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Archive for May, 2013

This screwball comedy stars Cary Grant (master of the screwball genre) and Irene Dunne, in the first of three films in which they starred together.  They play Jerry and Lucy Warriner, a couple who each suspect the other of being unfaithful, and so decide to get divorced.  However when they both become involved with other people, they each try to interfere with the other’s new relationship.

The film has some similarities to My Favourite Wife (1940) which also starred Grant and Dunne, but I preferred this one of the two movies.  Grant is his usual face pulling, funny self, in a role which he was perfect for.  Dunne however matched him scene for scene – she was wonderful and very endearing as Lucy.  There was also an extremely cute dog called Mr Smith, of whom both Lucy and Jerry want custody, and it was Mr Smith who played a large part in one of the funniest scenes in the film!  In fact, I did laugh out loud on several occasions – look out for the scene where Jerry is on a date with a singer and meets Lucy and her new boyfriend!

It’s a screwball romantic comedy, so the ending is pretty predictable, but the journey there is so much fun.  A must for any fan of either of the stars, or of the screwball genre.

Year of release: 1938

Director: Leo McCarey

Producers: LeoMcCarey, Everett Riskin

Writers: Arthur Richman (based on a play by), Vina Delmar, Sidney Buchman

Main cast: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D’Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont, Esther Dale

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Although officially classed as fiction, this book tells the very true story of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist, who during World War 2, saved the lives of some 1200 (officially, although the actual number may well be far higher) by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.  It is the basis of the 1993 film, Schindler’s List; having seen the film years ago, when I thought it was wonderful, I would like to see it again, as I believe that reading the book would make me appreciate it even more.

I honestly don’t think that any review I could write would do this book justice, but nonetheless, I’ll give it a go!  The book tells an incredible story of bravado, resilience and determination, under the most horrific circumstances.  Keneally is almost at pains to point out that Schindler was far from perfect.  He was a womaniser who seemed incapable of being faithful to his wife, he drank too much, and he was not above mixing with people who he didn’t like, simply because he could get something he wanted from them.  This latter skill of course came into play to magnificent effect during his mission to save lives, which actually makes it an asset.  And in fact, this just makes what he did, all the more heroic.  It would have been easy for such a man – who counted SS members amongst his ‘friends’ – to use the war to his own advantage, and to profit from cheap labour, but the fact that he chose to save lives, even when it meant endangerment to his own, and when it certainly would have been easier for him to ignore what was happening, just makes the story even more magnificent.  When someone is portrayed as a superhero, we expect them to do good things – that’s what their role is.  But Schindler was not an obvious candidate for heroism.  A hero is most certainly what he is though.

Initially, Schindler just wanted to make money, but as the war proceeded, he saw for himself the horrors being committed against Jews, Poles and Gypsies.  (The famous scene in the film where he sees a little girl dressed in red was actually based on a real event.)  Although the people he employed were officially prisoners, he was kind to them, and the arbitrary beatings and executions which occurred in other labour camps had no place at Schindler’s premises.  He also paid over the odds to ensure that his workers had adequate food and premises, even insisting that his workers were able to sleep on his site, rather than living in another camp and being marched to his premises by SS soldiers.  Although he was supposed to only employ people with the necessary skills for the work, he also took on people who had no such skills, because he knew that otherwise, they would be killed.

Towards the end of the story, when we come to the famous list of people who he moved to Brinnlitz, another supposed labour camp, he actually gives up all pretence at being in the business for money, deliberately turning out substandard artillery shells.  His brazenness was in fact almost his undoing.

The book gives details of individual cases and names specific people who Schindler helped, and pulls no punches in describing the sort of favours he did to ensure that he got what he wanted.  There is a LOT of information given, and admittedly I sometimes had to check back to remind myself who someone was.  However, all the information is essential to get the full picture.  Despite being written as a novel, I was concerned that the writing might be a little dry (it is after all a true story, and I sometimes find that non-fiction can be less readable than fiction).  In actual fact however, it was quite easy to read, and I found myself getting through huge chunks at a time.

If this review has not tempted you to read the book, that’s my fault.  Not only would I recommend this book, I would urge everyone to read it.  It moved me to tears on several occasions, and at other times I had to put it down simply to digest the horror of what I had read.  But it was totally, absolutely worth it.  Simply wonderful.

(For more information about this period of history, or to learn more about Oskar Schindler, please click here.)

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This colourful and joyous adaptation of As You Like It was a delight from start to finish.  In essence, the story revolves around Rosalind, daughter of the Duke Ferdinand, who has been usurped by his brother Duke Frederick.  Ferdinand has been banished from his court, and now lives in the Forest of Arden with some loyal followers.  Rosalind, once permitted to remain at the court because of her close friendship with Frederick’s daughter Cecilia, has now also been banished, but not before a brief meeting with Orlando, a youth who has been forced to live in poverty by his cruel older brother Oliver.  Cecilia decides to leave court with Rosalind; Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede, while Cecilia pretends to be his sister Aliena.  Accompanied by the court fool Touchstone, they head into the Forest to find Rosalind’s father.  When lovelorn Orlando comes looking for Rosalind, he finds a young man named Ganymede, eager to school Orlando in the rules of courtship…

Having recently watched the televised performance of this play as performed at The Globe Theatre in 2009, I thought that another performance was going to have to go some way to equal it.  This one does just that though, mainly due to some truly excellent leading performances, and some beautiful music – as well as lots and lots of laughs (I actually had face ache from laughing so much when I left the theatre.)  Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann play Rosalind and Orlando, and not only are they both perfect for the roles, but there is some real chemistry between them too.  Nixon makes a terrific Rosalind/Ganymede – in some productions, Ganymede can look too obviously like a girl for the audience to believe that Orlando does not recognise her/him – but here, Nixon is convincing, and androgynously gorgeous when in male character.  (Nixon and Waldmann were both excellent in Hamlet earlier on in this RSC season, so they are two names I will be looking out for in future productions also.) However, I MUST also mention Joanna Horton as Cecilia, Natalie Klamar as Phoebe, and Nicolas Tennant as Touchstone, as also being stand-out performances.  I have a real fondness for the character of Cecilia, because played by the right person, she has the potential to be incredibly funny, and Horton captured that perfectly.  Klamar played the precocious Phoebe wonderfully, and Nicolas Tennant was great at Touchstone, complete with panstick make-up and a clowns red nose.  Actually I generally find clowns to be pretty creepy, so I was slightly taken aback when Touchstone first appeared, but he was so funny that I was completely disarmed!

The scenes in Duke Frederick’s court seemed deliberately cold, and literally dark with dimmed lighting and everyone wearing dark clothes and sombre expressions.  Once the action moved to the Forest however, bright clothes, music and laughter were the order of the day, with even Touchstone changing from his skinny black leggings to bright orange ones. And the ending – well frankly, I don’t know how anyone could not feel uplifted and happy at such a wonderful wedding scene with dancing and laughter.

Overall – a thoroughly great performance, which I only wish I could watch again!

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Click here for my review of the televised live performance of As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2009)

Click here for my review of the 2006 film adaptation.

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The Artist was a triumph at the 2012 Academy Awards, winning five Oscars, including Best Actor for Jean Dujardin.  It perhaps was not an obvious candidate for success, being a black and white silent movie.  Or maybe that was part of the charm….either way, it was a deserving winner, for showing that excellent films do not always require huge budgets – this was comparatively cheap to make, but provided top-notch entertainment!

The film starts in 1927, and Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a hugely popular silent movie star.  Berenice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, a young starlet, just starting out in the movies, who meets Valentin and stars with him briefly in one film.  Two years later, and talking films are the new craze, while Valentin is seen as a has-been.  Meanwhile, Peppy is finding ever more success in the movie industry.  As Valentin falls on hard times, he grows depressed and bitter.  But there may be someone who can help him….

Sometimes when films are a novelty of sorts – which a black and white silent film certainly is these days – once the novelty has worn off, there is not much underneath.  I’m happy to say that I did not think this was the case whatsoever in this film.  Dujardin and Bejo both sparkle in their roles, and have great chemistry and charisma.  Peppy (by name and by nature) is adorable, but in the hands of a lesser actress, could easily have just been annoying.  Dujardin perfectly captures the fall from grace of George Valentin – adored and revered at first, but he soon becomes yesterday’s news, and he really struggles to cope.  And of course, his beloved and loyal dog Uggy, is just adorable!

I did find it quite a strange experience watching a film with no dialogue – it’s just not something that we are used to today, where often snappy and witty dialogue is required.  However, The Artist illustrates that you can tell a charming story without speaking – the expressions and movements of the actors, together with the sets, tell the story perfectly.

There are shades of Singin’ In The Rain in this film, dealing as it does with a similar theme – that of talking movies causing problems for silent actors.  In fact, in some scenes, Dujardin really does resemble Gene Kelly, and while I don’t know for sure, I am sure that some scenes were a direct nod to the Kelly classic.

Anyway, it’s the kind of film that I think needs to be seen to be appreciated.  I would certainly recommend it, and have no doubt that I will be watching it again in the future.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Producer: Antoine de Cazotte, Daniel Delume, Richard Middleton, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Jeremy Burdek, Nadia Khamlichi, Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn, Jean Dujardin

Writer: Michel Hazanavicius

Main cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell

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Julie Andrews plays Millie Dillmount, a young woman who comes to New York in 1922, with the sole intention of getting a job and marrying her (rich) boss.  However, when she meets happy-go-lucky Jimmy Smith (James Fox), she has to decide where her priorities lie.  And then there’s the issue of the women at Millie’s hotel being captured and forced into slavery.

While I had some doubts about the tastefulness of using sex slavery as a comedic plot point, I must admit that I very much enjoyed this film.  There are a couple of scenes showing some of the girls who have been sold into slavery, and they did cause a bit of a jolt, as it is so unexpected in a frothy musical comedy.

The film is intentionally farcical, and did cause me to dissolve into giggles on occasion.  In a nod to earlier silent films, Andrews often breaks the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera at the viewer, and her thoughts are then shown on screen in the form of title cards.  There are also some very funny musical interludes (such as the ‘Haaaaaallelujah!’ when Millie first lays eyes on her handsome boss Trevor Graydon).  As it set in the 1920s, the costumes are as lovely as you might imagine, and Andrews herself is just adorable.  Equally endearing is Mary Tyler Moore as Millie’s friend Miss Dorothy, and James Fox and John Gavin provided excellent support as Jimmy and Trevor respectively.  Carol Channing pops up as a rich widow who befriends Millie, and certainly makes her mark with a hilarious song and dance routine!  It is only because the cast as a whole is so strong, that Beatrice Lillie did not steal the entire film as the evil Mrs Meers, manageress of the hotel, and the main villain behind the slavery business.

This kind of film isn’t for everyone and I can imagine that some people might find it an irritant, but I really enjoyed it.  As long as you can abandon all sense of logic and realism (and the film is really not meant to be realistic), I would say that this is a treat for fans of musicals.  Needless to say, Julie Andrews is in excellent voice.  Recommended.

Year of release: 1962

Director: George Roy Hill

Producer: Ross Hunter

Writers: Richard Morris

Main cast: Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, James Fox, John Gavin, Beatrice Lillie, Carol Channing

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Click here for my review of Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s 2014 stage production.

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Paul and Claire Lohman are meeting Paul’s brother Serge and Serge’s wife Babette at an expensive restaurant.  The evening starts off normally enough, but it becomes clear that the meeting is more than just a social engagement.  The teenage sons of the two couples have been caught on CCTV, committing a horrific offence, and while they have not yet been publicly identified, their parents have recognised their children as the perpetrators, and have met to decide what to do.  Serge is concerned about the effect it will have on his own future, as he is a popular candidate to be the next Prime Minister, and all four are concerned about the futures of their sons.

The premise of this book fascinated me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I felt that some parts were somewhat unrealistic.  The story is narrated by Paul, who, it becomes clear, has significant anger management problems, which may be genetic, and which he may have passed on to their son Michel.  As he described the restaurant with disdain (understandable at times), he also described the events that had led up to the discovery of his son’s crime, and talks about things in the family’s past.

All four characters, with the possible exception of Babette, were to me, extremely unlikeable.  Initially I liked Claire a lot, but towards the end of the book her actions become perhaps unbelievable, and certainly inexcusable.  Neither she nor Paul seems particularly horrified by their son’s actions, and in fact seem determined to cover them up and excuse them by any means necessary.

The over-riding thing that I noticed about the story was how many secrets the characters kept from each other, and even from the reader.  This became clearer the further I read.  The writing was insidious – it got under my skin and I genuinely found this book hard to put down; there is a kind of sinister undertone running through it.  At first, the narration is innocuous – you might even say banal – with Paul talking about the things that irritated him about the pretentious restaurant they are eating in, but then things take a turn, and we are plunged into something much more shocking.

I’m not sure that the ending was one I liked, but it was certainly one that I didn’t expect, and it is a book which I continue to think about.  I can imagine that it may polarise readers, but I would certainly recommend it.

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In Chicago in 1929, musicians Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness a mob hit, and decide to get out of town described as women in an all-female music group, where they meet singer and ukelele player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  Romance, complications and comedy ensue!

Some Like It Hot was voted number 1 on the AFI’s list of the top 100 comedies of all time.  In the past, I have sometimes been disappointed by films which have been so hyped up, so I wasn’t sure what I would make of this.  However, I absolutely adored it.  The three leads are all wonderful – Marilyn was made for this role – she absolutely sizzles – and Curtis and Lemmon play perfectly off each other.  (My personal favourite was Jack Lemmon, who was so utterly endearing, and laugh-out-loud funny, both as Jerry and his female alter-ego, Daphne.)

Naturally two men posing as women, in the company of young and pretty actual women gives rise to plenty of opportunity for comedy and romance, and Curtis was so funny as both ‘Geraldine’ and Junior – a third identity which he adopts in order to woo Sugar!  Meanwhile, ‘Daphne’ has caught the eye of millionaire yacht owner Osgood Fielding III, who decides he wants to make her his eighth wife (or ninth – he can’t really remember how many times he has been married).

This film is one that really is worth all the hype.  It’s sexy and sweet, and really, truly, incredibly funny.  Billy Wilder was a legendary director, and films like this, Sunset Blvd and Stalag 17 show us exactly why.  Watch it whenever you need a good belly laugh!

Year of release: 1959

Director: Billy Wilder

Producers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison

Writers: Billy wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Robert Thoeren, Michael Logan

Main cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown, Joan Shawlee,

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