Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category
Just back from watching ‘Taxi Driver’ for the first time in years, on the big screen at the National Film Theatre, London. The latest sortie in an on-going campaign to expose the Enfants Terribles to the best of 70s cinema – from ‘The Godfather’ via ‘Serpico’ to ‘Chinatown’. And this the day after bumping into Martin Scorsese on the mean streets of London.
1. The Beginning
As the shark-monster wing of the yellow New York cab emerges from the cloud of steam to the epic music of Bernard Herrmann (to whom Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece is dedicated) we know this vehicle is more than a jaundiced automobile – it will take us from here (a neon-lit metropolis littered with sin and evil goings-on) to there (a patient study in alienation and trying to do right but failing in an oh so human way) for a few dollars but we’ll leave the slick pavement on the journey and transcend to higher places (including a climactic moment in which we float over the ultimately murderous outcome across the ceiling of the blood-spattered room in a bold overhead shot). This film is blood red like the Technicolor crimson lipstick in ‘Black Narcissus’ which Scorsese so admires, like Powell & Pressburger’s ‘Red Shoes’, like the blood of Christ and the neon in the city night.
2. The Acting
DeNiro, the year after his triumph in ‘The Godfather II’, brilliantly conveys the building total exhaustion of a man who can’t sleep despite 12 hour overnight shifts in the cab. His eyes gradually darken as does his outlook. Returned from Vietnam, wounded in body and mind – all shown and not told (scars on his back, his named combat uniform, Nam references in a political speech) – Travis Bickle tries desperately to get back in touch with the world but his 26-year old head just isn’t there. He reaches out to presidential campaigner Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but can’t remember why taking her out to a porn movie on a date might not be right. He tries to engage the kiosk girl in a porno cinema to no avail, foreshadowing the failed date as well as spotlighting a painful innocence. DeNiro’s performance is a patient portrait of isolation and aloneness. When we first see him in the brilliant revelation of his radical Mohican haircut in a tilt up from his hands opening a bottle of pills, up his combat fatigues, past his We Are The People badge, to reveal his final descent to animalistic warrior basics, he is standing alone at the edge of a crowd.
3. The Writing
Paul Schrader’s script is full of classic lines, as epic and resonant as Herrmann’s score. The biblical passage near the front about washing all the filth off the city streets – Manhattan as Nineveh (which has an added dimension in that Nineveh is now Mosul and Mosul is now being cleansed of IS animalistic psycho-warriors) – is masterful.
May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.
4. The Ending
The romantic shot towards the end of Betsy, framed in the taxi rearview mirror, surrounded by soft-focus glittering city lights, is literally a rear view, a coma fantasy drawn from a more promising time. The sounds of the hospital life-support machines subtly playing in the background (at least that’s how I read it). The sound design is fabulous throughout, many grim scenes of guns and prostitution underlaid with the shouts and play of children in the city streets. The Betsy in rearview mirror shot was referenced by John Mackenzie in the ending of ‘The Long Good Friday’ four years after this movie – in that case a young Pierce Brosnan fixing a resigned Harold/Bob Hoskins in the reflection. There Harold Shand is being driven off to his death. In the last moments of ‘Taxi Driver’ it is a comatose Travis Bickle who pulls away in his taxi from his dream of love and connection (in the fantasised form of Betsy) and drives off on his own to his own death and fade to black, leaving us with a powerful sense of wasted human potential, the urge to do right, to help, to save, to connect, to reach out, which somehow goes wrong…
I got some good ideas in my head after the inspiration of watching such a flawless film. It has just been re-released in the UK to mark its 40th anniversary.
…because you can bump into Martin Scorsese (and Tom Ford) totally by accident on your way home from work…
Tom Hardy as Oliver Reed
I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.
It turned out something of a literary day today. It started with a note on this humble blog from an actor interested in Jean Newlove, collaborator of Joan Littlewood and pioneer of movement as a discipline in theatre. The actor in question appeared as a young Alan Turing in ‘The Imitation Game’, growing up into Benedict Cumberbatch (patron of our very own Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley). I interviewed Jean Newlove, mother of the late Kirsty MacColl (who will be coming in to season shortly as the female half of the greatest of all Christmas songs, ‘Fairytale of New York’), for the Littlewood chapter of my not-yet-finished book ‘When Sparks Fly’.
I was keen to read the last couple of chapters of the excellent novel I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks, Amos Oz’s ‘Judas’, so I left a bit early for my first meeting in Old Street and repaired to nearby Bunhill Fields to read in the low yellow winter sunshine. I sat down by John Bunyan’s tomb, inhaling the roll-up smoke of two Eastern European workers on the adjacent bench, and by way of hors-d’oeuvres downloaded a copy of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ to my phone and read the opening. It’s a good complement to ‘Judas’. I then read some of the wizardry of Oz before heading off to my first meeting with a young scriptwriter of the Paul Abbott school. I’m producing a short film for him. On my way over to Silicon Roundabout I remembered there were other literary types in Bunhill Fields and sauntered past them – Daniel Defoe and beside him the great Londoner William Blake, born in Marshall Street, Soho where my very first job (for a film company) was located. I’d spotted on a Twitter post just after the note from the actor that today was Blake’s birthday. I hadn’t paid much attention but once in front of the grave it came back to me and the coincidence of showing up at his death place on the day of his birth delighted me as I have been much taken with coincidences in recent times.
I’ve had two other good ones in the last couple of days. On Saturday night I was on my way to see Michael Keegan-Dolan’s brilliant dance Swan Lake / Loch nEala when I came across One Lost Glove and photographed it as is my wont with a caption playing on a song title as is my wont: Whole Lotta gLove. I was having dinner first with some friends and as I took my seat in Miz En Bouche in St John Street, Islington over their sound system came a version of Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ covered by a relatively sedate female singer.
Today, after I’d finished the Oz book, I resumed Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’, winner of this year’s Man Booker prize. In it I read this sentence: “Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised by p values in the .75 range.” I got that it was taking the piss out of a certain kind of academia and social science but I had no idea what p values are, never heard of them before. This evening I’m at a lecture by Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland (who I also interviewed for ‘When Sparks Fly’) on Behavioural Economics. He mentions p values of course.While I’m at it a Blake-related coincidence this time last year which proved very important for me. When BAFTA season is in full flow you get inundated with PR emails from film publicity companies. I normally don’t read them but I did read one entitled A Bigger Splash because that first job of mine in Soho, opposite Blake’s birthplace, was with a film company that made a movie in 1974 entitled ‘A Bigger Splash’, about David Hockney and his circle. So the subject line caught my eye and I scrolled through the email. It was for a new romantic comedy (?) featuring Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton. At the bottom of the email was the address of the publicity company – 35 Marshall Street, the very address of Buzzy Enterprises where I worked. So it was Buzzy’s address and Buzzy’s title united on a single email. What are the chances? Two items with no intrinsic connection. Unlike the hearing the same word for the first time twice on the same day type coincidence there can be no rational explanation for this baby. I ended up sending it to my former boss, director of the original ‘A Bigger Splash’, Jack Hazan, and that triggered a train of events which lead to us working together for the first time in decades, on a documentary based on something he shot three years before ‘A Bigger Splash’.
The first chapter of ‘When Sparks Fly’ is about poet Allen Ginsberg, who was hugely influenced by Blake. The road I crossed to get to Bunhill contains St Luke’s church where I once met Patti Smith, who is also a massive fan of Blake and wrote a song called ‘In My Blakean Year’ (but we talked about two other poets who resided in London, albeit briefly – Rimbaud & Verlaine).
The coincidences, both explicable and inexplicable, are the kind of thing that make life worth living. They suggest pattern, yes, but more importantly they suggest magic.
Tomorrow sees the UK release of Woody Allen’s latest movie, Café Society, starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Holy Rollers, Batman v Superman), Kristen Stewart (Twilight, On The Road) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Foxcatcher). Here are 4 reasons why it is not to be missed…
1. Vittorio Storaro’s coffee-coloured cinematography
Now into his late 70s, Storaro is the man who photographed Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor and Bulworth (the first and last of these being among my very favourite films). In this movie he paints 30s Hollywood and New York in a palette of yellows and browns which is as delicious as a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain with a dash of cream, making it the most beautiful looking film you’re likely to see this year. He is already working on Woody Allen’s next.
Rose: Too bad Jews don’t have an after-life – they’d get a lot more customers.
2. Woody Allen’s masterful writing
Phil: Two time Academy Award winner.
Bobby: Wow, congratulations.
Hollywood Writer: Thank you. You’ve never heard of me, I’m a writer.
Having written nearly 80 films, Woody has gotten pretty darn good at it. Café Society has absolute economy – you see what you need to see, you hear what you need to hear, you linger when you’d like to linger, you catch fleeting words and moments that delight. You get the laughs, you get the philosophy, your heart-strings get tugged, all leading to a bitter-sweet moment that doesn’t even need any words.
3. Santo Loquasto’s Production Design
Woody’s Production Designer since 1987’s Radio Days, Loquasto delivers again – a golden LA at the height of the studio years contrasts with a darkened NYC of clubs, cramped apartments and alleyways. The film opens on a luxurious poolside party beside a bright white Deco mansion – Hockney meets Gatsby – and sets the tone: this is a world to which we’re going to enjoy every minute of our visit.
Party Guest: [to Bobby] Unrequited love kills more people a year than tuberculosis.
4. Unique Story-telling
No-one in the movies tells a story quite like Woody Allen in his elder statesman years. It’s thoroughly American. Profoundly Jewish. Shot through with European. Café Society has the voice-over of the early faux-documentary films (e.g. Take the Money and Run), performed by the ageing voice of the writer-director, rich and literary but still restrained and judicious. It has that distinctive Allen thing of having a young Woody avatar – there’s an aspect of Eisenberg’s performance which is reproducing Woody’s screen persona – much like Owen Wilson’s excellent performance in that other fabulous late bloom that was Midnight in Paris – yet he transcends it to produce a poignant and memorable lead character living a poignant and terrible love.
Narrator: Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.
Emilio Estevez / Andrew Clark
He followed up with the Brat Pack vehicle St Elmo’s Fire. Then some Hollywood fodder like Young Guns and Stake-out in the late 80s. And fades. Two momentary re-emergences: in 2006 when he wrote and directed the RFK movie Bobby and then again when he directed his dad in the low key The Way in 2010. The Breakfast Club was his finest moment. In latter years he hooked up with Macedonian model Sonja Magdevski and they grew pinot noir grapes together in their very own Malibu vineyard.
Anthony Michael Hall / Brian Johnson
Follows up with another (inferior) John Hughes – Weird Science. Then it’s death by TV, with just occasional small movie re-appearances such as The Dark Knight and Foxcatcher. He never married.
Judd Nelson / John Bender
The same Brat Pack move – St Elmo’s Fire. Transformers in 1986. Then a descent into TV movie hell and Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of. It was his finest moment too, untranscendable.
Molly Ringwald / Claire Standish
A worthy John Hughes follow-up in Pretty in Pink. Then mostly TV mush. In 2013 she published a young-adult novel, When It Happens to You, and released a jazz record, Except Sometimes, on which the final track is a cover of Don’t You (Forget About Me), the Simple Minds’ theme tune for TBC. She’s had 3 children.
Ally Sheedy / Allison Reynolds
Ditto regarding St Elmo’s Fire. Then John Badham’s Short Circuit. Then movies you’ve never heard of and some telly. High Art in 1998 was by all accounts a notable exception. In the 1990s she was treated for sleeping pill addiction. She moved home to New York and teaches high school kids acting stuff.
It was all their finest moment and the stuff of our hopes and dreams.
I’m starting a movie project later this morning for Channel 4 /All 4 short form so what better way to get in the mood than comparing my votes for the British Academy Awards (BAFTAs) with the actual winners tonight for the American Academy Awards (Oscars). While I’m at it, I’m going to do head-to-head on the (acting) categories which are artificially split into genders – will they combine these one day or do a head-to-head given there’s no physical difference between the sexes in this regard?
AG: The Big Short
AG & Academy: Brie Larson, Room
AG: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Leonardo diCaprio, The Revenant
AG: Adam McKay, The Big Short
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Best original screenplay
AG: The Hateful Eight
Best original score
AG & Academy: The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
Best adapted screenplay
AG & Academy: The Big Short
Best supporting actress
AG: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Best supporting actor
AG & Academy: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Best costume design
AG: Carol – Sandy Powell
Mad Max Fury Road – Jenny Beavan
Best animated film
AG & Academy: Inside Out
AG & Academy: Amy
AG & Academy: The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Best make-up and hair
AG: Carol [not nominated]
Mad Max: Fury Road
Best visual effects
AG & Academy: Ex Machina
Best sound editing
AG & Academy: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best sound mixing
AG & Academy: Mad Max: Fury Road
AG: The Big Short – Hank Corwin [he was robbed!]
Mad Max Fury Road – Margeret Sixel
BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR/ACTRESS: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Tying some Oscar loose ends including why I don’t reckon The Revenant
To round off on this special day – being 29th of February, leap year day – I’d like to celebrate the considerable success of the UK film industry. I heard we had nominations in 21 of 24 categories (I haven’t counted them up to check). We had winners in 6:
- Best supporting actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies – in a league of his own
- Best visual effects: Ex Machina – an amazing follow-up to Gravity’s success
- Best documentary: Amy – masterfully realised by Asif Kapadia, fellow East Finchley resident
- Best song: Sam Smith – raw youth
- Best short: Stutterer – Anglo-Irish triumph
- Best costume: Mad Max Fury Road
As an antidote to Anton Corbijn’s terrible film ‘Life’ which I’ve just been watching (stijck to the stijlls Anton) here are a couple of photos/stills of James Dean by Dennis Stock and others to help me remember why he seared…
So it’s getting to that time in the year when various movie awards stuff needs tidying up. The BAFTA Film Awards take place tomorrow night, the Silver Surfer to the Oscars’ Galactus.
Let’s start with this race issue: my take on it is that it should have rung an alarm last year when our own academy (BAFTA) failed to recognise the excellent Selma and in particular our very own Brit David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, not to mention the director Ava DuVernay. I was on their case within minutes of the nominations announcement on Radio 5, both on my own SurrealThing Twitter account and in conversation with other friends&associates:
The total absence of Selma stuck out like a dark deed in …something very pure and white. A bag of cotton wool. A bowl of vanilla ice-cream. A cloud. The North Pole. Dulux Pure Brilliant White. “Their” (case) – I mean “our” – for the first time I felt embarrassment with regard to BAFTA. Actually the second time …but that’s another post. Today the Chief Executive of BAFTA was reported saying: “It would be inappropriate for me to say that we’ve done a better job than the Oscars. I admire their stance. They’ve said that they’re going to make changes. They know it isn’t good enough. I don’t want to gloat and say we’ve done better, because it could have gone the other way.” Memories can be short. Selma got 0 nominations at last year’s BAFTAs whilst it was a Best Motion Picture of the Year nominee at the Oscars a month later. The reason offered was: ““The film wasn’t delivered until the end of November and there were only three screenings before the voting started.” Well I remember not only going to one of the screenings but also getting a DVD Screener through the door in good time for Christmas, the intense viewing period for BAFTA voter members, and for the first round of voting.
I wrote about Selma here in Simple Pleasures a couple of weeks before the embarrassing nominations announcement.
Now, thanks to the complacency and inertia of the academies, we’re in the worst of all worlds – we don’t know whether sympathy votes are being cast or corrective behaviour taking place, so when, say, Idris Elba picked up the Best Actor award at last week’s Evening Standard Film Awards or at the Screen Actors Guild awards the week before we have no idea what that means. Exaggerated by the fact that his nomination at both the BAFTAs and SAG were in the Supporting Actor category.
Moving on, in retrospect I’m glad I was also pretty swift off the mark this year with The Big Short. An absolute masterpiece of writing, acting, directing and editing. Head and shoulders the stand-out film of the season. I went to an awards screening at the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho which both actor Steve Carell and director Adam McKay attended.
In the Q&A that followed, I asked Adam McKay about the editing style and whether it had been envisioned from the off – it’s very striking and energising, as well as funny. I had a chat with Steve Carell in the bar after the event – a very warm and humble man. We talked a bit about the progression from The Wolf of Wall Street to The Big Short and about the source book for the movie. I also had a brief conversation with Adam McKay, likewise about the relationship to Scorsese’s terrific financial crash satire. Carell’s performance is outstanding – too subtle for the awards season but wonderful, with shades of Joe Pesci (Goodfellas).
This intimate gathering was a stark contrast to the BAFTA screening of The Force Awakens.
Not even the presence of a doddery Harrison Ford, fresh-faced Daisy Ridley, enthusiastic John Boyega and the wunderkind JJ Abrams could elevate Star Wars: The Force Awakens from being a just about entertaining enough 2 hours in the cinema to being much more than a pale shadow of its 1977 daddy (which I saw on release at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road and was as wowed by Dolby sound technology as anything else). The power of nostalgia is such that Pete Bradshaw (the other half of the Twitter convo above) gave it a 5* review in The Guardian! Daisy Ridley’s mum used to work at Channel 4 when my Other Half did and was shanghaied into one of the films I directed at the time. In the absence of Daisy with her C4 connections from any of the nominations lists, I really hope the film wins nothing other than technical prizes. Just to the right of JJ Abrams in the above photo – victims of the square format – is the British head of visual effects (whose name shamefully escapes me – another feather in the cap of the London Visual FX industry in the proud heritage of Framestore’s wonderful Gravity) and a hero of mine, Lawrence Kasdan, writer of the classic The Big Chill. This movie was not his finest hour.
But on a similar scale (the screening) and with another brilliant scriptwriter, a night at the Odeon Leicester Square watching The Hateful Eight in 70mm was a highlight of the season.
Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins attended, QT his usual ebullient self, delighting in the 70mm projection in a premium auditorium, as well as the presence of Ennio Morricone in the audience. Him and the Maestro were sitting just along the row from me and shared a spectacular snowy screen experience, fabulously written, uniquely directed – wall to wall pleasure. With the added bonus of confronting race issues head on and including a decent complement of non-white faces!
Another visceral white (environment) big screen Experience with a capital E was the BAFTA screening of The Revenant. Now Birdman is high up my list of Most Hated Movies, right up there with Shirley Valentine – in this case for being cold (not in the sub-zero sense) and over-calculating.
It was evident from the Q&A that Tom Hardy also found Alejandro G. Iñárritu irritating. This over-hyped director seemed to have spent more time fussing over camera set-ups and cheating angles than worrying whether his actors had a balding notion what was actually going on in the scene, who they were talking to (since they were placed at unnatural angles) or what was in shot. Despite the logistical and physical triumph of shooting where it was shot, the ambitious movie in my eyes was let down by misjudgment of pace and story especially towards the end. Nonetheless it was a visceral cinematic experience and for that deserves recognition (of the non-awards type, apart from…) I hope it brings DiCaprio his elusive Oscar – though it’s not my favourite of his performances, it’s still as brilliant as ever.
My favourite Leonardo DiCaprio performances:
- Arnie – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993 – aged 19)
- Jordan – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
- Romeo – Romeo & Juliet (1996)
- Candie – Django Unchained (2012)
- Toby – This Boy’s Life (1993)
- Jack – Titanic (1997)
Dontcha just love the movies…
The Big Short
20,000 Days on Earth
The Wolf of Wall Street
Silver Linings Playbook
Midnight in Paris
Compared to the Best Picture Oscar:
2014 Birdman – one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, hated it
2013 12 Years a Slave – a worthy winner from Film4
2012 Argo – well done with a great turn from Alan Arkin
2011 The Artist – gimmicky but fun
2010 The King’s Speech – solid
2009 The Hurt Locker – admirably visceral
Compared to the Best Film BAFTA:
2014 Boyhood – a worthy winner for its innovation
2013 12 Years a Slave – proud that Brits & Film4 told this story to America
2012 Argo – with hindsight, Zero Dark Thirty may be the more enduring nominee
2011 The Artist – at least an imaginative choice for winner
2010 The King’s Speech – solid in a very British way
2009 The Hurt Locker – just not my cup of entertainment tea