Archive for December, 2013

The 2013 MOVIELAND AWARDS!

Posted: December 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

2013: A great year for good pictures and a great year for bad ones. Here are the 2013 Movieland Awards. Enjoy! For the ceremony broadcast, click on the big MOVIELAND image to the left. And have a great, movie-going 2014. CJ.

Cuaron. Legend.

Cuaron. Legend.

Best Film:

Gravity

Best Direction:

Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity

Coogan in PHILOMENA.

Coogan in PHILOMENA.

Best Lead Performance by a Man:

Steve Coogan, Philomena, What Maisie Knew and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

Adams in HUSTLE.

Adams in HUSTLE.

Best Lead Performance by a Woman:

Amy Adams in American Hustle

Franco in THIS IS THE END.

Franco in THIS IS THE END.

Best Supporting Performance by a Man:

James Franco, This is the End

Best Supporting Performance by a Woman:

Poots in GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY.

Poots in GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY.

Imogen Poots for The Look of Love, A Late Quartet and Greetings from Tim Buckley

UPSTREAM COLOR.

UPSTREAM COLOR.

Best Original Screenplay:

Upstream Color by Shane Carruth

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Philomena by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith

Best Edit:

Alan Baumgarten, Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers for American Hustle

Best Cinematography:

Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity

0AA18_MLNA_WeStealSecrets_1400x2100A_FINBest Feature Documentary:

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks by Alex Gibney

Best Original Score:

Steven Price for Gravity

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Ford and Oldman in PARANOIA. What a piece of work!

Ford and Oldman in PARANOIA. What a piece of work!

Worst Film:

Paranoia

Worst Direction:

Ridley Scott for The Counselor

Andrews in DIANA. Terrible.

Andrews in DIANA. Terrible.

Worst Lead Performance by a Man:

Naveen Andrews in Diana

Paltrow in SHARING. Awful.

Paltrow in SHARING. Awful.

Worst Lead Performance by a Woman:

Gwenyth Paltrow in Thanks for Sharing

Worst Supporting Performance by a Man:

Will Smith in After Earth

Diaz in COUNSELOR. Abominable.

Diaz in COUNSELOR. Abominable.

Worst Supporting Performance by a Woman:

Cameron Diaz in The Counselor

Worst Original Screenplay:

The Counselor by Cormac McCarthy

filth_ver5Worst Adapted Screenplay:

Filth, by Jon S. Baird, from the novel by Irvine Welsh

Philomena **** (out of five)

urlSteve Coogan concludes his Year of Living Brilliantly with Philomena, a controlled, precise, moving and very funny film that he co-wrote and co-stars in, playing it relatively straight and holding his own against none other than Dame Judi Dench, who, graciously, brings her most A of A Games and holds her own against him.

Coogan is a phenomenon, or at least his work has conspired to congeal around him in order to make him appear so. His 2013 has seen him as a big-screen Alan Partridge in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, one of the two funniest films of the year, which he also co-wrote and which was, in Britain at least, a huge hit, and being absolutely brilliant in a straight dramatic role in What Maisie Knew, as a father separating from his small family (and stealing scenes right out from under Julianne Moore). And now this, Philomena, which will come to define him as an artist for the next phase of his career.

Philomena2What a career! Besides being a massive comedy star in Britain, with multiple television incarnations of Alan Partridge shows, innumerable appearances, a stand-up career, radio and all manner of such success, Coogan has already had a spectacular film run, the highlight package probably being his films for Michael Winterbottom – 24 Hour Party People, The Trip, The Look of Love and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story – but which also includes stand-out appearances in the Night at the Museum films, Phileas Fogg in the big-budget remake of Around The World in Eighty Days, Marie Antoinette, Hot Fuzz, Hamlet 2, In the Loop, Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, The Other Guys, Our Idiot Brother, Ruby Sparks, Despicable Me 2 and, very memorably, Tropic Thunder.

Philomena Lee.

Philomena Lee.

But Philomena is something very special, not least of which is because Coogan co-wrote the superb, faultless screenplay with Jeff Pope from the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith (whom Coogan plays in the film) but also because Coogan’s performance in this excellent film is absolutely terrific. I can’t imagine any other actor getting the balance of comedy, drama, pathos and anger as absolutely correct as Coogan does here.

The real Sixsmith helped a woman named Philomena Lee (Dench, perfect) search for the son taken from her by Magdalene Sisters fifty years previously, and Coogan uses the story to look at faith, religion, family, friendship and love with care, delicacy, and great and constant humour. The jokes never upset the drama and the drama is never laid on. Everything comes out of character, and the two central characters are impeccably drawn.

Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe only fault lines in the film occur as constructed by director Stephen Frears with his cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, and his composer, Alexandre Desplat: some of the shots, and some of the music, do actually tip over into a sentimentality that is not at all present in the writing or the performances. But the underlying script, and those committed and heartfelt performances, are so strong, that golden hour in the frame and strings on the soundtrack don’t pull them undone. This is a wonderful, fully realised movie, small in scale but grand in scope and theme. Don’t miss it.

Don’t Wait For The VOD

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Her **** (out of five)

her-movie-posterSpike Jonze’s fourth feature (don’t worry, he’s been making plenty of videos, shorts, and other, I’m sure, high-paying ephemera) is full of rich ideas. It also arrives with an in-built deadline. If, for any reason, distribution of this film was to be delayed for, say, nine months, it may arrive dead in the water, yesterday’s news. It is so au fait, so zeitgeist, as to almost be prescient. It is as current as this morning’s newspaper, if such a thing really still existed. It is of the now. See it now. It may feel quaint by the time it’s available for home viewing, like a movie from the 90s with mobile phones the size of egg cartons.

This is very significant, if, like me, you ponder the creation of movies. Jonze wrote the script all on his own, and he must have been at least a little nervous – I certainly would have been – that technology would beat him to the punch. It could easily have been, as he began page 60, that Apple or some such was preparing to launch precisely the kind of incremental yet seismic technological step forward before his film even rolled camera, let alone hit cinemas.

herThat step forward is, quite simply, an AI (artificial intelligence) system – an “OS” (operating system) – that fools the user completely, that seems human. And the film is, at its heart, very simple: such an operating system is created, and a man falls in love with it. Story.

The man is played with limitless depth, however, by Joaquin Phoenix, and the script is very smart. The first sign of great intelligent life is the production design, exemplified and encapsulated by the first scene, in a modern office, where Theodore (Phoenix) works. He writes old-fashioned personal letters (by dictation to a computer) for other people; they’re back in vogue, it seems, as are pastels, moustaches, high-waisted pants and generally polite behaviour. Coloured pastel panels adorn the comfortable office, and I instantly cottoned on to Jonze’s unique genius, or at least social advantage: he was in with Apple, and they’d not only told him he could get his movie out before they launched a computer that seemed human, they’d also give him and his production designer (K.K. Barrett, costumes by Casey Storm) a sneak peak of iOS7. Because the design here is no doubt inspired by iOS7. You feel like you’re inside it.

her-joaquin-phoenixPretty soon Theodore is inside his own new operating system, and I won’t get into any more plot than that. Suffice to say, this is very much a classic love story, but coloured by science fiction (we don’t now how far in the future we are, but it’s definitely the very near future), philosophy, and Jonze’s interesting, curious mind. He’s concerned with intellectual probability: the film doesn’t necessarily travel according to what would make the story work best as a movie (although it has ended up working extremely well indeed); Jonze, I feel, has asked himself, and really thought about, in consultation with those who may know (hello, Apple?) – what would happen, and, given that genius AI is but moments away, what will happen?

Vale Peter O’Toole

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

051_peter_o_toole_theredlistOne of the all time greats, Peter O’Toole, has passed. This is a chapter from my book, co-written with Les Asmussen, AND THE OSCAR DIDN’T GO TO…

The Eight Wonders of the World of Peter O’Toole.

The First Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole is that:

The 1962 Best Actor Oscar didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for Lawrence of Arabia because it went to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lawrence of Arabia was a wonder in 1962. And there were so many wonders in 1962: this was the year of the first flavored crisps (salt & vinegar), the release of the first Beatles album, the first use of silicone breast implants and the birth of Demi Moore. But Lawrence of Arabia was much bigger than any of these. Lawrence of Arabia is a smack- down classic: a three-and-a-half hour epic about some British weirdo most people had never heard of… the cast lead by and introducing Peter O’Toole in a magnificent performance in the title role (of someone people had never heard of)… and the film took the world by storm. The new star, Peter O’Toole, handsome as an English summer, was a sensation! The fact that O’Toole had made three previous films meant zilch: Kidnapped, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and The Savage Innocents were not star- makers. Come nomination time and Lawrence is nominated for everything from Best Picture to Best Kept & Swept sand… Ten nominations in all.

O’Toole – a legitimate, English sensation – was the critically favored choice to win the Oscar. There was a little bit of competition from Burt Lancaster as the Birdman of Alcatraz, but Lancaster already had an Oscar at home and, besides, he only acted for two- and-a-half hours; O’Toole had three-and-a-half. Jack Lemmon stood a fair chance for Days of Wine and Roses (playing drunk: always a good shot) but he also had a previous (Supporting) Oscar and at less than two hours… well, in a year of epic performances, this was not. Marcello Mastroianni… Him again? How did he get there? Did the Academy mean to give him the Oscar the previous year for La Dolce Vita and forgot? But for Divorce-Italian Style… we don’t think so, they didn’t think so and it wasn’t going to happen, alcun modo! (no way!)

So, Peter, come up one and collect a Big Gold Man Statue… But wait, oh no, sneaking in from the Deep South, it’s Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yes, it’s Atticus Finch, The Most Noble Character in The History of Motion Pictures, come to kill all O’Toole Oscar dreaming. To Kill a Mockingbird became (after they had seen the movie) the favorite book of absolutely everybody who had never read a book before. Robert Mulligan made a beautiful version of it and Peck is perfection. It was his fifth nomination and he was one of Hollywood’s best loved actors and, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent man whose inherent niceness and goodness made Atticus Finch, The Most Noble Character in The History of Motion Pictures, a role that fit him like a Noble Glove. So the Oscar went to… that. Not an intriguing, English adventurer who felt a little frisson upon receiving a man-to-man whipping. Sorry, Peter O’Toole, it just wasn’t your year.Peter_O'Toole_--_LOA_trailer

The Second Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole is that:
The 1964 Best Actor Oscar didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for Becket because it went to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady.

Not a hope in Hell or Canterbury, young O’Toole.

There were lots of Wonders in 1964: The Boston Strangler was captured (who’s got the movie rights?), the World’s Fair was held in New York (Elvis, we’ve got a great script… ‘It Happened at the…’) and Russell Crowe was born. But wonders going the way of Peter O’Toole… well, no!

First of all, Peter, your friend, co-star and drinking buddy, Richard Burton, got nominated for the same film in the same category. Bad news! It divided the vote. Didn’t you see the film for which you were nominated? The separation of Church and State… there’s a clue there somewhere.

Even putting that aside, the other nominees were in soon-to-be iconic roles: Anthony Quinn’s Zorba, Peter Sellers’ Dr Strangelove and (the winner) Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. (And let’s be honest: Peter Glenville was great with actors but a mind-numbingly dull cinema director, and that is another problem with Becket: beautifully acted, but just the teensiest bit dull…) Makes you wonder but, sorry Peter, it just wasn’t your year.

The Third Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole is that:
The 1968 Best Actor Oscar didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for The Lion in Winter because it went to Cliff Robertson in Charly.

There were so many Wonders in 1968: London Bridge was sold to Arizona ($1million), the first Big Mac went on sale (49 cents) and Celine Dion was born. But one of the wonders of 1968 was not Cliff Robertson. So, prepare your speech, Peter, this is your year!

O’Toole gave one of his great performances, reprising his Henry II from Becket, but in a deeper, richer portrayal, as this was Henry many years later. He and Katherine Hepburn got along famously and The Lion in Winter was a critical and popular success… with seven Academy Award nominations.

There was no competition this year: Alan Bates in the long and turgid The Fixer (rented that one recently?), Alan Arkin in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Cliff Robertson for Charly and Ron Moody for Oliver!

And the Oscar for Best Actor went to… Cliff Robertson for Charly.

No-one has ever worked this one out. One of the biggest surprises of the year (and Oscar history) was Cliff Robertson’s Oscar win (and the film’s sole nomination) for his titular role in Charly, as a mentally-challenged, thirty year-old bakery worker who is

(temporarily) transformed into a genius by radical, experimental brain surgery and then regresses back into his previous state. It’s a capable performance, but Oscar-worthy? The whisperings and stories began almost before Robertson made his acceptance speech. Robertson had played the role on television in 1961, and bought the film rights. There were rumors that he had somehow bought the vote as well. He was married to actress / heiress Dina Merrill, one of the richest women in America. Less than two weeks after the ceremony Time magazine mentioned the Academy’s generalized concerns over excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes and said many members agreed that Robertson’s award was based more on promotion than on performance. (See other parts of this book, Harvey Weinstein.)

But Hollywood got its revenge on Robertson. In 1977, Robertson discovered that his name had been forged on a $10,000 check, although it was not money that was due to him. He also learned that the forgery had been carried out by Columbia studio head David Begelman, and on reporting it, he inadvertently triggered one of the biggest Hollywood scandals of the 1970s. But it was Robertson who was blacklisted for blowing the whistle. By 1980, Begelman was President of MGM, but Robertson didn’t get work in Hollywood again until 1983’s Brainstorm.

So maybe Cliff Robertson bought it – and, who knows? – maybe he didn’t, but, sorry Peter… it just wasn’t your year.

The Fourth Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole is that:
The 1969 Best Actor Oscar didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for Goodbye, Mr. Chips because it went to John Wayne for True Grit.

There were lots of Wonders in the world in 1969: the Moon landing, Woodstock (let’s turn it into a movie!), the start of Sesame Street and (think about this bit of trivia) Costa- Gavras’ film Z received two major nominations: it was the first film nominated as Best Foreign Language Film that also received a Best Picture nomination. Does this have anything to do with the fact that this was the birth-year of the two future Z-initialed Oscar winners, Zeta-Jones and Zellweger?

Our palms are unreadable on this. Anyway, what a year… but not for P. O’Toole.

There wasn’t a hope this particular year… Oh, it’s an honour just to be nominated. Yeah, sure. 1969 was Hollywood’s coming-of-age key-of-the-door year with Midnight Cowboy, the first (and last) X-rated movie to win the Best Picture Oscar. Dustin Hoffman should have won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in that film (as noted earlier). Jon Voight (same film) was a possible contender, Richard Burton certainly wasn’t for Anne of the Thousand Days, a film that was set in 1530-something and almost looked as if it could have been made in 1530-something. The winner turned out to be a testament to Hollywood’s past, the love of Hollywood Royalty, John Wayne in True Grit, and no-one wanted to argue with the Duke. The one actor who had no chance this year was Peter O’Toole as the singing-but-not-dancing Mr. Chips. Whatever filmgoers wanted in 1969 (and most of them wanted Easy Rider), hardly anyone wanted Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Time changes everything of course: Mr. Chips is a curious delight, a charming and old- fashioned film with a wonderful performance from O’Toole. But, in 1969, it was dreadfully out of fashion: sorry Peter, it just wasn’t your year.

The Fifth Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole is that:
The 1972 Best Actor Oscar didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for The Ruling Class because it went to Marlon Brando for The Godfather.

There were lots of Wonders in 1972: Cannibalism in the Andes (Who’s got the movie rights?), HBO was launched and Gwyneth Paltrow was born.

Another wonder was Marlon Brando. When he got his finger out, there was no-one better… and The Godfather, well, there is no argument. Paul Winfield (Sounder) wasn’t really competition, nor were the entire cast of Sleuth (being two: Sir Laurence and Mickey Caine) doing the usual splitting the vote, so O’Toole was probably Number Two on the bookie’s sheets (which was nowhere, given Brando’s magnificent turn: the Oscar shoo-in of all Oscar shoo-ins). This year is a real shame as his Jack, the insane 14th Earl of Gurney who believes he’s either Jesus Christ or Jack the Ripper, in director Peter Medak’s cult film of Peter Barnes’ play The Ruling Class, is to be treasured (and should be sought out).

It’s at least achieved cult… cult in this case meaning far too intelligent for your multiplex audience. The Ruling Class is a wonderful, intelligent film with a glorious performance from O’Toole, but it never really found an audience. Hopefully one day it will be re- discovered.

But Brando had the role of a lifetime this year, so, sorry Peter, it just wasn’t your year.

The Sixth Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole was that:
The 1980 Best Actor didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for The Stunt Man because it went to Robert de Niro for Raging Bull.

Ah, the Wonders of 1980 were many and varied: Ronald Reagan was elected President, the first Post-it Notes went on sale, and both J. R. Ewing and J. Lennon were shot, the wrong one fatally. And Macauley Culkin was born.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a wonder year for Peter O’Toole. In fact, you could say twilight was starting to fall on his career. This year, he was nominated for an intriguing film called The Stunt Man. He had been extremely ill: a cancer scare and The Booze (see elsewhere, Richard Burton). He had been forced to give up drinking and this is what he signed to do… sober!

There were quite a few people and critics in 1980 who liked The Stunt Man (a film now very difficult to find) a lot. O’Toole plays a manipulative power-mad film director named Eli Cross (!) who is constantly seen descending from the sky in a helicopter and forcing his star (played by the totally uncharismatic and whatever-happened-to Steve Railsback) to perform more and more dangerous stunts. Although O’Toole was nominated as Best Actor, Railsback was the star of the film, before increasing his legacy by going to Australia a short time later and starring in the best Ozploitation film turkey ever, Turkey Shoot.

The director of The Stunt Man was Richard (Hells Angels on Wheels) Rush who, rather incredibly, received a Best Director nomination. Not so incredibly, it was 14 years before he was allowed behind a camera again with the erotic thriller (it was neither), Color of Night, which tried to destroy Bruce Willis’ career and did totally destroy the blossoming career of Jane March.

Meanwhile, back at the Oscars: The totally deserving winner was Robert de Niro for Raging Bull. And when we say totally, we mean totally. De Niro’s performance in Raging Bull is one of the greatest in the history of cinema, and no-one, but no-one, argues that point.

(The real – unfortunate – loser this year was John Hurt for The Elephant Man. If De Niro hand’t been in the ring that year, Hurt should have taken home a gleaming Big Gold Man).

The rest? Well, hardly anyone ventured into an art-house cinema to see Robert Duvall in The Great Santini (as good as he was in that tough film), and bringing up the rear were O’Toole and Jack Lemmon for Tribute (does anyone even remember that film tip-toeing into cinemas?)

De Niro in Raging Bull: sorry Peter, it just wasn’t your year.
The Seventh Wonder of the World of Peter O’Toole was that:

The Best Actor Oscar for 1982 didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for My Favorite Year because it went to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi.

What a world of Wonders in 1982: Britain was at war with Argentina, Channel 4 launched in Britain, and the first CD player went on sale in Japan.

And Peter O’Toole was absolutely glorious as an alcoholic former Hollywood swashbuckling actor named Alan Swann (read Errol Flynn… or almost Peter O’Toole) in Richard Benjamin’s My Favorite Year.

One slight problem about O’Toole in this film is that he is not the main character: that would be Mark Linn-Baker, as Benjy. Now, if O’Toole had been nominated as Best Supporting Actor, chances are he may have beaten Lou Gossett Jnr’s horrendous bully in An Officer and a Gentleman, a rare (but not unprecedented) example of an actor winning an Oscar by playing a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

But as a Best Actor nominee, the competition was fierce: the winner was Ben Kingsley for his intelligent, sensitive and realistic portrayal of Mohandas Gandhi’s life in Richard Attenborough’s conventional bio-pic Gandhi. And there were two other very strong contenders: Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey/’Dorothy’ Michaels in Tootsie (which has probably gone down in history as the most beloved and remembered performance from that exceptional year) and Paul Newman (with his sixth unsuccessful career nomination – we’d do a special chapter on him save for his final receivership of the Big Gold Man for The Color of Money) as the alcoholic, ambulance-chasing, Bostonian trial lawyer in The Verdict.

The also-rans: Jack Lemmon yet again (this time for Missing) and O’Toole…. Gandhi! A tough martyr to beat. Sorry Peter, it just wasn’t your year.

In 2002, at last an Oscar was put into the hands of Mr. Peter O’Toole.

Sadly, it was the We’d-better-give-you-one-before-you’re-dead Oscar. He nearly turned it down because he hoped to earn one outright. Known officially as the Honorary Oscar, it came with the following wording: For Peter O’Toole… whose remarkable talents have provided cinema history with some of its most memorable characters.

And now, the Eighth Wonder of the World…

Hollywood has always told us that the Eighth Wonder of the World was King Kong, but in the World of Peter O’Toole it was Last King because… The Best Actor Oscar for 2006 didn’t go to Peter O’Toole for Venus because it went to Forest Whittaker for The Last King Of Scotland’.

The biggest Wonder of 2006 involved two planets: in the real world, Big-P Planet Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf small-p planet and, in the reel world, Venus brought an eighth nomination for Peter O’Toole, now 74 years old, for the role of Maurice, a dying, impotent yet lecherous and lustful has-been actor who has a platonic March-December romance with his best friend’s teenaged grand-niece (Jodie Whittaker, no relation to Forest, we think).

O’Toole lost to Forest Whittaker’s King which was no surprise as Whittaker won every single award that year that wasn’t won by Helen Mirren’s Queen. O’Toole’s loss put him in the record books as the actor with the most nominations without winning. O’Toole had tied with Richard Burton with seven losing nominations before his Venus nomination. Now, he was the leader… a strange sort of triumph. Venus was little seen, and no-one can argue with Forest Whittaker’s win: his Idi Amin is an astonishing piece of work.

Sorry, Peter, even on what will surely be your final attempt, this just wasn’t your year… at least you were honored with an Honorary one – and it takes a lot of nominations to score one of those.peter-otoole

Cod Croissant

Posted: December 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Gilded Cage *** (out of five)

2e2c4bf7ceaa4712a72dd5ee136dc9a8_500x735Warning: if broad comedic acting isn’t your vibe, avoid The Gilded Cage, lest it completely put you off your Christmas ham. There are some performances in this good-natured ensemble comedy which are pitched not so much at the back row as at Pluto.

Ruben Alves’ debut feature opens with a glorious shot of Paris including the Eiffel Tower, so you know what you’re in for: a film that wants your love a little too much, and isn’t afraid to layer on the baguette porn to get it. Add to that a dash of ethnic-cute overdose and it’s all a little overwhelming if you’re at all prone to cinematic diabetes.

That said, this tale of a retirement-age Portugese couple in Paris won’t cripple your digestive system and should leave you with a warm glow, which it is very much designed to do. Maria and José (Rita Blanco and Joaquim de Almeida) are an apartment building concierge and a construction foreman famous among their employers, family and friends for being tireless, selfless and very good workers. When José inherits a vineyard in Portugal and they plan to retire and move, their employers strive to keep them with flattery, promotions, bonuses and desperation. Complications – and some degree of hilarity – ensue.

To be honest, it’s not a particularly funny movie, and it certainly isn’t social realism. But the cultural details are well observed (I saw it with a friend who lives with her Portuguese grandparents, and she listed many elements that were spot-on) and it motors along on sheer goodwill, charm and heart.

Umm... could we get a little more local colour please?

Umm… could we get a little more local colour please?

Old School

Posted: December 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

All in All by Stacy Keach

18585You won’t find a lot of tittle-tattle, trash talk or scuttlebutt in Stacy Keach’s memoir, All in All. That doesn’t seem to be the big man’s style. When he mentions his many, many co-stars, he is usually gracious and flattering, and will almost certainly leave a positive comment on the physical attractiveness of the female variety. He is nice – indeed generous – about his various wives and lovers (trust me, this is far from the case in many of these books – see John Huston’s An Open Book for a different approach), loving about his family and friends (although his friends are also, essentially, drawn from his co-stars – such is the actor’s life) and even-keeled about his many directors. If one was difficult, they “had some difficulties as we set out” or “saw the material differently” (not exact quotes, but you get the drift). If Keach and a director didn’t get along too well at the beginning of a project, they almost certainly did by the end.luther-stacy-keach-dvd-cover-art

Keach’s memoir is old-school, as are his tastes. He’s always seen himself as a classical stage actor who has dabbled in movies, and his CV confirms it: he’s played Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Falstaff, Richard III, Coriolanus and every other major Shakespeare manly man in between, the exception being Iago, which he still hopes to take on (at the time of writing he’s in his seventies). But his adventures in film can hardly be called dabbling: his current actor credit count on IMDB is a truly tremendous 189, and while not all of those are feature film credits, most of them are. He’s made a bucketload of films, up there with Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski.13547238_gal

When you make that many films (see Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski) you’re gonna make some turkeys, and Keach has, and he’s funny about them (he loves to name-check The Mountain of the Cannibal God, which sounds like it was quite a fun shoot). When a future classic comes across his path, such as American History X, he sits back, takes his time, and devotes some decent pages to it, getting into the work habits of the likes of co-star Ed Norton and director Tony Kaye, while characteristically declining to bad-mouth anyone.keachs-704425538

Flitting from set to set, Keach keeps things professional, as he has all his life – he shows up to rehearsal for a play with his lines learned on day one. Of course, being a cocaine addict and going to work on the drug may not be the mark of a true pro, but Keach seems to have never let a good snort ruin a good take. If he hadn’t gotten busted in London and done time, he may still be popping off to the powder room today. Keach is frank and honest about his habit, arrest, trial and prison time without getting close to anything resembling major feeling; you won’t find any twelve steps, voices of god or sobbing through the night here (nor lurid tales of prison life). Like being on stage or screen, Keach treats his bust and its fall-out in a business-like manner. He just can’t wait to get back to work, and he does.

Keach is aware of his own place in popular culture, that, despite possibly being the best reviewed American Hamlet since Barrymore, he is far more famous as Sgt. Stedenko in Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke and its sequel Nice Dreams. He has come close to achieving a William Shatner-like cult following without quite achieving it; his seriousness dictates that he probably wouldn’t enjoy such a role as much as Shatner obviously does. He’s not afraid of comedy, but he’s not a born comedian, and his self-parody will only stretch so far.stacy_keach_1981-220

stacy-keach-42384710401Keach has obviously read an enormous amount of actor memoirs, and his joins the shelves according to the templates of those he obviously enjoyed the most: the ones that just learned the lines and got on with it, rather than wallowing about in emotion, backstory and inner life. He could easily have been born, and thrived, in an earlier age, such as the 1800s, and written a similar style of book; it is telling that Britain drew him, and that he studied his craft there, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – on a Fulbright scholarship –  before continuing his training at the Yale Drama School. Although quintessentially American, there is much of the British Thespian in Keach, and that is deliberate. His hero is Olivier, not Brando, and, although he is not widely known as such in mass media, to those who know, he is the greatest American stage actor of his, and many, generations, who just happens to have made a hundred and eighty films. An easy, breezy read, with a generous voice. Good fun.prison-break-serie-tv-saison-1-111-1-g

 

 

 

Spaced

Posted: December 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Ender’s Game **1/2 (out of five)

enders-gameEnder’s Game, based on the Nebula and Hugo Award-winning 1985 science fiction novel – critically acclaimed in some circles and derided as facist in others – by Orson Scott Card, is a very, very strange movie indeed. A big-budget extravaganza that often looks Dr. Who-cheap, it is at times bafflingly obtuse. I kept wondering if the source material was linked to some cult or out-there philosophy such as was the case with Battlefield Earth and Scientology, as the film seems to rest on a big rock of particular concepts, though what those concepts are I am not entirely sure. Full of mixed messages and strange symbolism, its weirdness is also its (limited) charm.

20100907-enders-gameThe source novel was not, I believe, “young adult” fiction, but the movie cannot make up its mind for whom it is intended, and I personally cannot fathom the audience. Far too kiddy for an adult audience, yet way too sombre, slow and portentous for the littlies, the film seems to be for nobody, and indeed I think its poor showing at box offices worldwide reflects this.

enders-game-trailer-hd-630x420In the future, very young commanders-to-be are instructed in the ways of war at a boot camp run by gruff Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and his sidekick Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis), both of whom obviously desired a fat paycheck with very little work involved. These little boffins are trained in the Art of War through a series of sport-like zero gravity games that frankly are slower and seem far easier than any round of lasertag or paintball. Bizarrely unexciting, yet excitingly bizarre, these “war games” are made more weird by their depiction of zero gravity which, in the face of Gravity, looks like it was rendered on a Commodore 64.

I think that the film could have been really interesting if it had been told from the adults’ point of view; the debate over training kids for war is given one perfunctory scene when it should have been the spine of the movie. Instead it’s all about the kids, and Asa Butterfield, as Ender, is miscast, neither up to the task of carrying the film nor believable as a tough kid. When he gets into a shower fight it’s ludicrous to the point of derisible. He was a lot better in Hugo, where his girlish looks were a strength.

"Why did HUGO lose Best Picture to THE ARTIST???"

“Why did HUGO lose Best Picture to THE ARTIST???”

Watching little kids dress up and play Star Trek may be fun for grandparents in a living room at Christmas. On the big screen it’s weird. Trippy, confusing, strangely slow and contained, the film feels as though someone had made it with their own money to broadcast their own beliefs. It certainly exists in its own bonkers world, and, as such, is, at least, an odd original.