Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Billy Liar (1963) Directed by John Schlesinger


Back from Christmas hibernation. And I'm back from suffering fever in bed after the Christmas stress got the best of me. Today I even ventured out for a walk and discovered the world pretty much the same as before. So here's one more review for the year 2010.

I don't think Billy Liar is Nick's favorite, although we are supposed to be reviewing the favorites still and this was his choice. This time is a special transition period between Christmas films (such as Home Alone 1 and 2), over-watching movies in general, and the new year with a return to routine. It's a strange time I have to add, somehow this roaming routineless makes me restless. I'm two paragraphs into this review and still have not mentioned Billy.

Well, I thought I was in for a light stylish fun time. What I got was a depression induced by Billy's lying, Julie Christie's annoyingly effortless beauty and edge, and the perfect duffel bag on the train table. The worst thing was that Billy was a very talented and creative person who was obviously never going to come to nothing because he was afraid to take any risks. Something in me feels too fragile to really analyze what made me so uncomfortable here, but I certainly wasn't in the mood.

Living in an alternative reality to the everyday humdrum existence we call life is something I often resort to. Yes, I'm a daydreamer, and a put-offer of doing things. But still,  I get round to the essential things in the end. What I don't do is create yarns about myself and others that don't pertain to reality, like Billy Fisher does as the main protagonist of Billy Liar.

Schlesinger's debut film looks amazing, and you certainly get a sense of the 'swinging 1960's' from some of the fish-eye shots and imaginative use of camera composition. Julie Christie's 'It Girl' stroll down the street is groovy and fab. Tom Courtney is smug and self involved enough as Billy, but his smart arsed demeanor leaves me with little sympathy for the boy who hasn't the courage to follow his dream of the big city lights. Keith Waterhouse's script still tickles the funny bone, it's just that's not enough to carry the movie.

England (West Bromwich to be exact)  looks marvelous in the 60's and it does leave pangs of nostalgia for a life that once was from this self exiled Brit. The scene with Billy at the breakfast table and the HP Sauce bottle in the foreground pulls the heartstrings. The British New wave of the 60's has aged badly. The lunges into seriousness towards the end of Billy Liar feels hollow. So, It's style over substance for Billy Liar. An enjoyable romp, just don't take the misplaced social commentary very seriously.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gone With The Wind (1939) Directed by Victor Fleming

I've lost my mojo. I mean this in the respect that here we are, watching some of our favorite films, and I have not been able to put much personal perspective in the reviews on this blog. So, Astrid's latest pick is the never ending Gone With The Wind. I don't have much personal connection with this picture. It used to be a Christmas staple on British TV. I actually remember the British TV premier, some time in the 1970's I think. That's it. No more connection to my soul for Gone With The Wind.

But wait a minute. What do I experience when I watch this picture? What hits me always is how well shot this movie is. From the opening scene with Scarlett on the veranda of family home Tara with the twin beaus who dote on her every word (it's almost 3D!), to the last act, splendid in its dark Gothic intensity. It's the main thing I take away with me here. Is there such a well composed old movie as this one? I also find it fascinating that such a celebrated piece of popular culture has such an unlikeable central character as Scarlett O'Hara. Gone With The Wind can be thanked for giving us such an empowered female lead, but every opportunity to feel empathy towards Vivien Leigh's character is taken away from us. Was this the film maker's attempt to give extra depth and meaning to Clark Gable's final utterance "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn"?

So amongst all that happens in the gossipy lives and war torn extravaganza that is Gone With The Wind, it doesn't move my soul. So why do I enjoy this four hours of over-the-top soap opera so much? Is it really the fact that despite my punk attitude, despite my allusion that cinema should be artful and have meaning, Gone With The Wind satisfies me as top class entertainment and nothing more? Yes, and sometimes that's enough.

When I first watched Gone With The Wind I was under ten years old and I kept falling asleep. I did not understand much of the story but still the film had a magical influence. I was fascinated by the rudeness and the passionate feelings of Scarlett and Rhett. Also, the clothing and the look of the film spoke to my romantic heart. This was what I thought adult life is like – something to look forward to.

As a teenager I loved the film but found Scarlett O'Hara somewhat unsympathetic. I judged her capitalist greed, anger, cunning plotting and her love for Ashley as faults, which she could exorcise if she wanted to. I also found Rhett completely repulsive!

Life seems more complex the longer I live it. Now I have had to realize that Scarlett is the most realistic portrayal of a person here, while the perfect saintly Mel seems rather boring and uninteresting as a character. Scarlett enjoys a bit of sex after her arguments, she openly longs for a man while marrying others for financial benefit, she appears driven and self-protecting in public, she speaks her mind, shows her anger, drinks too much alcohol and gives the occasional slap on the face. She appears to go trough post-natal depression too, she kills a man to protect her land, she plays mind games with her husband and makes a lot of mistakes. But aren't these the factors that make her such a fascinating leading lady? Even in December 2010 these traits in a woman bring up the emotional question of femininity or the lack of it.

Gone With The Wind was filmed and finished in 1939, the same year as The Wizard of Oz. Cinema was a very new art form then (especially the use of color), yet, there haven't been many films since as full of movie magic as this one. Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Directed by John Frankenheimer

I have spent time rummaging through my memory lately thinking of things that have happened to me and that I have done. But what about the things that have happened to me and I've done without having a memory or knowledge of them? Do those things matter? What about sleep, dreams, being a baby, too drunk to know, too scared to know? What about the subconscious, can I know on another level while not knowing at all in my usual daily consciousness?

The Manchurian Candidate claims that it does matter what we do and experience. It becomes dangerous to forget or to not connect to all sides of ourselves, because the fragmented consciousness can be used as a weapon. In the film this issue is presented with connection to war crimes, spying, and political assassinations, but the most disturbing aspect of this intra-personal disconnection is closer to home. A mother hypnotizing her son in order to use him as an assassin is an over-the-top example of the power family members have potentially towards each other.

Our common sense of self-identity is largely based on the ability to master a coherent image of the different levels of consciousness. The Manchurian Candidate shows how fragile and fluid the coherence actually is. It's one of those movies where I get a little bit bored watching it, but come away with a lot of ideas and inspiration.

The Manchurian Candidate is easily in my top 20 films of all time. I have a special relationship with this film. When I first got into films seriously (I was around 13),  The Manchurian Candidate was a film you couldn't see. I had read about it, it had legendary status. It was a Holy Grail kind of film that was not in circulation in any form. Just stills in some movie books.  Frank Sinatra owned the movie rights and after the John F Kennedy assassination of 1963 withdrew the film from circulation due to US government pressure. Turns out that this was pie in the sky and that distribution issues were at the root of the films disappearance. Of course, such speculation only added to the picture's legend in my mind. Anyway, a restored version was cinema re-released in 1988. This was when I finally saw the picture and fell in love with the film.

The Manchurian Candidate comes across like something that you may read about on Wiki Leaks in 2010. Son of prominent right wing family is brainwashed in the Korean war to become a post-war assassin for Communist sympathizers operating in the USA. The genuinely weird Laurence Harvey plays Raymond Shaw, the would be assassin. Frank Sinatra plays Major Marco, who fought with Raymond in Korea. Marco faces his own personal demons, which he thinks somehow relates to Raymond. Janet Leigh plays Rosie, who helps Marco get his confidence and focus back. The scene on a train where Leigh seduces and consoles Sinatra with small talk is very moving. Yet, Angela Lansbury, playing against type as Raymond's evil mother steals the film. Manipulation, murder and incest all come into her chilling orbit.

I'd make the claim that The Manchurian Candidate is the mother of all conspiracy thrillers. It's sophisticated film making with a pinpoint narrative, where it makes the audience think to get a true understanding. The Manchurian Candidate displayed a style that the film making that was to follow in the late 1960's picked up on and ran with. For me, this remains a found masterpiece and a true original.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wild At Heart (1990) directed by David Lynch

Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) passed away a couple of days ago. A very sad loss. Not just for some of the great records he made, but also for the attitude behind his music. No compromise, just inspiration. I see David Lynch as cinema's version of the Captain, always pushing the envelope, yet each frame of his films undeniably his work. Astrid's latest pick of her favorite films is Lynch's Wild At Heart, often overlooked nowadays when compared to say Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, Wild At Heart in some ways encapsulates all the aspects of Lynch's cinema, the good and the bad, all in one handy bundle.

Violence, sex, Rock 'n Roll, The Wizard of Oz and an obsession with the 1950's iconography run through Wild At Heart, the energy on screen is breathtaking. Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage (as Lula and Sailor) exude a certain empty chemistry that really works in the film's favor. Great support from Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton and Willem Dafoe means that Wild At Heart is one of the most character-built Lynch movies. Two thirds of this picture is so on the money, it's almost intensely faultless. At times it's very funny. It's also strong visually, with many stand-out shots and a great use of color. Crispin Glover's cameo and Sherilyn Fenn's car crash victim live long in the memory. Isabella Rossellini's face has never been so well captured. The soundtrack mixes Elvis and kung-fu style metal, invents Chris Isaak along with some great work from Angelo Badalamenti.

For me, Wild At Heart really falls down in the last third, when Sailor and Lula stop following the Yellow Brick Road and end up in Big Tuna.

Despite the introduction of Dafoe as the rotten toothed and slimy Bobby Peru, Lynch's abrupt end to the films road movie sequences zaps all the energy. It's a minor quibble of course, there's more than enough on display here to fill 100 movies. Plus, genuine weirdness abounds to satisfy Lynch die-hards. I prefer Blue Velvet if I was going to compare, where I think Lynch captured the essence of a 1950's utopia in a subversively sly, creepy and dark modern suburban surrounding. But Wild At Heart is Lynch in almost mainstream mode, and it's still exhilarating if ultimately flawed.

Once when walking in Beachwood on the Hollywood Hills I was stopped by an old man in a suit who wanted to say that I look like someone in a David Lynch film. He could not remember who, but I suggested it was Laura Dern and he did not deny it. I guess it doesn't take that much imagination there to make this arbitrary connection with Mulholland Drive close by, but it was a great LA moment for someone who loves Wild At Heart.

In my opinion, I don't much resemble Laura Dern, but I do admire her portrayal of Lula. Wild At Heart depicts the need to break free from entanglements, tormenting familial relationships, nightmares, and traumatic past events into a self-defined reality. It is a heart-wrenching mother-daughter story too. Being Lynch, it is stylized to the point of being like a fairytale. Funnily enough, Wild At Heart also references The Wizard of Oz, as did Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (the other movie I have chosen as my favorite so far).

Being on the road, driving away from something, running away – how ever you want to see it – I have experienced moments of exhilarating freedom in a moving car myself, and can therefore always relate to cinema that depicts this specific kind of disentanglement. It could be that I got this romantic notion from watching movies, but it certainly has come to good use on tour buses. On the last stretch of my latest tour, the bass player decided to play Love Me Tender maybe five times in a row on his DJ-turn. Watching Wild At Heart again now, I remembered why.

So I'm not the only one who gets romantic ideas about being on the road based on this film. Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) is a great characterization of a simple young man who gets into a lot of trouble for following his romantic notions of love, identity, individuality and freedom. I'm not a huge Nicholas Cage fan, but I'm a fan of Sailor and his snakeskin jacket.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jaws (1975) Directed by Steven Spielberg

Astrid:I did not swim in a lake for at least a whole summer as a kid because some boy in the daycare had mentioned the word killershark to me. As an 8-year-old I saw a couple of scenes from Jaws with my 18-year-old second cousin and was freaked out again. Then again, I used to be afraid of little fish too, not just sharks – I did not want to touch any fish skin. 

When ever I go on tour or somewhere, Nick watches Jaws – for him it's like Woody Allen for me, reliable and comfortable and you need the annual doses. But Jaws? Really darling?

What kind of a film maker spends the first half of the film developing tension with the main character's family in the picture but then chucks the whole story line and goes shark hunting? Are we supposed to experience a natural transition to the second half of the film through Richard Dreyfuss' shark expert? It's baffling. 

Whereas the part of Jaws that happens on the island at least has some entertaining 1970s New Hollywood appeal in the way it portrays people, once we are on the boat I am bored. I cannot get over the insulting way this picture does away with continuation in plot and replaces it with the shark.

Shark shark shark. A symbolic animal for the mindless garbage-eating monsters that Hollywood has churned out ever since.


I have a special relationship with Jaws. When I was 9 I went to the cinema with my sister to watch Jaws. It was PG (parental guidance) at the time. Well, the film scared me stiff, and I had nightmares for quite a few months after.  But as I grew up, I kept going back to the film to see why it had such a profound effect on me as a child. I never really found the reason why, other than I was probably too young to take in some of the nowadays pretty tame violence. But Jaws is a film I've revisited many times now as an adult, and it keeps getting better.

What fascinates me now about Jaws is how this picture became so huge. It smashed box office records at the time. The film debuted at a time when the realist New Hollywood was beginning to fade, and a more populist cinema was about to take over and influence modern cinema forever (Spielberg's buddy George Lucas was two years away with Star Wars). In reality, no one has ever forgiven Spielberg for this influence. Yet Jaws is definitely a New Hollywood picture with a budget and a  heavy debt to Hitchcock's Psycho.

Spielberg shows very little in the first hour, with John Williams now legendary stabbing theme (Psycho again) giving us advance warning of a pending shark attack.  But believable turns from Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and the excellent Richard Dreyfuss give credence to a lot of the dumb plot turns on screen which in essence lead us to a very poor looking mechanical rubber shark! The last hour of the film is a three men in a boat play, with some great dialogue and interplay.

Spielberg never gets much critical credit, seemingly portrayed as a maker of kids movies and over sentimental rubbish. Yet as director Spielberg has made quite a few gems: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Raiders Of the Lost Ark, E.T., Empire Of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and more than a few other good films. Jaws was where his personal style came through for the first time. That style has been founded on solid storytelling and a remit to entertain. And cinema does not get much more entertaining than the mechanical rubber shark picture.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Manhattan (1979) Directed by Woody Allen

I know for Astrid, Woody Allen supplies the definitive spark of cinema excellence. She could easily pick ten Woody movies as some of her favorites. Manhattan represents Woody's most idealized portrait of New York, something that Astrid also relates to. Gershwin and that Skyline.

Sometimes, what we need and what's best for us is right under our noses. Things often look better than they really are from an observational vantage, yet intimate involvement can lead to disappointment. Isaac (Allen) has a good thing going with the young Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but his own doubts, narcissism and self indulgence leads him to get involved with the troubled Mary (Diane Keaton) and dump the supportive Tracy. It's no surprise that the 17-year-old Tracy is the most level headed, astute and mature character on display in Manhattan. The middle aged characters of Manhattan have all lost their way and breed cynicism.

Manhattan displays some of Allen's sharpest lines, it's a witty picture. But it is the look of the film, wonderfully photographed by Gordon Willis in chromatic black and white that improves this film with every viewing. It's easily Allen's most cinematic picture, some of the images here have seeped into popular culture (Allen and Keaton sitting on a bench by Queensborough Bridge for example). So amongst the pondering, broken relationships, the absolute sense of doing good by our friends, Manhattan adds the pleasure of letting us dream. That dream is a picture of New York that only exists in the director's head, and spending time in that dream is a joy.

I'm finding it difficult to have anything interesting to say about my favorite films. The problem is that when I love something it is such a non-verbal experience of emotions. Seriously though, I am more ambitions than simply exclaiming: it's just fantastic! I just love it! There has to be a reason why I relate to Manhattan, Allen and Keaton. I even spent ten years playing the clarinet – but never got to swing or ragtime (which is probably why I no longer play).

So here we go: I like depictions of neurotic people. I like quirks, fears, faults, awkwardness, messiness, particularity, inconsistency and the incredible human capacity to survive and make jokes.
Note that I like depictions of these things. In my everyday life I find myself often quite unsympathetic to the above human qualities.

Yet, there is something endlessly familiar in Allen's perspective to exploring the human condition. I relate to his concern and anger about death, his obsession with romantic love, and art as the content that makes life worth living.

I used to take life very seriously and humor tended to make me uncomfortable as it usually poked lightly at issues I deemed serious. Woody Allen's humor, though, I have learned to enjoy. Watching Manhattan I laughed out loud many times and felt safe in the laughter.

Manhattan portrays New York City more beautifully than many other iconic films located in the city. Here, the city is not only a set but a character. Allen is even able to further plot by showing us landscapes of the city while we hear the main characters talking to each other.

I'll end with the most personal point:
There are two male characters who act as points of comparison to any male that appears in my life in whatever role: Muumipappa (Moomin Papa) and Woody Allen. My grandfather, father, boyfriend and everyone else can score points by bringing to my mind either Muumipappa or Woody. I'm not sure how much they have scored over the years, if at all. It is just my projection of the ideal.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Here we go again: another Nick's favorite turns out to be an old film about a gentleman at war (yes, there is a bit of dueling too). The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a sort of 1940s English war effort support film. While watching it, I feel distinctly un-English – it is not my story in any way.

Yet, this is a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. There is the art of sets, photography, and detail to look at all through its epic length. Despite my initial boredom, the film holds some of the early movie magic (best experienced as a child); it looks better than most other films from any time, and it connects with its characters and feels genuine feelings. Martin Scorsese has lifted more than one scene and a way of shooting straight out of here.

Tragedy is often born out of dedication. Deborah Kerr plays almost all the women in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Powell and Pressburger must really suffer from the obsession here described as Colonel Blimp's obsession. They all love her ginger hair and the fast talk that seems to come with it. This one-girl craze is a tad scary in the film and in the work of Powell and Pressburger at large. But I guess it is also romantic – it is the kind of dedication rarely portrayed as admirable these days.


Sometimes you just want to savor the most special things. Rationing helps. I left England 12 years ago for Helsinki, Finland. My reasons for leaving were certainly personal mixed with a general weariness about the place. I miss certain aspects about England very much.  A certain kind of gentile behavior, humor, earnestness, naivety, that sense of goodness and reasonableness that is very British. The stiff upper lip mentality even. Ironically Finns often display the same attributes.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp displays this Englishness more so than any other film I can recall. It always reminds me of my youth when people who actually fought in the World Wars were still around, those attitudes were still the order of the day. Of course, that sense of fair play was lost years ago. But you can go back to it in this picture. Not only does The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp give us some notions of nationality, it's also one of the most artful and subversive films I've ever seen. Lets not forget, no one ever used color like Powell & Pressburger.

Powell & Pressburger  capture a certain English attitude in their cinema, but they also bought their amazing eye for detail and strong political conviction to bear. To think The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was supposed to raise moral during the Second World War, the message here is so anti-war, yet beautifully subtle in its execution. In any context or age, this is certainly a strange original ride. But let's not forget this is a love story. You can fall in love with Deborah Kerr as three amazing women over and over. The great Roger Livesey and Anton Walbrook show us the true meaning of the words noble and gentlemen.

Like I said at the start. I ration the amount of times I will watch this film, just to keep it special. No more to add, all life is here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) directed by Martin Scorsese

We're choosing some of our favorite films leading up to the New Year. Today's pick is one of Astrid's.

I love the idea of misconception, when  people don't seem to be what they are, or they somehow refuse other people's conception of themselves as human being or artist. Martin Scorsese has often achieved this in the most subtle ways. We know him as the film maker who chronicles gangster lives so well. He has an instinctive feel for the murkier depths of the street, especially those of NewYork between the 60's to present day.

But if you scratch the surface of Scorsese a little, and clear away the bluster, and more importantly, the cinema he's known for, you'll find the real beating engine beneath the bonnet. It's when dealing with the idea of creativity that for me Scorsese makes his best and often more original work. The King Of Comedy, New York, New York, The Last Waltz and No Direction Home. Add Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore to that mix and you get a thoughtful and sensitive film maker that counter balances the recognized gangster spats.

So what makes Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore so special? Well there's the opening twisted spoof of Wizard of Oz. The underrated Ellen Burstyn's brilliant central role. The creepiest Harvey Keitel performance, the best Jodie Foster cameo ever, Alfred Lutter's stellar childish humor. Add Kris Kristofferson to the mix, reliable and steady as the love interest and Diane Ladd as a foul mouthed waitress. I love the way Kristofferson's beard has the same gray patches as my own. The usual excellent soundtrack features T Rex, Mott The Hoople, Elton John and other 70's delights.With Scorsese showing his flair for the visual for the first time, what you end up with is one of Scorsese's least celebrated pictures and romantic comedy gold. This is a genuinely funny, touching film.  Go see!

It was a revelation to me about a year back to discover that Martin Scorsese has directed a film such as Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in the middle of his portrayals of violence and his dedication to male characters. This is a film about a woman.

As I am writing, it occurs to me that it is still rather rare to see movies about women in an empowering, empathic, yet unsentimental light. For example this year's 'women's film' Eat, Pray, Love (2010) is simply embarrassing and patronizing in comparison. Still, I must mention it here, because I believe that both films cater to the same need of making sense of what it is to be a heterosexual 35-year-old American woman in a particular time and place. What is liberation, sexual freedom, free will and what is responsibility? Erica Jong's bestseller Fear of Flying (a novel) from the 1970's also belongs to this same discussion. My point being that the question of women's identity sells each decade in slightly different packaging. But it sells a ton.

Now to the personal: I am a woman and I happen to be a piano playing singer too. So is Alice. And if it is rare to see a film about a strong woman, it is even rarer to see a movie about a woman with artistic aspirations, but not much success. Alice is flawed, tired and disillusioned, then she is let down by the men in her life and so she takes her son and gets on the road to return to her home town and to resume her musical career (which she left 15 years earlier). Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore describes a woman of the 1970's waking up to the notion that she does have the right to ask herself what she wants. What happens when she finally dares to ask? I won't tell you because you have to watch this film.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966) Directed by Sergio Leone

During December we have decided to watch and review our favorite films, which for a reason or another we have not yet discussed here. The first pick is Nick's.

My relationship to Leone and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is comparable to my relationship to beetroot (the vegetable): after the initial heartfelt dislike and unease comes forcefeeding and through that a new voluntary relationship. Now I am full of wonder and curiosity when it comes to beetroot – and Leone.

It is annoying to have to admit that something so square and simplistic, so male-oriented and nostalgic can indeed be more than it appears at first glance. At first the use of landscape and photography win me over, then the beauty of Clint (so obviously in love with himself), then Ennio Morricone's score overwhelms me. Finally, in this particular movie, Eli Wallach adds some high-class acting to the soup.

A truly enjoyable Borsch is ready.

Yet, I cannot review this film without mentioning Leone's disregard for women. There it is as a matter of fact. How can we watch these movies in the 21st century as anything else than masterful caricatures of the ideal masculinities in the past-and-gone century? Is this why my boyfriend loves these films so? What is he nostalgic for, his childhood or something else?

When it comes to picking all time favorites, does over-familiarity breed contempt? Not in this instance. Whichever way I look at Leone's picture (and it is a film I've watched over 30 times), there are always new details to find and every viewing brings more to admire. I first saw this movie when I was 12 years old. At the time Leone and the Dollars Trilogy were not as iconic as they are now and these films did not have the critical favor that they now possess. Time and culture have given Leone's picture a rare standing of being both popularist  and critically loved.

Viewing The Good, The Bad & The Ugly this time round it was easy to acknowledge that Eastwood doesn't feature in this movie so much, yet he walks away with the candy. The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is Leone's first picture to delve into the use of substantial character, Eli Wallach's Tuco steals the film from Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (the Good & The Bad respectively to Tuco's Ugly). Tuco is a character that Leone revisits to some extent in the later Duck, You Sucker with  Rod Steiger showing similar crudity as Juan Miranda. Eastwood drifts in and out of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly like a ghost, only assuming his Man With No Name  figure in the final reel when he don's the famous poncho.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly ultimately blows me away with its vision, Morricone's score still surprises, and the humor works in not making me take this film so seriously. What followed from Leone had more depth and an even greater sense of what cinema could do, and I know I will revisit all those films over the course of my life. But let's just say that The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is a lot more fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas In Film Land

So, as we approach the time of year when capitalist avarice goes into overdrive, here are some  Christmas recommendations to blow some of your hard earned loot, drug money, Lottery winnings ....delete where applicable. Being a greedy, spoilt Westerner, I'm hoping Santa will bring me some of these.

1.The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (5th edition) by David Thomson.  These come by once every 7 to 10 years. The previous edition is probably the best book on Cinema I've read. Thomson waxes lyrical on cinema and you just indulge in his insights.

2. At this time of year I have a real yearning to watch a few musicals (On The Town & Anchors Aweigh, both similar spring to mind). But High Society is the kind of star studied musical comfort to snug up to on a Christmas holiday. It's always a joy to watch how the other half live.


3. Staying on a musical tip, a good soundtrack collection is always a fine stocking filler. A recent budget find was this great collection of John Barry's cinematic theme's from over the years. You get some of his excellent Bond tracks and a lot more besides.

4. Frank Capra's  It's A Wonderful Life is probably recognized as the Christmas picture nowadays. But through a series of films Capra captured a certain feel good feeling with a social conscience that's unbeatable. This collection has the rest of the best.

5. A book which comes around at this time of year every year, is perhaps the best movie guide on the market. The Time Out film guide is on it's 19th edition this year. Short, sharp, intelligent reviews, this is one of the great dip in and out of reads.

1. Fanny och Alexander (1982, directed by Ingmar Bergman). Growing up, we did not watch movies in my house but somehow I managed to catch this (and many other magical films) as a child somewhere. This film depicts the mystery of Christmas and the mystery of the life of adults as seen through the wondering eyes of children. Many of my aesthetic ideals for what a real Christmas looks like come from this film.  
2.  Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, is a collection of her journal writing, notes and other personal material. The Guardian sees the publishing of her personal writings as an attempt to broaden our view of the last century's most idealized 'sex symbol' (I don't like the term).

3. Reds (1981, directed by Warren Beatty). This is for lovers, and for writers, lovers of Diane Keaton, Helsinki in the snow and Russia.
This is for those who think life is tragic and unfair but who value its beauty. And it's for those who love historical epics.       
4. Annie Hall (1977), Play It Again Sam (1972), Manhattan 1979). This is a golden trilogy (it's that only by my definition) for someone in love with New York, Woody Allen, the 1970's, Diane Keaton (again) and who wants to laugh and be entertained while totally not willing to let go of the intellectual pursue of answers to why we are here and alive. A survival kit.

5. Woody Allen's movie music CD, a soundtrack to a life. What more does anyone need for Christmas?