Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category
Spent this moist, sunless afternoon watching the brilliant ‘Grandma’, the best awards season movie I have seen to date, a welcome blast of old school American indie cinema. After the screening I had a quick chat with both the lead actress Lily Tomlin (Nashville, All of Me, Short Cuts) and the director/writer Paul Weitz (About a Boy, Antz, American Pie). During the Q&A I asked Paul about the source of the story – was it the issue (abortion)? the characters? or other? He said it started from the notion of a young woman without enough money to pay for the abortion she feels she urgently needs. Its treatment of the theme of abortion is refreshingly less conservative than the likes of the too mannered ‘Juno’.
1. Lily Tomlin – who gives a feisty performance as Elle, a lesbian grandma who is there when her grand-daughter really needs her. Tomlin (76) has been in a relationship with her female partner, Jane, for over 40 years. Elle’s relationship and grieving for her recently deceased partner, Violet, is a deeply moving absence at the heart of the movie. Tomlin’s face is compelling to watch, unique and very particular.
2. Julia Garner – plays Sage, the grand-daughter. She is absolutely captivating on screen, with something of the 40s/50s Hollywood studio star about her (a bit of Marilyn Monroe, perhaps a touch of Veronica Lake, that kind of vibe). She is known for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (a favourite of my young nephew Jake who has impeccable film taste) and Martha Marcy May Marlene. The chemistry between her and Tomlin couldn’t be more perfect.
3. Paul Weitz – who wrote the excellent screenplay, really nuanced and fresh. ‘Grandma’ makes an interesting contrast to ‘Carol’ – another ‘lesbian movie’ currently doing the rounds – where, despite exemplary acting, the story is unsurprising and strangely linear.
4. The Indie Spirit – Weitz made this outstanding movie for $600,000 and shot it in 19 days. As a result he was under little pressure and the movie has a real lightness of touch and creative economy. He got the cash from a Greek benefactor and then Sony Classics picked up the finished film in the wake of Sundance.
4 things I talked to Lily Tomlin about
- The joy of being a grand-parent, what a lovely relationship the grand-parent/grand-child one is, how much I’m looking forward to being one (PG, as my grandma would have said)
- Her grumpy grandpa and inspiring grandma in Kentucky
- Being born in Detroit, the city-country mix; Detroit: Requiem for a City (which she hasn’t seen yet), Julien Temple, The Sex Pistols
- That my grandpa, Ian Harris, would have been 100 last week; how special a man he was.
4 things I talked to Paul Weitz about
- American indie films
- Me & Earl & the Dying Girl
- The abortion clinic shooting this week in the USA, how safe he is talking about Grandma in America, particularly the South
- Treadmill desks (as featured in the film), the office he shares with his brother, Chris (screenwriter & producer: The Golden Compass, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, American Pie), Chris’s treadmill desk.
1 TV shoot, 1 legendary hotel, 2 friends, 3 studios, 4 happy campers – all in 2 days.
The day before yesterday began with an excursion to West Hollywood. We repaired to my office in Mel’s Diner on Sunset. After lunch I strolled over to Book Soup, a great old-school bookstore on the Strip, and picked up a book about music-making in Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s, the shop being in spitting distance of Whisky-a-go-go, the Rainbow Room and all the other music landmarks as well as being within a few miles of the Canyon itself.
From Sunset we headed out to Burbank to do the tour of Warner Bros. studio. I was a bit dubious about this excursion but it turned out to be fun, lead by a slightly chubby twentysomething who couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about TV and movies and couldn’t have fitted more words into the space of two hours. She buggied us around the lot from the only jungle set in Hollywood (most recently used in Jurassic Park – correctly guessed by Enfant Terrible No. 1 which was impressive) under the famous Warner Bros. water tower (there’s no longer enough water in California to fill such things) to the Typical American Town set which was used in the original Ocean’s Eleven (with Frank Sinatra) among others. We got to peruse lots of Batman stuff from Health Ledger’s nurse’s uniform from Dark Knight to the BatBike (which Christopher Nolan insisted on being a working vehicle, same as his Batmobile which he wanted to be designed as a mixture of a Lambo and a tank). Along the way we got to see the original pitching image from Scooby Doo and beautiful animation cells from The Jetsons and Bugs Bunny. I once met Chuck Jones and asked him about Bugs’s penchant for dressing as a female.
Once that was all, folks, we headed back to Sunset and the Chateau Marmont, haunted by the shades of John Belushi and Helmut Newton. There our white Patriot Jeep was parked up by the valet (we’re enjoying that most American of things, the white Patriot, as a worthy follow-up to the ‘Red Tomay-to’ of our last family visit to California in 2005), we walked up and through the luxuriously chilled-out lounge out to the discreet sunlit courtyard, the white art deco buildings catching the last rays of the summer sun. After a while my old school friend showed up, I hadn’t seen him for a good while, he moved to LA when we were in our early 20s, and we enjoyed a beautiful reunion. He got on great with the Enfants Terribles, regaling them with delightful stories of Scarlett Johansson giving a well-known Latino star a post-Oscars blow-job in the Marmont’s lift and the like. It was an all-round happy evening with great chat, decent booze and classy food. My friend, who makes indy movies, now lives in Laurel Canyon, bringing the day to a neat circular conclusion.
Yesterday we kicked off with another studio tour, this time of the most beautiful studios with the greatest track-record, namely Paramount. One of my best friends is married to a senior lawyer there who kindly arranged for us to have a tour of the backlot followed by lunch in the commissary. Highlights included the New York street set which they were setting up, moving trees around on fork-lifts and other semi-surreal activities; the Chicago street corner where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard robbed a pair of masks in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the sound stages where The Godfather and The Godfather: Part 2 were shot, plus the ones used for Citizen Kane and the original King Kong; the massive pool (used as a blue-floored car park despite the sloping sides) with its huge sky-wall background which is a unique Paramount facility (last filled and used for Benjamin Button); and the familiar original gate of the studio, the Bronson Gate, from which Charles got his name. All of this bathed in the glow of Rockridge (now a car park) and Blazing Saddles which busts out of its studio confines through the gate we first entered to enjoy some more deluxe valet parking.
Two days of Hollywood immersion climaxed in a visit to Quixote Studios in Glendale/Griffith Park where another old friend was starring in a detective series, Criminal Minds, he’s been doing for eleven seasons for US network television on CBS and syndicated to the international market (on Sky and Netflix in the UK). He plays one of the main FBI agents in an elite team of criminal profilers (think Cracker but good-looking and with a private jet), alongside fellow agent Joe Mantegna. After visiting the Godfather sound stages earlier in the afternoon my Golden Age of 70s Movies day was made complete with a conversation with Joe aka Joey Zasa of The Godfather: Part 3. I was in New York the day the movie opened and lined up on that Christmas Day to see it.
We ate with the cast and crew before attending a read-through of the next episode, to be directed by Joe. A very entertaining 42 minutes it sounded, the Americans are so good at writing compelling formats which you have to have ‘just one more episode’ of before bedtime. The writers were present as well as the casting team. Before starting there was a round-table of everyone introducing themselves which extended to the Enfants Terribles who were slightly sheepish having no role or job-title.
Following the read-through we went into the studio to watch the current episode being shot. On the way we stopped off in the Lear jet set. It’s a fanciful addition to the Criminal Minds world as FBI agents barely get an economy airfare these days, let alone their own wings. The audience love it though, just as they love the literary quotes which are dropped in every episode, come rain or shine, at the beginning and end. We got to chat with various members of the cast between takes and the director, all super-friendly and welcoming.
Besides being really struck this time by how attractive LA is in its low-rise laid-back expanse, I have also really enjoyed how friendly and polite the Americans have been. Walking back to our Venice apartment this afternoon I was thrown a compliment by a passer-by for the third time this trip about my T-shirt (that’s three different T-shirts now). Hooray for Hollywood, the City of Angels and the good ol’ US of A.
I’ve been thinking about updating some of the lists that punctuate this blog (usually around Christmas when I’ve got a bit of time on my hands and am in a playful as well as reflective mood) so I’ve gathered a few here by way of preparation…
Blasts from the Pasts (musicians)
Doing the Box 1 (singles)
I’m thinking of doing next a Best Movies list and revisting Best Songs.
Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.
I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding
You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom
I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.
Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.
That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.
One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).
Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.
Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
I’m here a week now. Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.
There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?
Sad to hear about the death of actress Anita Ekberg today, all the more so as she died in poverty after having lived the dolce vita during her movie-making days. This is what she did for me…
I’m flying home with my family on a cheap flight which means picking up a connecting flight in Rome. I balls up the time because of a combination of variable time difference between place of departure, place of transit and place of arrival together with shift to British Summer Time while we were abroad. So we miss our flight back to London and it’s the last flight. We end up going into the city for the night as I’ve never been there. My Mrs is frazzled, Enfant Terrible No. 1 is feeling under the weather, so they hit the sack. Meanwhile Enfant Terrible No. 2 and I decide to see what the Eternal City’s got to offer. It’s already past midnight when we head off along the Via Veneto (Fellini’s hang-out). I think of the first famous site of Rome that comes to mind: the Trevi fountain. I don’t even know really what it looks like. I know the name mainly from Holly Johnson’s Love Train. We make our way through the warm night city navigating as best as I can manage with a crappy hotel map, passing various minor fountains along the route. Eventually we come round a corner to see the fountain that matters. There are loads of people hanging out there, all very chilled, bit of a hippy vibe. The air is pleasantly warm. We drink in the atmosphere and absorb the magic of the place at that time. A man offers to take a photo of us both on my camera (above). It’s all an extended moment of magic. I’ve never seen La Dolce Vita at this point.
We get back to London and I rent a DVD of Fellini’s masterpiece. I find the movie captivating but that scene truly magical. The design of the audio really strikes me, the not using the sync sound of the fountain. Seemingly this is because Fellini was shouting directions while they were actually shooting. Whatever the reason, it helped create one of cinema’s greatest moments and Anita Ekberg was central to it. That enchantment she created somehow elevated what was already a beautiful experience in my life.
That’s what Anita Ekberg did for me and I’m grateful. It’s a shared experience I’ll never forget – and nor will my beloved son.
You’re a work of art, you’re the Trevi fountain
You’re a golden heart, you’re the highest mountain
You bring me flowers every day of my life
You save me from the worry and the strife
Take me in your arms
Baby, baby, I’m on a winning streak
When I met you I reached my peak
Your perfect view makes me feel brand new, yeah
Well, you’re just right to keep me up all night, up all night
Working all the time to make you mine, all mine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
Lovin’ all the time to keep you feeling fine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
20,000 Days on Earth
The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
David Oyelowo – Selma
Nicholas Cage – Joe
Tom Hardy – Locke
Benedict Cumberbtach – The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Hotel Budapest
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Tim Roth – Selma
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson – Selma
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Sienna Miller – American Sniper
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – 20,000 Days on Earth
Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Pawel Pawlikoski – Ida
Paul King – Paddington
Yann Demange- ’71
Paul Webb – Selma
Paul King – Paddington
Wes Anderson – Grand Hotel Budapest
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Grand Hotel Budapest
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(John Newman – Love Me Again)
Morning Phase – Beck
Tribute – John Newman
With The Artists – Rhythm & Sound
Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
(WomanChild -Cecile McLorin Salvant)
Van Morrison on launch night of Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Islington Assembly Hall (with D)
John Newman – Empire Shepherd’s Bush
ABC – Lexicon of Love – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Peter Gabriel – So – Wembley Arena
A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney – National Theatre, Lyttleton
Fiesta – adapted & directed by Alex Helfrecht – Trafalgar Studios
Oh What a Lovely War – Joan Littlewood & the Theatre Workshop – Theatre Royal Stratford East (Joan Littlewood centenary – with D)
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used to Be – Frank Norman – Theatre Royal Stratford East
Egon Schiele drawings: The Radical Nude – Courtauld
John Craxton – Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
Richard Hamilton – Tate Modern
Abram Games: designing the 20th Century – Jewish Museum, Camden Town
MALBA – Buenos Aires
Museum der bildenden Kunste – Leipzig (with N)
Book: (that I read this year)
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike
Germany crushing Brazil at the World Cup (7-1 semi-final)
Jonny May’s try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham
Philae probe from European spacecraft Rosetta landing on a comet
So it’s that time of the year again – my first BAFTA viewing of the season. To get things off to a strong start I went to see Jason Reitman’s Men Women & Children. He was at the screening (we crossed paths at the door of the Gents in the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho – I’ve seen him once before a couple of years ago at a screening of Up in the Air – he’s the son of Animal House producer, Ivan Reitman). Also present in the immaculate new screening room were stars Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars) and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher), plus producer Helen Estabrook, all interviewed after the movie by Jason Solomons (more comfortable than incisive like that old jumper with the paint spots on it).
I was going to ask director Jason Reitman why he had decided on a female English voice-over (Emma Thompson, who sounded like she didn’t really understand the American words she was being asked to say about sports and stuff) but the fella before me asked that one so I had to improvise. First I asked him why he used a voice-over narration at all (and quite a lot of it), and then I asked whether he had gone to Framestore for the space shots as a no-brainer in the wake of Gravity (it’s wonderful to see a London institution in such a dominant global position).
On the way out I had a chat with Ansel Elgort about selfies and who took the photos in the movie story of his screen mum and her lover. I thought it was a Judas scenario – who is narrating when he’s alone in his torment? – but Ansel reckoned the obnoxious couple took a photographer along to the wedding proposal, a “cheesy” act. I’m not entirely convinced but maybe that happens in the good ol’ US of A. He has 4 million Instagram followers so what do I know?
So the reasons to go see the film are:
1. Rosemarie DeWitt – I fancy her something rotten, very distinctive nose. She looks oddly like Davina McCall (who I bought a coke a few years ago at a BAFTA nominees party in Marylebone). Probably first noticed her in Rachel Getting Married and loved her in the delightful Your Sister’s Sister.
2. Carl Sagan’s words – My friend Doug Miller is always going on about Carl Sagan and he’s a man of taste. His taste is well proven in this movie as the voice-over of a Carl Sagan DVD provides the philosophical perspective in this story. It’s the “Pale Blue Dot” speech from Cosmos which says that us humans are basically a race of jumped-up monkeys floating in the blackness on an insignificant lump of rock – and that’s why we need to be kind to one another.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
3. Mobile phones – it really draws your attention to how much we all use them, especially while walking around.
I took this picture a couple of weeks ago in The Wolesey – these people never came off their phones in over an hour and hardly exchanged a word. One of the few things that sticks with me from Dr Susan Greenfield’s slightly odd book Tomorrow’s People is the new state of mind which sees us regularly living in two places at once thanks to this technology.
4. The Internet – this is probably the first movie I’ve seen that has a serious stab at examining what the internet is doing to us – through blogs, porn, social media, games et al – and how we connect in all regards these days.
The Great Escape (1963)
This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?
In Which We Serve (1942)
His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.
My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.
Cry Freedom (1987)
I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.
Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.
He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.
I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.
Took a moment to look back over the chapter titles I’ve fixed so far and enjoyed seeing them arranged together:
- With a Little Help from My Friend
- Take A Chance And Say You Tried
- The Rock of Change
- Give Away Everything You Know
- (Everyone you meet is) Fighting a Hard Battle
All but the first are quotes from the chapter protagonist. I was taking stock in a comfy hotel room in Toronto where I headed for a few days peace&quiet. The crappy English-type weather helped focus the mind, and together with the jetlag that had my brain pin-sharp at 2am, meant it was a productive trip. I alternated between processing Joan Littlewood-related interviews (interesting to listen back with a few months separation) and starting my next chapter, the one on Film which focuses on Danny Boyle. He represents a different kind of openness and generosity from what I’ve covered so far – his centres on bringing out talent in others and sharing the praise, very much leadership qualities which is the essence of being a film director.
While I was away I had the pleasure of meeting various directors at Hot Docs, the annual international documentary film festival (billed as the biggest in North America). I particularly enjoyed chatting with Charlie Lyne whose film Beyond Clueless was playing and James Motluk who is working on a really interesting Dylan-related doc.