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The Best of Everything (1959)
Three Dreamers In The Romcom
Jean Negulesco was something of a poor man's Michael Curtiz inasmuch as both were European immmigrants who could turn their hand to virtually any genre and both had strong associations with one studio in particular, Curtiz at Warners Negulesco at Fox, both were prolific and no one was surprised if sometimes they appeared to make the same film more than once. Negulesco shot Three Coins In The Fountain, a lush semi-travelogue chronicling the love lives of three females in Rome. At the end of the decade (Fifties) he took another stab at it with The Best Of Everything and it even had Louis Jourdan as yet another male love object. If glamour, lush photography, fashionable clothes and Joan Crawford chewing the scenery is your thing chances are you'll enjoy this one. Top-billed never really fulfilled her potential and seemed to peak in terms of the big screen in Peyton Place the year before this, likewise ex-model turned actress Suzy Parker never really made it either. A reasonable way to beguile a couple of hours.
This is yet another "classic" I have not read - for the record, apart from Shakespeare, who I love, I don't 'do' pre-20th century fiction, which means that names like Eliot, Bronte(s), Thackery, Dickens, Smollet, and, yes, Austen, are just that, names to me and little more. On the plus side I enjoyed the way that half the cast were constantly being dressed by the other half against semi-lavish backgrounds as Bill Nighy phoned it in. I nodded off a couple of times and left little wiser story-wise than when I entered. Apart from that ...
If It Ain't Broke ...
The year is still short of a month old and already I personally have seen two 'classics' tampered with. The first, Little Women merely played with time jumping back and forth at will but doing no real harm for those who knew the linear story. David Copperfield is something else; as in the case of Little Women I had not read the book but I was eventually able to make sense of it and at least the principal cast - the four March sisters were portrayed as Alcott wrote them, white anglo saxon Protestants rather than Innuit fruit farmers or Clydeside shipbuilders in a misguided effort to be 'woke' or whatever. Had Mr. Dickens written his novel at anytime during the last fifty years then it would indeed rightly reflect the multi-cultural/ethnic society in which we live but the novel dates from the 1800s and it's yet another example of a 'creator' deluding himself that he is a better writer than the original author (this is more common than you might suppose; see the recent remake of Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, a risible rewrite by a writer not fit to change Rattigan's typewriter ribbon). As I mentioned I have not read the original novel and thus had no idea where it was set - early scenes had characters in what appeared to be endless countryside one minute and then obviously at the seaside before moving to London. On the other hand some viewers appear to have enjoyed it.
School for Secrets (1946)
Tales Out Of School
Frankly this film had totally passed me by until they wheeled it out on Talking Pictures tonight. I'm always going to watch anything with Ralph Richardson - more than I can say for Olivier - and as always he did not disappoint. He was supported by an odd cast to say the least, John Laurie, Raymond Huntley, Dickie Attenborough, Marjorie Rhodes, all striving to give the impression they were in the same film. Peter Ustinove was making his debut behind the camera and he can't blame the writer for his laxness because he wrote it as well. On the other hand I was glad to stumble across it and wallow in its Old English Lavender vibes.
Anyone in UK give two Fox?
It will be interesting to see if this very American factual story attracts a UK audience. I myself have a lifelong interest in Americana and am arguably more aware of people like, for example, Huey Long, assassinated in 1935 and the subject of at least two novels, A Lion Is In The Streets and All The King's Men, both subsequently filmed with the latter winning a Best Actor Oscar for Broderick Crawford. Although the former starred James Cagney as the fictionalized Long I doubt very much whether Uk audiences cared either way about the actual events - both novels were roman a clefsa i.e employing fictional characters based squarely and obviously on real people. In the case of Bombshell the people - executives and newreaders at Fox news - are real people and in addition the events portrayed are barely four years old, set as they are, against the presidential election that took Donald Trump into the White House. Ironically similar disclosures one year later involving Harvey Weinstein and sexual harassment completely eclipsed those depicted here surrounding Roger Ailes. The acting is first rate and if UK viewers ARE able to work up a sweat about the facts they cannot but enjoy this movie.
If satire sends up reality (apart from closing on Saturday night) this effort may be said to build up satire. Apparently taking as its jumping-off point the sketch in Beyond The Frings that contains the line 'Right, Perkins, what we need at this stage of the war is a futile gesture ...' this movie begins with two squaddies being assigned a probable suicidal mission of speeding on foot through recently vacated enemy territory to warn a commander - telephone lines are conveniently down - to call off a planned attack that will end in wholesale slaughter. Wisely director Sam Mendes has gone with unknown albeit competent actors for these key roles which helps us to remain focused on the task rather than familiar/favourite actors playing at soldiers. That's it, really. A lot has been made of the 'one-take' technique which is, of course, ultimately fake, and was done much better by Orson Welles albeit for merely the opening of Touch of Evil. It's certainly watchable, has already BEEN watched by hundreds of punters and will almost certainly BE watched by hundreds more. Where there's life there's hype, and hype is a wonderful thing. Don't be surprised if there's a gong or two before it's finished.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
This seems to be a case of Divisive We Stand, United We Fall. If we DID need yet another satiric take on World War Two then this is as good as any and can be placed alongside Bergnini's Life Is Wonderful, Wilder's A Foreign Affair and others of the same ilk albeit different wars. Once again (Life Is Beautiful) the director takes a leading role and once again it does no harm. Kudos all round.
The Next of Kin (1942)
Be Like ME - Keep Schtumm
This is still quite a good effort seen today - for the first time -almost 8o years after it was made. The sprinkling of recognisable actors, possibly unknown to non fil buffs, makes it interesting with arguably Jack Hawkins, Meryn Johns and Thora Hird enjoying the longest post-war shelf lives and it is, of course, a revelation to see Thora Hird as eye candy. The outrageous - in retrospect - propaganda element appears a tad affectacious today and although the very last shot -'spy' Mervyn Johns cocking an ear to some loose talk in a railway carriage -appears a tad coy today it was, at the time, very probably a timely warming.
Trent's Last Case (1952)
Herbert Wilcox was to nepotism what Horlicks is to bedtime; having directed his wife, Anna Neagle, in numerous ho-hum movies he now signs up daughter Pamela Bower to write a ho-hum screenplay and just to square the circle the film was released by Republic whose CEO Herbert J. Yates wasn't above featuring his own untalented wife Vera Ralston as leading clown in several films. That's all that's really worth saying about this static, unimaginative and largely inept squandering of celluloid. Again Orson Welles receives prominent billing for ten minutes screentime and no doubt the rest of the competent cast envied him as they got stuck with the full ninety minutes. For insomniacs and Late, Late, Late show addicts only.
Little Women (2019)
I approached this movie and the subsequent report on it with two strikes on me; 1) I am male, and 2) I haven't read the novel. If it comes to that I haven't read any of what we might call 'girl' novels, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, What Katy Did, and if any were filmed I didn't see them but I do know they EXIST, just as I knew Little Women existed before checking it out. If gorgeous beautifully shot rural settings make for good movies then this is a good movie. In a way it is reminiscent of the nod to Currier & Ives in Meet Me In St Louis except here the accent is rural rather than urban. I have to guess that someone on the 'creative' team has seen fit to make the action move back and forth in no apparent pattern which may well make sense if one knew the book. For instance it wasn't immediately apparent to me that Jo actually lived in New York for blocks of time rather than just travelling to see a publisher - it might also have helped to know the distances involved i.e. was it feasible to make a day trip to Ne York from the area of New England where the Marches make their home. I've already praised the camerawork and the acting is equally good with Laura Dern scoring heavily as the mother whilst Meryl Streep appears to have phoned it in for once.
Broadway Rhythm (1944)
Some Like It Hoyt
As mish-moshes go this is right up there with the cream. Jerome Kern's more than distinguished Broadway career stuttered to a halt in 1939 with a mega-flop that lasted 59 performances. The show was called Very Warm for May and May was a girl's name rather than the month of which should tell you all you need to know. Kern took it on the Jesse Owens and spent his final six years in Hollywood.MGM had purchased the rights to Very Warm For May anticipating it would be a hit. With the rights on their hands they figured the best thing to do would be to disown it; change the title, carve it up, and get a new score. Actually the score wasn't bad, it was, after all, the work of Kern and Oscar Hammmerstein but numbers like All In Fun and In The Heart Of The Dark were completely overshadowed by the one seriously enduring number All The Things You Are. What Metro did was turn it into a vaudeville act assigning the female lead to Louis B. Mayer's girl friend Ginny Sims whose main claim to fame was getting Sinatra fired from MGM - Mayer was unseated while horseriding and Sinatra was heard to say openly 'Mayer fell of Ginny Simms'. For leading man they tapped George Murphy who, as a song-and-dance man made a good Governor. Lena Horne got to sing her usual two numbers in isolation so they could be cut in the South, Nancy Walker made the best of her one number, Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet, Charles Winninger wheeled out his retired hoofer living in the past routine and The Ross Sisters traumatized young children with their acrobatics. If this is the sort of thing you like you'll like this sort of thing.
Motherless Brooklyn (2019)
Orphan In A Storm
When Edward Norton took an option on the novel back in the day he was liitle more than a humble actor albeit a fine one, now, twenty years later he brings it to the screen as a triple-threat, writer-director-actor and we all owe him big-time. Clearly someone involved was frightened by Chinatown and possibly that same someone has distanced themselves (glad about that) by placing this entry on the opposite coast. Again, given the themes - political corruption, racism - Norton wisely moves the timescale a good forty years back to the fifties and hits it right on the nose. Strangely enough the great fifties-set film with a jazz score that immediately springs to mind is Sweet Smell Of Success but when you stack them up against each other although there's nothing to choose in terms of quality the Odets screenplay plays as frenetic in best city-that-never-sleeps mode whilst the Norton entry is almost tranquil. This is a movie that cannot be praised too highly, from the outstanding ensemble acting to the atmosphere, to the photography to the jazz-inflected score. Don't miss it if you've got anything at the front of your face and on the sides of your head.
The Good Liar (2019)
Given that a storyline so straightforwardly obvious HAS to have a twist or three waiting on hold the choice for the viewer is to 1) wallow in the production values, acting, etc or 2) ignore the film itself and concentrate on anticipating the twists. As a card-carrying cynic I was still happy to let it wash over me and be reasonably entertained for the duration. It has, of course, been done better. Often. But it has also been done worse.
Knives Out (2019)
The ongoing repeats on UK television of Poirot, Miss Marple, Midsomer Murder etc illustrate a still healthy interest in the 'suspects gather in the library for the unmasking of the criminal' genre and box-office returns in the next few weeks will indicate whether it's one thing to watch in your living room gratis but another to schlepp to the multiplex and shell out good money. My first impression at the opening, as the camera tracked through the grounds of Gotrocks Manor, then entered and trawled past paraphernalia like that seen in Mank's adaptation of Sleuth with Caine and Olivier was that we were in Rip-Off Central but whereas Sleuth was a two-hander here we have a matching set of suspects aka red herrings to banish all thoughts of rip-off. It's well done, glossy, slick but ultimately empty as an election promise.
La Belle Époque (2019)
Right You Are, Jean Luc
I know there are only four reviews on imdb for this entry but I thought that at least one of them would have mentioned Luigi Pirandello or Star Trek both of which arguably influenced the writer-director. Pirandello of course made a career out of posing the question what is real and what is illusion. In one of his finest plays, Henry IV (not the English king but the French one) the audience spends the bulk of the first act thinking it is actually at the court of Henry IV onlt to be disabused and realise we are, in fact, in the 20th century where a wealthy man, convinced he actually is the king has spent a fortune recreating the real court. In Star Trek the senior officers can press a button and ask a computer to recreate a given era/setting and then enter a chamber where the past has been recreated down to the smallest detail. Here, Guillaume Canet has a lucrative business recreating the past physically in a studio for those able to pay. Enter Daniel Auteuil, still in love with his wife, Fanny Ardant, who has a new lover and barely tolerates Auteuil. Once aware of Canets' business Auteuil opts to return to 1974, the year he met his great love, who, at that time, returned it. Basically we're talking wish-fulfilment dream but witty and charming with it. This is a movie that just misses being brilliant and will reward mult-viewings.
Schmooze 'n' Ships
Ho-hum is as good a description as any for this totally superfluous remake. When the cgi calls attention to itself and compares unfavourably with the 'special effects' of entries like In Which We Serve released three quarters of a century ago you know the script is strictly from hunger. Unfortunately the overall feel is of a group of students in their last year of film school being provided with cameras, raw stock, an editing suite, and given their heads. Certainly worth a look but equally certainly not more than one.
The Aeronauts (2019)
The Spirit of Billy Wilder
There is, like the man said, nothing new under the sun, and the irony of using the medium of film where all of space is available to explore characters confined to a single small area has been employed by Hitchcock (Lifeboat) and Billy Wilder (The Spirit of St Louis). The first fictional, the second factual Lifeboat depicted a typical Hollywood bomber-crew adrift on the ocean in a small boat whilst The Spirit of St Louis chronicled the real flight by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 between North America and Europe. Wilder being Wilder 'invented' a fly that became trapped in the cockpit thus providing the Lone Eagle with something to talk to. The Aeronauts is a combination of both, half fact, half fiction, fact inasmuch as the meteorologist Glaisher DID actually make the balloon ascent in 1862 but he was accompanied by another MAN rather than the fictional character played by Felicity Jones. In 2019 cgi is light years ahead of the 'special effects' of previous decades and much of the attraction of The Aeronauts will be visual but the thespic contributions by Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne should not be overlooked.
After the Wedding (2019)
After The Rip-Off
I don't know about you but I have yet to see a Hollywood remake of a foreign film that eclipsed let alone equalled the original; okay once in a great while something comes close (The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven) but 90% of the time the remakes are embarrassments (Diner du cons/Dinner For Schmucks; Un Carnet du bal/Lydia; Le jour se leve/Daybreak; Pepe le Moko/Algiers etc.I bring this up because I have just watched a new release which actually has the same title as the original Danish fik, i.e. After The Wedding, which I reviewed favourably on imdb on its release. This is one remake which is actually half decent, more especially if you have not seen the original and/or have no knowledge of the plot. Briefly the story concerns a person running an orphanage in India, a Danish philanthropist prepared to make a very large donation on condition that the person running the orphanage travels peronally - all expenses paid - to Denmark to collect the donation in person. The philanthropist has a daughter about to get married and the orphanage head is invited to the wedding after which the plot takes several twists and turns. In the remake the man running the orphanage is now a woman (Michelle Williams) as is the philanthropist (Julianne Moore), both are American and the bulk of the action takes place in New York. The initial twist in the remake is that at the wedding Williams recognises Moore's husband as her ex-lover which means that she herself is the mother of the bride. This is only the kicking-off point for further twists. The acting throughout is exceptional with Williams and Moor perhaps just a notch above the others, the whole thing grips from start to finish so that anyone unfamiliar with the original may well be tempted to rate it A+ whilst those who are familiar with the Danish original will settle for a B.
The Comedy Man (1964)
Moore's The Pity
Made after the first flush of Moore's early success, which began in the early fifties for the thick end of a decade, this was shot when he could barely get arrested so that parallels with Chick Byrd and Kenneth Moore are not too hard to find. This is Moore flaunting his 'serious' acting chops and is suffused with melancholy whilst boasting a half-decent supporting cast. Overall it is neither fish nor fowl and perhaps the adjective that best fits is 'interesting'.
Official Secrets (2019)
Give A Little Whistle
Normally I endure rather than enjoy any film that features Keira Knightly and there's usually a solid reason other than Knightly, like the writer - Tolstoy, anyone - but here she is much easier to take possibly because she is portaying a real person who is still very much alive leaving little or no room for her 'look at me, mummy, I'm actually not only getting paid but also getting top billing with no discernible talent to justify either' trope. Again, surrounded by real actors who make her look competent minimum demands are made on her limited-to-non-existent thespic abilities. For a dialogue heavy film it's relatively painless.
The Driver (1978)
The Samourai On Wheels
Walter Hill has clearly seen and been impressed by Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai in which Alain Delon played Jeff, an assassin for hire who lived alone with no friends, girl friend etc, i.e. no one through whom he could become vulnerable. In The Driver Ryan O'Neal is not an assassin for a highly competent getaway driver who is hired by highly organized gangs. Throwing in a touch of the Les Mizzes director Hill introduces a Javert figure in the shape of detective Bruce Dern who respects O'Neal'sprofessionalism which makes him the more determined to catch him. Essentially we're talking cat-and-mouse with car chases. It remains hugely entertaining and a geglected gem.
This was my first, indeed only, exposure to a phenomenon I had been reading about for months, and, I should stress, virtually all positive reportage so to say I was disappointed is like saying Napoleon was disappointed when he failed in his Russian campaign. I felt not unlike a passionate admirer of Rapunzle stand beneath her window and prevailing upon her to let down her hair only to find that even at full stretch it was still twenty feet beyond my grasp.
The Looking Glass War (1970)
Keepind Down With The Joneses
Ralph Richardson was the only reason for me to see this film and he was, unsurprisingly, the best thing in it by a country mile. The non-acting Christopher Jones was both painful and embarrassing to watch and it was difficult to believe that the excellent John Le Carre had any connection with a plot that was about as thrilling as a guided tour of a sewage farm. Well worth missing.
Another Shore (1948)
Canadian Robert Beatty arrived in the UK in 1936 and by the mid-forties he had established himself as a reliable, competent, supporting actor who appeared to be in constant employment in British films in the late forties and early fifties. What leads he did get were in 'small' films like Portrait of Alison' and this charmer from Ealing which finds him as a civil servant dreaming of escaping the rat race and basking in a Pacific paradise by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, which will be when an affluent person is involved in an accident and 'saved' by Gulliver who will be suitably rewarded and so able to finance his one-way passage to Paradise. He gets within striking distance but love - in the shape of Moira Lister, with whom Beatty has absolutely no chemistry - rears its ugly head and he remains a fully clothed civil servant. There's a fine supporting cast led by Stanley Holloway and on the whole it dererves to be shown far more widely than it has been so far.
What The Fleck
For me the best thing about this movie was that finally someone put a bullet where it did the most good - right in the heart of De Niro. Apart from that this was what amounted to a Case study of a sociopath who wasn't playing with a full deck with aspects of so many previous films - Death Wish, Taxi Driver - that it was difficult to locate any 'original' element. Clearly it has its admirers; good luck to them.