Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

4 reasons to go see Café Society

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…

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Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) & Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) fail to have dinner in his rooms

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.

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Vonnie faced with a heart-breaking dilemma

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.

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Grown up Vonnie

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.

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Bobby’s fashionable club in New York

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.

 

What ever happened to The Breakfast Club?

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Emilio Estevez / Andrew Clark

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Then

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Now – he looks like his dad (Martin Sheen)

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

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Then

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Now

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

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Then

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Now – Where the fuck have the dreams gone?

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

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Then

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Now

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

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Then

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Now

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.

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“My issue isn’t about physical aging; my issue is about wanting to remain vigorous and youthful in my spirit.” Rob Lowe (who played Billy Hicks in the ubiquitous ‘St Elmo’s Fire’)

 

 

The Oscars: AG v Academy

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?

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Best picture 
AG: The Big Short
Spotlight

Best actress 
AG & Academy: Brie Larson, Room

Best actor 
AG: Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Leonardo diCaprio, The Revenant

Best director 
AG: Adam McKay, The Big Short
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant

Best original screenplay
AG: The Hateful Eight
Spotlight

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

Best documentary
AG & Academy: Amy

Best cinematography
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

Best editing
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

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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

 

Movie Without a Cause

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…

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by Dennis Stock

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In a NYC diner – by Dennis Stock

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crucified in Giant

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East of Eden

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Rebel Without a Cause

Movie awards season round-off

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:

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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.

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Steve Carell

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.

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Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, JJ Abrams

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.

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Quentin Tarantino, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell & Walton Goggins reduced to a digital mosaic by my dodgy phone

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.

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Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hardy reduced to a vague blur by that dodgy phone

 

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:

  1. Arnie – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993 – aged 19)
  2. Jordan – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  3. Romeo – Romeo & Juliet (1996)
  4. Candie – Django Unchained (2012)
  5. Toby – This Boy’s Life (1993)
  6. Jack – Titanic (1997)

Dontcha just love the movies…

The Simple Pleasures Best Film of the Year 2015-2009

2015

The Big Short

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2014

20,000 Days on Earth

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2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

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2012

Silver Linings Playbook

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2011

Midnight in Paris

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2010

Inception

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2009

Inglourious Basterds

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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

My Favourite Movies

It’s that end of the year time when lists beckon. I’ll be doing my annual list of the best of the year in the next 36 hours or so but before I embark on that I was out with my youngest nephew the night before last and he showed me his Top 10 Films list on his Christmas-new iPod Touch (he’s got very refined taste for an 11 year old and I liked most of his choice which included great American indies like The Way Way Back) so I took the opportunity to jot down my Top 10 on my phone. Not an easy task once you get thinking (so I’m including my bubbling under list with a view to expanding it to my Top 20).

1 Modern Times

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Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard

2 Apocalypse Now

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Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard

3 Blazing Saddles

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Mel Brooks: “Dey even darker den us!”

4 City Lights

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Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

5 The Godfather

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Al Pacino as the unspoiled Michael Corleone

The Big Chill

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Watching J. T. Lancer

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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Twisting & Shouting

8 My Life as a Dog

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Mitt Liv som Hund

9 The Big Short

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Of these 4 great performances Steve Carell’s is the biggie

10 The Wolf of Wall Street

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio horsing around in wolf’s clothing

BUBBLING UNDER…
  • The 39 Steps
  • The Unbelievable Truth
  • Blow Up
  • La Haine
  • Diner
  • The Breakfast Club
  • I Know Where I’m Going
  • Black Narcissus
  • The Godfather 2
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Serpico
  • Chinatown
  • 20,000 Days on Earth
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • Mississippi Burning
  • Casablanca
  • West Side Story
  • Silver Linings Playbook

 

Learned from the Movies

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Anne Hathaway with her movie baguette

  • All grocery bags contain at least one French bread stick {Most lessons we can learn from movies are already all around us in real life. I learned of the baguette rouse when I was 17, from one of my first girlfriends. She always carried one under her arm when out and about. I eventually asked her about it and mentioned that I’d never seen her eating the bread. She looked at me aghast and informed me that they weren’t for eating but were there to make her look worldly and sophisticated. She was 16. [Thomas Johnston]}
  • A detective can only solve a case once he has been suspended from duty
  • You can run faster than the supersonic shockwave and flamefront in an explosion [Patrick Uden]
  • You can survive the battle as long as you don’t show anyone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
  • No-one will ever think of looking for you in the ventilation system of a building
  • Beds have special L-shaped top sheets covering women to their armpits but the men beside them only to the waist
  • Never be at the back in the jungle… [George Falconer]
  • No married or romantic couple can redecorate a flat without playfully starting to flick paint at each other. [Peter Bradshaw]
  • The Eiffel Tower is visible from every window in Paris.
  • More often than not colliding cars burst into flame.
  • A single match can light up a room the size of a football pitch.
  • All bombs are fitted with timers with large red numbers – just in case you need to know when it’s going to go off
  • That bomb with the red numbers counting down, it also has a red and a blue wire. Don’t worry which you cut with 2 secs to go – you’ll always snip the right one.
  • All police investigations involve visiting a strip joint at least once
  • Police departments have special personality tests so they can assign officers a partner who is the exact opposite
  • Women have shaved their armpits throughout all history [Catherine Bray]
  • You don’t need to say goodbye on the telephone, just hang up when the relevant information has been conveyed[Catherine Bray]
  • There will always be a free parking space right where you need it [Catherine Bray]
  • No one ever goes to the loo [or cleans the home] – it just happens by itself… [Sarah Haque]
  • When you close a mirrored bathroom cabinet, there’s always a monster / bad guy behind you in the reflection… [George Falconer]
  • The protagonist can never go for posh dinner at any restaurant anywhere without seeing his nemesis on another table [Jason Loader]
  • If you’re being chased in an underground car park you’ll probably be alright but it will be a close shave [Jason Loader]
  • When you drop your books, papers or groceries in public, there’ll always be a good-looking, kind-hearted, awkwardly romantic person ready to help you pick them up [Juliet Landau-Pope]
  • And when they drive to a restaurant, they always find a parking space right outside [Juliet Landau-Pope]
  • No-one ever needs a wee no matter how long they are chasing or being chased. Unless the script calls for toilet humour. [Deborah Mules]
  • Women never carry handbags [Caroline Ratner]
  • We gain profound philosophical insight in the moment before death [Irshad Ashraf]
  • evil has a foreign accent [Irshad Ashraf] or British/English English
  • In the absence of the L-shaped sheet, it doesn’t matter as both lovers have usually – in the heat of passion – totally forgotten to take the lady’s bra off [Moray Coulter]
  • Nobody uses parking meters [Geoff Langan]
  • high heels are suitable footwear for running from dinosaurs [Zoe Collins]
  • You can always reload your gun even if you haven’t been carrying any ammo. That’s if you need to reload it at all. Ever.
  • To pass yourself off as a German officer, don’t waste your time learning the language – a German accent will do. (Altogether now: I luff chess musik.)
  • Although mothers cook eggs, bacon and waffles every morning, husbands/children never have time to eat it.
  • The Chief of Police will give you 48 hours to finish the job before you get suspended/reassigned/in big trouble.
  • Any job in a romcom based in London or NY can afford you a lovely flat in a swanky area of the city. [Helen Newton] Or a broom cupboard. Which by the end is replaced with a swanky apartment.
  • iPhones in the movies don’t need to be plugged in every three hours. Unlike the real world. [Helen Newton] ditto Apple laptops
  • Your average laptop is powerful enough to hack into most alien systems.
  • Everyone’s computer is an Apple Mac
  • Mediaeval peasants had perfect teeth.
  • When you wake from a nightmare you sit bolt upright and pant
  • You can always park straight outside the building you’re visiting
  • If you can’t pick the lock with a paper clip, then a credit card will do
  • TV news bulletins always contain a story that affects you personally at that exact moment
  • When you switch on the TV, the news will be talking about your story at that very moment, but you will still switch it off again half-way through the report (although you show no symptoms of acute ADD in any other part of the film) [Moray Coulter]
  • All albinos are evil
  • At least one of every pair of identical twins is born evil
  • You won’t show any pain when taking a ferocious beating but when a woman tries to clean the wounds you’ll wince like hell
  • If you decide to start dancing in the street, everyone you come across will know all the steps
  • Don’t worry if you are outnumbered in a martial arts fight – your enemies will patiently wait to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until you’ve disposed of their colleagues
  • When you turn out the bedroom light, everything will still be visible, just bluish
  • Honest cops get shot within a week of retirement
  • Beer is always drunk with the brand label clearly on display. Ditto all bottles of champagne, spirits etc. [Catherine Considine] and Coke
  • Why waste a bullet when a complex contraption with laser beams or a rotating saw will do?
  • just bribe the bell boy / receptionist / valet and they’ll break data protection laws [Irshad Ashraf]
  • A sharp knock on the skull will always render the victim unconscious for a short period, after which they will wake up otherwise unaffected [Moray Coulter]
  • The etiquette is to answer the telephone with a stacatto announcement of ones surname [Irshad Ashraf]
  • If your life is in danger you should always walk into a dark room and wait a bit before you turn the light on and/or have a shower [Helen Milner]
  • The single biggest TV drama cliche of all is perhaps one that no- one really notices. The drinking of whisky, miraculously produced from beneath a desk, or handily sitting on a kitchen top, in anticipation of a difficult conversation. Not wine, not gin, not beer (that’s the American version) but the golden spirit, whisky. [MT Rainey]
  • There are no black people in Notting Hill [Irshad Ashraf]

This post began as an idle conversation on my Facebook page. I’ve preserved here some of the ones that most resonated with a view to adding to the list, especially in the wake of Christmas movie viewing. And of course I’d love further suggestions below if any occur to you.

What else have you learnt from the movies…?

Me & Alfonso & The Dying Girl

I’m writing this one in a colourful armchair in the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. It’s around the corner from an innocuous newsagent, the locus of my first movie industry memory. I was about 6 and I got out of the car, looking up at this particular sign with scrolling. It’s still there – I took a photo on the way over here:

We walked down Dean Street – me, my mum’s friend Brenda and Sarah-Jane (her daughter, my age) – down to De Lane Lea sound facility where Louis Elman, Brenda’s husband, was localising Eastern European puppet shows and we’d been brought along to enjoy the spectacle (I remember it being more technical than entertaining).

So directly in that heritage here I am just off Dean St having just attended a BAFTA screening. It was my second viewing of Me & Earl & The Dying Girl – one of the best 2015 contenders in my humble opinion – and a massive hit at Sundance. I’ve just had a chat with the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, formerly an assistant of Martin Scorsese. His producer, Jeremy Dawson, was also in attendance. They shot this beautiful, dynamic film in 24 days.

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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

There was a Q&A by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void – both Film4) and his brother Andrew (Trainspotting, ExMachina – both Film4) was also present. In honour of my nephew Jake I asked a question about casting. Me & Earl is Jake’s favourite book so I asked about the disparity between the main characters – Greg (chubby), Rachel (plain) and Earl (short) – in the book and in the final film. Could it have been cast like the book, rather than Greg (Thomas Mann – charming), Rachel (Olivia Cooke – cute) and Earl (RJ Cyler – 6’2″ & cool) as in the movie? Alfonso explained they tried the chubby Greg route but it skewed the script in a particular direction and he got better chemistry from Olivia with Greg – they had to have a particular type of relationship which was largely non-sexual. RJ was a late addition – never acted before and showed up just as things were getting desperate in closing the casting.

Kevin and Andrew of course are the grandsons of Pressburger, as in Powell & Pressburger. Greg and Earl make little movies in the film using the target & arrows logo of P&P’s The Archers film company. And Alfonso was Scorsese’s assistant earlier in his career, a great champion of Powell & Pressburger.

Scorsese made Raging Bull and that chain links me to something else special about today. Frank Sinatra considered (another Jake) Jake La Motta, the bull in question, “lower than whale shit”, “the worst living American”. “He dumped the fight to Billy Fox and never told his father, who bet his life’s savings on Jake.” As low as you can go in Sinatra’s eyes. I believe in the fundamental goodness of Frank and above all in his music. Today is his hundredth birthday. Now I’ve written this I’m going to relax in this here maroon, yellow and orange deco armchair and read more of Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters. Hamill writes about the quality of great art which makes the listener/viewer “more human” through connection. Frank does that – and so does Me & Earl & The Dying Girl. Both represent “the ultimate triumph over the banality of death”. Happy Birthday, Frank.

 

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon questioned by Kevin Macdonald

Postscript: On the way home I listened to more Frank on my new little red iPod and dropped in to Alan’s Records on our drizzly, dark, cosy, getting-Christmassy high street. I leafed through a fairly healthy Sinatra/Rat Pack section and picked out these two beauties. Essence of Frank. That perfect middle period – not too skinny, not too fat, of face and voice. I won’t go into the whole story but suffice it to say Alan gave me these two LPs out of kindness. That’s the kind of place it is. Frank Sinatra secretly paid for Sugar Ray Robinson to be looked after in the fighter’s old age. That’s the kind of guy he was.

 

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To celebrate Frank’s birthday – from Alan’s Records, London N2

The Reaper Grim and Not So Grim

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Youth

I’ve had three interesting encounters with Death – of an artistic kind – in the last few days of variable quality and insight…

Close Encounter of the 1st Kind: Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

I took my 11 year old nephew to a screening of this movie as it is a book he really likes, plus he has impeccable, mature taste in movies. He is the only other person I have met, for example, who noticed and loved A Long Long Way Back in 2013. We both really enjoyed Earl (one of the best two BAFTA/awards season movies I have seen so far) and in the wake of our evening out he lent me the book – and he, like me, both being Virgos, is very fussy about the state of his books.

I enjoyed reading the book – he had bunked school the day before the screening so he could read all day and finish the novel, be fully prepared.  I see it as being in the tradition of A Catcher in the Rye (i.e. a quality coming of age book) and it is interesting on being self-effacing to avoid engagement as well as on dealing with death close at hand. I also like what it has to say on just being, being together, hanging out. It would be a great book to give a teen in the face of cancer or other terminal illness in their close circles.

Close Encounter of the 2nd Kind: Here We Go

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Here We Go

Here We Go, apart from being the first book I ever read (Look, John, look),  is a new short play by Caryll Churchill. I used to go, taken by my mum, with her and my younger brother most Saturday mornings to get cheap tickets for the National Theatre. What sometimes seemed like a haul then we are both profoundly grateful for now as we saw the best of theatre in a golden era for the NT. So the three of us reunited for this trip. Unfortunately it was a pretty provocative piece. Us two siblings pronounced on it on exit and it turned out our judgments exactly matched the two reviews (of the previous night’s opening performance) we read on the way home. He said it was more like an arts performance piece. I said it was not right for such a big venue of that kind (the Lyttleton).

The first of the three scenes that make up the 40 minute piece (ticket cost over £20 – not right) is made up of fragments of conversation at a funeral party. The next scene is a monologue conducted in a spotlight in the dark by the dead man. The last scene is the most provocative – but also the most thought-provoking. The dead man, flashing back to his last years, is in an old age home. His care assistant gets him dressed for the day, slowly and deliberately, in real time, with all the appropriate health and safety precautions. He shuffles a few feet across to his armchair. She then gets him undressed and ready for bed. He shuffles back to the bed with his zimmerframe, sits down and she starts getting him dressed again. It takes about 10 minutes to do the whole process. It was repeated twice in its entirety. No dialogue. All through the second cycle you’re thinking, they’re going to pull the plug on this any minute …surely. They don’t. As the third cycle starts the scene very slowly fades to black. Thought-provoking but bloody annoying and arguably not the stuff of theatre in this kind of context. I just came away thinking whatever happens, never get yourself into a situation where every day is the same as the last …and the one before that.

Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind: Youth

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Youth

I went to a BAFTA screening in a cosy hotel screening room (Ham Yard) of this, the second English language film of Paolo Sorrentino, due to be attended by Michael Caine and Rachel Weitz. As it turned out the latter was unfortunately detained on set but the former was more than enough to make the screening special. What a grounded man for a famous movie star – and very funny, in a lovely dry London way (he’s from Elephant & Castle, similar territory to my hero, Charlie Chaplin). When asked how he felt about getting old, he replied: “Not too bad, considering the alternative.” Good perspective, one we often forget. That very English “Mustn’t grumble” is true.

I asked him a question about his fellow cast – How was it working with Harvey Keitel, and did he learn anything from him? He said the main thing was that they had both served in the infantry and that gave them both important common ground on which they founded a friendship.

The film was a free-ranging reflection on youth, age and approaching death – not totally my cup of tea but interesting, entertaining and original. The Grand Hotel Budapest meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. What was most inspiring was the dignity and joie de vivre Michael Caine aka Sir Disco Mike brought to being in your 80s. Certainly something to aspire to…

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