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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

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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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