Bachelor Party (1984)

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Anyone expecting the 1957 kitchen sink realism Paddy Chayefsky mini-epic starring Don Murray is in for a surprise. This is the Eighties ‘remake’ (not really) – with a time capsule quotient of nudity, raunch, lewdness, big shoulders, bigger hair and a lot of pastels. Tom Hanks is the charming bus driver dating the gorgeous shop assistant Tawny Kitaen (remember the Whitesnake videos?!) who happens to be the daughter of a disapproving millionaire who has a much better catch in mind. This is of course all about the suspension of disbelief. I for one have never been driven to school by Hanks. Naturally the guys want a big party before Tom makes the worst mistake of his life and everything but the kitchen realist sink is thrown at making it happen and persuading him to be unfaithful – but the hookers wind up at the girls’ and perform sex acts in front of her mother. Then they go see male strippers and Mom grabs a weiner. As it were. Dad shows up at the guys’ gathering and winds up having his ass whupped by whores and being photographed for posterity and the love rival takes potshots with a bow and arrow in revenge for having his Porsche souped up. There’s a gag with a donkey on cocaine but the best of all is a funny scene at a 3D movie. It’s the little things. Hanks’ winning ways save the day, in more ways than one. And the best thing? Now I never have to watch it again! From the world of Neal Israel.

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Shampoo (1975)

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The unthinkable death of Carrie Fisher prompted me to put on one of my favourite Seventies film and the one which marked her striking debut.  She’s the spoiled precocious teenage daughter of Felicia (Lee Grant) and Lester (Jack Warden). The former is screwing her Beverly Hills hairdresser, George Roundy (Warren Beatty) and it is one of their couplings that opens the film in radical fashion – in the dark. Lester meanwhile is having his own adulterous affair with Jackie (Julie Christie) whose former BF is George, who is currently co-habiting with Jill  (Goldie Hawn). All the women think they are unique in George’s affections but one of the film’s good visual jokes is that he gives them all precisely the same hairstyle (and that’s not all he gives them…) They all meet up at a party  on Election Night 1968 and their complex roundelay of relationships and infidelities unravels piece by piece. Some of this arose from screenwriter Robert Towne’s experiences with a dancer whose former boyfriend was a Beverly Hills hairdresser, who, far from being gay, was like a rooster in a henhouse. Apparently there were quite a few of them around Hollywood at the time. The other influence was Restoration comedy.  Towne regretted giving co-writing credit to his star, Warren Beatty, but it does have a political component not evident in his other work. Directed with great finesse by Hal Ashby and boasting a host of marvellous performances in a naughty, caustic tragicomedy that just improves on every viewing, this is a key film of the period. You can read more about it in my book about Towne, https://www.amazon.com/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1482705700&sr=8-3&keywords=elaine+lennon. Rest In Peace, Princess Carrie.

Rumor Has It (2007)

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Pasadena is a beautiful place, the California dream, an upmarket sinecure with nice wealthy people,  great restaurants and fabulous houses. And that’s where Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) is heading for her younger sister Annie’s (Mena Suvari) wedding, concealing her own engagement to Jeff (Mark Ruffalo) so as not to  take away attention at the gathering for this family from which she has always felt at one remove – not blonde enough, not a tennis player, not married – yet, even though she’s clearly adored by her widowed father (Richard Jenkins). At the rehearsal drinks her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine in horribly cutting mode) reveals that her late mom ran off for a week to Cabo with Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) her high school sweetheart, just before her wedding, and Sarah puts 2+2 together – their family really was the basis for Charles Webb’s The Graduate and the movie that followed … and she naturally pursues Beau and has a one-night stand. With the man who slept with both her mother and grandmother. And he just might be her father … There must be something wrong with me because I can see nothing wrong with spending the night with Kevin Costner. You?! Hey, it looks great, so sue me! In some countries incest is legal! Maybe. Written by Ted Griffin who directed this for 2 weeks before being replaced by Rob Reiner.

Match Point (2005)

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Who knew Woody Allen had it in him to make a tough sexy thriller? And here it is, a film that was transposed for financial reasons from NYC to London, featuring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris Wilton, an Irish tennis pro on the make who weasels his way into British society and his plans are almost derailed by the vengeful wheedling American actress (Scarlett Johansson) with whom he has an affair. To a degree, we’ve been here before with Crimes and Misdemeanours (and Love and Death!) and the references to Dostoyevsky are writ large not least because Chris is reading Crime and Punishment and his preference for tragic operas and a belief in luck dictate his life. The Brit crits weren’t in love with this as they believed Allen’s use of London locations – opera, tennis clubs, posh bars and restaurants, theatres, and country houses – were classist. Did they seriously believe the Upper East Side to be representative of working class NYC?! When Johansson threatens Chris with revealing her pregnancy to his wife Emily Mortimer, whose brother broke off their engagement, there’s only one thing to do … The tension is stomach-churning, Rhys Meyers is superb in a very demanding dramatic role, a contemporary arriviste Raskolnikov, with ScarJo providing the eroticism in a field of wheat in the rain. All in all it’s a great exercise in life, sex – and luck. And just listen to Caruso …

Our Kind of Traitor (2016)

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I was mystified by the title sequence to this film – slomo images of ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Then a Russian family get murdered in the snowy forests. It wrong-footed me as I suspect it was meant to do. Because this is really a very long howl of protest by the great John Le Carre about the horrendous nature of corruption at the heart of the British establishment and the City of London, that sacred cow of Labourite and Tory alike, whose exponential development has led to the nicest residential areas turned into bulletproofed enclaves for Russian mobsters. Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a lecturer in poetics, in Morocco with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) on a holiday we realise is intended to repair their marriage following his relationship with a student. He meets loud and noisy Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) at a party, becomes embroiled with his family and secretly agrees to bring a memory stick to London for the attention of MI6 who send Hector (Damian Lewis) to examine its contents. Dima launders money for the  Russian Mafia. Hector’s aim to get Dima and his family away from the Mafia’s clutches in exchange for information  is quickly disavowed when it becomes apparent he doesn’t yet have enough to get ‘the Prince’, head of the Russians, who wants to go legit with the help of a politician (Jeremy Northam) by laundering money properly through setting up a bank in the City. So Perry and his wife are asked to help a rogue mission for MI6. Danger, Will Robinson … This is a very specific kind of spy thriller and one that quietly sneaks into your brain, rather like a political worm unsettling your conscience, as Dima contaminates Perry’s. Hossein Amini’s adaptation does a fair job structuring what is hardly a classic spy tale but its morality lingers, as does the  realisation that Dima’s ultimate situation has been triggered by the classic act of familial  entrapment, witnessed, funnily enough, by Gail. Susanna White had the pleasure of directing Le Carre as a doorman to the Einstein Museum in a production of which he had an Executive role: those famous images of the scientist sticking his tongue out replay when it hits you what a confidence trick this film has pulled off. It makes you THINK.

Strangers on a Train (1951)

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One of the great Hitchcock movies and probably my favourite Saturday night fare (geddit?!) From the opening shots of those contrasting shoes entering the station and then the crossing and uncrossing of legs and railway track, the joky exchange of murders takes its inexorable path. Major changes were made to young Patricia Highsmith’s novel, principally by Ben Hecht’s assistant, Czenzi Ormonde, and not Raymond Chandler, who did not see eye to eye at all with the director. Farley Granger is the tennis champ who wants to divorce his trampy wife, knocked up by her latest lover, in order to marry his true love Ruth Roman, a senator’s daughter. Robert Walker is Bruno, the deranged, narcissistic mama’s boy who wants his old man knocked off to prevent being sent to the loony bin. There are so many incredible scenes that were never in the novel:  the carousel (taken from another book entirely);  the tennis match; the Tunnel of Love; the spectacles. Of course the ‘doubling’ motif was now a Hitchcockian trope and it is all over the narrative while strangling is as usual the murder of choice. The film is stunningly well cast.  Marion Lorne is Bruno’s mother and she puts in an incredible performance (you’ll know her from TV’s Bewitched.) The film was released mere weeks before Walker’s death and off-cuts were used to complete My Son John, which wasn’t quite finished production. He had been briefly institutionalised for alcoholism and depression following his wife Jennifer Jones’ affair with David O. Selznick, whom she married. Walker was killed by his own psychiatrist, gossipy attention seeking analyst Frederick Hacker, who injected him with sodium amytal while he was playing cards with a friend but Walker had had a few drinks and the injection caused immediate respiratory failure:  Walker’s arms were studded with bloodied injection points demonstrating how hard he had struggled with his attacker. Hacker’s notoriety didn’t see him arrested for murder, it just made him more popular with the Hollywood set. Go figure. In the meantime Walker’s performance is brilliant and this is endlessly rewatchable.