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ON THIS DAY . . .

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  • The Winner Takes It All

    2018-11-05 21:52:44

    My mother was a die hard ABBA fan. Back in 1977, when the group announced a world tour, I knew that nothing was going to stop her from attending one of the shows. And so it was that on a wild and wet March day in 1977, she and I joined 50,00 other fans in Sydney, Australia to watch the supergroup sing their hits. Though she loved all the songs, she always kept a special place in her heart for this haunting, heartbreaking ballad. On the 19th anniversary of her death I hope she's listening somewhere. 

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  • Say a little prayer for Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

    2018-08-18 11:41:16

    While a creased faded photograph has a certain nostalgic pull, there's nothing quite like an old song to aurally time travel us back to a specific time and place. Alternately happy, tragic, and bittersweet, the soundtrack of our lives defines our memories. The death of Aretha Franklin yesterday reminded me of the first time I heard I Say A Little Prayer. It was the end of summer, 1968. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were dead; the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marked by violent protests and Richard Nixon was poised to become the next President of the United States. But for a wide-eyed, eight year-old kid, life was still a dream and the Queen of Soul dominated the airwaves.Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the song was a big hit for Dionne Warwick in 1967. A year later Aretha recorded what many consider to be the definitive version and made it a hit all over again. Rest in Peace Ms. Franklin. We'll miss you.

     

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  • Wonder Wheel

    2018-08-17 00:07:16

    With the inevitable depletion of a once seemingly inexhaustable well of inspiration from whence came classics like Annie Hall and Manhattan, it's unfortunate that the septua/octo-genarian twilight of Woody Allen's career  will forever be defined by a thematically diverse but unremarkable collection of films which in another lifetime, by dint of their inchoate form and structure, probably would not have seen the light of day. His latest effort, headlined again by the usual revolving door of big name stars lured primarily by the Allen brand, is no exception. 

    Set in New York in the early 1950s in the decidedly blue collar seaside environs of a Coney Island dominated by its iconic ferris wheel, Wonder Wheel centres its themes of domestic and economic disenfranchisement on the weary shoulders of Kate Winslett's Ginny, a forty-something diner waitress. Wearing the glum mien of someone whose hardscrabble life so far hasn't amounted to a hill of beans, Ginny has found brief emotional respite from her schlumpy, browbeating  husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) and the pyromaniacal antics of her pre-teen son, in the arms of a flighty young life-guard cum would-be writer named Mickey (Justin Timberlake), who also doubles as the film's narrator. It's an insubstantial, unrequited union  that is quickly rendered null and void by the unexpected arrival of Humpty's long-estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple).

    Harking back to the far superior black and white kitchen sink dramas from the late fifties that were instrumental in freeing British cinema from its post-war conservatism, Allen's American take on working class entropy stumbles badly under the weight of its contrived, melodramatic conceits. Vittorio Storaro's stunningly effulgent wide-screen color palette notwithstanding, the film evinces a conspicuous stagebound-cum-sit-com theatricality that is implicitly reinforced not only by the story's confinement to a predominantly one or two room setting, but also by the declamatory timbre of Winslet and Belushi's line readings. 

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  • You Were Never Really Here

    2017-12-16 03:39:52

    Unlike a lot of up and coming directors  who toil at the coalface of indie cinema hoping their no-budget, hand-tooled labour of love will attract enough critical heat on the festival and art-house circuit to catapault them higher up the big-budget mainstream food chain, Lynn Ramsay harbours no desire to become mere grist to the mill of multiplex pap. Back in March of 2013 a "creative differences" impasse with the producers of the Natalie Portman Western Jane Got A Gun led her to abandon the director's chair just three days before the start of principal photography. 

    You Were Never Really Here finds Ramsay back in her aesthetic wheelhouse again sifting through the bruised psyche of a protagonist whose tenuous grip on reality has stranded him on the same emotional precipice that his hapless counterparts from Ramsay's earlier films -Ratcatcher,  Morvern Callar and We Need To Talk About Kevin - occupied. Adapted from Jonathan Ames' short novella, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as the arbitrarily-named Joe, a dishevelled, PTSD-crippled former Marine and FBI agent ekeing out an existence as a hammer-wielding muscle for hire specialising in rescuing young girls from the clutches of sex traffickers. When a prominent New York senator hires him to find his kidnapped daughter, Joe is plunged deep into a lethal, coiling miasma of corruption and double cross that threatens to engulf him, the young child and even his invalid mother. 

    While the premise and the accompanying air-brushed poster allude to the kind of film one would expect to find on an action hero's resume, the opening sequence quickly confirms that Ramsay is primarily interested in subverting and deconstructing the genre rather than pledging fealty to its familar tropes. With his unkempt hair, beard and flabby physique, Joe may not be anybody's idea of a knight in shining armour but his violent and bloody nocturnal journey through the city's cesspools is every bit as rivetting as that undertaken by one Travis Bickle some forty years ago. The performance justifiably won Phoenix the best actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival while Ramsay's serpentine screenplay shared the best screenplay award with Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing  Of A Sacred Deer. This is the kind of work that should be winning Oscars.

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  • The Yellow Birds

    2017-12-12 00:16:00

    The plight of the psychologically damaged former soldier struggling to shoe-horn himself back into the quotidian of his former life first courted public awareness in 1946 with William Wyler's celebrated The Best Years Of Our Lives. The affliction again gained narrative traction some thirty years later during the Vietnam conflict in big-budget, star-driven films like Who'll Stop The Rain, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, but it took the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the beginning of the millenium to finally put the tragedy of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it came to be known) back on Hollywood's front burner with a steady stream of largely low-budget indie productions. The Yellow Birds is one of the better ones.

    Adapted from Kevin Powers' debut novel by David Lowery and R.F.I. Porto, and directed by Alexandre Moors, the film stars Alden Ehrenreich and Tye Sheridan as Bartle and Murph, two callow young men from small town America who, after enlisting in the Army, soon find themselves  in Iraq, knee-deep in the aleatory chaos of frontline warfare. Following Murph's gruesome death, a profoundly shell-shocked Bartle returns home and promptly retreats into the inner recesses of an almost wordless, shiftless solitude that neither his nor Murph's mother (who painfully begs him for more details about her son's death) are able to penetrate. Juxtaposing close-ups of Ehrenreich's impassive, haunted face, with the rickety, fly-blown screen doors, unkempt store fronts and overgrown byways of an economically impoverished, semi-rural backwater, Moors' measured, minimalist often wordless mise-en-scene evokes a palpable air of melancholy, sadness and regret. Along with Ehrenreich, who will soon be seen as a young Han Solo, both Toni Collette and Jennifer Aniston have brief but telling cameos as the grieving mothers. Well worth a look.      

     

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  • Florence Foster Jenkins

    2016-09-17 02:48:25

    As a child, the heiress Florence Foster Jenkins was a talented piano player who scored herself a gig at the White House. Many years later, after recovering from a bout of syphilis (courtesy of a husband she quickly divorced), she opted to reinvent herself as an opera singer. The fact that she had not a skerrick of talent to back up her new musical aspirations was neither here nor there; she wanted to sing arias and she had the wherewithall to make it happen.

    By the mid 1930s, supported by her new (common-law) husband St Clair Bayfield, whose spousal duties were confined to running interference with the nosey press and front-loading her gigs with a sympathetic, generously bribed audience, Jenkins was squawking and screeching her way through dozens of self-funded recitals and concerts so conspicuous in their excrutiating ineptness the aghast New York cognescenti labeled her as the worst singer in the world.

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  • The Mechanic: Resurrection

    2016-08-28 21:40:51

    Beginning in 1960 with his breakout role in The Magnificent Seven through to the late 80s, Charles Bronson managed to carve out a hugely successful career for himself with a slew of modestly budgeted westerns and contemporary action thrillers. Many of them, like Red Sun, Chato's Land, Hard Times and Death Wish, belied their B-picture DNA by exhibiting a level of style and narrative assurance few of today's CGI- bloated genre movies aspire to let alone achieve. The Michael Winner-directed The Mechanic from 1972 was a quintessential Bronson vehicle positing the craggy-faced star as a professional hitman specialising in making his victims' deaths look like accidents. The great Jan-Michael Vincent co-starred as his duplicitous apprentice.

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  • Rio Bravo

    2016-07-22 00:35:01

    Never get sick of watching this scene from Rio Bravo (1959) Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, Ricky Nelson and Angie Dickinson.

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  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

    2016-04-10 01:25:22

    In his revelatory 1983 best-seller, Adventures in the Screen Trade, screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man) perceptively observed that in Hollywood it would be a fool's errand to task someone with the job of predicting a film's box-office performance because in the final analysis, "nobody knows anything". To appreciate the enduring wisdom and accuracy of that now famous three word quote, one need look no further than this week's box-office where a relatively obscure, third-tier comic superhero called Deadpool continues to bask in the glow of a thousand hosannas while Batman v Superman, featuring comicdom's two most famous superheroes, has been summarily banished to the same critic-sanctioned movie jail wherein the much-reviled Fantastic Four and The Green Lantern currently languish. To be sure, the two aforementioned films are genuine stinkers entirely deserving of their critical mauling, but Zack Snyder's sequel (of sorts) to Man of Steel, its narrative and visual shortcomings notwithstanding, is not quite the unmitigated disaster the baying cabal of reviewers and fan-boys would have you believe.

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  • In The Heart Of The Sea

    2015-12-11 21:21:33

    Once upon a time seafaring yarns, particularly those set in the eighteenth century like Two Years Before The Mast, Mutiny On The Bounty and Captains Courageous, were quite a popular cinema staple and most major stars of the day had at least one on their resume. Nowadays, while many traditional genres continue to thrive, films of swashbuckling derring-do set aboard four masted sailing ships have, along with the Western, quietly gone the way of the dodo. Well, not quite. In their infinite wisdom, the executives at Warner Bros convinced themselves that the genre that gave the world Moby Dick was worth revisiting and they were prepared to spend a lot of money to prove it. 

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  • Adele on Jimmy Fallon

    2015-12-02 23:18:04

    Thought this was pretty neat. 15 million Youtube hits and counting.

     

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  • A Bond for the milliennials; the dumbing down of an icon

    2015-11-18 22:50:38

    In 1963, James Bond assumed screen icon status practically overnight with the modestly budgeted Dr. No. It was an auspicious start for a character that had been, up until that point, confined to the pages of a dozen pulpy spy novels written by a former British intelligence officer. Some five decades and five actors later, the Bond franchise, now suitably reformatted for the ADD generation, is still breaking box-office records. But the years have taken their artistic toll and, despite a well-intentioned reboot, the new films have so effectively homongenised the Bond ethos that they have become practically indistiguishable from countless other generic action pictures.  

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