Letters to Juliet (2010)

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I know what you’re going to say because you saw this and you know, it’s no good. But hey! The temperatures have plummeted to almost absolute zero, there’s driving rain and the wind is cutting through my ability to discern truth from reality TV this week, but… It’s Italy! Verona! It’s romantic! There’s food and drink and sunshine! And some very bad acting. Amanda Seyfriend wants to make her name as a journalist instead of just fact-checking at The New Yorker, her fiancé chef Gael Garcia Bernal wants to research wines for his new restaurant so they decamp to the most beautiful country in the world. And she gets involved in the team of secretaries who write back to those lovelorn gals and guys who want romantic advice from Juliet (maybe they think a) she’s real b) she’s still alive after that poisoning incident) and reunites a couple who lost each other decades earlier … The idea for the film was inspired by the 2006 non-fiction book Letters to Juliet, by Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman, which chronicles the phenomenon of letter-writing to Shakespeare’s most famous romantic heroine. Gael gets lost in vino, Vanessa Redgrave gives one of her battiest ever performances (and that’s saying something) and she’s back together with real-life love, Django himself, the delectable Franco Nero (together for the first time since Camelot), in a sub-plot that has the distinct ring of truth from their own experience. Amanda gets to reinvent her own romantic story with Vanessa’s grandson. There’s some seriously bad production design – couldn’t they have faked a better view of the famous balcony?! I’ve been there and I know the restrictions but it’s the movies! Written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan, directed by Gary Winick. There were some major tricks missed here storywise. Terrible. But lovely, if you know what I mean. I know that you do!

Gonks Go Beat (1965)

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The Sixties were so wild and funky that someone thought a psychedelic pop interpretation of Romeo and Juliet set in space would be just the thing. A world in which Terry Scott is Prime Minister, Arthur Mullard the Drum Master and the Graham Bond Organisation is the house band can only be described with one word – CRAZY! The first British sci-fi musical and quite as bad as that sounds. Written by Jimmy Watson and director Robert Hartford-Davis, whom we encountered with The Fiend/Beware My Brethren.

Happy 100th Birthday Olivia de Havilland 1st July 2016!

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“Walking through life with you, ma’am, has been a very gracious thing.” Errol Flynn’s final onscreen lines to Ms de Havilland in They Died With Their Boots On. Two-time Academy Award winner, rebel, survivor, lady and the better half of one of the most glorious screen couples. She is part of our classical Hollywood dream and we are all the better for sharing it. Thank you and Happy Birthday!

Ran (1985)

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How you feel about Shakespeare is by and large dictated by how you were taught English at high school – well or not. In my own case that would be both, probably most people’s experience.  King Lear is not my favourite (who doesn’t love Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet?) but Akira Kurosawa’s interpretation transferred to mediaeval Japan (by Kurosawa and Hideo Oguni) is pretty sensational – if you get past the humdrum first hour (and yes, it’s very long). An aged warlord divides up his kingdom amongst his sons, pitting them against one another. The dispossessed one remains loyal to his father (ain’t that the truth) and the others drive the land into chaos (ran). There’s a splendidly malevolent daughter in law (Mieko Harada) to drive them all to rack and ruin and the battles are spectacular. Beautifully made but use the fast forward for the first parts (you really won’t miss much) – sacrilege, I know!

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

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The vogue for interpreting classic texts and placing them in modern high school settings started with the peerless Clueless. Among the films that followed, this is pretty much in the top two. It’s an ingenious take on The Taming of the Shrew (adapted by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith) with the two battling daughters now in school in Seattle and a conscientious if obsessive widowed ob-gyn dad (beautifully played by Larry Miller) trying to control them and their dating lives. Julia Stiles is a find as Kat, Larisa Oleynik does a good job as younger sis Bianca but it’s the charisma machine that was the late, great Heath Ledger that really leaps off the screen as Patrick, the bane/love of Kat’s life. When he bursts into song it’s something. Excellently handled by director Gil Junger.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

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All Shakespeare should be this good to watch. Meticulously adapted (by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Paul Dehn and director Franco Zeffirelli), staged, photographed, scored and performed, this is just magic. Originally intended for La Loren and Mastroianni, the director instead got the most notorious couple of all time (barring Cleopatra and Mark Anthony – oh!) and according to his memoirs had the most fun he’d ever had making a film.Barnstorming, bawdy stuff. And Zeffirelli would return to the Bard again the next year, with Romeo and Juliet, casting Michael York once again in a key supporting role.