sequence (by James Baker) and it’s  shot by Nicolas Roeg who would of course direct Elliott 16 years later in his masterpiece, Bad Timing. Terrific.

Man About the House (1974)

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Saturday afternoon viewing, perfectly easy on the eyes right before an FA Cup match! Oh yes, it’s like the Seventies all over, with free-to-air soccer. Quite the time warp sensation, handily echoed in the wallpaper and general interior decoration (and the wonderful cars – how I want that yellow Beetle!) in this Hammer big-screen version of the popular TV series with Richard O’Sullivan as the lucky chef sharing digs with two beauties, Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett. When an unscrupulous property developer moves in on the terrace it’s up to plucky Paula and formidable landlady Yootha Joyce to mobilise the troops, despite hapless hubby Brian Murphy seeing pound signs. Arthur Lowe is the developer with Peter Cellier as his footsoldier and there are some TV jokes and a denouement at Thames Studios where Spike Milligan pops up as himself before there’s an interview with host Bill Grundy. Practically social realism now.