Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Who hustles the hustlers?

christian-bale-batman

This time last night I was putting the plan into action. On leaving work I faced up to the hassles and bustle of the tube strike and managed to get myself into the West End. I walked up from Embankment to Forbidden Planet in St Giles’s and picked up a copy of a Dark Knight comic (along with my current fave, Sledgehammer 44). Phase 1 complete.

From there I headed across Soho to the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I dropped down into the screening room (where I was last for the classic in-the-making, The Wolf of Wall St, with Enfant Terrible No.1) to watch, for the second time, American Hustle. I wasn’t too taken with it on my first viewing on DVD – it felt a bit superficial and cold in the shadow of Silver Linings Playbook which was my top film of last year.

christian-bale-american hustle

But it played much better for me on a huge screen – and all the better as Christian Bale, director/co-writer David O Russell and producer Charles Roven showed up in the modest-sized screening room and gave articulate insights into how the film works.

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

DOR placed the emphasis firmly on exploring “What’s worth living for” / “what people live for”. He also talked in terms of wanting to “find a way of loving [Irving Rosenfeld]” (the protagonist, based on a real person called Len Something). He picked up on his authenticity/sincerity and joie de vivre. And from there looking at how various pairs, from Irving and Sydney (Amy Adams) to Irving and the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), loved one another. So it was closer to Playbook than I had realised.

I asked one of the first questions – to Christian Bale. His Londonish accent (belying his Welsh roots) knocked my socks off. It must have already done the job on him as he was without socks and laces, reflecting a modest openness. He had mentioned that DOR’s way of directing gave him space and comfort to “try crazy stuff” as he played the scenes. Also David’s way of wielding a fluent and unpredictable camera meant the acting was whole body and exposed. So I asked, given this, ‘What crazy stuff did you try?’, probing for concrete examples. CB gave a long explanation, attentively directed at me in the second row, which made it clear that each take was deliberately different, a certain amount of improvisation or harking back to older versions of the script took place, and we ended up focused on the scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York where Irving tries to lure Carmine back in. It was a very full and thoughtful answer (see beard-stroking below).

12christian-bale-american hustle

After the Q&A the distributor invited us into an adjacent rather red bar for drinks. I chatted with the MC, Edith Bowman, as I lay in wait. Then as Christian Bale entered I was obliged to ambush to see through the plan. I whipped out the Dark Knight comic, another Batman comic Enfant Terrible No.2 had given me (one of his most treasured) and a good black pen. Christian was very Christian about it as I explained it was my delivering on the request of a 14 year old, apple of my eye. Phase 2 complete.

We had a good chat about how the film played better for me second time/how you sometimes need to be in a receptive state (his observation); his accent and its origins; and finally about the nature of the autograph requester: Enfant Terrible No.2 said to me as we were planning and I was walking along Old Compton St on the phone to him that if I could only get one signed, Aurel’s (the first one, a birthday present for his best friend) was the important one. Now that’s what’s worth living for. Mission accomplished.

dark knight batman signed christian bale

I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?

Thoroughly Modern Mary (Poppins)

I’m going to watch Saving Mr Banks later today as I have to submit my first round of votes for the BAFTA Film Awards tonight. I’m all the more up for it as on Christmas Eve I went to see Mary Poppins (1964) on the big screen for the first time since I was a child, at The Phoenix in East Finchley, complete with free sherry and mince pies, the Christmas Eve screening becoming an annual tradition for us.

Watching it five decades after its release (this coming year is its half-century anniversary), it  strikes me as modern in a number of ways, such as:

  1. Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) has a portfolio career – chimney sweeper, pavement artist, one-man band, etc.bert in mary poppins
  2. Bert and his chimney sweep pals do free-running (parcours) on the rooftops of Edwardian London (really, check out some of the moves up and between the sloping roofs)mary_poppins_chimney_sweep
  3. Bert does free-style rapping at the gate of the park, making up his songs on the spot in response to the specifics of his audiencebert in mary poppins movie
  4. The bank where Mr Banks works is engaged in risky speculation with Other People’s Money and making nothing concrete or useful, and nearly collapses just because a young child speaks out and refuses to invest his two pennies in such supercrappifragileunrealisticexpatrociousness.

bank in mary poppins movie

Philips with one L (Day 41)

parallax-view-silhouette

Two meetings with Philips with one L. Firstly with Philip Dodd, formerly of Sight & Sound and the ICA, now a regular arts & ideas broadcaster on BBC Radio as well as a pioneer of British business & culture in China. He reads an awful lot of books so his guidance with this one was invaluable, some higher level perspectives to help avoid specific bear traps. We met where Fitzrovia meets Bloomsbury, the literary territory both Philips call home.

A midday interval in the grounds of UCL writing en plein air. Have Air will travel.

Then a long interview session with the second Philip – Philip Hedley, formerly artistic director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East in the wake of Joan Littlewood’s regime, joining as Assistant Director at the tail-end of that era around 1973. Philip talked with insight as the afternoon sun faded outside his art deco apartment building, the room darkened and his face became silhouetted. At the end of day 41 I was watching Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View which makes an art form of silhouettes in architectural frames.

Philip and I had begun chatting outdoors at the cafe opposite, his regular, in the cul de sac where GLO Productions was when I was setting out on my career. A fella called Gordon ran it til it went bankrupt; Tim Pope directed promos for them, produced by Lisa Bryer who went on to produce the likes of Film4′s The Last Kind of Scotland. I haven’t been in that streetette since the day of the winding-up meeting in the late 80s. A short stretch of the long and winding road…

The room we were subsequently talking in, home to Philip H for some 40 years, once housed a hastily convened meeting called by Joan to address the future of the Theatre Royal as Joan & Gerry’s time there was closing. Unusually she was taking the minutes herself. At the meeting she had strongly advocated the collective direction of TRSE, adamant that no leader was needed to succeed her. In the minutes she wrote that everyone turned their eyes to Philip when the issue of leadership surfaced but Philip made no response. The gap between her perception or recollection and Philip’s was Joan’s dramatic imagination, her romanticisation and theatricalisation of life which fuelled her creativity and characterises her autobiography, Joan’s Book, in which she recounts events in ways many struggle to recognise. As someone who ‘founded her life on the rock of change’ (a phrase she used to Philip in his five hour job interview for the Stratford gig) I suspect a book would be anathema, too fixed and rigid and not forward looking or moving…

the-parallax-view

Turn of the season (Day 25)

monsters-university-movie

OK, I admit it – I slacked off yesterday for one of the first times since I started. I read the end of a Joan Littlewood book for research in my outdoor office – i.e. picnic rug in back garden with the cat. And then I started reading a few chapters of the new James Bond book by William Boyd, Solo, which came out recently, enjoying the last of the autumn sunshine. I watched the end of a documentary about Joe Papp and made notes. So that was two loose ends tied. But I never did the other two of the four things I planned to accomplish. I didn’t finish my first pass at the Paul Arden chapter. And I didn’t set up five interviews for the Littlewood chapter. (Though I did set up one for the Advertising section). Then I knocked off early to take the younger Enfant Terrible to see a screening of Monsters University at a plush hotel viewing room in Soho, preceded by some Lebanese grub at our favourite, Yalla Yalla, in an alley off Beak Street. We had fun watching men emerging surreptitiously from the sex shop opposite, we enjoyed sharing the fresh hummous and haloumi, we popped in to say hello to tailor-cum-film-maker John Pearse (whose film Moviemakers was at the Cambridge Film Festival a few days ago) and who made my wedding suit, we enjoyed the buzz of all the girls outside the hotel waiting to see Madonna come in or go out, we mucked about while we were waiting taking selfies. The film was very funny and the Enfant Terrible asked a good question of the director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae from Pixar who did a Q&A after the screening – he was trying to find out why the 12 year delay between Monsters Inc and this one, representing in effect most of his life. I got to have a good chat with Dan afterwards about the process of working with Helen Mirren and the other actors. So it was a well spent day but not very productive. Perhaps that’s part of the point of the sabbatical I’m tending to overlook a bit, there’s an aspect of reward to it and recognition and battery-charging.

The Commonplace Book – Inspiration and Perspiration

6/8/13

Inspiration

Inspiration

Simple Pleasures part 4 was inspired partly by an Ian Dury song (via my first blog Simple Pleasures) and partly by an article from the pen of the poet Andrew Motion. In that line of heritage, I was reading Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From and was much taken with his thoughts on the ‘commonplace book’, the practice of keeping a scrapbook of quotes and thoughts which he traces from John Locke in the late 17th century through to Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), ultimately linking it to Tim Berners-Lee’s inspiration for the World Wide Web. I’ve kept these kinds of notebooks and notes for any years but being reminded of their value in creative thinking, the repository for the ‘slow hunch’ and the petri dish in which disparate but related thoughts grow together, makes me feel encouraged to write here more often and in smaller bursts. Here’s one I wrote a couple of days ago after reading about the Commonplace Book and then chatting to an old friend of mine from the Universite de Savoie, year of 83…

Mangen lake

Narration

4/8/13 Mangskog, Sweden: Sitting on the deck outside Bjorksuset (whispering of the birches), my friend Hanna’s house, this afternoon overlooking Mangen lake I was thinking a bit about Swedish neutrality in the War before Hanna told me a story from a documentary she made recently for NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. It was about so-called ‘war children’ in Norway (the off-spring of Norwegian women and German soldiers) and the on-going impact of the Second World War on Norwegians. Hanna filmed a woman who recently discovered her father was in fact a German bureaucrat of the Occupation, not the Norwegian man whom she had called daddy all her life, father of what had been her two brothers up to the point of this discovery in her advancing years. When she told her mother she had acted on some bothersome doubts from her childhood and uncovered her true parentage through a specialist agency her mother went nuts with her, majorly upset by having her secret unburied. And the brothers went crazy too, especially the older one who runs a big well-known Oslo-based shopping mall (he threatened to sue). In revealing her discovery the family imploded and she lost mother, (half-)siblings and extended family at a stroke. Although she acquired some half-brothers in Germany in the process. So seventy years after the occupation of Norway the dark forces still swirl, much as in France, like molten lava beneath the crust busting out when cracks appear.

Mangskog, Sweden

Transpiration

6/3/13 I’m sitting on that same deck behind Bjorksuset, listening to the wind in the canopies of the silver birches. My grandparents had silver birches which fascinated me as a child in their inappropriately named street Cyprus Avenue. Their shiny trunks punctuated the way to the red postbox twenty yards down from their house, which at the age I am recalling seemed a major journey to be let loose on alone. The sound of the rustling leaves is a constant in this beautiful place in the West of Sweden. I think ‘suset’ in Swedish must be related to ‘susurration’ in English. The whispering sea-like sound made me think of the soundtrack of Antonioni’s Blow-Up – the mysterious breeze in the trees of the South London park where the ‘corpse’ lies worked its magic on me big time. And my train of thought then headed off down the line of the sound of wind in films and pulled in to these three stops:

Blow-Up (1966): the wind in the trees makes the park where the photographer (David Hemmings) accidentally photographs a dead body weird&wonderful – I always meant to visit that location, I’ll have to rewatch the movie then make the trip this autumn

Ryan’s Daughter (1970): The eponymous Irish colleen and the English captain make illicit love among the bluebells in the West of Ireland and what David Lean shows us is the strong breeze shaking the treetops above them

Black Narcissus (1947): Michael Powell set nerves on edge in this English Romantic Technicolor tale by having the Himalayan wind blow constantly through the mountain-top convent in which a nun gradually succumbs to an irreligious magic

In all three (the last one in too sparse a landscape for leaves to accompany moving air) the whispering of the wind brings the magical and mystical to the scene.

Susurration

Susurration

At the nadir of my teenage years, when I retired to a room with David Bowie and Jane Austen to see me through, just like Renton prepares the room for going cold turkey in Trainspotting, Wild is the Wind struck me as a uniquely Romantic song a bit apart from his others, with a touch of epic, majestic magic.

Wild is the Wind David Bowie

Aspiration

The song was actually written for a film of the same name made in 1957 and recorded by Johnny Mathis. Bowie was inspired to cover it by Nina Simone’s version. It is to be found on his 1976 LP Station to Station which neatly brings this thought-train to its terminus.

Like the leaf clings to the tree
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind
Wild is the wind, wild is the wind

Happy Birthday Charlie

124 today and never bettered

charlie chaplin filming

Argofuckyourself – Oscars 2013 Update

Oscars

This is an update to my Oscars 2013 post which set out how things would pan out if the world were a just or tasteful place…

So how just were things?

I was on the money for Best Actress (not an obvious one with Emanuelle Riva in contention) and Best Screenplay, both Original and Adapted. I also nailed Best Cinematography and Best Documentary.

I still back Silver Linings Playbook for Best Picture. Dave Sexton sums it up pretty well in tonight’s London Evening Standard: “Yet [Argo] is only moderately good, telling a story that has no long-lasting or deeply personal resonance for the viewer. It’s well made, quite exciting at the start and at the finish, and it has some funny lines. But it’s not a film you would want to see twice, I’d say.” I’ve now watched it twice and he’s right – it’s not a fulfilling experience second time round, largely due to its thriller nature. Ben Affleck’s performance looks better on second viewing and his direction very well pitched and restrained. But SLP has more substance in the long run, more legs and more emotional resonance.

Ang Lee as Best Director I can swallow as Life of Pi is a real handful to master and it is quite some spectacle, one of the first artistically successful 3D movies (I suspect even Kermode would agree on that front). I also embrace Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor as he clearly is one of the all-time greats, and he brings Abraham Lincoln fully to life. Christophe Waltz merits his second Best Supporting Actor gong – the way Django Unchained spins out of control after his demise indicates the importance of his performance, even if it gets a little mannered at points.

2012-13 was a really rich year for cinema in contrast to most of the last few years. I’m glad therefore that no movies dominated the Oscars, especially Lincoln and Les Miserables, the one too talky (my Twitter review: Overlong, overtext and over here) and the other too singy. It was a bit harsh on Zero Dark Thirty but all in all justice largely prevailed.

Oscars 2013

OscarsIf the world were a just or tasteful place, this is who’d be getting a little golden man this year:

BEST PICTURE

Silver Linings Playbook

BEST DIRECTOR

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

BEST ACTOR

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

BEST ACTRESS

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Argo Alan Arkin

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin (Argo) or Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Helen Hunt (The Sessions) or Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Original Screenplay
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Best Adapted Screenplay
Chris Terrio, Argo or
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Documentary Feature
Searching For Sugar Man

Cinematography
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi or Roger Deakins, Skyfall

Best Original Score
Thomas Newman, Skyfall

More on Silver Linings Playbook here

More on Bond music here

Best of 2012

[a work in progress]
Silver Linings Playbook

Film:
Silver Linings Playbook
Runner-up: Untouchable

Speedy – accompanied by Evelyn Glennie & Talvin Singh (Not So Silent Movies)
West Side Story with live orchestra (Albert Hall)
Searching for Sugarman
On The Road
Woody Allen: A Documentary

(2011 winner: Midnight in Paris)
(2010 [reluctant] winner: Toy Story 3)
(2009 winner: Inglourious Basterds)

Actor:
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Runner-up: Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock), Jared Gilman (Moonrise Kingdom)

(2011 winner: Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris))
(2010 winner: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network))
(2009 winner: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds))

Actress:
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Runner-up: Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

(2011 winner: Carey Mulligan (Shame))
(2010 winner: Julianne Moore (The Kids Are Alright) )
(2009 winner: Carey Mulligan (An Education) )

Supporting Actor:
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths)
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Xavier Bardem (Skyfall)
William Macy (The Sessions)

(2011 winner: Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris))
(2010 winner: Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are Alright) )
(2009 winner: Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) )

Supporting Actress:
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
Kristen Stewart (On The Road)

(2011 winner: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants))
(2010 winner: Rebecca Hall (The Town) )
(2009 winner: Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy) )

Director:
David O. Russell  (Silver Linings Playbook)
Runners-up: Walter Salles (On The Road), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)

(2011 winner: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris))
(2010 winner: Ben Affleck (The Town) )
(2009 winner: Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) )

Script:
David O. Russell  (Silver Linings Playbook)
Runners-up: Chris Terrio (Argo), Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

(2011 winner: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris))
(2010 winner: The Social Network)
(2009 winner: The Hangover)

Cinemtography:
Roger Deakins (Skyfall)
Runner-up: Eric Gautier (On The Road)

Dean and Marylou getting it on

Dean and Marylou getting it on

TV:
Olympic Opening Ceremony (BBC1)
Runner-up: The Audience (Channel 4)

Homeland, seasons 1 + 2 (Channel 4)
Grand Designs  (Channel 4)

Gig:

Van Morrison – Ronnie Scott’s
Dexy’s – Empire, Shepherds Bush
Bat for Lashes – The Forum

Gregory Porter – Bloomsbury Theatre
Patti Smith – Troxy, Limehouse

(2011 winner: Sinead O’Connor – St Johns at Hackney church)
(2010 winner: Gil Scott Heron – Somerset House)
(2009 winner: Hothouse Flowers – Community hall, Baltimore, West Cork)

LP:
One Day I’m Going to Soar – Dexys
How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? - Sinead O’Connor

This is PIL – Public Image Ltd.
Holly Cook – In Dub

(2011 winner: Johnny Boy Would Love This – various)
(2010 winner: Praise & Blame – Tom Jones)
(2009 winner: Sea Sew – Lisa Hannigan)

Single:
Harder Than You Think – Public Enemy
She Got a Wiggle – Dexys
One Drop – Public Image Ltd.
Reason With Me - Sinead O’Connor

(2011 winner: Movin’ Down the Line- Raphael Saadiq)
(2010 winner: What good am I? – Tom Jones)
(2009 winner: Glass – Bat for Lashes)

Book:
The Typewriter is Holy – Bill Morgan

(2011 winner: The Sisters Brothers – Patrick de Witt)
(2010 winner: Freedom – Jonathan Franzen)
(2009 winner: The Great Lover – Jill Dawson)

Art:
The Mystery of Appearance (Haunch of Venison)

Musee d’Orsay (post 2012 revamp)
(Preraphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (Tate Britain))

(2011 winner: Angelheaded Hipsters – Allen Ginsberg (National Theatre))
(2010 winner: Paul Nash – The Elements – Dulwich Picture Gallery)
(2009 winner: Dream – Jaume Plensa)

Can We Talk About This?

Can We Talk About This?

Play:
Can We Talk About This? – DV8 (Lyttleton, NT)

Travelling Light – Nicholas Wright (NT)
She Stoops to Conquer – Oliver Goldsmith (NT)
Singing in the Rain (The Palace)
Jesus Christ Superstar (Millennium Dome)

(2011 winner: Frankenstein (NT))
(2010 winner: Jerusalem)
(2009 winner: August: Osage County)

Sports event:
London 2012 Olympic Games

Website:
Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

(2011 winner: Instagram)
(2009 winner: Posterous)

Saddest loss:
Neil Armstrong
Dave Brubeck

One Day i'm going to soar cover
Best of 2011
Best of 2010
Best of 2009

4 reasons to see Silver Linings Playbook

silver linings playbook

I’m just back from a screening in the plush, cosy screening room under the Covent Garden Hotel in Monmouth Street (which has the best Christmas lights in London). I’ve been chatting with the very charming, unpretentious, part-Irish Bradley Cooper who I mainly knew beforehand from great silly films like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers. Silver Linings Playbook is a very different kind of comedy, subtler, more authentic and more romantic. I laid my newly hatched theory on him that Jennifer Lawrence in this movie is very like Meg Tilly in The Big Chill, that vibrant young sexuality allied with a strong individuality, they even share that slightly oriental look – and she does a load of stretching and dancing stuff in that movie, Bradley kindly added to the theory. I think he was convinced – or just very polite. Especially for someone who’s just arrived this evening from LA (where he half lives, the rest of the time residing in his native Philadelphia). We talked a bit about acting with De Niro (he said how generous De Niro was on set to support his performance) and how strong De Niro’s performance is in this film, standing out from almost all of his recent roles. And then a bit about NFL, the older Enfant Terrible being the proud owner of an Eagles shirt from before his defection to the Patriots – which got us into teens and how this film has much of use to say about resilience and taking control in adversity. It’s a pretty much flawless script from David O. Russell, complemented by perfect, judicious improvisation. I asked him about the latter and he highlighted scenes where they went most to town, though within well defined parameters, De Niro’s method, like the parlay betting scene and the comparing meds scene. So the 4 reasons are…

1 The powerful chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, not least in the dancing scenes

2 The exquisite direction by David O. Russell, which has the confidence of a man with a real vision (and a script he’s spent five years honing)

3 A fantastically diverse soundtrack which makes great use of Led Zep (What Is and What Should Never Be), the recently departed Dave Brubeck (Unsquare Dance and Maria) and the classic duet of Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash from Nashville Skyline (Girl from the North Country)

4 The uplifting treatment of a difficult mental health issue, highlighting the ubiquity of craziness and how positive and energising it can be.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Meg Tilly

Meg Tilly

Jennifer in 2010s dancing gear

Jennifer in 2010s dancing gear

Meg in 1980s dancing gear

Meg in 1980s dancing gear

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