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Archive for January, 2014

The book features the various residents of Pepys Road, London, who include Roger, a rich banker and his materialistic wife Arabella; 82 year old widow Petunia Howe; shop owners Ahmed and Rohinka Kamal, and their two children; and a young footballer from Senegal and his father.  The book starts in December 2007, when each house receives an anonymous postcard which simply says We Want What You Have.  The mystery surrounding who is behind the postcards escalates, and provides the backdrop for the snapshots of these characters’ lives.  It also shows that despite outward appearances – all the houses on the street are highly desirable and would sell for a huge profit, meaning that the residents are all sitting on a lot of money in assets – sometimes if people knew more about someone’s life, they most certainly would NOT want what that person has.

This book was chosen for our local book club, and produced very mixed reactions.  I am firmly in the ‘loved it’ camp.  Although it is near 600 pages long, I found myself reading it very quickly and being reluctant to put it down.  The book not only concentrated on the residents of Pepys Road, but also their families, colleagues or friends.  Everyone is dealing with their own issues, some big, some seemingly inconsequential, perhaps concerning love, money or work (and in a couple of cases, health).

What struck me the most was that as I grew familiar with the characters, I found myself changing my mind about many of them, perhaps liking them more or less than I did originally.  The themes which ran through the story lines were relatable, and because of the way that the chapters wove in and out of the various characters’ lives, it never became boring.  Just when I was wondering what would happen with one thread, the book carried on with a different one (that sounds like a complaint, but I actually really enjoyed that, and it was part of what made me keep reading).

The story is amusing in parts, and very sad in other parts.  At times, the events are so everyday that it’s hard to know exactly what makes the story just so compelling, but it certainly kept me coming back for more.

(I don’t really feel that this review has done justice to the book.  Basically I loved it, and want to recommend it to everybody!)

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New York drama critic Larry McKay (David Niven) and his wife Kate (Doris Day) live in an apartment with their four rambunctious boys and their pet dog.  Although they have dreamed of moving to a quiet house in the country for years, Larry’s new-found celebrity as a famous critic makes him start enjoying the busy city life.  When they do move to a country house, there is conflict as Kate finds that she likes the life there, while Larry is still trying to maintain the social whirl that is the New York theatre scene.

That brief recap makes the film sound more like a drama than a comedy, but this IS a comedy.  I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but there were lots of amusing moments in it.  I also think that David Niven and Doris Day are both so appealing and such likeable actors, that I couldn’t help but enjoy watching them, and they do play perfectly off each other.

The supporting cast are good too – Janis Paige as an actress who tries to tempt Larry away from his wife; Richard Haydn as their playwright friend Alfred, who falls out with Larry after Larry criticises his latest production; and Spring Byington as Kate’s mother.  However, my favourite co-star was Hobo the dog, who refused to walk outside, and was apparently spooked by every other creature, including a frog and a squirrel!

It’s not the best film of either Day’s nor Niven’s career, but it is an enjoyable couple of hours, and well worth seeing, particularly if you are a fan of either actor.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Charles Walters

Producers: Martin Melcher, Joe Pasternak

Writers: Jean Kerr (book), Isobel Lennart

Main cast: David Niven, Doris Day, Janis Paige, Spring Byington, Richard Haydn, Patsy Kelly, Jack Weston

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I suspected this after watching films like Sunset Blvd., Sabrina and Some Like It Hot, but The Apartment has confirmed it for me – Billy Wilder was a blooming’ genius!  Here, Jack Lemmon plays C.C. Baxter, a mild-mannered bachelor, who lets the married executives at the insurance company where he works, use his apartment for their extra-marital trysts, in the hope that they will help him gain a promotion.  However, things get complicated when he falls for Fran (Shirley MacLaine) the girlfriend of one of his boss Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray).  The film blends drama, romance and comedy.

Jack Lemmon is just superb in this film – he always seems able to create such vulnerable and sweet characters, and has such a wonderfully expressive face, which means that roles like this suit him completely.  I loved his interaction with Shirley MacLaine, who was also wonderful.  As we saw the pain that both characters go through – C.C. when realising that Fran is involved with his boss, and Fran’s heartbreak at being the ‘other woman’, the sadness is almost palpable.  Fred MacMurray was fine as said boss, although completely unlikeable (which was exactly the way he was meant to be).

There were some funny moments, and a lot of poignant moments with people not being able to say what they so desperately want to say, and Baxter being forced to make himself look like a heel in front of his neighbours, and certainly there were scenes which made me cry.  The ending though was perfect – although I’m not giving anything away…if you haven’t seen this film, you should, and you ought not to know what is going to happen! This is a grown-up love story, far from being a fairytale romance.  It has cynicism, sadness, anger, laughter, hope and revelation, and is quite simply a must-see film.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Billy Wilder

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

Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Main cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen

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Clark Gable is one of my favourite actors, although he died before I was born.  Whenever I watch his films, I can always see just why he was so popular – women loved him, and men wanted to be like him.  He was the ultimate in masculinity, and was not known as King of Hollywood for nothing.

This book is a fairly decent biography, which seems pretty evenhanded throughout.  It does a good job of telling the facts – although there are a couple of errors regarding some of the films – so in a sense, it does do its job, but while I understand that it is impossible to include every single story from someone’s life, I felt that certain things were missed out, which should have been included.  For instance, the book acknowledges that Gable wanted to boycott the premiere of Gone With The Wind, out of solidarity with his  friend Victor Fleming, who was in dispute with producer David Selznick, over his (Fleming’s) directorial credit.  However, it did not even give mention to the well documented fact that Gable was furious that the black members of the cast would not be able to sit with the white members of the cast at the premiere due to Atlanta’s segregation laws, and that he wanted to boycott the premiere for this reason.  Such an occurrence reveals a lot about the measure of a man, and I was amazed that it wasn’t included.

However, the book does a fairly good job of describing Gable’s rise to movie star from very humble beginnings, and generally portrays him as an approachable and agreeable man, easy to work with, and courteous and kind by nature.  It goes into detail about his five marriages – one can’t help but wonder what would have happened had his very happy marriage to actress Carole Lombard not have been cut tragically short by her death in a plane crash.

I would recommend the book to fellow Gable fans – it might not be the most comprehensive biography available, but it’s certainly readable, and respectful without being fawning.

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Richard Benson (William Holden) is a screenwriter who is due to deliver his latest script in two days time, but hasn’t even started it yet.  He hires Gabrielle Simpson (Audrey Hepburn) to type the script, and she ends up helping him write it.  As they work, they imagine themselves as the characters in the screenplay, and envision each other acting the scenes out.

This was Audrey Hepburn’s least favourite of her films, and it’s fair to say that it probably is one of worst of both her films and William Holden’s films, but that is partly because they both made some truly wonderful films during their respective careers.  By all accounts, this was quite an ordeal to make, because Holden, who was in the grip of his alcoholism, tried to rekindle his previous relationship with Hepburn, but by this time she was married, and therefore not interested.  Holden was hospitalised for his drinking during filming, which probably didn’t help matters.  There’s a bittersweetness to watching this because the character Richard Benson also drinks too much alcohol; also, I think Paris When It Sizzles is the movie where you can start to see the damage that alcoholism has caused to Holden’s good looks.  He looks tired and drawn, and it’s sad to see.  Audrey, as ever, is beautiful and radiant, and just adorable.

However, the film itself is actually quite a lot of fun, despite being a flop when it was released, and being critically panned.  Hepburn and Holden were both fantastic actors (two of my favourites), and do a good job here.  The script is contrived in places, but I kind of thought that it was supposed to be – this is a hack screenwriter doing a rush job, after all.  There are quite a few in-jokes or references to other films, including some of Audrey’s, and plenty of familiar plot devices are used – but that’s kind of the point.  Tony Curtis has a very small role in the film – he agreed to do it when Holden went into  hospital, in order that the crew could keep working – and he certainly makes the most of it.  His scenes are actually some of the funniest in the film.  There is also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Marlene Dietrich, as herself.  Additionally, when Benson says that the name of his screenplay is The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower, and Frank Sinatra could sing the theme song, Sinatra’s voice is actually heard singing a few lines, including the title itself.

I would say that the film is lightweight, but still enjoyable, and is also quite clever in parts, with a few digs at the Hollywood film industry.  I’d recommend it to fans of Hepburn and/or Holden.

Year of release: 1964

Director: Richard Quine

Producers: George Axelrod, Richard Quine, John R. Coonan, Carter De Haven Jr.

Writers: Julien Duvivier (story ‘La fete a Henriette’), Henri Jeanson (story ‘La fete a Henriette’), George Axelrod

Main cast: William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Gregoire Aslan, Noel Coward, Tony Curtis

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I first discovered Duran Duran when I  was a young teenager, and quickly become obsessed.  As I grew older, I drifted away from them, but always came back again.  They may not be my favourites any more, but I still like listening to them, and as John Taylor was by far my favourite when I was growing up (I was convinced I’d marry him one day, and boy, did I hate Amanda de Cadenet when she beat me to it!), I was looking forward to reading his biography.  I should point out that I actually listened to the audio version of this book, which is narrated by John himself.

Anyway…I have mixed feelings about it.  I enjoyed the first part when he talks about growing up as an only child, and how he developed a love of music.  He talks about forming bands with friends including Nick Bates (now known as Nick Rhodes), and eventually forming Duran Duran with the line-up for which they are most famous.  They were very democratic, being one of the few bands who credited each and every member with writing each and every song.  However, the story of living his dream soon becomes a nightmare, as Taylor details how he fell into the drug scene, and become dependent both on cocaine and alcohol.

Some of the inside info about the music business was interesting – the machinations of the publicity machines, the secrets behind recording a slot for Top of the Pops, for instance – but the whole book kind of feels more like an overview of Taylor’s life, rather than a detailed autobiography.  I liked that he pretty much avoids dishing the dirt on anybody except himself – although after initially speaking pretty affectionately of fellow band member Andy Taylor, he seems rather dismissive of him at the end of the book.  Some of the language though feels quite contrived – maybe it sounds more so when it’s being read aloud, and the book generally feels like it was rushed.  (It was ghostwritten however, so I’m not sure exactly how much blame can be attributed to Taylor for that.)

Overall, Taylor comes across as a genuinely nice guy, and it was good to hear how he eventually conquered his demons, and has managed to stay clean and sober for two decades.  I’d probably recommend the book as decent but not essential reading, strictly for fellow Duran Duran fans.

 

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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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