Archive for June, 2011

This is less a novel, and not even really a collection of short stories.  Mainly narrated by a character named Roy, at different stages in his life, it is really a series of snapshots about Roy’s father’s suicide when Roy was a young boy, the events that led up to his father taking his own life, and the lasting effects it had on Roy,  Sandwiched in the middle is a longer story (about 165 pages) about an ill fated plan for Roy and his father to spend a year living on a very remote Alaskan island.  About two thirds of the way through this story is a twist that was so surprising that I had to re-read it to make sure I had seen the words correctly.  This twist didn’t fit in with the other stories at all, and actually confused me until I realised what the author was doing.

On the positive side, some of the writing in the book is eloquent and almost beautiful.  Other reviewers have likened it to the writing of Cormac McCarthy and I can see the comparison, although I certainly prefer McCarthy’s work.  However, as good as the writing is, I just felt that I could not connect with this book on any level, and actually looked forward to when I could finish it and put it down.  While I can certainly see how the longer story set on the remote island could pack a punch for some readers, I felt that maybe I was missing the point, and actually almost gave up on reading it (it was the only the fact that I hate not finishing any book once I’ve started that made me press on).

I hope that writing the book may have been cathartic for the author, whose own father committed suicide when David Vann was a young boy.  But for me, something just didn’t click, and all I was left with after finishing the book was relief that it was finished, and a general feeling of malaise.  It’s clear from other reviews I’ve read that some readers felt very moved by this story and it had a profound effect on some people.  Unfortunately, that certainly is not the case with me.  I’d probably hesitate to recommend this to anyone, but if someone did want to read it, I’d suggest that they have something lighthearted on hand to read afterwards.

(Author’s website can be found here.)


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Cary Grant is John Robie, a former jewel thief, now a reformed character  living on the Frnech Riviera.  When a spate of cat burglaries occur, the finger of suspicion is pointed at him, and he determines that he will have to catch the thief himself, in order to prove his innocence.  Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) is a beautiful young woman holidaying and husband hunting in the Riviera with her mother – and her mother is one of the major targets of the thief…

Some director/actor combinations seem to work together really well (such as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp).  I think this may well be the case with Hitchcock and Grant – North by Northwest was a great movie, and so is To Catch A Thief.  (I actually prefer this film to North by Northwest, and I really want to see Suspicion and Notorious).  Cary Grant oozes charisma and charm, and is perfect as the suave John Robie, who has to try and outwit the thief and stay one step ahead at all times.

In all honesty, Grace Kelly does little more than the necessary love interest for John Robie, but it doesn’t matter.  Despite her main purpose for being on the Riviera being to look for a potential husband, she is no subservient and meek lady – instead she is witty and feisty and I felt that the two characters worked very well together.  Of particular note was Jessie Royce Landis, who played the mother of Frances Stevens (and who played the mother of Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest).  She provided excellent support and ended up being one of the most likeable characters.

There are plenty of witty and amusing moments in this film – it’s certainly not as dark as some of Hitchcock’s other films – and there is a greater focus on the romantic aspect of the story.  And the glamour!  I loved it – as the film largely centres on rich people in an exclusive part of France, this meant that some of the outfit were beautiful and extravagant.  The outfits at the ball towards the end of the film were also pretty spectacular.

As for the ending itself – I didn’t guess the identity of the thief, although other people have said that they thought it was easy to tell who it was.  It was a great ending, which finished the story perfectly.  Some people might call it Hitchcock-lite, but to me, this was a great film, pure entertainment and very enjoyable.

Year of release: 1955

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: David Dodge (novel), John Michael Hayes, Alec Coppel

Main cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis

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The Philadelphia Story is regarded as something of a classic, and certainly its main cast is made up of three big stars – Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart.  Grant plays C.K. Dexter Haven, the ex-husband of Tracy Lord Haven (Hepburn).  The couple married in haste and repented at leisure, mainly due to Haven’s drinking.  Two years after their break-up  Tracy is due to marry again, and Haven is determined to ruin the wedding.  James Stewart plays reporter Macauley ‘Mike’ Connor, a cynical journalist who really wants to write books.  Connor is sent to cover the wedding (which is all part of Haven’s plan to ruin it) and is as unhappy about it as Tracy herself, who is worried that the report will reveal that her father has run off with another woman.  To further complicate matter, Tracy finds herself attracted to both the reticent Mike, and the rakish C.K. Dexter!  High jinks ensue and all of the characters learn a little bit about themselves and each other along the way…

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this film – in particular, Grant and Stewart are excellent (Stewart won an Oscar for this role, and I personally think it was deserved – his scenes are a delight, especially when Mike has had a few too many drinks!).  They are both very different actors, and both very charismatic in their own ways.  For me, Cary Grant is impossible to dislike in any role I’ve seen him in yet.

However, I find it harder to warm to Katharine Hepburn – no doubt she was  a celebrated and talented actress, and she was great as the feisty and unforgiving Tracy Lord – for me, the humour and enjoyment in this film was all down to the two leading men.

The storyline turns along nicely, and there are a few genuinely very funny moments, but overall I couldn’t help feeling that it was not quite as good as I had hoped (especially considering it’s reputation as a movie).  However, I do believe that it could well be the kind of film which gets better with each viewing, and I certainly liked it enough to watch it again in the future at some point.  It also makes some interesting points about the nature of celebrity (Mike is reluctant to cover a society wedding for the magazine he works for, and Tracy is reluctant to have her wedding in a magazine.  Both find the idea somewhat vulgar and tacky, and it was clearly not a common thing in those days.  Nowadays of course, trashy magazines are sold on the back of such stories!

As for what happens at the end – I’m giving nothing away.  It was not the ending I expected, but on balance it was probably the ending I would have wanted, and the film certainly finished on a high note.

EDIT: (7.2.13.) Well, I did watch the film again, and I did indeed enjoy it a lot more on second viewing. My favourite scene remains the one where drunken Mike visits C.K. – classic comedy! I also could appreciate Hepburn’s role a lot more second time around.

Year of release: 1940

Director: George Cukor

Writers: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart, Waldo Salt

Main cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey


Click here for my review of the 1956 musical adaptation High Society.

Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production of High Society.


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Small Island tells the tale of four people before, during and after World War II, and deals with issues of racism, family and love.  Queenie Bligh’s husband Bernard went off to fight in the war and by 1948 still hasn’t returned.  Queenie has no idea where he is, or even if he is dead or alive.  To help make ends meet she has taken in lodgers, one of whom is Gilbert Joseph, a Jamaican man who fought for Britain in the war.  Queenie’s neighbours are outraged that she is allowing black lodgers into her home, but Queenie herself is more tolerant.  Gilbert’s wife Hortense, an educated and snobbish woman comes to Britain to join her husband and fulfil her dreams of a big house in the beautiful countryside, but the reality is very different.  She is living in one cramped and dirty room, in a neighbourhood where she is unwelcome because of her colour – and she is discovering that she does not really like – or even know – her husband.

The tales of these characters, and a fourth character of Queenie’s husband Bernard, are interwoven beautifully.  The story is gripping and entirely believable.  The scenes of both blatant and casual racism are disturbing and shocking to read (the casual racism sometimes more so than the blatant).  The hypocrisy of human nature, as well as the strengths of individuals, is also well depicted.

All four characters take it in turns to narrate the story, and the narrative switches from ‘Before’ (the war) and 1948, which is the present day in the story.  However, it never becomes confusing, and each character is distinct and fully fleshed out.  Queenie and Gilbert are the most sympathetic characters (to me anyway), while I found it difficult to warm to Bernard.  Hortense was possibly the most interesting however, and the viewer is taken from her early dreams to her shock that gradually comes over her as she discovers – as Gilbert did months earlier – that black faces are not welcome in Britain, although many black people fought for Britain in the war.

The ending was excellent, and really brought all the threads together.  There were a few surprises at the conclusion, but all of them fitted in well with the story.

The book won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004 and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize in 2005.  I am not surprised in the least at the acclaim it received.  Without hesitation I would recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This was an early film in Gene Kelly’s career, but a very pivotal role for him.  He was loaned by MGM to Columbia Pictures for this film and was given creative control over his material.  His performance here really made MGM sit up and take notice of what a star they had on their hands – and they never loaned him out again!

In Cover Girl, Kelly plays Danny Maguire, the owner of a small Brooklyn Night Club.  Rita Hayworth is Rusty Parker, Danny’s girlfriend and one of his leading dancers.  When Rusty enters a competition to become the cover girl for Vanity magazine, she catches the eye of the magazine boss John Coudair, who years earlier fell in love with Rusty’s grandmother (also a dancer, and also played by Rita Hayworth in flashback scenes).  Rusty’s career takes off and she soon has the fame and acclaim which she has always desired, but Danny feels left behind.  He doesn’t want to hold her back, so lets her leave the club – and him.  But then he hears that Rusty is to be married to Noel Wheaton, a successful Broadway Producer.  And meantime, Rusty is discovering that fame might not be all it’s cracked up to be…

Any film that features Gene Kelly (swoon) dancing, has to be worth watching – and there are some great dance sequences in this.  Most notable, and most famous is the Alter Ego routine, where Kelly dances with a shadowy mirror image of himself.  The choreography is amazing, and the effect itself is pretty great, considering that this film was made in 1944.  Also noteworthy is the number Put Me To The Test, where Kelly and Hayworth dance together – and what a fabulous combination!  Kelly always seemed to be bring fresh and interesting ideas to his choreography (for example, the ballet sequence in An American In Paris, The dance with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh, and the titular sequence from Singin’ In The Rain).  I say this every time I mention one of Kelly’s movies, but his dancing is incredible to watch and always puts a smile on  my face.  The score for the movie is lovely – no surprise, as it is composed by George and Ira Gershwin.  Notable songs are Make Way For Tomorrow, and Long Ago (And Far Away).

Rita Hayworth looks stunning (Hollywood don’t seem to ‘do’ this sort of glamour anymore; maybe it’s outdated, but I love to see it).  The supporting cast are also great – Phil Silvers plays Danny’s best friend Genius, and Eve Arden as Cornelia ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (who works for Cordair) steals all of her scenes, with her wit and sardonic sense of humour.

MGM may have been the studio which produced the most famous and successful musicals of the era, but Columbia Pictures certainly scored a hit with this one.  It’s a feel-good, sweet story – one of Kelly’s lesser known movies, but certainly worth checking out.

Year of release: 1944

Director: Charles Vidor

Writers: Erwin S. Gelsey, Marion Parsonnet, Paul Gangelin, Virginia Van Upp, John H Kafka

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Otto Kruger, Phil Silvers

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Cary Grant plays Johnny Case, a happy go lucky man who has fallen in love with Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), the daughter of a millionaire.  Johnny, who has been working since the age of 10, manages to pull off a deal at work which means that after he is married he can follow his dream of taking an extended holiday, in order to find out what he really wants to do with his career, and how he fits into an ever-changing world.  His plan is met with dismay by Julia and her father, who had assumed that Johnny would go to work for their family business, where he can earn lots of money.  However, Julia’s sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) thinks Johnny’s plan is wonderful – and it starts to seem as though Johnny has more in common with his fiancee’s sister than he does with Julia herself…

When I started watching this film, I was expecting something of a screwball comedy (such as Bringing Up Baby, anotehr Grant/Hepburn film).  This film is actually not that type of comedy; in fact I would hesitate to call it a comedy at all.  It seemed to be more of a light hearted drama, but is certainly not without comedic moments.  Grant is as likeable as ever, although here he is neither the befuddled but loveable eccentric that he played in films such as Monkey Business, nor the sauve debonair charmer of North by Northwest or An Affair To Remember.  Johnny Case is more down to earth character, possibly easier to identify with.  His acting is great, and he even gets the chance to demonstrate his acrobatic abilities.

Katharine Hepburn is also terrific as the wise-cracking Linda, the self titled ‘black sheep of the family’ (although she does seem to have a close relationship with her brother and sister), who finds herself attracted to her sister’s fiance.  She and Grant play well off each other.  However, I must make special mention of Lew Ayres, who plays Julia and Linda’s brother, Ned.  Ned has turned to alcohol to numb his disappointment at giving up on his dream to become a composer, in order to work for his father’s business.  Like Linda, he supports Johnny’s dream of an extended holiday -and is able to see that if Johnny doesn’t pursue this venture, he will probably end up like Ned himself; in the end, Ned was the most memorable character in the film (for me at least).

Excellent support is given by Edward Everrett Horton and Jean Dixon as Johnny’s friends Nick and Susan Potter – every scene they were in was funny and hugely enjoyable.

All in all then, a more subtle comedy, but an enjoyable one with some excellent actors.  Fans of Hepburn, and especially of Grant, should check this one out.

Year of release: 1938

Director: George Cukor

Writers: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart, Sidney Buchman

Main cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Doris Nolan, Lew Ayres

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Audrey Hepburn is Nicole Bonnet, a young woman living in Paris, whose father is a successful art forger.  When the father lends a ‘priceless statue’ (which is in reality a forgery by his father) to a famous Parisian museum, Nicole has to steal it back before scientific tests prove that the piece is a forgery, and her father’s criminal activities are exposed.  Nicole enlists the help of suave ‘society burglar’ Simon Dermott, and together the two of them embark on a madcap adventure…

Well, this is a great little movie.  I love Audrey Hepburn, and as ever, she is truly beautiful and classy here (and wears some stunning outfits – look out for the black one with the face veil which she wears when she first meets Simon at The Ritz).  Although I wouldn’t put this film in the same class as Roman Holiday, Sabrina or Funny Face, it really is entertaining and a lot of fun – and Audrey acts her socks off.  Peter O’Toole, so young in this film, is lovely too.  He’s incorrigible, suave, cheeky, and very endearing.  O’Toole was perfect for this role, and made a perfect on screen partner for Audrey.

The plot itself is a lot of fun, and there are some genuinely funny moments, many courtesy of Hugh Griffith, who played Nicole’s father.  My favourite parts were the scene where Nicole and Simon first meet (it’s not revealing any spoilers to say that she catches him breaking into their house), and the closet at the museum (which I won’t say more about here).

The chemistry between the two leading characters is great – they bounce off each other and suit each other perfectly.  They certainly seem to be having the time of their life in Paris.

In short, this may not be a movie which will stay with me in the way that Roman Holiday or Sabrina has done, but it’s a very enjoyable couple of hours, which left me with a smile on my face.  Well worth watching!

Year of release: 1966

Director: William Wyler

Writers: George Bradshaw, Harry Kurnitz

Main cast: Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Eli Wallach

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If you have ever felt that celebrities are given far too many privileges, or that they very often tend to expound enthusiastically – and with such conviction of their authority on the subject – on matters of national import, then you would probably enjoy this book.  If you’ve ever wondered at the cruelty of the press in reporting on celebrity lifestyles, this book would probably strike a chord.

Marina Hyde manages to be extremely funny, while making some very serious points.  Certain celebrities come in for more exposure than others – such as Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears (in Britney’s case, Hyde discusses the relentless and disgraceful hounding of the star when she was in the midst of a breakdown – and recalls instances such as when a paparazzi photographer put a camera up Britney’s skirt and photographed the menstrual blood on her knickers, subsequently printing same as evidence that she wasn’t pregnant).  She is withering towards Jolie, citing the time when Angelina and Brad decided to have their first biological child in Namibia.  What wasn’t widely reported at the time was how journalists wishing to enter the country during the couple’s stay were told that they would need to seek written permission from Angelina and Brad before entering.  How on earth did we get to the stage where two film stars are allowed to dictate who enters a country?  And how was it ever allowed for civilians in that country to have their homes searched for evidence of photographs of the couple?

Why does Elmo from Sesame Street get invited to speak at the UN Congress?  Yes, Elmo is a puppet.  Who got invited to speak at UN Congress!  If this happened in a satirical novel, the reader would probably dismiss it as a stupid storyline, but it actually happened.

Hyde also discusses the dangers of celebrities wading into areas of which they have little knowledge (witness Sharon Stone talking about how she beat cancer through lifestyle alone – a dangerous message to send to other cancer sufferers), and how the rise in celebrity adoptions from developing countries (as in the cases of Angelina Jolie and Madonna) have actually led to more children being left in orphanages in such countries.

My favourite chapter was the one about ‘celebrity’ magazines – I have a personal dislike of such publications as Closer, Reveal, New, etc. as they seem fixated on celebrities’ weight, and love to speculate wildly and without any basis in fact about the lives of people in the public eye.

Despite all this, the book remains full of humour and made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions, and I would absolutely recommend it.

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This 1945 musical has Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, as two sailors in the US Navy, who spend four days shore leave in Hollywood.  Joe Brady (Kelly) is streetwise and popluar with the ladies, and Clarence Doolittle (an incredibly boyish looking Sinatra) is naive and inexperienced.  They meet a young boy who is eager to join the Navy, and who introduces them to his aunt Susie, an aspiring singer.  Clarence immediately falls for Susie and asks Joe to help him get a date with her.  However, in trying to help his friend, Joe tells Susie that they have arranged an audition for her with famous pianist Jose Iturbi (who plays himself, and rather charmingly too).  Complications ensue when Joe also starts to fall for Susie – and what will happen when she finds out that there is no real audition for her?!

I might as well admit at this juncture that I am fast developing an obsession with Gene Kelly!  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I enjoyed this movie so much, but it does happen to be a hugely enjoyable, sparkly musical, with a brilliant cast.

Kelly is terrific as Joe Brady (and secured an Oscar nomination for Best Actor; the film was also nominated for Best Picture, and won for Best Original Music Score), and he simply oozes charisma.  Although he is third billed, beneath Sinatra and Grayson, he really shines here.  (And frankly, if there’s anything sexier than Gene Kelly dancing in a sailor’s uniform, I’m sure I  don’t know what it could be!)  I’ve said it before – many times probably – but I find his dancing utterly mesmerising, and can’t tear my eyes away from the screen when he’s performing.  From the understated ‘I Begged Her’ number near the beginning of the film, where he and Sinatra both dance, to the flamboyant Spanish inspired ‘La Cumparsita’, the energy bounces off the screen.  I also loved the Mexican Hat dance in the market place, where he is accompanied by Sharon McManus, who was just 8 years old at the time.  Of course the dance which this film is most famous for is the dance that Kelly does with Jerry Mouse (from the Tom & Jerry cartoons; originally, Kelly wanted to use the Mickey Mouse character for this routine, but Walt Disney refused to lend the character out to MGM, so Jerry Mouse was used instead).  If you’re thinking that Gene Kelly dancing with a cartoon mouse sounds twee or trite, don’t worry!  It works beautifully, and is probably my favourite routine in the film.

Sinatra too is great, although I couldn’t get over how young he looked!  He wisely leaves most of the dancing to his co-star, and does most of the singing numbers himself.  I didn’t find the songs as memorable as some in other films, but he performed them well, and sounded great.  He is endearing and sweet in this role.

Kathryn Grayson looks stunning and glamorous, and undoubtedly has a fabulous singing voice, which she showcases here.  As a personal preference, I am not overkeen on the operatic style which she uses, but this did not detract one iota from my enjoyment of the film, and technically her voice is great.

The supporting cast includes Pamela Britton as a waitress who falls for Clarence.  She was very good in this, whcih was her first cinematic role.  I recently saw her in D.O.A. (1950) and was unimpressed, but more by the convoluted script and the two dimensional character she played in that film.  In Anchors Aweigh, she doesn’t get an awful lot of screentime, but she makes the most of it.  Dean Stockwell was just 9 when this film was released, and he is absolutely adorable; he’s able to hold his own against his adult co-stars.

Overall – in case you hadn’t guessed! – I really enjoyed this film.  It’s not my favourite Gene Kelly movie (that would have to be Singin’ In The Rain), but it’s a close second.  If you like watching fantastic dancing, great comedy scenes, or just very enjoyable films, I would definitely recommend this one.

Year of release: 1945

Director: George Sidney

Writers: Isobel Lennart, Natalie Marcin

Main cast: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson

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It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee.  Robert finds himself working with Pinker’s daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other.  However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation.  While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert’s journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey – from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues.  It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book).  There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again!  It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading. 

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book.  At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London.  Despite all of this, it’s hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him.  Emily herself was one of my favourite characters – her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all.  It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages! 

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly.  This was the first book I’ve ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more.  I’d definitely recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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