When Marnie Was There (2014)

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The final Studio Ghibli production is another adaptation, this time of the eponymous children’s novel by Joan G. Robinson. Transposed from its original Norfolk setting to Sapporo, it’s the story of fostered child Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) whose asthma attacks prompt her government-paid carers to send her to the seaside where she becomes drawn to an abandoned mansion across a salt marsh where she becomes faint.  There she sees the blonde-haired Marnie (voiced by Kiernan Shipka) who has blue eyes like her and they form a close bond through their experience of adversity:  Anna’s parents died years ago, Marnie’s ignore her and throw parties, leaving her in the hands of nasty household staff. Marnie wants Anna to keep everything a secret. The mansion seems abandoned still but only comes to life when Anna visits. When Anna meets an artist, Hisako, the woman looks at Anna’s sketches of Marnie and remarks that the likeness resembles a girl she knew when she was young herself … There are revelations of long-buried stories and the teary ending will have you hugging whatever comes in handy as Anna comes to terms with the reality of her real parents’ lives and her origins.  A proper, old-fashioned romance. Adapted by Masashi Ando, Keiko Niwa and Hiromasa Yonebayashi the director, who previously made Arrietty.

The Horror. The Horror.

Some soundtrack excerpts and scores to make you shiver on a Sunday afternoon.

Classical introduction to the great Thirties film by Franz Waxman.

 

Perfect mood music, if surgery takes your fancy.

 

The mother of all film scores by Bernard Herrmann.

 

The masterful Georges Auric puts the chills up one of the scariest films ever made.

 

Krzysztof Komeda’s dreamy theme to an urban nightmare.

 

A surprisingly melodic introduction to the dread rural life. By David Hess.

 

Mike Oldfield. Just cannot get this film out of my mind when I hear Tubular Bells. As it should be.

 

High school is hell. From maestro Pino Donaggio.

 

Goblin underwrite one of the great genre films.

 

John Carpenter, that man can do anything.

 

The wondrous world conjured by Werner Herzog out of Bram Stoker is given vivid life by Popol Vuh.

 

Hotels are hell. By Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind.

 

Bowie. Cats. What else do you want?

 

Echo and the Bunnymen take on The Doors and do pretty well in a very fun film.

 

A modern classic.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

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Gabba gabba hey! The kind of film you want to be brilliant but falls far short – a hodge podge of high school tropes, teen rebellion and let’s put on a show, mixed in with The Ramones – performing some of their best and worst songs. PJ Soles is the big-haired cheerleader type who’s just wild for the pre-punk rockers and is at war with the new school principal (cult star Mary Woronov) at Vince Lombardi High. 70s heart-throb Vince Van Patten (now more often to be seen on the World Poker Tour) is the geek trying to win the heart of brainiac Dey Young (sister of Leigh Taylor Young) and talks about the weather.  Soles has written a song for the band to sing but has to deal with their number one groupie (the gorgeous Lynn Farrell) when lining up for tickets to see them. There’s some OTT stuff featuring teacher Paul Bartel, a Nazi-style burning of the toxic vinyl, overgrown boy scouts working as a security detail for Woronov and some bad acting by those fake NYC bros. All the kids really want to do is dance!  Truly a cult relic but worth catching for some of the songs and the explosive finale – when the kids do what every kid ever wanted to do their own high school! A Roger Corman production based on a story by director Allan Arkush and Joe Dante with a screenplay by Richard Whitely, Russ Dvonch and Joseph McBride – the same Mr McBride is one of the better film historians with books on Orson Welles, Howard Hawks and Steven Spielberg, among others, to his impressive credit.

Back to the Future (1985)

 

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Are you telling me you made a time machine out of a DeLorean?! Simply great storytelling here in a knotty, brilliantly constructed time travel-adventure-comedy that has a great big throbbing heart bursting with love at its centre. When you consider it came from the wickedly funny minds of Roberts Gale and Zemeckis – remember the amazing Used Cars?! – it seems an even bigger achievement. Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is an average teenager in Twin Pines, a small town with a nice square boasting a clock that hasn’t worked since 1955, a cinema running soft porn, and screwed up parents with an alkie mom (Lea Thompson), a meek dad (Crispin Glover), loser sister and a thirty year old brother in a MacJob. He has a cute girlfriend, a skateboard and an eccentric friend called Doc (Christopher Lloyd) a scientist who has wasted his family’s fortune making a ‘flux capacitor’ fuelled by plutonium. Just when the nutty professor manages to prove he can travel back in time with an Eighties sports car (to die for!) the Libyans come calling and when Doc is mown down in a hail of gunfire Marty guns the engines of the DeLorean and at 88mph is catapulted back to the week the town clock stopped working in a lightning storm. He’s initially mistaken for a spaceman and finds that his housing estate is only just being constructed.  He needs to ensure that his parents get together in high school or the future will look very different as he and his siblings’ images begin to disappear from the family photo back in 1985 and Marty’s mom begins to fall for him in one of the more brilliant takes on incest in film history!  Plus he has to get back to 1985 to save Doc’s life in what is literally a race against time! … Fast, sharp-witted and brilliantly inventive, this has the kind of gleaming detail (skateboards, digital watches, Diet Pepsi, puffa jackets for 1985;  Davy Crockett, sci-fi comics, a classic diner, a Barbara Stanwyck oater at the movie theatre for 1955) that makes it almost documentary-like in resonance and relatability. The organisation of the narrative is mind-boggling when you consider the complexity of the story elements. Add in hugely likeable stars, great one-liners, and a genuine sense of fun,  this is proof that you can rewrite history and even get some very subtle revenge on the school bully!  One of the cinema’s evergreen classics, this is tonally perfect:  it just sings with joy. Brilliant.

Shuffle This!

Since too much is never enough, I’m putting up some (loosely) film-related music to complement my earlier contribution to #ShuffleTheMusic. Thanks to William at http://a1000mistakes.wordpress.com for getting me involved. Check out his seriously cool music blog!

 

  1. Les Diaboliques by Georges van Parys. I just love this, an awe-inspiring study in anticipated dread.

 

 

2. The French Connection theme by Don Ellis, one of my favourite jazz composer-performers. If you don’t know Turkish Bath prepare to be blasted into muso-freak heaven!

 

3. Sticking with a vaguely French theme, here’s one by one of my favourite European actresses, Elsa Martinelli, who carved out a parallel career in the Sixties with her cool chansons.

 

 

4. Since it’s the 50-year anniversary of the release of Bonnie and Clyde I can’t think of a better tribute than Serge Gainsbourg’s groovy homage with the swoonsome delivery of Bardot!

 

 

5. And talking about heartbreak in French how about the deeply moving theme from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg by my hero, Michel Legrand.

 

6. As I’m in a Sixties groove I’m including Henry Mancini’s theme for Charade, that Paris-set Hitchcockian murder mystery with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

 

 

 

7. Returning to Legrand, here’s the sublime theme from Summer of ’42. Sob!

 

8. Thinking of the recent demise of Glen Campbell, who co-starred in True Grit, I’m linking to Wichita Lineman, quite possibly my favourite ever song which is positively cinematic in its imagery.

 

 

9. Carlito’s Way is one of my favourite scores, composed by Patrick Doyle. Talk about tragic.

 

10.  And to conclude this afternoon’s witterings, here’s Dennis Wilson’s You Are So Beautiful  performed by Joe Cocker, which ends the same film.

Shuffle the Music!

I’ve been nominated by  William at a1000mistakes to create a playlist which is an idea that originated at  the turntable talk blog dude.

No idea how this is going to work but here goes – a random, off the top of my head list of 15 tracks of music to watch and listen to!

 

  1. Crazy Horses by The Osmonds because it’s the first song I remember!

 

2.  School’s Out by Alice Cooper which sums up everything I feel every summer despite all the years that have passed since I left it! Rad!

 

3. I Feel Love by Donna Summer. This still sounds like it comes from another planet.

 

4. Surrender by Cheap Trick. One of the great bands and I finally got to see them on their European tour in 2011. They were as thrilling as I always knew they’d be!

 

 

5. Can’t Stand Losin’ by The Police. How I loved them!

 

6. I Got You by Split Enz. Love this new wave stuff. As fresh as the day it was minted.

 

7. Quiet Life by Japan. David Sylvian. Top of the Pops on Thursday nights. Once upon a time this was everything …

 

 

8. Party Fears Two by The Associates. Probably my favourite song of the Eighties. Incredible.

 

 

9. Take Me With U by Prince is probably my favourite of all of his – and goodness knows there’s a lot to choose from.

 

10. Welcome to the Boomtown by David and David. A compelling song about a great city.

 

 

11. Never Tear Us Apart by INXS. Simply epic.

12. I’m Not Scared by Eighth Wonder/Pet Shop Boys with Patsy Kensit. Just discotastically perfect.

 

13. Freak Scene by Dinosaur Jr. was a transitional song into another era. Loved them live!

 

 

14. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. Because for me the music died … You know.

 

 

15. And because this is a movie diary I’ve got to put up a score … so it’s Georges Delerue’s theme for Jean Luc Godard’s Le Mepris/Contempt.

Thanks to William for nominating me. I hope the links work … The buck stops here! Goodnight from beneath a very starry sky in the northern hemisphere.

 

Elvis Aaron Presley 01/08/1935-08/16/1977

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It was forty years ago today that Elvis Presley died. His film career echoed his musical life – the early films were better and some approached classic status:  Jailhouse Rock is a great musical, while his very first performance, in Love Me Tender, was impressive, a reminder that James Dean was his hero. His own favourite film remained King Creole but there were so many afterwards, thanks to the influence of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Some are cult favourites, some are terrible, some are great for kids and thus endeared him to me at an impressionable age (It Happened at the World’s Fair, Paradise Hawaiian Style), while some were instrumental in bringing huge tourist numbers to Hawaii! The better ones like GI Blues have wonderful songs or a great romantic pairing like Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas. Two didn’t have musical numbers at all and he was able to flex his acting muscle – Flaming Star, Wild in the Country – and very good he was too. Just as his musical choices became more baroque, his movies became ropy and questionable albeit some are redeemed by their settings (Speedway) or their lunatic elements (Harum Scarum).  There was one very good late film, with Mary Tyler Moore, Change of Habit, but it’s a very long time since I’ve seen it and would love to reappraise it. His screen legacy has been inherited by the wonderful actress (Danielle) Riley Keough, his granddaughter. But there’s only one Elvis. The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

 

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.

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

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Aka Love in Las Vegas. The legendary pairing of The King with Ann-Margret is literally the whole show in a town full of them. Even for an Elvis film the storyline is surprisingly weak but the eye-poppingly colourful scene-setting by supreme stylist George Sidney mitigates the problem. Elvis  is Lucky Jackson, a talented singer and driver whose luck has run out so he’s in Vegas to raise money to take part in the Grand Prix. He sees dancer and swimming instructor Rusty (A-M) and is smitten. But so is his rival, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova). Lucky and Rusty do some sightseeing around the Hoover Dam – nice helicopter views – and we learn a little about Nevada and her good relationship with her father (William Demarest).  Lucky winds up losing all his money in the hotel pool and having to earn his living as a waiter which leads to some nice slapstick serving Rusty and Elmo. Then his luck turns and there is the climactic race across the desert which is pretty well shot and there are some disasters along the route … The songs are terrific and the sequences of the city and casinos are wonderful. You can see Teri Garr in a bit part as a showgirl at one point but the most surprising element is that this was written by Sally Benson, responsible for Meet Me in St Louis. And then there’s the real-life romance between Elvis and Ann-Margret! In the film they marry at the Little Church of the West, the oldest wedding chapel in Vegas.

Donnie Darko (2001)

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This came out right after 9/11 which was its misfortune. It has a rather extraordinary plane crash and it wasn’t that that made me relate to it entirely but it was a factor – one of my most vivid and disturbing dreams concerned a crash in my neighbourhood but that was in the aftermath of the Avianca crash on Long Island in 1990 and I remember afterwards reading in a column that nobody should eat bluefish for rather obvious reasons…. I digress. This begins with one of two songs by two of my favourite bands because there are two versions of the edit. So you see Jake Gyllenhaal cycling through his suburban neighbourhood either to Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon or INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart:  both forever songs, in my book. He’s a teen who’s off his meds and talks to Frank, a man dressed as a  giant rabbit in the bathroom mirror. Problem is, the rabbit can control him and as he searches for the meaning of life and his big sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) bugs him and his little sister pursues her dancing ambition and everyone quarrels about voting for Michael Dukakis (because it’s 1988), he starts tampering with the water main flooding his school, a plane crashes into their house and he resents the motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) who enters the students’ lives while the inspiring Graham Greene story The Destructors is being censored by the PTA.  He burns down the man’s house and the police find a stash of kiddie porn and arrest him. Donnie’s interest in time travel leads him to the former science teacher (Patience Cleveland) aka Grandma Death but his friendship with her leads the school bullies to follow him and she is run down – by Frank. Donnie shoots him.  When he returns to his house a vortex is forming and a plane is overhead and things go into reverse … and Donnie is in bed, just as he was 28 days earlier, when the story starts … Extraordinary, complex, nostalgic, blackly funny and startlingly true to teenage behaviour and perception and life in the burbs, I know there are websites dedicated to explaining this but I don’t care about that. Just watch it. And wonder how Richard Kelly could possibly make anything this good again. Stunning.