A Man and a Woman (1966)


Aka Un homme et une femme. If I had to go through this again what would I do? Widowed script girl Anne Gauthier (Anouk Aimee) travels from her home in Paris to Deauville to visit her little girl Francoise (Souad Amidou) at boarding school in Deauville. She accepts a lift back with racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc who is a widower visiting his little boy Antoine (Antoine Sire). A friendship blossoms into romance but she can’t tell him her husband Pierre (Pierre Barouh) is dead and speaks of Pierre in the present tense, confusing their perceptions of each other. His wife Valerie (Valerie Lagrange) committed suicide when she saw him in a near-fatal accident and believed he died. But he survived. Now when he races in icy conditions on the Riviera in the Monte Carlo rally Anne watches the coverage on the radio (voiced by presenter Gerard Sire, father of Antoine) and sends him a telegram saying she loves him and he drives back north in his Mustang to see her  …  Why? Just your everyday story of a widowed script girl meeting cute with a widowed racing driver. From this slim premise evolved a glorious melodrama. Two of the most beautiful people to ever grace the earth in a romantic movie about movie-making and romance: this is how the Nouvelle Vague was repackaged and commercialised by writer/director Claude Lelouch and it was a cultural phenomenon in its day, a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film and Original Screenplay as well as a huge box office success on both sides of the Atlantic. Shot quickly with just seven crew on a low budget, the flashy techniques were born of necessity. Different black and white film stocks were used until an American distributor contributed more money upfront enabling Lelouch to buy colour film. The old cameras used had to be covered in blankets to protect them from wintry damp – there was a lot of rain on those supposedly exotic resort locations: the antithesis of glamour. Yet did any actors ever wear sheepskin coats so well?! Trintignant was on board first and it was he who suggested Aimee as his co-star when Lelouch asked him who would be his ideal woman. They were old friends. When she closes her eyes during their scenes of radiant intimacy she paradoxically creates an even more empathetic heroine, this woman who can’t come to terms with her husband’s death.  This is always about how the mind works to permit people to fall in love in the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy. Danger underlines everything – these men who love Anne dally with it in their daily occupations. Hope is a little beyond her, the future unthinkable.  Isn’t death the ultimate subject of all art? The film’s conclusion was kept secret from Aimee:  that’s real surprise registering on her gravely luminous face. The score by Francis Lai is simply unforgettable. It was written before the production commenced and Lelouch used playback during the scenes to inspire the performers who where encouraged to improvise their dialogue. Lelouch said of working with Trintignant: I think Jean-Louis is the actor who taught me how to direct actors. We really brought each other a lot. He changed his method of acting while working with me, and I began to truly understand what directing actors was all about, working with him. I think the relationship between a director and actor is the same relationship as in a love story between two people. One cannot direct an actor if you do not love him or her. And he cannot be good if he or she does not love you in turn.  How astonishing has Trintignant been in the evolution of contemporary romantic dramas? Starting with And God Created Woman, A Man and A Woman, through Amour, he is the cornerstone of how we perceive the male psyche from the 1950s onwards. He will celebrate his 90th birthday December 2020. Co-written with Pierre Uytterhoeven. Not just a film, this is a landmark in cinema. If you ever find yourself in Deauville you can book into the suite named for the film at the Hotel Barriere Le Normandy. Some Sundays start well and end badly

Little Nikita (1988)

I was crossing into the west before you could spell bolshevik. Jeffrey Nicolas Grant (River Phoenix) is a cocky hyperactive teen living in a suburb of San Diego with his parents Richard (Richard Jenkins) and Elisabeth (Caroline Kava) who run a garden centre. Ambitious and keen to fly, Jeff has applied for entry to the Air Force Academy. During a routine background check on Jeff, FBI agent Roy Parmenter (Sidney Poitier) finds contradictory information on his parents, who have adopted identities of people dead a hundred years, making him suspect that all is not as it should be especially given the present whereabouts of a Soviet agent Konstantin Karpov (Richard Bradford) on the trail of a rogue agent Scuba (Richard Lynch) apparently killing off all the Soviet sleepers in the US. Further investigations reveal that the Grants may be sleeper agents too. Unable to arrest them as they have not done anything illegal, Roy continues his investigation, moves into the house across the street from the Grant family, and worms his way into Jeff’s confidence, eventually confronting Jeff with his suspicions and seeking his cooperation to learn more about his parents. Jeff is soon forced to accept the facts and discovers that his real name is Nikita. Meanwhile Karpov is moving closer to home and Scuba is heading straight for the Grants … Straight As. Tells his friends he gets Cs. A coming of age tale with a difference. Written by Bo Goldman and John Hill the intriguing premise is let down somewhat by the uneven directing from actor Richard Benjamin and the conclusion. Phoenix impresses as the brash teen who isn’t remotely what he thinks he is while Jenkins and Kava perfectly capture the fear implied by the big reveal. It all ends predictably enough with respect between Poitier and Bradford winning out over the presumed quarry. For Phoenix fans this is of course the perfect companion piece to the comparable but superior Running On Empty, released 6 months later, another story about a teenager on the cusp of adulthood whose parents’ politics are dangerously problematic. Shot by the legendary Laszlo Kovacs with an occasionally discordant score from Marvin Hamlisch, there’s a fabulous sequence of the Sleeping Beauty ballet choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. You’re not my father. You’re not even my friend

The Last Picture Show (1971)

Everything is flat and empty here. There’s nothing to do. In 1951 Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are high-school seniors and friends inAnarene, North Texas. Duane is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), who Sonny considers the prettiest girl in town. Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend Charlene Duggs. Over the Christmas holiday Sonny begins an affair with lonely Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) the depressed wife of high-school “Coach” Popper (Bill Thurman) who is secretly gay. At the Christmas dance Jacy is invited by Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid) to a naked indoor pool party at the home of Bobby Sheen (Gary Brockette) a wealthy young man who seems a better romantic prospect than Duane. Bobby tells Jacy that he isn’t interested in virgins and to come back after she’s had sex. Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) bans the boys from his cafe, pool hall and cinema when they mistreat their retarded friend Billy (Sam Bottoms) taking him to a prostitute who beats him for making a mess. Sam dies while the boys are on a road trip to Mexico and leaves his property to different people, including Sonny. Jacy invites Duane for sex in a motel and eventually breaks up with him by phone, eventually losing her viriginity on a pool table to her mother’s lover Abilene (Clu Gulager). Sonny fights with Duane over Jacy  and Duane leaves town to work on the rigs out of town. Jacy sets her sight on Sonny and they elope to her parents’ fury. The war in Korea provides an escape route for Duane but there’s one last picture show on before the cinema closes down forever … Nothing’s ever the way it’s supposed to be at all. They say the third time’s the charm and so it was for neophyte director Peter Bogdanovich in this adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s novel about kids growing up in small town North Texas which he co-wrote with the author as well as wife Polly Platt, who was the production designer and collaborator with Bogdanovich on all his films. (Then he fell in love with his young leading lady Shepherd, but that’s another story). The film was shot in black and white following advice from Orson Welles, Bogdanovich’s house guest at the time (and the best book on Welles derives from this era of their wide-ranging conversations, This Is Orson Welles, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum).  The cinematography rendered by Robert Surtees is simply exquisite, the attention to detail extraordinary but this is no nostalgic trip down memory lane. The universally pitch-perfect performances exist in this very specific texture as a kind of miracle, duly rewarding Johnson and Leachman at the Academy Awards. But Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s mom Lois has some of the best lines and delivers them with power. She and Shepherd have one amazing scene together. This is a coming of age movie but it’s also about ageing and loneliness and deception and disappointment and it’s the acknowledging of the sliding scale of desperation where the emotions hit gold. And there are juxtapositions which still manage to shock – like when Sonny looks out the window to see one horse mount another while a great romantic poem is being read in class. The realisation that Sam’s great love was Lois and vice versa. The callous way sexual manipulation is used as a casual transaction for the bored. There were controversies over scenes of sex and nudity which didn’t make it into the initial release but those parts were restored in 1992 by Bogdanovich so that the full potential of the story could be contextualised. A poignant Fordian masterpiece now firmly imprinted as an American classic.  You couldn’t believe how this country’s changed

Pain and Glory (2019)

Aka Dolor y gloria. I don’t recognise you, Salvador. Film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is ageing and in decline, suffering from illness and writer’s block. He recalls episodes in his life that led him to his present situation – lonely, sick – when the Cinematheque runs a film Sabor he made 32 years earlier with actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) and they haven’t spoken since due to the performer’s drug use. But now Salva is in pain and following the reunion with Alberto prompted by his old friend Zulema (Cecilia Roth) will take anything he can including heroin to ease his pain from multiple disabling illnesses. He recalls his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) working hard to put food on the table;  moving into a primitive cave house; his days as a chorister whose voice was so beautiful he skipped class to rehearse and got through school knowing nothing, learning geography on his travels as a successful filmmaker. Now he is forced to confront all the crises in his life and his mother is dying … Writing is like drawing, but with letters. Pedro Almodovar’s late-life reflectiveness permeates a story that must have roots in his own experience. His protege Banderas gives a magnificent performance as the director pausing in between heroin hits and choking from an unspecified ailment to consider his path. The stylish visuals that often overwhelm Almodovar’s dramas are used just enough to textually express the core of the film’s theme – love, and the lack of it. Life is just a series of moments and they are recounted here with clear intent, plundering the past in order to reclaim the present. A triumph. Love is not enough to save the person you love

Ordinary Love (2019)

How do you say to someone, Don’t die? Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) Thompson are a happy, long-married couple who enjoy a quiet life until she discovers a mass in her breast and makes an appointment to see a doctor who confirms she has a lump. When it is removed along with many lymph nodes she then proceeds to have chemotherapy. Her recovery is difficult and painful and she befriends the terminally ill teacher Peter (David Wilmot) of her late daughter. Her hair falls out, her temper frays and she and Tom have a major argument when she is at a low point and taunt each other.  They have a nice night together and make love before her double mastectomy. After Peter’s death they prepare for Christmas and decide to invite Peter’s boyfriend to join them … Putting sick people together:  how is that going to make anybody feel better? Even a marriage of kindness and vulnerability can hit a rocky patch. Facing up to a cancer diagnosis can bring out the worst in anyone, even briefly. Asking tough questions of a doctor when it’s not your illness makes you the rude guy; likening your bystander role to that of the person being mutilated and burned in operating theatres and treatment rooms makes you intolerable. For a while. This is also a story about bereavement and a Sixties Modernist house empty of personal touches because a child died, we’re not sure when. Even the goldfish dies. Death is contagious, it seems. And in the midst of that atmosphere somehow a marriage of true friends carries on, through hospital appointments, surgeries, horrific medical solutions and the deaths of other people in the ward. Manville and Neeson are tremendous in a subtle piece of writing by Owen McCafferty. Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn and filmed in Northern Ireland, with a score co-written by producer David Holmes.  A triumph of intimacy, in the best sense. You’d rather be worse than better

Dangerous Minds (1995)

Dangerous Minds theatircal

Who are these kids – rejects from Hell? Divorced former US Marine LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to resume her teacher training and her ex-husband’s friend Hal Griffith (George Dzundza) lands her an interview at his inner city high school. To her surprise she is hired on the spot and soon finds out why. In this ‘academy’ class of black and Latino teens from impoverished backgrounds, involved in gangs and drugs she is met with a wall of sullen indifference. She dresses in leather and teaches them karate and then ditches traditional class and tries to teach them poetry using Bob Dylan’s work. She goes to the home of Raoul Sanchero (Renoly Santiago) to tell his family they should be proud of him. She tries to stop pregnant Callie (Bruklin Harris) from dropping out. She attempts to save the life of Emilio (Wade Dominquez) from a revenge shooting but the headmaster (Courtney B. Vance) and his rules about knocking on doors costs the boy his life… All you gotta do is get their attention – or quit.  Adapted from the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by retired US Marine LouAnne Johnson, this is an upbeat update of material familiar from The Blackboard Jungle and To Sir With Love but with a rap soundtrack and a boyz in the ‘hood feel. If Pfeiffer never has to unpack her military training and really engage physically at the level of tough love promised with that background (she’s got training in marketing and PR, too, natch), there are sufficient moments of danger in the smooth screenplay by Ronald Bass but nothing too worrisome in a narrative that manages to inflict as many stereotypes as it is presuming to unpick. Sentimental, good-natured and resolved rather well even if you think the songs on the soundtrack are the poetry that would really appeal to this particular audience who roll over far too easily at the prospect of a rollercoaster ride and a free meal. Directed by John N. Smith. So you start out all wrong and just keep going

Hurry Sundown (1966)

Hurry Sundown

I’m home. I’m really home.  In 1946, bigoted, draft-dodging, gold-digging Henry Warren (Michael Caine) and his heiress, land-owning wife Julie Ann (Jane Fonda) are determined to sell their land in rural Georgia to owners of a northern canning plant but the deal rests on selling two adjoining plots as well, one owned by Henry’s cousin, returning veteran Rad McDowell (John Philip Law) and his wife Lou (Faye Dunaway, in her film debut); the other by black farmer Reeve Scott (Robert Hooks) whose prematurely aged and sick mother Rose (Beah Richards) had been Julie’s wet nurse. Neither farmer is interested in selling his land, and they form a dangerous and controversial black and white partnership to strengthen their legal claim to their land, which infuriates Henry. When Rose suddenly dies following a failed intervention by Julie, which she doesn’t admit occurred, Henry tries to persuade his wife to charge Reeve with illegal ownership of his property.  Local black teacher Vivian Thurlow (Diahann Carroll) searches the town’s records and uncovers proof that Reeve legally registered the deed to his land. Julie, upset with Henry’s treatment of their mentally challenged six year old son Colie (John Mark), decides to leave him and drops her suit against Reeve. With the help of Ku Klux Klansmen, Henry dynamites the levee above the farms, and tragedy ensues … Certain things are better left to experts. An overripe postwar melodrama that has Message Movie written all over its overacted over-obvious narrative, this was adapted by Thomas C. Ryan and Horton Foote from the 1965 novel by K.B. Gilden (husband and wife writing team Bert and Katya Gilden). Despite the lurid presentation in hotter than thou temperatures with the sun burning up the screen beautifully for cinematographers Loyal Griggs and Milton Krasner it seems undernourished, mainly because the characters are working through some Freudian issues about parenting and it’s told in broad strokes with some performances (like Burgess Meredith as Judge Purcell) bordering on caricature; the presence of Madeleine Sherwood (from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as his wife reminds us of that other (superior) Deep South saga of family, sex, mendacity, greed and perversity. Henry’s son is retarded and Rad’s eldest son Charles (Steve Sanders) betrays his father, loyal to his cousin instead – there are no good outcomes for men here. The full-on language and sex scenes, complemented by Caine playing the devil’s horn to get his wife in the mood, don’t entirely achieve the effect a more subtle approach might have yielded for a social issue film. It was shot amid huge hostility in Louisiana due to the race theme. (Locally-born critic Rex Reed appears uncredited as a farmer).  Dunaway had to sue director Otto Preminger a huge amount of money to get out of her five-film contract because the two were wholly out of tune with each other. Law does very well here however and he and Fonda would appear together a couple of years later in the notorious Barbarella for her husband Roger Vadim. Do you think the twentieth century will stand still just because you want to hang on to a few little acres?

Bad Therapy (2020)

Bad Therapy

Aka Judy Small. I want a break from all the drudgery. I want my life to expand. Nature TV editor Bob Howard (Rob Corddry) and his realtor wife Susan (Alicia Silverstone) are enduring some financial issues. It’s her second marriage and she has a daughter Louise (Anna Pniowsky) from her first marriage which ended with her husband’s accidental death. They see marriage counselor, Judy Small (Michaela Watkins) to improve their relationship. However, Judy’s insistence that all three of the family see her separately reveals dark impulses that will bring Bob and Susan’s marriage to the breaking point as she manipulates them into losing trust in each other. And Judy’s former colleagues have discovered that she is practising two years after being barred due to the suicide of a client and what’s that mannequin she talks to in a back room?…  It was an unfortunate instance of counter-transference enactment. Nancy Doyne adapts her novel Judy Small with the tone shifting unevenly from comedy to thriller and back, an unsettling portrait of what therapists can do to their clients and a worrying insight into how the industry is governed (David Paymer ends up at the bottom of a staircase and not in a good way). Ironically while this film enjoys pushing its protagonists’ buttons it doesn’t sensibly explain the reason for the chaos caused by this disturbed psycho(therapist) and the fact that the couple continues seeing her makes it a little silly. The women are terrific in this throwback yuppies in peril-style thriller. Directed by William Teitler. Let me help you now

Bad Education (2019)

Bad Education

You were always the guy in the suits. Long Island, New York, 2002. Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is the superintendent of Roslyn School District which oversees Roslyn High School. Frank, along with his assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) have overseen major improvements in the district, with Roslyn becoming the 4th ranked public school in the country under their watch. This in turn stimulates the local economy, reaping rewards for school board head and real estate broker Bob Spicer (Ray Romano). Frank is beloved by students and parents alike, and sought after by women; Frank claims to have lost his wife several years ago, but is in fact gay, living with Tom Tuggiero (Stephen Spinella) in NYC. While attending a conference in Las Vegas, Frank begins an affair with former student Kyle Contreras (Rafeal Casal) who has given up his dream of writing sci fi for waiting tables and dancing. While writing an article for the Roslyn school paper about an $8m sky bridge the school is planning to construct, student reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) begins to discover discrepancies in the district’s finances. Unbeknownst to anyone at the school, Frank and Pam are co-conspirators in a massive embezzlement scheme that has cost millions of taxpayer dollars and her steady research leads all the way to the top and when Frank gives up Pam there will be hell to pay ... We come in here at the crack of dawn because we’re good people.  We want you to have a good life. Adapted from Bad Superintendent, a story by Robert Kolker in New York magazine by Mike Makowsky, who was a middle school student in that school district when Tassone was arrested for grand larceny.  Viswanathan isn’t a particularly interesting performer but she does what all journalists have done since watching All the President’s Men – she follows the money. It’s dogged old-school reporting stuff, looking at purchase orders, not finding receipts and then questioning everyone concerned.  It’s fun to see those moments with her doubtful student paper editor Nick Fleischman (Alex Wolff) doing a junior Ben Bradlee. The moment one hour in where she finds the so-called offices of the school’s pamphlet producer and realises it’s Tassone’s plush apartment where he’s co-habiting with a man is brilliantly done – capped when Tassone arrives and sees her desperate to leave the building. Jackman is superb as a charismatic man with many secrets, utilising his ability to psychoanalyse everyone around him to get the better of them since he seems to care so much about them. For the longest time we don’t even know the extent of his involvement as information is drip fed slowly through the narrative. His vanity is reflected in the scenes with him attending to his cosmetic routine, culminating in surgery. Jackman finds ways to plumb the breadth of the character and elicit empathy, stealing our hearts as easily as expensing first class flights to London with his boyfriend and deflecting come-ons from women in the parents’ association book club. Janney is superb in a chewy role – able to talk her way out of trouble, trying to buy her children’s affections even when her son is a total loser and ultimately choosing the path of revenge. Erring more on the dramatic rather than the comedic side of genre, this gives a rare insight into white collar crime – the quotidian corruption that afflicts cosy cartels running public bodies leading to those occasional stupefying headlines when you see something has gone bust yet all the admin people are living high on the hog while their workplaces are falling apart with damp. The sidebars about food intake, digestive issues, cosmetics, clothes, jewellery, pushy parenting and spoiling wrong ‘uns are well judged subplots amplifying the drudgery of the teaching environment and the desire to rise above the mere plebs. It’s wordy, it’s smart, it’s filled with people covering their asses and it’s called the ring of truth. Directed by Cory Finley. I am not the sociopath here

Captain Boycott (1947)

Captain Boycott

I simply can’t understand a man like that. In 1880s Ireland Charles Stewart Parnell (Robert Donat) makes a rousing speech against the villainous property thefts by the British in Ireland but urges passive resistance, shunning rather than killing landlords. In a Mayo village, British landowner Captain Charles Boycott (Cecil Parker) dispossesses the townspeople who are being charged extortionate rents as his tenants and uses police and army to evict them, leaving them without hope. But when a passionate farmer Hugh Davin (Stewart Granger) creates an organised and nonviolent rebellion against the oppressor and falls in love with a beautiful newcomer Ann Killain (Kathleen Ryan) he proves that the Irish people are willing to fight for their rights ... You can’t make British soldiers fight for what any fool can see is an unjust cause.  Wolfgang Wilhelm’s screenplay makes light work of the systematic property rout and starving of Irish citizens described in Philip Rooney’s source novel, weaving a skein of complicity, action and politics that rings true. Co-written by director Frank Launder, with additional dialogue by Paul Vincent Carroll and Patrick Campbell,  the location shooting (with Westmeath standing in for Mayo) adding immeasurably to this history lesson about the infamous land agent who entered the lexicon because of the campaign of ostracising that brought him recognition. The cast is a Who’s Who of the British and Irish acting contingent of the era including the genial Noel Purcell playing Daniel McGinty a teacher who is also a crafty agitator, Mervyn Johns as a sneaky property dealer, Alastair Sim as a Catholic priest, Father McKeogh, and Maurice Denham as Lieutenant Colonel Strickland who is inclined to attribute Boycott’s conduct to a kind of personal pig-headed eccentricity rather than Anglo rule. Granger has a good role and is up to the witty and lively construction of this typical Launder and Gilliat production. William Alwyn’s spirited score captures the mood of the rebellion very well. Can you count pain – suffering – hunger – wretchedness?