Thursday, 5 December 2013

Don Jon

Friday last I went to see Don Jon.  In some countries I think it's Don Jon's Addiction, which is kind of film titles for simpletons.  Don Jon = Don Juan, innit?  So it's got to be a film about this great lover.  (You have to say "lover" in a sarcastic tone, and roll the R.)

To say I've been waiting months for this film would be nothing short of the absolute truth.  I couldn't find it sequestered online on some dodgy site where they keep telling you about Live Cams and to be honest, I wanted to wait for the cinema release here.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is such a stand up sit down good guy it would have felt wrong watching it in pirate style.  If you don't mind I'll abbreviate Joseph Gordon-Levitt to JG-L to save my fingers.  And he isn't to be confused with John Gordon Sinclair.  Which you probably hadn't done, until now.

You may remember JG-L as the little stripling alien in Third Rock from the Sun.  Or as a stripling ado in Ten Things I Hate About You.  Or as any number of good things that followed.  JG-L also has an open collaborative production company called Hit Record where 'Writers, musicians, illustrators, photographers, video editors — artists of all kinds are invited to contribute their work...Once on the site, the hitRECord community collaboratively edits, builds upon, develops and remixes each others work'.

JG-L wrote, directed and stars in Don Jon, and he's a stripling no more.  The little alien has been eating his Weetabix and there is considerably more prime meat on him than before.  OK, I'll stop, it's a bit unseemly.  Along with the outfit of musculature, he has put on a character so far removed from any previous he has played that it seems almost to be another person.  I guess that's what acting is, huh.  But some actors, Bruce Willis for example, whom he played and played opposite in Looper, only ever play themselves.  Not a stretch.   Even I could play Bruce Willis.

I believe (although it's just a guess from the accents) that the film is set in New Jersey, which is sort of like parts of Essex by the look of things.  Scarlett Johansson's character Barbara would probably fit in fine down the Sugar Hut.  She snares Jon with the pneumatic promise of sex down the temporal line  which she holds like a carrot while talking him into "improvements" to his life.  He goes along with all this because he wants the carrot.  Only the carrot is always a disappointment to him and he looks for virtual carrots online.  In fact he prefers the online carrots because he can totally lose himself in carrot.

I will not give away the rest of the plot as it's quite a short film and I'm sure JG-L would prefer you to see it than read what I have to say about carrots.

All the supporting actors bring their A game (look at me, getting all American) but Julianne Moore is just luminous and lifts the story off the screen.  See the film, immerse yourself in a tale of carrots and marvel at how one little boy can grow to be such a man.  You know, he even speaks fluent French?  I actually want to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 

Don Jon (2013)
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Writer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Secret Smile

Bit of a hiatus in my reviewing of stuff.  I think my brain atrophied after recent surgery but it seems to be back now.

The last couple of nights I treated myself to Secret Smile, a psychological thriller from 2005 that is sort of Bridget Jones with stalking and domestic violence.  Based on a Nicci French novel, the two-parter is on Youtube in several snatches, each of ten minutes.  Until recently on Youtube this was normal – like watching an old movie in several reels.  Fortunately you don’t have to load up a new spool to your projector, you just faff around until you find the next bit.

Perhaps this disjointed nature of viewing helped with the sense of unease.  The female protagonist is Kate Ashfield out of Shaun of the Dead, playing much the same character, with a frown so deeply creased between her eyes it looks like she had been pressed in a book.  Her presence is rather overshadowed by the pre-Doctor Who David Tennant, playing an utterly charming, right nasty bastard called Brendan Block, whom everyone thinks is so wonderful that Kate Ashfield must be really foul, jealous or mad not to like him.

In a nutshell, Miranda (Kate) shags our pre-Doctor and when he turns out to be limpety and lets himself in to her flat after the briefest of relationships and reads her diary, dumps him.  “Bitch”, he says, and then proceeds to wreck her life and that of a few others. 

The problem lies herein:  it’s all a little bit far-fetched.  Nobody believes Miranda when she says Brendan is an evil, calculating bastard, not even her best friend or her mum.  They trust him and love him as if he were Jesus.  If I were Miranda I would have fucked off and left them to it, not walked around looking like a bruised flower, trying to persuade people otherwise. 

Without spoiling the ending I will tell you that Miranda appears to come to a sticky end.  Her parents seem only to be mildly put out by this, as if they had missed the first day of the Harrods sale.  Brendan really does come to a sticky end, and the final shot as he starts 22 years in prison is of him giving good sulky cheekbones against the prison wall while the other prisoners play a jovial game of footer. 

The comments on Youtube were revelatory.  Most of the viewers had stumbled upon Secret Smile via their fanboy/girl obsession with the Doctor, and thought Brendan was terribly hard done by, because 'The only thing we know Brendan is guilty of is sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence'.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Obviously their view is affected by the fact that David Tennant is a nice bloke and played (in the future) a nice Timelord, so they have conflated the characters and wrapped them in worship.  Therefore “his” punishment looks harsh. 

This gives us an interesting parallel with the way Miranda’s family is taken in.  Whilst I have no doubt that David Tennant is a lovely and splendid chap in real life, anyone who has ever been on the Mumsnet discussion boards will have seen that “nice guys” can also be secretly abusive, which is how they often get away with it.    

Secret Smile (TV Movie) 2005
Director: Christopher Menaul
Cast: Kate Ashfield, David Tennant, Claire Goose

Saturday, 12 October 2013

UK X Factor - Week 7

It's LIVE.  It's the LIVE SHOWS.  LIVE.  Well I expect there's a delay in case Mrs O says "ooooh you are making me juice up like a frigging pomegranate, darling".

So, here we go.  Oh fuck, it's 80s night.  Pass the Country Born hair gel.  The audience is immoderately excited.  I think they've been eating too many Smarties.  What's this Flash vote?  Nothing to do with cleaning floors, I'll be bound.

Hannah Barrett.  Works in Greggs.  Cries an awful lot.  From Croydon I believe.  She has the slot of death, and unfortunately she's a bit flat tonight.  They haven't stinted on wardrobe - a whole new outfit from Littlewoods by the look of it.  Hannah, if you are taking on Tina Turner, you need to knock the flipping thing on its arse, and sadly you didn't, really.

Nicholas McDonald.  Another big crier.  Doesn't know who Spandau Ballet are.  This bodes well.  OK, not too bad.  Clothes by Mr Byrite, inkeeping with the 80s theme.  Well I'm sure there are some twelve year olds having funny feelings about him, but he's leaving me wondering if it's too soon to put the kettle on.  Mrs O is being lewd, making him say he's "sexteen", several times.

Miss Dynamix.  This bunch were put together by Gary Barlow in Frankenstein style.  Ah, a bit of Pointer Sisters.  Should they be up on a scaffold thing, with one of them being pregnant?  Should she be jumping?  It seems to me that having a jump is what got her in trouble in the first place.  Fuck me, but they are bad.  They are attempting harmony but it really isn't.   I think there's some wine in the fridge.  I'm not entirely sure Nicole Scherzinger is speaking English.  Oh I feel old.  Mrs O must have upped her HRT, she's perving on the Dermot now.

Sam Bailey.  Prison officer.  I have seen her nicknamed Screw-bo in one publication.  Go on girl.  Oooh she looks nice.  Debenhams.  She does have a really nice voice.   GO ON GIRL.  Mind you, I hate this song.  It's the Jennifer Rush one.  All of the eighties to choose from and they go for this shite.  Why not a bit of Talking Heads?  Dollar?  Oh Louis, saying "You hit every single note" is not exactly a compliment.  Damn it, she's made me cry again.

Sam Callahan.  Another foetus.  He makes Justin Bieber look raddled.  Actually he's the spit of the Beckhams' eldest.  Something to tell us, David?  Oh for fucking fucksake.   Summer of '69.  This wasn't any good even in the eighties.  Who chooses these songs?  Have they got ears?  I think I'll just wait to see how lewd Mrs O can be on live television.  My bet is on "show us your winky, go on, show us your winky!".

Kingsland Road.  I'm pretty sure they were just called Kingsland to begin with.  Perhaps it sounded too grand.  Kingsland isn't grand, trust me.  They all live in a house together, like the Beatles in Hard Day's Night.  I think.   Ah, WHAM!  WHAM! were a duo.  Or strictly speaking a one-o.  Andrew Ridgeley was just there for...erm...something.  Kingsland Rd are a five-o.  And vocally George Michael was stronger, on his own.  Why is everyone so easily impressed?  I feel like the evil fairy.

Shelley Smith.  White van lady.  They appear to have cannibalised one of Rylan's costumes from last year for her.  She's competent.  Bah.  Just nothing much to say about her really.  Have I got the strength to last till December?

Abi Alton.  Works in a supermarket.  She reminds me of this young lady (on the left).  She's lovely but I'm not sure X factor is right for her.  I wish someone would do a Kate Bush with her.  Kate was signed to EMI at the age of sixteen, and then basically given free reign to develop her music for two years.  Abi did Livin' On A Prayer just with a piano.  She seems much too unworldly for all this.

Lorna Simpson.   Doing a Whitney.  No, not having a big sleep in a hot bath.  Actually I don't know this track at all.  Again, if you are taking on a Whitney track, you need to knock it on its arse.  She managed to elbow it in the ribs, but not much more.  Lorna is wearing Ebay tonight.   And she hit every single note, according to Louis.

Tamera Foster.  The one we have been subliminally programmed to make the winner.  She's very pretty and has a nice voice.  But you know, if you're taking on a Chaka Khan song...I do get tired of saying the same thing.  Tamera was the one who "forgot her words" at bootcamp and was nudged through the rest of the song by the panel mouthing along.  She looks like the kind of girl who would have bitchslapped me at school.

Luke Friend.  The most interesting thing about Luke is that he doesn't wash his hair.  He resembles a good-natured guinea pig.  Another one getting the twelve year olds in a flutter, no doubt.  The good thing is they won't have to buy a separate Girl's World head to practise hairdressing on - Luke's hair will keep them busy for weeks.

Haha.  It's rather embarrassing when the adverts offer up a better interpretation of an eighties hit than the actual programme.

Rough Copy.  Oh this was the band that was torn asunder by visa issues, not once, but two years running.  I don't know what Gary did but he has brought the Border Agency to heel (something I never managed in all my years dealing with them) and the band is back as a three-o.  Tonight, Rough Copy took the brooding, sulky, explosive In the Air Tonight and turned it into a pile of rancid wank.  That is quite some trick.  Apparently the judges have never seen a group this good ever, ever in the entire universe.  I can only assume they are seeing and hearing something that I am not.

And now there's the flash vote thing.  In not at all another revenue-increasing exercise, ITV are inviting people to vote now and the act with the fewest votes will be singing for their life tomorrow night.  Literally, I think.  Dermot will have a scythe to hand.

I'm done.  The evil fairy needs a cup of tea.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Elvis and Me

Following on from that Elvis film, I found myself dragged into "Elvis and Me" - a biopic based on Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's memoir.  At nearly three hours long, I felt like I had endured the courtship and marriage along with them.

I wanted to see how they handled the delicate matter of Priscilla being a minor.  There's no way round the fact that Priscilla was fourteen when they met and Elvis was twenty-four.  Although they didn't go all the way until their wedding night, some eight years after they met in Germany, there were quite a few stops at services along the way.

The woman playing Priscilla reminded me a little too much of Pam Dawber (Mindy of "Mork and Mindy") but she managed to play both the naive teen and the fucked-off wife believably.  Elvis was only Elvis at fleeting angles, like a hologram.  Until he became Bloated Elvis.  At one point he looked menacingly at Priscilla from under his brows and it was Bloated Elvis to the life. 

A certain amount of licence is granted often to celebrities because they are "not like us".  Also, one tends to think that the Sixties was pretty much another country.  That other country's borders extended up to the Eighties, when Bill Wyman was touting his similarly-aged girlfriend about London, to no more than slightly raised eyebrows.  Of course, now there isn't a single TV personality or DJ from that time who isn't trembling in his cardigan.

Priscilla moved from Germany to live with Elvis when she was sixteen, and I suspect it was kept very quiet (Jerry Lee Lewis had more or less ruined his career by marrying his thirteen year old cousin in the late Fifties).  There were chaperone and educational conditions offered to appease Priscilla's parents, but in reality she lived at Graceland as his de facto wife.  The film certainly did not skirt around the sexual side of their relationship and I doubt that, if it were made today, so much of it would be shown.  There was much of what swimming pools used to call "heavy petting" from the time they first met, and the supposed fourteen year old had her top off and was participating more than enthusiastically.  Bear in mind that both versions of the film Lolita did not demonstrate a fourteen year old with sexual agency and yet generated a huge amount of controversy.

I suppose the difference here is that Priscilla is telling her own story.  Of course, this means we get a version of Elvis coloured by her experience, but it was fascinating to watch his progress (if you can call it such) from a shy and slightly pervy US army conscript, through the TV-shooting years and darkened rooms of buttoned leather and swagged velvet, to the karate and white-suited bloat.

In conclusion, I don't think this story is about age, or celebrity, or sexual perversion.  It's about the powerful confection that two people create and call love.  Priscilla's parents were helpless in the face or her determination to be with him.  I think we've all been Priscilla sometimes, mouthing those four words "But I love him!" as a spell, or a reason, or excuse, or a charm.  So it seems celebrities are a bit like us after all.  And that's why we sit up till 1.00am watching biopics.

Elvis and Me (1988)
Directed by: Larry Peerce
Written by: Joyce Eliason, from Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's autobiography "Elvis and Me"
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Susan Walters

Monday, 7 October 2013

Follow that Dream

I've been on the old Youtube again.  The things you find.  I used to love watching Elvis Presley films in the school holidays but this is one I've never seen.  Perhaps because it's not full of twisting thirty year old teens and bright, chaste love.

How many Hollywood films of 1962 can you think of with running toilet jokes?  And the word sex is mentioned at least twice.

Presley plays a slowish young man who embodies a sort of noble savagery.  Fearless because he's a bit gormless, but expecting a basic decency of everyone, he manages to neutralise a mafia type threat simply by being nice, good at judo, and dim.  If a lady gets friendly with him he does his times tables out loud until she stops.  Poor boy, he only knows up to his eight times table.  I have no idea what happens after that.

At the end of the film (I am typing as I watch, sort of), the family's adopted orphans are taken away and the court does a Daily Mail on them, branding them WELFARE SCUM.  The edges of respectability are often pushed against in a way unexpected in an Elvis film - including the inference in court that an adopted teen girl lives with Elvis in some dodgy relationship.  As if that would ever happen.

The film challenges those who hold the moral welfare of others in their hands, and then acknowledges that the family can hold it for themselves, with dignity.  Unsurprisingly, it is based on a novel ("Pioneer, Go Home!") which was based on a true story.  Of course there's a bit of a love story - there has to be in an Elvis film - but it isn't central to the plot.  The colours of the film are muted blues and browns throughout.  Although it's a semi-romantic semi-comedy, it's overlaid with social issues and there is no Ann Margaret dancing on a beach, or cutesy oriental children.

Again, Youtube has delivered a little gem.  I think I love Youtube.  

Follow that Dream (1962)
Directed by: Gordon Douglas
Written by: Charles Lederer (screenplay); Richard Powell (novel)
Cast: Elvis Presley, and loads of people I've never heard of

Sunday, 6 October 2013

UK X Factor - Week 6

I fear this will be something of a serial, as I tend to watch the UK X Factor every year from August to December.  You can always skip this bit if you find the idea of watching Simon Cowell's offal abhorrent.  I just use it to help clear my sinuses as it routinely makes me cry.

So, we are at Judges' Houses.  Apart from Mrs Sharon Osbourne, who is using her actual house (no doubt with Ozzie shuffling around making tea for the crew), the others are using rented gaffs.  Judges' Houses is where each mentor meets their six creamiest contenders who, while sitting on a rockery waiting their turn, sob about not wanting to go home and, e.g., drive a white van again.  One hopeful was wondering what to tell her three-and-a-half year old daughter if she was axed.  Here's an idea: don't tell her.  She's probably watching In the Night Garden and eating Haribo with your mum.  I long for someone to say "Well I'd like to go through but, you know, making goats' milk cheese is very rewarding and I'd miss that."

After being ritually axed/not axed by the Machiavellian mentors, the finalists then go and sob all over Dermot O'Leary.  He must get through a ton of shirts.  He's very kind though and never says "Euuurgh, all down my Fred Perry."

Last night was the Boys, mentored by Louis Walsh; and the Overs, mentored by Mrs O.  Louis seemed to need an awful lot of company to make his decisions.  On the sofa with him was an Appleton sister, one of Westlife, and Sinitta, who sat with her legs drawn up, trying not to look surplus.  I couldn't tell you who Louis put through but it does amuse me when sixteen year olds say grimly they have waited all their life for this and worked so hard.  Eeee my day...

Mrs O looked lovely in a sparkly loose dress type of thing (good job I don't write about fashion).  I wonder if in a spare room she has jars full of bits of her face, like Eleanor Rigby.  Now I can remember two that she put through - Sam the prisoner officer, and Shelley of the white van, who is what might charitably be called "bubbly".

So who made me cry?  Sam did.  She's so clearly for the chop in a few weeks because she is just so ordinary.  But her voice is amazing, and I sobbed.  Where is Dermot when you need him?

Shelley, without her white van.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Caesar and Cleopatra

Not to be confused with "Cleopatra" (either the 1963 epic, or the girlband), this is the 1945 Technicolor film version of George Bernard Shaw's play of 1901.  It's rather playful and camp and only gets boring about two thirds of the way through.  I was disappointed to see that Marc Anthony (not to be confused with ex Mr J-Lo) is talked of as having strong, round arms and yet you never see him.  That's a major flaw, Bernard Shaw.

What else can one do on a Saturday afternoon when a cold is producing prodigious amounts of mucus and needs a cushioned toilet roll close by?  Youtube, these days, has lots of full length films.  Free, and legal.  It almost feels virtuous.

Vivien Leigh, who was around thirty, is a kittenish, skittish Cleopatra who, presumably after some off-camera attention from Caesar, becomes a proper grown up cat.  The queen-in-a-carpet set piece is carried off with strapping delight by Stewart Granger (Apollodorus), covered in Bisto, and wearing an orange mini dress and one gorgeous drop earring.  If I read the code correctly, the fact that Cleo is wearing a red sash around her pale frock at this stage means she is awake but still not fully up.  Later, she wears a lovely womanly claret which is obviously shorthand for "they have now done it".  I'm not sure what Granger's orange frock is meant to signify.  Given that he is by far the most attractive man in the film, and yet is not treated as a rival for Cleo's affections by Caesar, one might draw the conclusion that he was not really into that sort of queen.  

Caesar is played as a phlegmatic and gently humorous middle aged man by Claude Rains but he seems a little overshadowed by Leigh's untouchable (or very touchable if stories are to be believed) beauty.  So astonishing is this woman that she stands next to a very young Jean Simmons who is playing the harp, and you barely notice Jean.

I think it was incredibly fortunate that Romans and Egyptians alike spoke painfully elocuted BBC English.  I always wondered how people communcated in those days.  Lovely film; mainly due to the wonderful script.

"Apollodorus: you are my perfect knight; and I will always buy my carpets through you.

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)
Directed by: Gabriel Pascal
Written by: George Bernard Shaw
Cast: Claude Rains, Vivien Leigh, Flora Robson, Stewart Granger, and loads of other people.