writers_reign

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Reviews

National Theatre Live: Fleabag
(2019)

Dirtbag
This was my first, indeed only, exposure to a phenomenon I had been reading about for months, and, I should stress, virtually all positive reportage so to say I was disappointed is like saying Napoleon was disappointed when he failed in his Russian campaign. I felt not unlike a passionate admirer of Rapunzle stand beneath her window and prevailing upon her to let down her hair only to find that even at full stretch it was still twenty feet beyond my grasp.

The Looking Glass War
(1970)

Keepind Down With The Joneses
Ralph Richardson was the only reason for me to see this film and he was, unsurprisingly, the best thing in it by a country mile. The non-acting Christopher Jones was both painful and embarrassing to watch and it was difficult to believe that the excellent John Le Carre had any connection with a plot that was about as thrilling as a guided tour of a sewage farm. Well worth missing.

Another Shore
(1948)

Gulliver's Travails
Canadian Robert Beatty arrived in the UK in 1936 and by the mid-forties he had established himself as a reliable, competent, supporting actor who appeared to be in constant employment in British films in the late forties and early fifties. What leads he did get were in 'small' films like Portrait of Alison' and this charmer from Ealing which finds him as a civil servant dreaming of escaping the rat race and basking in a Pacific paradise by virtue of being in the right place at the right time, which will be when an affluent person is involved in an accident and 'saved' by Gulliver who will be suitably rewarded and so able to finance his one-way passage to Paradise. He gets within striking distance but love - in the shape of Moira Lister, with whom Beatty has absolutely no chemistry - rears its ugly head and he remains a fully clothed civil servant. There's a fine supporting cast led by Stanley Holloway and on the whole it dererves to be shown far more widely than it has been so far.

Joker
(2019)

What The Fleck
For me the best thing about this movie was that finally someone put a bullet where it did the most good - right in the heart of De Niro. Apart from that this was what amounted to a Case study of a sociopath who wasn't playing with a full deck with aspects of so many previous films - Death Wish, Taxi Driver - that it was difficult to locate any 'original' element. Clearly it has its admirers; good luck to them.

Downton Abbey
(2019)

The Big House
In some of his lighter works William Shakespeare was wont to involve his characters in mild crises which, in the final act, would be deftly rsolved, following which, as if to reassure the audience that all was now well, the characters would launch into a dance. Julian Fellowes is light years away from Shakespeare except, perhaps, in his own mind, but lo and behold, his screenplay for Downton Abbey sees several prominent characters embroiled in minor dilemmas and then, at the end, a grand ball brings things to a neat close. Shakespeare, of course, was not above 'borrowing' his plotlines and neither is Fellowes; Downton Abbey is a blatant rip-off of Upstairs, Downstairs, which, in turn, was heavily indebted to Noel Coward's Cavalcade. And so it goes. If bland confections are your thing this may well be right down your private driveway.

Judy
(2019)

Ee Bah Gumm
First things first: Renee Zellwegger as Judy Garland is right up there with Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf and I personally can't rate anything higher than than. Cotillard deservedly won every acting award going from Bafta, Golden Globe, Oscar, downwards and though politics may well prevent Zellwegger replicating that in a perfect and unbiased world Zellwegger would equal Cotillard's haul. One minor beef: Get Happy ws one of several Garland signature songs and everybody and his uncle Max know it was written in 1930 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler so how some ego-tripping Sam Smith (who he?) contrived to take sole credit - i.e. music and lyrics - for the song and why imdb aided and abetted him by printing the erroneous credit is something that needs to be addressed. Although I have compared Zellwegger and Cotillard it's not so easy to compare the respective films; La Mome (La Vie en Rose in the UK) was a soup-to-nuts bio-pic featuring Piaf whilst Judy doesn't pretend to be. Although we do get flashbacks of the young Judy at MGM the total footage amounts to less than ten minutes with the bulk of the running time focussed on the five weeks Judy played The Talk Of The Town in late 1968, early 1969. For a movie about a major vocalist it's very light on songs and Zellwegger opts to perform them herself rather than miming to Garland. All this to one side and allowing for the fact that it is set 50 years ago, thus failing to address todays' audience (average age 30-35) this is still a brilliant film with a standout central performance. Roll on the dvd.

The Kitchen
(2019)

Too Many Crooks
For the second time in one day - I saw the two movies one after the other with maybe 20 minutes in between - I seem to have watched a different movie to most of those who posted here on imdb. I guess it comes down to why we bother to schep to the movie theatre and get it up at the box office; in my case I'm hoping for a couple of hours of entertainment, maybe a few laffs, a few tears along the way but not really much more than that and this movie delivers that - in spades.

Ready or Not
(2019)

Hide And Sleek
I've just read approximately a dozen negative reviews right here on imdb and I'm guessing that these were penned by the Nightmare On Elm St/Halloween set i.e. the kind of moviegoer who takes gore seriously and thus feels let down by this tongue-in-cheek entry. I, on the other hand, have yet to see a Saw (sorry about that, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or indeed anything remorely resembling 'horror' so I was happy to go along with this black comedy and bask in the laugh out loud moments that punctuated it. I doubt if it would claim to be another Some Like It Hot, or even Young Frankenstein but it's harmless and reasonably entertaining.

Hustlers
(2019)

Mercedes Ruehls OK
I can take or leave Jennifer Lopez, no one else in the cast rsng any bells and I didn't see a trailer. Then, quite by chance, I learned that Mercedes Ruehl had a supporting role and that was enough to swing it. Apart from three or four episodes of Frasier I've seen Ruehl only once, in the film version (she did it on Broadway but, alas, when it played the UK we were stuck with Maureen Lipman, a legend in her own mindb, self-proclaimed National Treasure, and not fit to hand Ruehl a tube of Leichner) of Neil Simon's Lost In Yonkers in which she was beyond brilliant. Here role in Hustlers is comparatively small but she blows (sorry about that) everyone else away. I had a hard time staying awake when Ruehl was offscreen but I don't doubt it will find its audience.

Dumbo
(1941)

Born With A Trunk
It's a fact universally acknowledged that remakes of Classic movies seldom equal let alone eclipse the originals. So it is here. I didn't bothet to watch the recent live action remake despite the fact it was the work of a critic's darling and flavour of the decade director. Instead I kept an eye out for the original on dvd and/or Blue Ray and eventually lucked into a copy. At only 60 minutes it is right up there with Disney's finest easily eclipsing Bambi for example. Like many of the finest movies it has a touch of everything, laughter and tears, a lovey tender ballad and at the opposite end of the spectrum the hip When I See An Elephant Fly. Pure entertainment defined.

Mrs Lowry & Son
(2019)

Two On A Match(stick)
It's difficult to look on this as anything other than a Masterclass in Film Acting. We begin and end with Lowry, the son, aged around 50 and his mother, by definition, some twenty or so years older. There's no attempt to show a husband/father and likewise no attempt to show the young Lowry first taking an interest in art and then actually taking up painting. We just have to accept that Spall has been painting for some time, albeit unsuccessfully and doing so in an 'attic' located in a 'two-up-and-two-down terraced house that would not have possessed such a thing as an attic. Why anyone would want to make a film about an internationally known painter and set it virtually entirely in his mother's bedroom is one for the pseuds, it's not unlike making a film about Chopin and setting it entirely in a planetarium. On the other hand Vanessa is always worth watching and Spall isn't exactly chopped liver.

It Should Happen to You
(1954)

The Game Of The Name
This shows what you can do when you assemble the right ingredients; start with the writer, Garson Kanin, add the director, George Cukor, throw in an above-the-title 'star', Judy Holliday,, wheel out a debutant actor (movies, that is, he'd done several tv shows), Jack Lemmon, let it simmer gently, stir, and stand back. If you must have a one-word description and it can't be terrific, outstanding, or brilliant, then charm is as good as any, not least because the movie is loaded with it, innocent is also good. If you can overlook the wooden Peter Lawford - which is easy to do - the to leads are exceptional. One to savour.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
(2019)

Allen Key
No doubt all the Mark Kermode pseud-alikes out there have already genuflected in King's New Clothes outlets nationwide and one opinion more or less will not make a whit or a jot of difference. This entry is very much in the style of the early Woody Allen movies - three or four reasonable set pieces punctuating acres of ennui. Okay, Tarentino knows a fair amount about Hollywood movies. So do I but I don't feel the need to flaunt this and even if I did who is gonna give a big rat's ass given that no one is actually HYPING me and until the Mark Kermodes of this world learn to recognise wheat from chaff we'll be lumbered with mediocre stuff like this for the foreseeable future.

When My Baby Smiles at Me
(1948)

Cry Havoc
About the best you can say for this is it's a chance to see June Havoc in vaudeville. Havoc did in fact appear in several 'straight' movies notably Gentlemans' Agreement but she started life, of course, as 'Dainty June' Hovick and as a child was a headliner in vaudeville and was later immortalized as Baby June in Gypsy on both stage and screen. She works well here as one half (with Jack Okie) of the two second leads. Dailey was regularly teamed with Grable and the results were pretty painless if formulaic. This offers a fairly realistic fits-where-it-touches portrait of vaudeville but overall it doesn't stand up as well as other titles of similar vintage.

Walking My Baby Back Home
(1953)

Dancin' Man
Essentially there were two great dancers in Hollywood; Fred Astaire and all the rest. Gene Kelley appeared in arguably more prestigious movis than the likes of Gene Nelson, Bob Fosse and Michael Kidd but Donald O'Connor was seriously underrated. It may be that he was lumbered with a studio (Universal) not especially known for musicals compared to say, MGM, Fox, or Paramount, and slow to spend a buck promoting him, whatever, he just didn't make it. On the other hand he illuminated almost everything he was in and arguably got his best exposure in the fifties via Singin' In The Rain, Call Me Madam, I Love Melvin and There's No Business Like Show Business. He has little trouble 'carrying' this entry even saddled with liability Buddy Hackett and Janet Leigh keeps her end up. All in all a half-decent lightweight entry.

The Big Shot
(1942)

The Last Ga(n)Gster
Director Lewis Seiler started out as a gagman and graduated to helming thick-ear mellers at Warners including this entry which marked Bogie's last outing as a gangster having just scored as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and about to score even bigger as Rick Blane in Casablanca. There's not a lot wrong with this and Seiler throws in some imaginative angles and touches of light and shade but the timing was just about as wrong as it could be - 1942, a beat or two after Pearl Harbor so that it more or less fell off the radar. Perhaps the odd man out is Howard Da Sylva, a long way from Paramount for what amounts to a nothing role, elsewhere familiar faces like Chick Chandler, Joe Downing, Stanley Ridges and Minor Watson as, what else, the warden, give solid support. Irene Manning does sterling work as the femme lead while ironically fourth-billed Susan Peters got her big break here but stopped a bullet in a hunting accident three years later cutting short a promising career.

Thin Ice
(1937)

No Business Like Snow Business
A lot of the pleasure in this piece of fluff comes courtesy of the supporting players - Melville Gideon, Sig Ruman, Arthur Treacher, Joan Davis. The plot, such as it is, is typical thirties escapism relying heavily - make that totally - on mistaken identity. Seen in 2019 it remains a pleasant enough diversion.

Give My Regards to Broadway
(1948)

Clap Hands There Goes Charlie
Seen for the first time some seventy years after its initial release this one has a lot of charm going for it. Mom and Dad Fay Bainter and Charles Winninger were seldom out of work in the thirties and forties and are utterly convincing as the ex-vaudevillians settled in New Jersey raising their three children, two girls, one boy.Father is in denial and keeps the family rehearsing a song, dance, and juggling act against the day vaudeville comes back, meanwhile he climbs the corporate ladder slowly but surely. Top-billed Dan Dailey as the son is the most talented and holds out the longest but in the end he too bows to the inevitable. Support from the likes of Sig Ruman and Charlie Ruggles don't do any harm at all and it's a pleasant wallow in nostalgia.

Sea of Love
(1989)

Losing The Plot
This film is thirty years old so it's reasonable to assume that most people reading this are familiar with the 'twist' so that I'm not giving anything away by discussing it. Police are looking for a serial killer targeting men responding to lonely hearts ads and the killer is thought to be a woman. In each case the man is shot whilst in the act of missionary positin sex i.e. on top of woman YET! nothing is said about the women, were they killed too? Why don't the cops look for them as potential witnesses? The killer is revealed to be an ex-husband jealous of his ex-wife so 1) why does he leave lipstick covered cigarette ends and 2) how does he get into apartments where people are having sex? If you can get past these the film itself is fine.

Those Redheads from Seattle
(1953)

No Hair, Just Red Heads
As hybrids go this goes a tad too far. Around the same time Paramount turned out an 'experimental' western entitled Red Garters which seems to have disappeared without trace and if nothing else had a better score than this piece of cheese. Rhonda Fleming actually had a great singing voice but doesn't get a chance to display it, Agnes Moorhead is totally wasted, Gene Barry an embarrassment; I could go one but with luck you're ahead of me.

Hollywood Boulevard
(1936)

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
If you're fond of curios look no further. The basic premise - wheel out as many of yesterdays' headliners who now don't have change of a match as the traffic will bear and let buffs have a ball spotting them - is hi-jacked by a hoary sub-plot featuring Robert Cummins, a star in his own mind and Marsha Hunt who goes down fighting. The opening is hawg heaven for nostalgics with a montage of Hollywood Boulevard and nite spots shot at German expressionistic angles to illustrate the kaleidoscope milieu. It remains a fascinating failure.

Love Letters
(1945)

And then, As I End The Refrain ...
Edmund Rostand rhymes with Ayn Rand and perhaps cognizant of this Rand has 'adapted' rather than ripped off Rostand's greatest work Cyrano de Bergerac, lost the nose and the rapier but kept the ghost writing. In 1945 with the war all but won there was room for a blend of whimsey and mystery, throw in a picture-book cottage in an English countryside that existed only in Hollywood imaginations and we're off to the races. I've never really cared for Jennifer Jones finding her overripe sensuality dull but very occasionally - Since You Went Away and here - she was not too hard to take. A half-decent effort that wears well

Enter Laughing
(1967)

Stage Coach
This is a film I wanted to like much more than I actually did given that I'm a fully paid-up member of the Neil Simon-For-President Society and first in line for stuff like Goodbye, Charlie, Where's Poppa, Movie, Movie and the like. The cast is like a dream with names like Don Rickles (wasted), Herbie Faye, Elaine May just for openers. Someone has already pointed out that despite an opening statement that we are in 1938 there is absolutely no attempt to create a 1930s 'feel' which is a major handicap. Nevertheless there are several fine moments and having acquired it on dvd I will definitely watch it again.

Top o' the Morning
(1949)

Blarney Stoned
Richard Breen - with or without an 'L' wrote a couple of my favorite films - Pete Kelly's Blues, A Foreign Affair - plus several above average titles so it's strange to find his name on this leaden soufflé' but it was an early effort and everyone has to start somewhere. If you can accept the premise that someone did indeed steal the Blarney Stone leaving no trace then you may well enjoy this whimsey which relies on Crosby's charm. Burke and Van Heusen turned in a tuneful title song that may well be the best thing in it.

The Upturned Glass
(1947)

The Eyes Have It
James Mason and Pamela Kellino were clearly eager to push boundaries and function as fully creative personnel rather than just actors. Having met whilst shooting I Met A Murderer in 1939 when Pamela Ostrer was still married to Roy Kellino, embarked on an affair and subsequently married it's more than possible that The Upturned Glass was something of an in-joke given that in the film Mason does meet Kellino's character who is, in fact, a murderer and given that Mason produced and Kellino penned the screenplay the nod to the earlier film is inescapable. It's a film that means well and its earnestness is to be applauded even if it doesn't quite come off but a definite E for Effort.

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