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Archive for February, 2013

In this 1946 film from celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a man imprisoned for being a Nazi collaborator.  The CIA, specifically a man named Devlin (Cary Grant) recruit her to go to Rio, where a group of her father’s Nazi friends have relocated.  Devlin wants her to infiltrate and report on the group, by getting close to one of them – a man named Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) – but the mission becomes muddled when Alice and Devlin fall for each other.

I find Hitchcock films to be a bit hit-and-miss, but I realised today that my favourite Hitchcock movies all starred Cary Grant.  I’m still trying to work out if that is coincidence or not.  In any event, I did not enjoy Notorious as much as North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief, but nonetheless, this was still a good film (actually better than I expected).

Ingrid Bergman is just beautiful as Alicia, and it is not surprising at all that two men fall in love with her.  Alicia is a girl who drinks too much and has had more than her fair share of male companions (in the original script she was a prostitute), but she still manages to garners sympathy, and I was hoping that she would make it through the film safely!  Bergman and Grant have great chemistry together, as seen in their other collaboration, Indiscreet (an altogether more light-hearted film), and they are both on top form here.  They also share a very sensual kiss, which was cleverly filmed in order to get around the Hayes Code, which stipulated that on-screen kisses must not last longer than three seconds.  In keeping with the code, the actors break off from their kiss every three seconds, and then kiss again!  The end effect is very sexy, which ironically is probably what the Hayes Code was trying to avoid.

The story moves along nicely, and there are no real dry or boring patches, although it is very obviously a Hitchcock film, with all his trademarks in place (such as gimmicky camera angles, which I believe can date a film somewhat).  The suitably ambiguous ending is satisfying, and while I would not rush to watch this film again, it was certainly worth seeing.  I would recommend it to fans of Grant, Bergman or Hitchcock.  The reliable Claude Rains is also worth watching as the conflicted Sebastian.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Producer: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Taintor Foote (story ‘The Song of the Dragon;), Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock, Clifford Odets

Main cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Konstantin

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This film is not a biography of Mozart; rather it is a tale of obsession and revenge.  Antonio Salieri, himself a famous and respected composer, is a great admirer of Mozart’s work, but when he meets Mozart, he is upset that such a tremendous talent is in the hands of a vulgar and crass person.  (Note: I do not know how realistic the portrayal of Mozart as shown in this film is, but certainly according to Mozart’s letters, he had a crude sense of humour.)  Salieri cannot believe that God has chosen to channel such beauty through Mozart, and is upset that Mozart will probably be remembered for all time, while he himself will probably sink into obscurity.  The film starts with the attempted suicide of Salieri, after which the story is told mainly in flashback, with Salieri recounting to a Priest how he came to know Mozart, and eventually seek revenge upon the young composer for his talent, of which he was so jealous.

F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Salieri (one of eight Oscars eleven nominations for this film), and I can see why (although he was up against Jeff Bridges for Starman, and when Jeff is up for an Oscar, I always always always root for him to win!)  Additionally, Tom Hulce, who played Mozart, was nominated for the same award.  He too put in an excellent performance, but I do think that Abraham had the edge here.  He does a fine job of making us understand his motivations, and the reason that he both detests and admires his rival.  Despite his underhand behaviour, he does elicit some sympathy for his pains.

Naturally, the music is sublime.  I am not a particular fan of classical music or opera, both of which feature prominently in this film, but I could certainly appreciate it in this context.  The costumes were also very lavish and beautiful, and the Oscar which was won for Best Costume Design was also very well deserved.

There was some comic relief, mainly provided by Hulce, but this was mainly a touching and somewhat disturbing film – and when I say disturbing, I mean it in a good way.  It demonstrates how a sane and rational person can let their jealousy turn to obsession, and cause them to act out of character; in the hands of a lesser actor, this might not have worked, but fortunately, F. Murray Abraham handles it incredibly well.  It’s not a short film; I saw the director’s cut which is just shy of three hours – but it is an enjoyable and absorbing watch.  I would certainly recommend it, whether or not you are a fan of Mozart’s music.

Year of music: 1984

Director: Milos Forman

Producers: Michael Hausman, Bertil Ohlsson, Saul Zaentz

Writer: Peter Shaffer

Main cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

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Biblical Professor Jonathan Lyons has discovered a parchment which he believes to be a letter written from Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea.  However, before he can return to the parchment to the Vatican Library, he is murdered – shot dead in his own study.  The Police believe that his wife Kathleen, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is responsible, as it was known that she was jealous about his affair with another woman.  However, the couple’s daughter Mariah refuses to believe that this could be the case and sets out to find out the truth.  Who would really want to kill Professor Lyons, and why?  And where is the mysterious document that he talked about to his friends?

This is the first book I have read by Mary Higgins Clark, and will almost certainly be my last.  It may not have been a good choice of hers to read (I have read reviews by fans of Higgins Clark, who have said that this is not one of her best), but it has pretty much put me off venturing further with her novels.

Don’t get me wrong – I actually quite enjoyed parts of it, and it’s certainly a book that doesn’t require too much thinking, but even while reading it, I found myself shaking my head and thinking what a load of hokum.

There was very little characterisation – there was nothing particularly distinctive about any of Richard’s close circle of friends, around whom much of the story revolves.  The only characters who were quite distinctive were Mariah’s friends Alvirah and Willy – and frankly, Alvirah was a complete nightmare.  I would imagine that she would be a neighbour from hell, going around recording people’s conversations on a brooch that was really a microphone, and sticking in her nose everywhere.  (I can’t imagine that this was even remotely realistic; I am sure that the Police would have told her to stop interfering with their investigation, as she seemed to be doing more enquiry and investigation work than they were!)  I am told that these characters have appeared in previous novels by this author, which is another reason no to read them.

So overall, while this was not a book I hated, I certainly couldn’t say that it was a good or believable read – I was unable to care about any of the characters, even remotely!  Higgins Clark is a hugely popular author, and certainly doesn’t need my recommendation, which is fortunate, because I am not able to give it.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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In this beind-the-scenes comedy drama, David Duchovny is Mike Klein, a writer who pitches a pilot for a television show to a network.  The show is picked up, but then Mike realises that he has to compromise on every aspect of the show.

And that’s it in a nutshell…but this film is a very entertaining and amusing look at how a television pilot makes it from the page to the screen.  Sigourney Weaver plays Lenny, a boss at the studio who seems to have no life outside of work, and expects everyone to bow to her command.  Ioan Gruffudd is her much nicer colleague, who is swept along in the process, and even though he sometimes disagrees with Lenny, it is very hard for him to effect any change, trapped as he is between furthering his own career, and sticking to his principles.  Judy Greer puts in a great performance as Mike’s agent Alice, and Fran Kranz and Lindsay Sloane are Zach and Laurel, the two stars of Mike’s show.

The TV Set almost has a documentary feel to it – we are watching the process happen, and seeing how Mike becomes disillusioned.  Yes, he realises his dream of getting his show on the air, but at what cost?  Duchovny gave a good performance, and I could feel his frustration.  Justine Bateman was somewhat wasted as his wife however, but she made the best of a small part.

Definitely worth a watch – it is interesting and enjoyable, and while it may not be laugh-out-loud funny, there are plenty of amusing moments.  This film gets a thumbs up from me.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Jake Kasdan

Producers: Judd Apatow, Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan, Aaron Ryder, Ron Schmidt, Carey Dietrich, Paul Pressburger, Howard Tager

Writer: Jake Kasdan

Main cast: David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Lindsay Sloane, Justine Bateman

 

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I saw this show at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, on 23rd February 2013.

Singin’ In The Rain is one of my very favourite films, and Gene Kelly is also a favourite actor of mine, so the show had a lot to live up to.  And it did!  The show was a delight from start to finish.

The storyline – for anyone who doesn’t know it – concerns the switch from silent movies to ‘talkies’ and actually deals with a problem that was experienced by many silent film stars; when the talkies came in, the audience realised that their voice did not match the on-screen glamour, and a few careers ended because of it.  Also part of the story is the romance between famous film-star Don Lockwood and up-and-coming actress Kathy Selden, which is thwarted by the jealousy of Don’s on-screen partner, Lina Lamont.  And mainly of course, there is that mesmerising, breathtaking dancing.

In this production, Don Lockwood was played by Adam Cooper, a man physically very different to Gene Kelly, but who played the part well.  Cooper is a beautiful and elegant dancer, and his dancing sequences were a joy to watch.  My personal favourite was Good Morning, where he was accompanied by Louise Bowden as Kathy, and Stephane Anelli as Cosmo (Don’s childhood and lifelong friend).  The squeaky voiced and vindictive Lina was played with relish by Jennifer Ellison, who was very funny, if occasionally just a little too shrieky, even for Lina!  Actually for me, Stephane Anelli was the star of the production, playing Cosmo with just the right mixture of mischief and melancholy.

The staging was elaborate and wonderfully creative.  There were just a few changes to the film storyline, at least some of which were probably necessitated by the restrictions of performing on stage (for example in the film, Don meets Kathy when he leaps into her open-topped car; here, he meets her while she waits at a bus stop), but overall the storyline is faithful to the iconic film.

An added piece of genius where the film segments, where we see the actors in the roles that they are playing within the play, with all of their period costumes and props, and – hilariously – the problems they encounter when trying to film sound as well as vision.

As ever, the dancing was a joy to watch, and obviously the highlight of the show.  The title number was exuberant and energetic, even if the first few rows of the audience did get soaked!

Well worth watching – I imagine this show will be playing for along time, and I would recommend it to any fans of the film, or indeed any fans of happy musicals!

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 1952 film.

Click here for my review of the book ‘Singin’ In The Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece’ by Earl J. Hess and Prathiba A. Dabholkar.

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This film is a remake of the 1968 film of the same name, which starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (Dunaway has a small role in this film also).  Pierce Brosnan plays the millionaire playboy Crown, who steals an extremely valuable painting from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Rene Russo is Catherine Banning, the morally ambiguous insurance investigator who knows that Crown is responsible and determines to bring him to justice, but is hampered by her own attraction to him.

Having seen both this version and the 1968 film, I would have to conclude that the original is the superior movie, although on paper it would not seem to be the case.  In the 1999 version, Crown steals a painting which he loves, rather than simply stealing money, and this is an improvement on the original film.  However, despite the obvious flaws in the 1968 film, it did have one huge advantage, and that is Steve McQueen.  I like Pierce Brosnan, but he doesn’t have an ounce of the natural charisma that McQueen had.  I also felt that there was absolutely no chemistry between Brosnan and Russo – and Russo, who is normally such a reliable actress, seemed to be really over-acting here.  I’m sure she was channelling Faye Dunaway (who played her counterpart in the original), but she doesn’t really pull it off.

Another thing that was made clear to me by this film was that lots of sex does not equal sexy.  Both Brosnan and Russo (or maybe body doubles in some scenes; who knows?) both flash a LOT of flesh, and there is a pretty explicit sex scene, and….it’s just not sexy.  The suggestion of sex, or the sexual tension which was so obvious in the chess scene in the first movie (and I’m sorry to keep comparing the two, but it’s hard not to), was much much more sensual, without a breast or buttock in sight.

This film wasn’t all bad though – it was glossily shot, and at least dispensed with the nauseating split-screen effect of it’s predecessor.  The heist at the beginning of the film was far better executed, and there was a terrific further scene in the Museum of Modern Art at the end of this film, as well.  I won’t say more for risk of posting spoilers, but I did think that it was very cleverly done.

Also, Denis Leary was in this film, playing the Police Detective investigating the theft, and he was probably the best actor in it.  It’s strange, but for all the flaws of the original film, I still rooted for Crown to get away with it – in this version, I was rooting for the Police to come through.

Basically, this movie is something that can be watched and enjoyed, but it is definitely a case of style over substance.  Worth watching once, but if a good heist movie is what you’re after, there are plenty better out there.

Year of release: 1999

Director: John McTiernan

Producers: Michael Tadross, Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair, Bruce Moriarty, Roger Paradiso

Writers: Alan R. Trustman, Leslie Dixon, Kurt Wimmer

Main cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Frankie Faison

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Click here for my review of the 1968 film.

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In 1525, Simonetta di Saronno is a young widow who has lost her husband Lorenzo to the Italian wars.  After his death, she discovers that Lorenzo has spent all their money, and she must find a way to make more if she wants to keep hold of her grand home.

Bernardino Luini is a highly talented apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, who is hired to decorate a church, and offers to pay Simonetta if she will be his model for the Madonna.  Although they initially feel hostility towards one another, they soon end up falling in love,  but their love brings disgrace upon them, as people feel that she has disrespected the memory of her husband.

In a further bid to save her home, Simonetta enlists the help of Manodorata, a Jewish money lender, who helps her to create a drink from the almond trees that grow on her estate.

Will Simonetta and Bernardino ever find happiness together, and will Simonetta manage to save her home?  And what effect can a mute, almost dead soldier have on Simonetta’s future?

I was not sure what to make of this book.  Initially I thought I was going to struggle with it, but I did start to enjoy it.  However, I never felt that the characters were particularly well drawn, and I was not able to connect on any level with them.  The story was interesting enough to hold my attention, but I did guess the twist very early on.

The most interesting and shocking part of the story was the ill-treatment of Jews by the Christians at the time.  Although this was something that I was aware of, it is portrayed very strongly in this book, and for me, this was far more effective than the romantic aspect.

I think most fans of historical fiction would probably enjoy this book, and although I wasn’t as captivated by it as I might have hoped, I would probably read more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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