Sunday, July 31, 2016


Chet Baker - mellifluous crooner and first-rate jazz trumpeter - grew up in the shadow of Miles Davis and his West Coast distance from the cool jazz scene of New York.  In this new fake-fiction biopic, Ethan Hawke plays him as endlessly charming but vulnerable, most of all to Davis' harsh note that he needed to go away and experience life to be truly great.  And per Robert Budreau's inventive but ultimately psychologically reductive script, Baker decided not just to emulate Davis' playing but what he perceived to be the secret to that greatness - being high.  And so our hero becomes a junkie, to the point where drug-dealers break his jaw and destroy his ability to play. That's the tragic irony of his life - a drug fiend so addled that he destroys the very physical ability to play because he thinks the drugs make him play better. This is the dramatic set-piece finale of the film.  Baker finally cleans himself up and teaches himself how to play again, and his promoter finally let's him play one night at the hottest jazz venue in town, in front of all-time greats such as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.  But Baker gets nervous, injects heroine and falls right of the wagon. And that's where he stayed up until his death.  The price of the addiction, according to this movie, is the loss of love - depicted here by Carmen Ejogo as the composite lover who walks out on him.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


For many people living outside the US, or even New York, our first introduction to Congressman Anthony Wiener was when he accidentally tweeted a picture of his bulging underpants to the masses, placing his apparently glittering political career in jeopardy. This prompted much juvenile giggling on account of his name.  Later, vaguely, one recollects him running for Mayor before yet another sexting scandal brings him down in flames.  Again, it's easy to mock - and mock the late night TV talk shows did.  How could someone so bright, so politically savvy, do something so ridiculously stupid not once, but twice?  But until this fascinating documentary was released, I'd never paused to really interrogate the man's psyche or to count the deep toll it took on his family and political supporters.

The directors - Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg - were invited by Wiener to document his run for mayor once the dust had settled on the initial scandal. He's firmly marketing himself as a transformed man, and central to that is his beautiful and intelligent wife Huma Abedin - herself a top political aide to Hillary Clinton - and their cute young son.  The cameras are granted hugely intimate access of the couple raising funds, on the campaign trail, committed to their marriage, and refusing to let a moment's madness deny the country of a passionate advocate for the underdog. And certainly, the video footage of Wiener pugnaciously defending Obamacare and other progressive causes in Congress and on TV, you get the feeling that, yes, let's do this.


ONE NIGHT IN PARIS is the British remake of the Austrian film PREMIERE.  Not only does it borrow that film's title, characters, plot and music, but it also uses shots straight from its negative!  After all, mounting big Busby Berkeley style show-numbers on such a lavish scale required efficiency. The play is set in a then-contemporary Parisian theatre on the opening night of a new musical play.  Judy Kelly stars as the star, Carmen Daviot (although the long shots of her singing, and indeed the voice, come from the original actress and a new English language singer respectively!).  As the movie opens, she's fending off the advances of the theatre producer who sacked the incumbent actress Lydia Lavalle (Joan Marion) to get her the part.  Carmen is also dealing with the jealousy o fher ex-lover and co-star Rene Nissen (Hugh Williams) - an actor who is promptly sacked by the producer and while stopping the jilted actress from shooting him, admits it would be no loss if she had. So, motives abound, and as the stage show gets into a big song-and-dance number set in a speakeasy, with shots fired, so the impresario is killed. Luckily for us, Inspector Bonnard (John Lodge) is in the audience, complete with a buffoonish Captain-Hastings-like side-kick, ready to solve the mystery.  The actors are interrogated as the show goes on, complete with a re-staging of the assassination during the interval.

The resulting film holds up well.  It looks handsome, the costumes are lavish, as are the song-and-dance numbers. Okay, it looks odd to see our leading lady in a long shot clearly mouthing lyrics in another language to the sound-track but other than that one is never brought out of the film. And if the mystery plot is solved in a rather convenient manner, there's some satisfaction in the tricks that bring about the final deduction, and fans of murder mystery will enjoy it. And despite the style of acting that can appear stilted to modern eyes, I discerned some genuine emotion in the lead actors and was emotionally engaged in knowing what happened next.

PREMIERE has a running time of 71 minutes and was rated A by the then British censor.


MAGGIE'S PLAN is a delightful film that where's it's profundity lightly.  Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, based on an unpublished story by Karen Rinaldi, it's basically a film that what happens after you marry the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl.  That's the whimsical, pretty young woman that exists in many modern romantic comedies to allow the sad, depressed, trapped male hero to escape into a better happier world once the credits rolls.  These poor girls - often played by through the ages by actresses like Audrey Hepburn, Jennifer Aniston, Zooey Deschanel, Natalie Portman or Cara Delevigne - don't really have an interior life of their own, or any kind of aims for their own life beyond rescuing their beloved men.  This has been somewhat grating for female viewers, and presumably for the actresses themselves.

And so we get the wonderful Greta Gerwig - who has played plenty of these supremely capable fixers of broken men and women  in her time - as the lead character in this amazing film.  She plays Maggie - a loving and lovely woman who decides she wants to have a baby despite not having a boyfriend.  She gets an old college friend called Guy (Travis Fimmel) to be a sperm donor, but on the night she's going to do the deed ends up shagging a married college professor called John (Ethan Hawke) instead.  Long story short, she decides to rescue him from his apparently horrendous high-maintenatnce super-successful wife (Julianne Moore), and they have a kid together.  At this point the conventional rom-com ends.

The last woman in England to watch SPECTRE, watches SPECTRE

Despite my avatar name, I actually don't like Bond. His glib superficial sado-masochistic fantasy world of spying struck me as thin soup compared to the morally murky but properly Romantic world of John le Carre. Insofar as I liked Bond, it was to appreciate the role that escapism and big brand consumerism has in all of our lives. In other words, if I must have Bond, let it be Bond - kiss kiss, bang bang - Roger Moore's arched eyebrow - absurd gadgets. And so I have struggled with Daniel Craig's Bond films, filled as they are with existential angst. They're Bond trying to be Bourne, lacking in self-confidence, desperate to show that they KNOW the very concept of Bond is absurd in our post-millennial world. Nowhere is this more obvious, nor as grating, as in SPECTRE.

Sunday, July 03, 2016


I had such a bad time watching the AB-FAB movie I couldn't bring myself to review. The 1990s sitcom was so joyous - so well acted and written - so scabrous in its ridicule of drunken, free-loading PRs and the insecurities of middle-aged women - and the movie was so, so awful.  But I was finally moved to write by a story on twitter proclaiming this to be the most lucrative British opening weekend since SPECTRE.  Of course! I cried in dismay. It's because of people like me!  We all went to see this film on a wave of nostalgia and were bitterly disappointed by the results. The back-slapping will no doubt end when a precipitous decline in weekly ticket sales is reported on the back of abysmal word of mouth.

So as you all know, AB-FAB the TV show featured PR exec Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her ex-model/stylist sidekick Patsy (Joanna Lumley).  In the old days they used to lurch around London, shopping at Harvey Nicks, swilling champagne they hadn't paid for and putting two fingers up to Eddy's sensible daughter (Julia Sawalha).  In a world obsessed with youth, where women over a certain age can't act a certain way, it was a delight to see these two behaving so very badly. And yes, there was the occasional moment of piercing insecurity and self-doubt, but that only made the jokes better. 


CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE is a disappointingly piss-poor action-comedy from the director of the infinitely more amusing and heart-warming WE'RE THE MILLERS, Rawson Marshall Thurber. It stars Dwayne Johnson as a formerly fat bullied schoolkid turned muscle-bound CIA agent accused of killing his partner (Aaron Johnson) and stealing secret files.  He turns up at the house of a former high school jock (Kevin Hart) now living a banal suburban life as an accountant.  At first, his friend appears to be naive and lovable, but then morphs into something seemingly scary and unhinged, before Hart's character realises that he's actually being framed.  High-jinks ensue.  The problem with this film is that a cameo from Jason Bateman apart, it's not really that funny, and there's no convincing relationship between the two male leads as there was with, say, 21 JUMP STREET.  The result is a film that plods along in a fairly banal way, culminating in a high school reunion that's meant to be cathartic for the former fat kid. But even this wannabe emotional and uplifting moment falls flat. One to avoid. 

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE has a running time of 107 minutes and is rated PG-13. The film is on global release.