The Movie / TV Corner
I have always been a great movie fan, from golden oldies to modern blockbusters. I can remember riding the Metro in Paris as a young teenager, heading for another outlying cinema that was still showing Hatari in v.o. (original version, in this case with English soundtrack), so that I could see it one more time.
As quality drama increasingly moves from the big screen to television, you will also find (hopefully) some great TV shows here.
The right-hand panel of this page contains links to the main categories of my movie reviews and a summary of the external links that I have found to be most useful. Most of these links will also appear in the main text of this page.
External links will open in a new tab or window - just close the new tab or window to return to this page.
Brian's Movie / TV Collection
Here is a selection of some of my favourite movies (and some superior TV productions available on DVD) in various (overlapping) categories, with some indication of what the movie or TV production is about and/or why I like it. The exceptionally fine ones (in my opinion) are marked with a gold cup.
In each section, movies are listed in (more or less) alphabetical order of movie title.
Clicking on the name of the movie at the start of each item will generally take you to a comprehensive Wikipedia article on the movie, if there is one, else to good alternatives.
- Life Is Good, After All
- High Zing Factor
- Comedy - Light / Romantic
- Comedy - Shades of Black
- Comedy - Period / Sophisticated
- That French Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi
- French Animation
- The Scandinavian Invasion
- Relationships And Personal Journeys
- Police Team
- Great TV Detectives
- Humphrey Bogart
- War Time Drama
- Period Drama
- Science Fiction
- How Do They Do That?
- What to see next?
- Check out these suggestions!
Life Is Good, After All
When you are feeling jangled or fed up with the world, or even when you're not, movies in this category are excellent medecine!
- Enchanted April
- This delightful movie, adapted from Elizabeth von Arnim's equally delightful 1922 novel The Enchanted April (which might almost have been written as a screenplay), is one of my family's all-time favourites.
- Lottie (Josie Lawrence), a person who can "see inside people", is unhappily married to stuffy solicitor Mellersh Wilkins (Alfred Molina), and longs to escape for a while from gloomy, rain-filled London. Spotting an advertisement for the rental of an Italian villa in April, she seeks out the sad, attractive Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson), an acquaintance from church whose religious views keep her distant from her husband Frederick (Jim Broadbent) who writes racy historical novels under a pseudonym. After meeting some resistance Lottie finally persuades Rose to share the villa with her.
- The ladies can't afford the £60 which it will cost (a lot of money in those days!) so they advertise for two companions to share the
expenses, getting responses only from Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker),
a beautiful but unhappy socialite, and Mrs Fisher (the wonderful Joan Plowright),
an elderly, spiky and irascible widow whose friends include many eminent people, but who all have one big disadvantage - they are all dead.
We also discover that Frederick Arbuthnot, in his role as author, knows Caroline and is one of her many unwanted admirers.
- Successful at last, Rose and Lottie meet George Briggs (Michael Kitchen), the very short-sighted owner of the villa whose real love is playing the oboe, and hand over the money - and emerge in a daze onto a rainy London street, hardly able to believe they have done it, and nearly get run over!
- With the scene set, Lottie and Rose arrive in the paradise that is the villa San Salvatore, discovering that their two sharers have already arrived and installed themselves. What happens next is triggered by Lottie's realisation that she has been a "mean dog" to her husband, and her surprising invitation to him to join them.
- Mellersh, George (who mistakenly believes that Rose is a war widow) and Frederick each arrive in turn as the story progresses, with interesting and unexpected consequences. Gradually the lives of all at the villa are transformed, partly by the magic of the place, and partly by Lottie's very special nature.
- As Mrs Fisher says near the end, "It seems that people can only be happy in pairs - all kinds of pairs." To which Lottie responds with a kiss and declares: "Then you and I will be a pair."
- The beautiful melody that George Briggs plays on his oboe, and which is so appropriate as the musical theme for the movie, is Elgar's Chanson de Matin. You can listen to it on this video, or if that one becomes unavailable (as sometimes happens) then try the selection here.
- Kiki's Delivery Service
- An enchanting coming-of-age Japanese animation from Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar-winning Spirited Away. Worth watching just for the beautiful Scandinavian-style landscape and town, a miracle of loving creative genius, but there is much more than that, which is why it is in this category.
- You will find articles on this movie (with pictures and more links) here and here in my Categorian blog.
- My House in Umbria
- Any movie set in Italy has a better-than-average chance of ending up in this section!
- This one (an award-winning production made for TV) takes as its unlikely basis a sombre story by William Trevor (one of two novellas comprising his book Two Lives), about a writer of romantic novels (an ex-prostitute and madam) who shelters fellow survivors of a terrorist attack on an Italian train in her retirement villa.
- The movie version by Hugh Whitemore stars Maggie Smith as the novelist Mrs Delahunty, and revolves around the efforts to rehabilitate Aimee, a young American girl who was traumatised and orphaned in the incident, and who has become mute as a result.
- The kindness of Mrs Delahunty and the other survivors, Ronnie Barker (in a straight role) as the General who lost his daughter and Benno Füérmann as the badly-burned German lad who lost his girlfriend and who is hiding a secret, combined with the beautiful setting of the villa and the places that they visit, start to have their effect.
- The future happiness of the girl is threatened, however, with the arrival of her uncle Tom Riversmith (the excellent Chris Cooper), a university professor from the USA, whom they track down as her only living relative. A cold man in a cold marriage, impervious to the charms of Italy and repelled by Mrs Delahunty's drink-fuelled advances, he and his wife will obviously be a disaster as surrogate parents.
- Does all end well? I'll only say that while the movie is not a complete fairy-tale (and that is one of its charms), it does belong firmly in this category.
- My Neighbour Totoro
- Another enchanting Japanese animation from Hayao Miyazaki, set in a beautiful rural landscape. Miyazaki presents a vision of childhood, based on his own memories, that has a magical relationship with trees and nature.
- Since you're here...
- If you like this category, then you will probably also enjoy my web page called The Bright Side, as well as this collection of posts on things to enjoy in life from my Categorian blog.
Some blockbuster movies (e.g. Harry Potter) are too well known to be listed here!
- Father Goose
- One of Cary Grant's best movies, set in the Pacific after the fall of Singapore, a sparkling collision between a self-indulgent batchelor (out-manoeuvred into becoming an island-based Japanese-plane spotter by Trevor Howard, the wily Commander at Salamaua) and an up-tight Leslie Caron, who brings a pack of refugee girls of assorted sizes and nationalities into his previously idyllic life.
- International Velvet
- This is a sequel to (and in my opinion, better than) the much loved "National Velvet". It has a great cast including Tatum O'Neal, Christopher Plummer, Nanette Newman (wife of director Bryan Forbes) and Anthony Hopkins, and a great music score by Francis Lai.
- If you have never known girls who grew up loving horses, if you wouldn't laugh at a Thelwell cartoon, if you think Reality TV is great, then this might not be for you.
- I think it is one of the great old-fashioned family movies, of the "they don't make them like this any more" variety. It is hardly ever shown on UK TV, possibly because of a truly nasty review that appeared in the Radio Times (Britain's best selling magazine for TV and radio programmes) some years back. I hope that this redresses the balance.
- For me, this was the most enjoyable movie of 2007. Apart from the appealing story and the staggeringly good animation, there was the wry experience of being educated in the enjoyment of good food by a rat!
- Like many people, I suspect, I now take great animation like this for granted. I have to keep reminding myself that thinking about the artistry in this movie (or in any good animated or special-effects movie) as "computer generated" is like crediting the artistry of Rembrandt to the hog bristles in his brushes and to the pigments in his paint!
- This article gives some idea of what was actually involved in making Ratatouille. It really is a case of art concealing art (I knew the expression but never looked up its origin, hence the link!). Pixar Animation Studios can be justifiably proud of this one.
(I am glad to see that the DVD also has a copy of the hilarious Pixar short Lifted, which was shown with Ratatouille in our local cinema.)
- The Last Mimzy
- This was a surprise discovery, a strong recommendation from my (31-year old) daughter, and from my point of view a great find!
- The movie (which I have only seen on DVD) might appeal to the same audience that enjoyed E.T.. Set in some beautiful scenery around Vancouver, it centres around extraordinary events that happen to a brother and sister (played excellently by Chris O'Neill and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn. The rest of the cast include Timothy Hutton (who played the foolish man who lost Meg Ryan to Kevin Kline in French Kiss) and Michael Clarke Duncan, the huge black guy who gave such a powerful performance in The Green Mile (which is about as far from The Last Mimzy as you can get).
- It is a quieter movie than E.T., with some similarities but many differences. The use of special effects is restrained and well judged (more so than in Bridge To Terabithia, another excellent family movie) - and they are so good that one almost accepts them as real and forgets the art that created them.
- A production of New Line Cinema, it has several links with the production of The Lord Of The Rings, including a music score by Howard Shore.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol
- Huge fun, bringing together the best of Charles Dickens and Jim Henson. We bring it out every Christmas!
- The Railway Children (version directed by Lionel Jeffries)
- Possibly the most loved (and most lovingly made) family movie of all time.
High Zing Factor
What is "zing"?
"If it ain't got that zing... but that's not really it! Maybe it's a crackling script, pacy direction, a feeling of bubbles up your nose... in short, zing.
Then it don't mean a thing..."
- Some Like It Hot
- This is one of the zing-iest comedies ever made.
- It has Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis all at their comic best.
- It has the funniest sinister gangsters (sorry, "Lovers of Italian Opera") ever to appear on screen.
- It can make someone who has seen the movie chuckle again if someone just mentions the line: "Nobody's perfect."
- What else can I say?
- Shrek (and Shreks 2 and 4)
- Yes, I know that you must have seen them, but these CGI-animated movies are pure "zing", so I couldn't leave them out.
- Except for Shrek 3, which was dull by comparison, the sequels were if anything even better than the original.
- If by some strange chance you haven't seen them, then there is no time like the present!
- The Devil Wears Prada
- This is definitely in the zing category! People will most often mention Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, but personally I particularly liked Emily Blunt as the acerbic senior assistant.
- Ugly Betty (Season 1 and Season 4)
- The popular TV series has many things in common with The Devil Wears Prada, but has much of its own to offer, with snappy editing and a joyous revelling in every soap cliché you can think of.
- I particularly enjoy the Dastardly-and-Muttley antics (and sudden manic close-ups) of Marc (Michael Urie) and Amanda (Becki Newton).
- The zing factor must be be somewhat watered down by the commercial breaks - we edit them out before watching, which results in episodes only 40 minutes long, not 60!
- After the first season the show went downhill a bit, but it was back to its sparkling best in Season 4 (the last ever, sadly, although quitting while you are ahead has much to be said for it).
Comedy - Light / Romantic
- This delightful story describes what happens when the chronic wanderer Vianne Rocher (the luminous Juliette Binoche) arrives in a small French town with her small daughter Anouk to open a chocolaterie.
- Because this happens in Lent, it brings her into immediate conflict with the forces of religion, tradition and self-denial, led by the town's mayor, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina, who was so good in Enchanted April). His attempts at suppression are made increasingly difficult by the various improvements that Vianne and her chocolates make to the lives of people in the town, among them Armande (the incomparable Judi Dench), an elderly diabetic determined to live life to the full, and Josephine (the Swedish actress Lena Olin), an abused wife.
- The arrival of a band of supposedly licentious river gypsies led by Roux (the always-wonderful Johnny Depp), and the attraction that develops between Vianne and Roux, are the final straw for the mayor, and full battle is joined, a battle in which the mayor finally becomes one of the people that Vianne helps.
- The story is not quite over... the north wind that blew Vianne into the town is blowing again, and her daughter Anouk fears (with good reason) that she is about to be uprooted again.
- Does all end well? I'll just say that this is one of the rare cases (IMO) where a movie adaptation of a book (in this case by Joanne Harris) improves on the original story.
- This movie was directed by the Swedish director Lasse Hallström, whose other work includes The Cider House Rules and The Shipping News, as well as more than 20 ABBA music videos.
- French Kiss
- A sparkling romantic comedy, with delightful performances from Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline and Jean Reno. One of my all-time favourites.
- Meg Ryan is a superbly gifted comedienne. Each time I watch this movie I enjoy the wonderful range of comic expressions that transform her face!
- High Society
- This is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story (which was based on a Broadway play by Philip Barry), and I love both movies.
- The story is the same in both cases: Tracy Samantha Lord, a wealthy young socialite with little regard for human frailty, is about to enter on a second marriage to a stodgy "man of the people", George Kitteridge, having previously divorced C.K. Dexter Haven for not living up to her high expectations. She also still blames her own divorced father for his harmless flirtation with another woman, and has little patience with her mother's regret about the divorce.
- Her marriage intentions are, of course, finally and hilariously sabotaged (with the enthusiastic support of her young sister), as she unexpectedly falls off her pedestal of virtue (quite harmlessly, except in her own eyes) with Macaulay "Mike" Connor, a reporter from Spy Magazine foisted on the family to cover the wedding via some editorial blackmail concerning her father. The accompanying photographer from Spy Magazine, Elizabeth Imbrie, the antithesis of Samantha in character, is tolerantly waiting for Mike Connor to settle down before arranging for him to marry her.
- The musical version has great music and lyrics by Cole Porter, and stars Bing Crosby (great voice, not-so-great acting) as C.K. Dexter Haven, Grace Kelly as Tracy (Samantha), Frank Sinatra as Mike (one of his most likeable roles), and Celeste Holm (one of my favourite actresses) as Elizabeth. In this version C.K. Dexter Haven is organising a local jazz festival, which is an excuse for a guest appearance by Louis Armstrong and some more songs.
- The non-musical version stars Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven, Katherine Hepburn as Tracy, James Stewart as Mike and Ruth Hussey as Elizabeth.
- Both movies have a crackling, funny script and are a sheer delight from start to finish.
Comedy - Shades of Black
- 8 Femmes (8 Women)
- This is described below in the section That French Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi.
- Addams Family Values
- When I was young I lived in the USA for a while, and I can remember enjoying many Charles Addams cartoons in The New Yorker magazine. Like many people I particularly remember his iconic cartoon of the skier leaving tracks on either side of a tree, as well as his series of cartoons about the delightfully macabre Addams Family.
- If Charles Addams had lived a few more years then I am sure he would have really enjoyed the two movies The Addams Family and Addams Family Values (the second one being my personal favourite). It is hard to imagine a more perfect cast, led by Anjelica Huston as Morticia and the sadly-deceased Raúl Juliá as Gomez.
- My favourite sequence in the second movie is the one taking place at the relentlessly cheerful Camp Chippewa, where Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci in one of her best roles ("Be afraid... be very afraid...") is punished by being forced to watch Disney movies, and takes wonderful revenge when cast as Pocohontas in the Thanksgiving play.
- Keeping Mum
- This is a lovely adult black comedy with Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson (in a relatively straight role), Kristin Scott Thomas and Patrick Swayze (who sadly died of cancer in 2009) in a wonderfully sleazy role.
- The long-legged "nymphomaniac daughter" that Patrick Swayze's character lusts after (a terminally bad mistake) is Tamsin Egerton, who also appeared in the St Trinian's movies.
- Nurse Jackie
- Nurse Jackie, starring the wonderful Edie Falco in the title role, is a TV show of the highest quality.
- With jet-black humour and razor-sharp story lines, it tells the story of Jackie Peyton, a flawed humane nurse working in a New York hospital. While helping others and using every trick in the book to keep the hospital running smoothly, as only a nurse can, she fends off all kinds of trouble arising from her own drug addiction and the fact that she has two men in her life, only one of which is her husband — not to mention a young daughter in need of psychiatric help.
- The show is not just about Jackie. It features a great ensemble cast and the wonderful set of characters that they play (the cast link will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the show).
- Ratings for this show continued to rise to their peak for the 4th season, and then dropped off towards the 7th and final season, which aired on June 28, 2015.
- St Trinian's
- This is a hugely enjoyable, saucy and totally non-PC new version by Ealing Studios, a loose reworking of their own original series of St Trinian's movies that started way back in 1954. All of the St Trinian movies are based on the deliciously black and politically incorrect cartoons of Ronald Searle.
- The original St Trinian's (very much worth watching even today) featured the much-missed Alastair Sim (who always reminds me of a humorous Alec Guiness) in drag as the headmistress Miss Fritton, the equally much-missed Joyce Grenfell as the lovelorn policewoman Sergeant Ruby Gates, and George Cole (who sadly died in August 2015) as the Cockney spiv Flash Harry (in a role so good that it had its own jaunty musical theme in the movie).
- In the modern version, Rupert Everett is a very worthy successor to Alastair Sim as Miss Fritton. Joyce Grenfell's character has disappeared, but the great modern cast (who obviously had an absolute blast working on the movie) more than make up for it. My only disappointment is Russell Brand playing Flash Harry (but maybe it's because I dislike the actor) - he's not bad, but no substitute for the original.
- The sequel St Trinian's 2:The Legend of Fritton's Gold is every bit as good as the first movie, if not even better.
- You will find an article on Ronald Searle and this movie here in my Categorian blog.
Comedy - Period / Sophisticated
- This is TV series (comprising 5 episodes and a 2-part Christmas special), set in a fictional village in the early 1840s, of the high quality one comes to expect from BBC / WGBH Boston co-productions.
- It is a comedy of manners and of gentle romance, containing misunderstandings and reconciliations, a story of friendship as neighbours fall on hard times, and a portrayal of a settled way of life threatened by the approaching railway.
- The screenplay was adapted by Heidi Thomas from three novellas by Elizabeth Gaskell, published between 1849 and 1858.
- What makes it so good is the group of tradition-bound women around whom the events unfold, both in their characters and in the top-drawer cast of ladies that play them (including Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Francesca Annis, Barbara Flynn, Julia Mckenzie and Imelda Staunton), with strong support on the male side from Michael Gambon and Philip Glenister.
- Cranford is similar in some respects to the popular TV series Lark Rise To Candleford, which transports viewers to an idealised vision of country life at the end of the 19th century. I enjoyed both series, but Cranford would always be my pick of the two.
- Relative Values
- This is very enjoyable adaptation of the stage play by Noel Coward, with the main characters played by Julie Andrews, Edward Atterton, William Baldwin, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Sophie Thompson, with excellent support from (among others) Stephen Fry and Colin Firth.
- The plot - an unsuitable American film actress engaged to a member of a disapproving aristocratic English family - is quite slight, but the fun comes from the characters themselves.
- This is one of those times where the only good way to get a flavour of the movie is to watch the trailer.
- Smiles Of A Summer Night
- I always liked the song "Send in the Clowns", long before I knew that it was by Stephen Sondheim and came from his musical A Little Night Music, which I was lucky enough to see in an excellent production in London.
- There is currently no (good) movie of this musical, but the musical was based on the movie by Ingmar Bergman (one of his happiest) called Smiles Of A Summer Night, which I can highly recommend.
- You will find an article on the song, the musical play and this movie here in my Categorian blog.
- The Barchester Chronicles
- This superb 1982 BBC TV production is, for me, without question the jewel in the crown of all comedies, whether on the large or small screen (although Some Like It Hot runs it a close second).
- If the rules of that famous Desert Island were changed to allow the castaway one DVD box set and something to watch it on, then this is the one I might take in the very unlikely case of my being "marooned" there.
- Short version: the marriage of a great story of ecclesiastical plotting and intrigue with an absolutely sublime cast.
- The story, filmed largely around Peterborough Cathedral, follows the first two novels of Anthony Trollope's "Chronicles of Barsetshire", The Warden and Barchester Towers, and those novel links will tell you all about the story.
- Among the great cast are Donald Pleasence as Mr Septimus Harding, the gentle, stubborn man at the centre of the ecclesiastical storm, Geraldine McEwan in top form as the dreadful, domineering wife of the hapless Bishop, Nigel Hawthorne as Archdeacon Grantly, the fiercely combatative adversary of Mrs Proudie, Alan Rickman (in his first starring role) as the wonderfully oily and ambitious Obadiah Slope, whose love of ingratiating himself with various parties (including women) causes him to dig a pit for himself in the most entertaining manner, and Susan Hampshire as Signora Vesey Neroni, the scandalous (to Mrs Proudie) beauty who is one of the major causes of Obadiah Slope's highly satisfying come-uppance.
That French Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi
"To have another language is to possess a second soul"
— Charlemagne, king of the Franks from 768 and the first Holy Roman Emperor
I find this observation (scientifically researched!) to be particularly true when that language is French. This selection of my favourite French movies would not feel the same in another language. I cannot bear watching versions dubbed into English - I much prefer watching them with English subtitles.
- 8 Femmes (8 Women)
- This French movie could appear in several categories! It is a black comedy and a murder mystery, with musical interludes, with a stellar cast including Catherine Deneuve and Emmanuelle Béart.
- It is filmed almost exactly in the style of a stage play, probably very similar to the play ("Huit Femmes") by Robert Thomas on which it was based. Very few if any other murder mysteries, however, include the participants occasionally breaking into song... and it works.
- An unusual treat.
- This delightful comedy starring Audrey Tautou (which also belongs firmly in my High Zing Factor category) is my favourite of all her movies that I have seen so far.
- Amélie is a young woman who grew up isolated from other children, and now she uses a highly active imagination to fix the lives of people around her - without being able to fix her own. However, help is on its way...
- I am gradually checking out all of Audrey Tautou's many movies (or at least, the ones that I can get hold of) on the grounds that anything she appears in must be well worth watching.
- So far I have seen, and greatly enjoyed, A Very Long Engagement, The Da Vinci Code (far better than the book, although it does not belong in this category) and Coco Avant Chanel, as well as the others mentioned on this page.
- Hors de Prix (Priceless)
- This sparkling comedy also stars Audrey Tautou. You will find an article on this movie (with more links) here in my Categorian blog.
- L'Ami de Mon Amie (My Girlfriend's Boyfriend)
- This 1987 movie, directed by the wonderful François Truffaut, is the sixth and last of Eric Rohmer's series of "Comedies and Proverbs". I like this movie very much, and (as so often with French movies) it is very hard to explain exactly why.
- Nothing dramatic seems to happen. Two attractive girls, the isolated Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) and the confident and fanciable Lea (Sophie Renoir, the great-granddaughter of the famous impressionist painter) meet and become friends, and a quartet of relationships begins involving Lea's steady boyfriend Fabien and Fabien's friend Alexandre. The dialogue is very natural, there is no hot sex or melodramatics, and if this were not a French movie then you would probably fall into a doze after 10 minutes - but you don't (or at least I don't).
- Luckily, help is at hand in explaining this phenomenon, in the shape of this really excellent description of the movie, where you can also read about the other 5 movies in Eric Rohmer's cycle.
- Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (The extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec)
- This wonderfully entertaining 2010 movie (which also belongs firmly in my High Zing Factor category), the first by French director Luc Besson after a gap of 6 years, is "Amélie meets Raiders of the Lost Ark", with many original and witty touches of its own.
- The French actress and television presenter Louise Bourgoin, whom I had not seen before, makes a cracking heroine, and the other characters (human and otherwise) include some priceless gems of absurdity.
- Luc Besson is probably best known for Léon and The Fifth Element. This movie, which could not be more different, shows what an astonishing range this director has.
- A good full review of this movie, based on an interview with Luc Besson, will be found here.
- Thanks to my younger daughter (who bought me the DVD as an early Christmas present) for this great find!
- This review also appears (with picture) here in my Categorian blog.
- Un homme et une femme (A Man and a Woman)
- I saw this movie when it first came out in 1966, and it has always been one of my favourites. It has been a long time to wait, but finally it's available on Region 2 DVD at a reasonable price so I have been able to enjoy it all over again.
- Once again, the story is simple and doesn't tell you anything about the special magic of the movie. A widower (Jean-Louis, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) with a small son meets a widow (Anne, played by Anouk Aimée) with a small daughter at the children's shared school at Deauville. She works in the film industry, where her husband (Pierre, played by Pierre Barouh) died performing a dangerous stunt.
- Jean-Louis is a racing driver, and it turns out that his wife committed suicide after he nearly died in a crash while taking part in the Le Mans 24 hour rally. Anne's feelings of guilt about her husband keep getting in the way of a promising relationship, and it takes an extraordinary feat of long-distance driving by Jean-Louis to reunite them.
- The magic comes from several things. One is the gorgeous music score by Francis Lai, combined with the pastel, rain-washed colours (alternating with black and white or sepia as time shifts) of the equally gorgeous (and award winning) cinematography, the style of which often reflects director Claude Lelouch's advertising background.
- Another is the natural dialogue, much of it improvised. I love the scene in the restaurant where the two (very cute) children just do their thing and the parents respond absolutely like real parents between talking to each other, all in the relaxed manner that makes children part of restaurant life in France.
- And then there is Anouk Aimée herself, a reason for watching any movie, who apart from being beautiful is an excellent actress. In the scene where Pierre plays "Samba Saravah", I love watching the expressions on Anne's face as she lurks patiently and playfully behind cartoon books.
- You will find my Categorian article on Samba Saravah here, with a video link to that movie sequence.
- Avril et le Monde Truqué (April and the Extraordinary World)
- This is an extraordinary and original sci-fi eco-fable, set in an alt-reality steampunk world where almost all of the trees in Europe have been burnt for charcoal and the air is severely polluted.
It has been summarized
accurately as “a sophisticated, riveting adventure about the power of scientific innovation in society”.
You can read about it here
in my Categorian blog.
- L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist)
- This is a truly magical, gentle and humane work of love by the great French writer, animator and director Sylvain Chomet, based on an unpublished script by Jacques Tati.
- Both the story and the animation are something very special.
- The story (set in the 1950s) follows Tatischeff (Tati's real name), a vaudeville illusionist, whose work in the music halls of Paris and London is drying up. Following an encounter with a mad Scotsman while entertaining an English garden party, he decides to try his luck in Scotland. In a tiny pub in the Western Isles he finds work (briefly) and meets Alice, a young chambermaid with worn-out shoes who becomes enchanted with him. In the first of many kindnesses he spends some of his own small supply of money to buy her a new pair of red shoes.
- When he moves to Edinburgh, Alice follows him. They find themselves in a seedy hotel, inhabited by a variety of people struggling to make a living (an act of kindness by Alice to a neighbour interrupts and prevents a suicide attempt - this is not a Disney movie! - although Alice is quite unaware of what she has done). Tatischeff finds work in a variety of places, some less successful than others, using what he can of his money to further Alice's modest dreams. Alice gradually becomes more elegantly dressed, thanks to Tatischeff's sacrifices, and finally fnds true love with a young man in a nearby apartment. Tatischeff selflessly withdraws from her life and moves on.
- The animation (which is accompanied by Chomet's own music) is extraordinary - my own screenshots above can't properly convey how good it really is. The nearest to it in style might be the way in which the then-new process of xerography was used in Disney's original version of 101 Dalmatians. Chomet has more modern tools to work with, and blends hand-drawn animation seamlessly with various computer aids. The result still looks completely hand-drawn (unlike Disney's excellent Beauty and the Beast, where the presence of computer assistance was often quite obvious), even though the viewer is aware that some technology must be at work in the background. The quality of light in Chomet's work, and his use of aerial perspective, is quite unique.
- You will find an excellent full review of this movie here, and more links about it here.
- Les Triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville, a.k.a. Belleville Rendezvous)
- The previous work by Sylvain Chomet, which could not be more different to The Illusionist, gave the world a wake-up call that there was more to great animation than Disney and Miyazaki.
- It is weird and spiky (rated PG-13 in the USA), full of black humour (the frog cuisine and the method of creating it will probably still be in your mind if you have seen it), and almost hallucinatory in places (e.g. a ship that is about 50 times taller than it is wide).
- A brief plot summary: a little old lady with a club foot (which turns out to be very useful in the end) lives in what used to be an isolated house (and now has a railway running just outside the window), with her only son and a seriously overweight dog. She trains her son for the Tour de France, from which he is kidnapped by surreal mafia-style gangsters for a totally mad purpose. She follows his trail overseas (in a pedalo) to Belleville, a distorted New York style metropolis, where she is helped by three extremely eccentric old ladies (who were the jazz singing group Les Triplettes that we see when the story opens) to track down and rescue her son from his bizarre imprisonment.
- (If you want to know a bit more, I recommend these reviews.)
- If there is a common denominator between this animation and The Illusionist then it is Chomet's deep concern for the human condition.
- Oktapodi, a heart-warming and hilarious story of the trials and tribulations of true love, is a short multi-award-winning animation from the animation department of GOBELINS, L'école de l'image (whose alumni include Pierre Coffin, director of Despicable Me and creator and voicer of Minionese, the language of the Minions).
- You can view it online (you'll need a little patience since the hiqh quality short movie downloads completely before you view it)
- More French animation...
- ...will be found here.
The Scandinavian Invasion
It wasn't long ago that the idea that Borgen, a subtitled foreign-language TV series, could grab a whole country's attention would have seemed crazy - particularly a series about coalition politics in a country of only some 4 millions voters.
But that was before Wallander (with Krister Henniksson), The Killing (original Danish version), and The Bridge (now running its second season over here in January 2014), made BBC4 a prime time channel in the UK.
Here's a sample of what we have been enjoying so much (click the images or links for more info):
Relationships and Personal Journeys
Many of my favourite movies and TV shows fall into this category, which includes stories about lives that have been damaged in one way or another and then become fixed, or at least improved.
- Bridge to Terabithia
- People going to see this (very good) movie might reasonably expect it to be a special-effects children's movie along the lines of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, given the trailers and the fact that it also comes from Walden Media.
- In fact the special effects here are on a much smaller scale, and are far less important to the story, than is the case with the Narnia movie. This reflects the fact that the story is set mostly in the real world, with the real world's painful (as well as uplifting) experiences. In a way I would have preferred even fewer special effects, keeping only the more subtle ones that suggest what the children are imagining rather than showing it explicitly. However I can see that the result would probably have been less successful at the box office - unfortunately.
- The performances of the two children are very good indeed, but for me it is AnnaSophia Robb, playing Leslie, who really makes the movie.
- Although this is a family movie, it is more than that, which is why I have included it in this category.
- I agree entirely with this review, so I'll let you go read it!
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café
- Based on the novel by Fannie Flagg (with the lesbian element removed), this movie tells of what happened in the now-abandoned town of Whistle Stop in Alabama during the first half of the 1900's.
- The story is told as a flashback from the present, where the overweight, unhappy Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) meets elderly Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) in an Alabama nursing home, and gradually learns the story from her.
- As Evelyn learns more and her friendship with Ninny deepens, she becomes a new, more confident person, with some treasurable moments along the way (her delicious act of revenge against a yuppie pinching her parking space being one of those).
- The story that she learns from Ninnie centres around feisty tomboy "Idgie" Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her initially unlikely friendship with Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).
- Ruth effectively rescues Idgie from her long isolation following the tragic death of Idgie's brother, and Idgie later literally rescues Ruth (now married and living in Georgia) from her abusive husband Frank Bennett. Together they open the Whistle Stop Café.
- Sometime later Frank returns to Whistle Stop in an attempt to kidnap his son and mysteriously disappears, his car found in a lake.
- After attempts to pin the presumed murder on Idgie have been abandoned we learn the unlamented Frank's actual fate, which is one of cinema's great pieces of black humour.
- Back in the 1980s, Ninnie and Evelyn return to Whistle Stop to see the site of Ninnie's house, now condemned and torn down. There they find Ruth's grave, on which is a fresh jar of honey and a card from "The Bee Charmer" (you will find the meaning of that reference among these great quotations from the movie, which will also give you some idea of why I like this movie so much.)
- This joyous movie (French, with English subtitles) tells the story of Philippe, a wealthy quadraplegic aristocrat (François Cluzet) crippled in a paragliding accident, whose life is transformed by the arrival of Driss (Omar Sy), a hip Senegalese ex-con from the projects.
- (The Paris “projects”, BTW, were a low point in dehumanizing urban architecture, which also moved people in London from poor but people-friendly housing into ghastly tower blocks. The link (to a National Geographic photo article) is well worth following.)
- Philippe meets Driss during job interviews for the very demanding position as his carer. We see a truly cringe-making collection of applicants being interviewed before Driss rudely jumps the queue, intending only to get a signature on his social security papers (stating that he applied for a job but was rejected) so that he can claim benefit.
- Philippe finds this unlikely (and totally unqualified) person a breath of fresh air, and hires Driss on a month's trial - and so begins a most unexpected relationship, full of humour and heartwarming moments, that transforms both their lives.
- Learning what it means to care for a paraplegic is only part of the story. Along the way, Driss flirts harmlessly with Philippe's sexy but unobtainable assistant Magalie (Audrey Fleurot, whom you may have seen in the excellent French TV police thriller series Spiral), straightens out Philippe's adopted daughter, deals with problems in his own family and brings romance and exhilaration back into Philippe's life.
- The movie has many treasurable moments, among them a wild ride in Philippe's Maserati Quattroporte culminating in a hilarious con-job played on the police, Driss's unique diplomatic style in persuading a pest not to park across the entrance to Philippe's residence, Philippe's sale of Driss's intended paint-splash parody of modern art for €11,000, Driss's transformation of a classical music evening to celebrate Philippe's birthday into a dance party featuring Earth, Wind & Fire's “ Boogie Wonderland”, and the scene where Philippe gets a terrified (then exhilarated) Driss to go paragliding with him, each of them with a pilot in a double-seat paraglider (a scene that brought back personal memories of doing the same thing above Wengen in Switzerland).
- Intouchables is based on the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou, a story captured in Abdel's book You Changed My Life, which tells us much more about the caregiver's own life and how it was transformed by the relationship.
- Watching this movie reminded me of two others:
- Driss's pest-removal technique reminded me of the lovable black rogue Sidney in Pay it Forward, who gets an asthmatic girl in an A & E ward some much-needed medical attention by very unconventional means (see my description below).
- The other movie it reminded me of is Rust and Bone, an excellent French movie with a similar theme. In that movie Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a trainer of Killer Whales at a marineland park, loses both legs above the knee in a horrific accident. Initially suicidal, she recovers her life through a developing relationship with the unsentimental, flawed Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts). Rust and Bone is a much grittier film than Intouchables, but well worth seeing (you can read my article about it here).
- If you're interested in uplifting stories about living with disability...
- ...then you might also like the biographical 2017 film Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy and directed by Andy Serkis.
- It tells the story of Robin Cavendish, who was paralysed by polio in 1958 when he was only 28 years old, at a time when this meant a short miserable life in what amounted to a medical coffin.
- With the help of his devoted wife and some wonderful friends (and a Spanish village, in a scene you will always remember), he went on to transform the lives of countless other polio suffers.
- ...and you might also really like my coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics, which changed forever the view of “disability” in the UK and in many other parts of the world.
- Moonlight Mile
- This is a simple, well told story about a young man recovering from the death of his fiancée. It has a fine set of actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Ellen Pompeo, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Holly Hunter).
- This was the first time that I saw Ellen Pompeo (now perhaps better known from the TV show Grey's Anatomy), as the girl who brings Jake Gyllenhaal back to life (as in a different way, he brings her back to life).
- My favourite scene is probably the one where Jake Gyllenhaal finally loses his restraint when in the company of a particularly insensitive couple, and tells them exactly what he thinks of them. He does this without raising his voice, in an entirely polite manner, with an effect that is quite devastating (and which makes the day of the understandably sulky teenage daughter of this ghastly pair).
- This is the story of the discovery of an apparently speech-impaired "wild child" (Jodie Foster), raised in isolation in the woods of North Carolina, and the relationships that develop between her, the local doctor (Liam Neeson), and the psychologist who is called in to study her (Natasha Richardson).
- As the story develops, several preconceptions and assumptions are overturned, the most interesting of which concern exactly who is helping whom.
- The story features a virtuoso performance from Jodie Foster (the expressions that cross her face in the last few seconds of the movie are probably worth an academy award in themselves), and some very beautiful scenery. The script has one or two clunky moments, but they don't spoil the movie.
- When I saw it in the cinema, there were two marks of respect that are very rare nowadays: you could have heard a pin drop in the audience throughout, and nobody moved from their seats until the end of the credits.
- You will find an article on Nell and the tragic death of Natasha Richardson here in my Categorian blog.
- Pay It Forward
- This movie features some fine actors: Haley Joel Osment as the boy Trevor, growing up in a far-from-posh area of Las Vegas; Kevin Spacey as the boy's social studies teacher, physically and mentally scarred by a horrific episode of child abuse that he suffered in his past; Helen Hunt as the boy's recovering-alcoholic mother; and Angie Dickinson as the estranged alcoholic grandmother (in a role far removed from those that she played in movies like Rio Bravo and Point Blank).
- Trevor receives an assignment from his teacher to come up with a way of changing the world. He comes up with his own version of the philosophy of "pay it forward", a scheme to do something big for each of three other people, something that they can't do for themselves, on condition that each of those people do the same thing for three more people, and so on.
- Although the results are often painful, the lives of many people, including those close to him, are greatly changed for the better.
- One of my favourite light moments in the movie is where Sidney, a black rogue with a cheerful disposition, finds himself in an A & E ward where an asthmatic girl in considerable distress is being totally ignored, in spite of pleas from the girl's parent. Sidney adds his arguments to the case (in terms somewhat more forceful than those used by the parent), and when this doesn't produce immediate results, empties several rounds from his handgun into the floor next to person doing the obstructing - which presumably clears the obstruction but lands him (still cheerful) in prison. Exactly where this episode fits into the Pay It Forward chains you don't discover until later.
- The movie has, perhaps, only one flaw: the choice of music (the song "Calling All Angels") for the last scene, which gives the ending a flavour that some people find over-sweet, particularly in contrast to the gritty flavour of the other two hours of the movie.
- Shirley Valentine
- Shirley Valentine is a (one-woman) play and a movie, both written by Willy Russell. I haven't seen the play, but the movie starring Pauline Collins, Tom Conti and Bernard Hill (King Théoden in the movie of The Lord Of The Rings) is a pure joy.
- Shirley is a middle-aged working-class housewife leading a depressing boxed-in existence in Liverpool, reduced to holding conversations with the kitchen wall and wondering how she ended up where she is. In the movie she talks a lot to the camera, with sharp Scouse humour, recounting what has been happening to her, interspersed with scenes where the described action (sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, often both) takes place with other actors. In these scenes she sometimes just looks at the camera in a glance that speaks volumes!
- Eventually Shirley breaks free and departs for what starts out as a two-week holiday in sunny Greece, on the island of Mykenos, accompanied by the girlfriend from hell and a truly cringe-making collection of other Ugly Brits (notably "Jeanette and Duggie from Manchester") on the same package holiday. Shirley finds herself alone again on the beach, still not really free, holding conversations with a rock, and soon decides she has had enough!
- Shirley finally finds happiness, romance and her own self, and the plane going home leaves without her... but that isn't quite the end of the story.
- The Horse Whisperer
- This 1988 movie was directed by and starred Robert Redford, as the Montana-based "horse whisperer" Tom Booker who treats, as he says, horses who have people-problems. In this case his patient is the beautiful horse Pilgrim (played by several actual horses) who (like his young rider) has been injured and traumatized in a terrible riding accident in wintry New York State.
- The movie also stars the beautiful and talented Scarlett Johannson (then only thirteen years old) in the role of Grace, the crippled and traumatized rider (a role that deservedly brought her to world-wide attention), and the always-excellent Kristin Scott Thomas as her uptight super-achiever mother Annie, determined to rescue her daughter by rehabilitating the horse.
- Sam Neill provides excellent support in the role of the husband and father, willing to risk losing his wife in the attempt to repair his family, and Chris Cooper and Dianne Wiest are wonderfully natural as Tom Booker's brother and sister-in-law, with whom Tom lives on their Montana ranch.
- The developing love story between Tom and Annie is well portrayed, but it is Tom's relationship with Grace that really makes this movie for me.
- The cinematography is first class, making the most of the wintry East Coast and the wide skies of Montana, and the horse action (controversial in some quarters) is truly astonishing.
- This movie is also one of the few examples of a movie whose story I like better than the one in the original book (another example being the delightful Chocolat) .
- In particular, the movie of "The Horse Whisperer" has a poignant but satisfying ending, whereas the ending of the book is (IMO) unnecessarily tragic.
- (My favourite photograph of the grown-up Scarlett Johansson, BTW, is here.)
- Hill Street Blues
- In 1981, something quite unique happened: a television series hit the streets that was like nothing seen before.
- I remember being introduced to it by Terry Wogan (now Sir Terry) on his radio programme (itself a unique institution). He described the opening sequence of each episode, where after morning roll call ("... and remember... let's be careful out there...") police cars would be out on the bleak wintry streets of an unnamed Chicago-like city responding to some emergency, the noise of sirens would fade away, and Mike Post's gentle theme music, so closely associated with the series, would take over.
- The almost-documentary style of filming with hand-held cameras, the realistic, unglamorous and sympathetically-portrayed ensemble cast, and the interwoven engaging story-lines that came entirely out of the characters being portrayed, were all something quite new. For all their weaknesses (and maybe partly because of them), we really cared about what happened to these people.
- Afterwards, and thanks to this programme, we had a similar treatment applied to a gritty hospital environment in the wonderful ER, and to other hospital dramas since (which although great entertainment, have become decreasingly realistic, except in medical gore, and increasingly full of impossibly beautiful people).
- I could spend a long time describing the series, but the job has already been done far better than I could do it. You can read an excellent description, and watch that wonderful opening credits sequence with the theme music (which will bring back memories if you were a fan), if you go here.
Great TV Detectives
- Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (with David Suchet)
- On rare occasions an actor makes such a good job of playing a famous role that it becomes difficult to imagine anyone else doing it, however good the other performances are. David Suchet as Poirot is a case in point, and there are several others in this section!
- You can find a good description of how David Suchet prepared himself for the role here, along with a lot of other good information on Hercule Poirot and other Agatha Christie.
- The long running television series is still hugely popular. I particularly liked the early series, partly because of a certain sparkle that faded a bit later, and partly because of the opening art deco credits and the evocative theme music, written by Christopher Gunning, for which he was nominated for the Ivor Ovello Award.
- I missed these credits when they were dropped from episodes first shown from 2000 onwards (apparently to suit the more sombre nature of the later books).
- Agatha Christie's Miss Marple (with Joan Hickson)
- The lovely Joan Hickson, who was 86 when she made the last Miss Marple film and still sharp as a tack, is and always will be the definitive Miss Marple for me (and I suspect for many others).
- You will find an excellent roundup of all the ladies who played Miss Marple here, together with good information on their Miss Marple performances.
- Inspector Morse
- This is more than a TV series - it has become an institution. The reasons for this can be listed quite simply:
- The much-missed John Thaw as the grumpy, fallible, opera-loving Morse.
- The often under-rated Kevin Whately as the down-to-earth Detective Sergeant Lewis, who occasionally enjoyed catching Morse out when his boss didn't follow his own grammatical advice. When Lewis makes an anguished farewell to his dead boss in the final episode, Kevin Whately's performance matches the best of any the fine range of distinguished actors who appeared in the series.
- The wonderful morse-code theme music by Barrington Pheloung, which we enjoyed when the series was originally transmitted. In later years the broadcaster developed an abominable practice of drowning out the closing credits (and the music) with blaring advertisements for its upcoming programmes. Luckily the DVD collection has no such lack of courtesy.
- The women in Morse's life.
- Oxford itself, which (since the series has made it a mecca for tourists, particularly from the USA) doesn't seem to mind having its actual murder rate increased by well over 100 times!
- Excellent stories and scripts, based on the novels (or more often the character created in the novels) by Colin Dexter, who makes a brief anonymous appearance in all but three of the episodes (check them out), as Hitchcock did in his movies.
- A very good article on Colin Dexter and Morse appears here.
- In the excellent follow-up series, Lewis, the cultural member of the duo (Hathaway, played by Lawrence Fox, who has a royal connection and is the son of James Fox) is now the junior half of the partnership.
- ITV's budget cuts have threatened this series several times (Morse would never have been completed in today's climate), but the sheer quality of the acting and the production, its continuation of Morse, and its deservedly high popularity, have so far kept it going.
- Sarah Lund (Danish version with Sofie Gråbøl)
- In 2011, UK viewers were introduced to the unglamorous, non-confrontational and obsessively tenacious Sarah Lund, a new detective from Denmark, in an astonishing series called The Killing. The series followed a single complex case through 20 riveting one-hour episodes, shown (thankfully) in groups of two without commercial breaks on BBC4.
- One of the main things that distinguished it from other crime shows was the stunningly good ensemble cast, each playing a character who was a highly important piece of the overall story.
- The series raised the quality bar for crime drama to a whole new level (already raised very high by the Swedish version of Wallander with Krister Henriksson, see below), and cemented our appreciation for what has come to be known as Nordic Noir.
- You will find an article on The Killing here in my Categorian blog.
- Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett)
- Here again is a case (no pun intended) where an actor makes such a good job of playing a famous role that it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing it, however good the other performances are.
- For many people, I suspect, Jeremy Brett (most ably supported by Edward Hardwicke as Dr Watson) will always be the Sherlock Holmes.
- This classic TV series was developed by screenwriter John Hawkesworth, who also wrote many of the episodes. He is best known for creating the equally classic series Upstairs, Downstairs.
- A recent surprise, however, has been Sherlock, an excellent new (budget-constrained) mini-series of Sherlock Holmes in a modern setting. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch (as intelligently eccentric as his name, which in full is Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch) and Martin Freeman (in probably his best role to date as a modern Dr Watson).
- The first episode of the 2010 mini-series was a cracker, not quite matched by its two successors. Hopefully we will be drip-fed with more episodes in due course.
- Wallander (Swedish version with Krister Henriksson)
- For me, and apparently for many others, Krister Henriksson is the Wallander (so far as I know there have so far been two others, one with another Swedish actor and the other being Kenneth Branagh's version).
- The Henriksson version (two superb series) is quite simply one of the best things to appear on TV.
- A full explanation of why I think so, with pictures and more links, will be found here in my Categorian blog.
Movies starring Humphrey Bogart are in their own category as far as I am concerned!
He had a screen presence rarely equalled before or since (Paul Newman being one of the few others in his class).
He appeared in many movies, listed here. Here are some of my top favourites.
- Casablanca (1942)
- Much has been written about this classic movie (e.g. see here), and many people have tried to analyse its unique magic, with relatively little success.
- If you have seen it and liked it, then you will understand that the magic has much to do with Bogart himself ("...the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world") and the other actors who join him - in particular, Ingrid Bergman ("Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By'."), Paul Henreid (who made something special out of lighting two cigarettes, as he did with Bette Davis in another of my favourite classics, Now Voyager), the corrupt police captain with a heart Claude Rains ("Round up the usual suspects"), and the fat and wonderfully slimily-evil Sydney Greenstreet.
- Imagine giving the same script to any other collection of actors, and the magic simply evaporates (although I fondly remember Kermit and Miss Piggy's version of the "Hill of beans" sequence).
- Apart from the script itself (which evolved as the filming went along) the other magic ingredient was the iconic setting of Rick's Café.
- What made it iconic? I don't know, except that it would have been nothing without the rest of the magic ingredients.
- This isn't a movie to be successfully analysed - just enjoyed, as it will be for as long as I can imagine.
- To Have and Have Not (1944)
- This very loose daptation of Ernest Hemingway's story, directed by Howard Hawks (one of my favourite directors), is one of my all-time favourite movies.
- Its magic is very similar to Casablanca's, and like Casablanca, the magic is easy to feel but hard to define. At the heart of it is Bogart as Harry Morgan and the wonderful then-newcomer Lauren Bacall, from whom Howard Hawks coaxed a kind of smoking insolence (literally, in the famous scene when they meet) that was almost incandescent.
- The on-screen chemistry that happened in this movie ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow", which became one of the all-time great movie quotes), has (IMO) never been equalled before or since. (I'm open to correction!)
- There was quite a bit of off-screen chemistry going on, too, as Bogart and Bacall subsequently married.
- Great as Bogart and Bacall were, the special flavour of this movie wouldn't have been the same if it didn't also have Hoagy Carmichael as the piano-playing Cricket, and Walter Brennan ("Was you ever bit by a dead bee?") as the shambling rummy adopted by Harry.
- We're No Angels (1955)
- This delightful fairy tale is one of my family's all-time favourites. Three convicts (played by Bogart, the strapping Aldo Ray and the inimitable Peter Ustinov), escape from Devil's Island just before Christmas and end up in the failing French Colonial store of the unworldly Felix Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll, looking just the same as he did much later in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.).
- The three villains (with golden hearts) worm their way into the household with initially evil intentions, but the charming family and their various problems (financial, structural and romantic) win them over in spite of themselves, and soon their dubious skills are being employed in a good cause.
- If you have seen it you will probably remember Peter Ustinov's method of opening locked boxes and the unintentionally helpful mislaying of Aldo Ray's pet snake, Adolphe (never actually seen in the movie). You will also remember the final scene where the convicts depart, halos appearing above their heads, and a fourth halo appearing above Adolphe's cage...
- The best of the rest...
- My other personal Bogart favourites from all of his movies are The Maltese Falcon (1941, with Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet), The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948, with Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and an excellent Claire Trevor), In a Lonely Place (1950), The African Queen (1951, with Katherine Hepburn) and Sabrina (1954, with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, later the subject of a respectable 1995 remake starring Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear).
War Time Drama
- Empire Of The Sun
- This movie, I hope and believe, will eventually be recognized as one of Steven Spielberg's finest works. For me, it is a masterpiece of movie making, and not merely - as it is often described - a stepping stone on the transition to his "serious stuff" like Schindler's List.
- The personal journey of the boy Jamie Graham, as terrifying experiences transform him from a spoilt, self-centred prep-school kid in Shanghai (in 1941) to a prematurely adult boy helping others in Soochow Creek Internment Camp (where he is re-christened "Jim"), is an astonishing performance from Christian Bale, who received an Oscar nomination and a special citation from the National Board of Review.
- There are many haunting images and uses of sound and music in this movie, and the way in which they are used reflects Jim's personal journey.
- Most people who saw it will remember the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân, whose melody recurs several times, perhaps most movingly when Jim salutes the three Kamikaze pilots.
- The steel-grey atmosphere of Shanghai is contrasted with the gaudy clothes of the English, dressed for a costume party, making their way in expensive cars through a stream of Chinese. One of these cars will turn up again towards the end of the movie in Nantow stadium...
- As Jim's privileged life in Shanghai disintegrates he returns for a while to his English-style house, now deserted, circling its rooms on a bicycle to pass the time, as towards the end of the movie he will circle the deserted Internment Camp. As the days pass and the food runs out, the swimming pool gradually fills with blown leaves as the water slowly drains, until Jim finds the remains of some of that privileged life (a few wine glasses and golf balls) in the last of the water.
- Jim's fascination with planes, and his admiration for the Japanese pilots (Jim has never lived in England), are reflected in many scenes. Just before the intermission (the original 70mm theatrical release had one, at least when shown in England), Jim sees someone working on a Japanese plane with an oxy-acetylene torch as a magical image with a fountain of bright sparks (an image that loses most of its impact on a TV screen). As American planes shoot up the airfield next to the internment camp (an extraordinary bit of movie-making in its own right), Jim dances on the block roof, all the sound of battle fades away, and a plane passes him in slow motion, the pilot waving cheerily to him - and Jim, exalted, shouts: "P-51! Cadillac of the sky!"
- The internees endure a trek to Nantow stadium, a surreal place where all the flotsam of the privileged lives has been washed up - a white grand piano (which one internee sits down and sadly plays), chandeliers, expensive furniture, even Jim's family car. There is no food there, and the others move off, leaving Jim to cradle the dying Mrs Victor (played by Miranda Richardson) through the night. After the dawn comes up, the morning light suddenly and silently brightens. From a viewpoint above the stadium we see in the very far distance the miniature sun that is the atomic bomb at Nagasaki exploding. Jim sees patterns of light racing silently across the thin clouds above him, and thinks that it is Mrs Victor's soul going up to heaven. Later he learns what he really saw. Speaking slowly in a daze, he says: "I learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like a white light in the sky. Like God taking a photograph..."
- The eventual reunion scene with his parents must be among the most moving scenes ever filmed, as the hard shell of his traumatized self finally and very slowly starts to dissolve.
- There is much else to recommend this movie, including a fine performance by John Malkovich as the amoral American Basie (his appearance surely borrowed at least in part for the Hobo ghost in the movie The Polar Express), and a very fine script by the British playwright Tom Stoppard.
- This also seems to me to be one of the most under-rated great movies of all time, although it did receive good reviews like some of these. Spielberg's direction (which included eliciting that marvellous performance from Christian Bale) received no nomination for an award. When the movie came out in England it was overshadowed by Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, which I regard as a movie with sumptuous photography but (in comparison with Spielberg's movie) very little substance.
- Possibly the most crass example of this under-rating, from my point of view, was the 3 (out of 5) star rating that the Radio Times gave it - and still gives it - preferring to award 4 stars to movies like Mrs Doubtfire, which is an enjoyable enough comedy but a much lower achievement than Spielberg's movie. (At which point I tell myself that the world would be a dull place if everyone thought the same way...)
- Foyle's War (Detective TV Series)
- This fine series (ITV's successor to Inspector Morse, before Lewis came along) combines a convincing portrayal of wartime Britain with the exploits of one of the small screen's great detectives, DCS Christopher Foyle, played magnificently by Michael Kitchen.
- The series was the creation of Anthony Horowitz, an author of many children's books who was also the creator of the hugely successful "Poirot" series starring David Suchet.
- (Horowitz named his character after the unique and somewhat archaic Foyle's Bookshop on Charing Cross Road.)
- I would have watched this series for no other reason than to enjoy the interplay between Foyle and his ex-MTC driver Samantha Stewart (played by Honeysuckle Weeks). But of course there is much more to it than that!
- Its millions of fans, myself among them, were treated to the highest quality of drama as the story followed the war years in season after season. Then the series was abruptly axed by outgoing director of ITV Simon Shaps, apparently on a whim to attract a "younger, more upmarket audience". Words were spoken about this... person, by myself and many others, which have no place on a family web site, and we were sure that once such a priceless team had been dispersed it could never be reassembled.
- Fortunately all was not quite lost, and ITV managed to add a few more episodes set at and beyond VE day, with the same quality as we enjoyed in the previous episodes.
- The Way To The Stars
- This classic British movie, derived from Terence Rattigan's play Flare Path, is a simple and moving story of British and American pilots based at an airfield in the Midlands during the Second World War, and the relationships that they form with the local community.
- Like most people who have seen it, I suspect, I associate this movie with its use of John Pudney's poem:
- Their Finest
- This wonderful movie (released in 2016), starring Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Sam Clafin, is set mostly in London during the post-Dunkirk blitz.
- Based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, it tells the story of the making of a morale-boosting film (eventually titled “The Nancy Starling”) about a heroic small-boat rescue in the Dunkirk evacuation.
- The events are seen from the point of view of Catrin (Gemma Arterton), a Welsh lass who gets a Ministry job as a screenwriter for short "information films", squeezed into the middle of cinema programmes so that audiences can't avoid them. Naturally, in those times, she is paid less than male screenwriters doing the same job.
- Asked to research a story about twin sisters on the south coast who took part in the Dunkirk rescue, Catrin discovers that their boat soon developed engine trouble and their attempt failed. Nevertheless her suggestion that a fictional account would make an uplifting film is accepted, and she is asked to contribute the “slop” (female dialogue) which her male colleague (Sam Clafin) says he is no good at writing.
- Following a directive from the Secretary of War, the film is given the additional task of bringing Americans into the war (as William Wyler's classic 1942 film Mrs Miniver is credited with doing), and has to add an American (a handsome Norwegian-American pilot who knows nothing about acting at the outset) to the cast.
- The progress of “The Nancy Starling”'s making from a likely farcical disaster to a very moving success, thanks in no small part to Catrin's screenwriting, provides us with (among other things) a poignant love story, a fulfilling development in the life of a has-been actor (Bill Nighy) and an exceptionally faithful depiction of ordinary life in London at that time.
- For a good review of this movie, go here.
- You will also find a very interesting historical article on wartime British films here.
Do not despair
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
And keep your tears
For him in after years.
Better by far
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.
(my own screenshots)
- Anna and the King
- Compared to the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I, which was made into a delightful (if to some people politically incorrect) movie starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner, the non-musical Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens and Chow Yun-fat (in one of his best roles) as King Mongkut, has a much more realistic feel to it, even though the political events are fiction.
- Disliked by quite a few people, including the Thai government, this is one of my favourite movies. It has a strong moving story, is beautifully acted, and the cinematography is first class. What's not to like?
- BTW: Should you have the DVD and have not watched the "making of" feature, I strongly recommend it in this case - it's quite a story in its own right.
- Dr Zhivago
- I was lucky enough to be living in Paris when this great movie by David Lean first came out in 1965. This meant that I was able to see it in a gorgeous 70mm-capable theatre on the Champs Elysée, in high definition on a very large screen and with superb analogue sound, complete with the full original overture.
- As with the magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, another of David Lean's movies, Dr Zhivago is simply not the same experience when seen on a smaller screen. Nevertheless it remained popular for decades and apparently (as of 2010) was the eighth highest grossing film of all time in the USA, adjusted for inflation.
- David Lean's Dr Zhivago is the story of personal lives caught up in the Russian Revolution. It revolves around a beautiful and tragic love story, finishing with a small ray of hope for the future.
- Apart from David Lean's direction and Freddie Young's cinematography (not to mention Pasternak's original novel), so many other things went into making this one of the all-time great movies.
- It had a tremendous cast that included Omar Sharif in the title role of the poet and doctor Yuri Zhivago, whose father abandons his family and whose mother dies when he is a child, leaving him only a balalaika, Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, the sweet childhood friend (and daughter of the couple who adopts him) whom he marries, Julie Christie (so beautiful then) as Lara Antipova, who works with Yuri as a nurse during WWI and (much later, in bad times during the Revolution) becomes his mistress, Rod Steiger as the Caliban figure of Victor Komarovsky, who seduces Lara as a young girl while her mother is still his mistress, and who rapes her when she wants to marry Pasha (who takes her away after she shoots Komarovsky at a party, unfortunately not killing him), Tom Courtenay as the idealistic young Pasha Antipov, who marries Lara and has a daughter (Katya) with her, and whose witnessing of the savage suppression of a march by sabre-wielding Cossacks starts him on a path that ends with him becoming the feared People's Commissar Strelnikov, and Alec Guiness as Yevgraf, the half-brother of Yuri whose search for the illegitimate child of Yuri and Lara (Tonya Komarovskaya, born after the two part when Lara is rescued by Komarovsky and Yuri refuses to go with them, and later abandoned by Komarovsky in the chaos of conflict) frames the story.
- Yuri and Lara both die tragically, but Tonya (Rita Tushingham), working on a dam project when Yevgraf finds her, finally accepts who she is — and Yevgraf learns that she has a gift for playing the balalaika.
- The movie features a screenplay by Robert Bolt (they don't come any better), and a truly wonderful music score by Maurice Jarre (ditto).
- Jane Eyre (2006 TV mini-series with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens)
- For me this 4-hour mini-series will always be the best screen version of Charlotte Brontë's novel, mainly because Ruth Wilson and her performance so perfectly match my idea of Jane.
- Toby Stephens makes an excellent (although not necessarily the best-ever) Rochester. Toby is the son of Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens (Dame and Knight respectively), who played together so enjoyably in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and whom we were lucky enough to see on the London stage a long time ago in Noel Coward's Private Lives.
- This version of Jane Eyre also features Georgina ("Georgie") Henley as the young Jane, in her first role after playing Lucy in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — her Narnia role being another perfect match of actress and performance to a character.
- Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle)
- This 6-part BBC TV adaptation by Andrew Davies is my nomination for the best screen version of Jane Austen's novel, and the main reason will be found here.
- You will find much information about the actors here.
- End of story!
- Sense and Sensibility (movie version with Emma Thompson)
- This movie, directed by Ang Lee and written by and starring Emma Thompson, is my favourite screen adaptation of Jane Austen's novel (and probably the most critically acclaimed, which is by no means always the same thing with my favourites!)
- The rest of the top drawer cast, which includes Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman, is listed here.
- The King's Speech
- This great movie, both critically acclaimed and highly successful, needs no description from me. A particularly good article on it will be found here.
- Much attention was given to Colin Firth in his superb performance as the man who became King George VI, but IMO more should be made of Geoffrey Rush's performance as the unconventional, unqualified Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. Many people will know Geoffrey Rush only from Pirates of the Caribbean, and it is good to see his fine acting qualities being used to the full.
- Among the relatively minor roles, I didn't recognize the chameleon-like Jennifer Ehle as Logue's Australian wife, nor did I recognize Eve Best who was playing the American Wallis Simpson (in the wonderful American TV show Nurse Jackie she plays an English doctor). My wife took great delight in pointing them out to me afterwards!
- The Luzhin Defence
- This movie, based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel The Defense, is an unexpected treasure - a combination of love story and psychological thriller.
- Set in the 1920's on beautiful Lake Como, it tells of an encounter between a mentally-tormented chess grandmaster (John Turturro) and a girl (Emily Watson) whom he meets while competing in an international tournament, and the tournament itself, where his success (and sanity) is threatened by his evil former mentor (Stuart Wilson).
- This is another of those times where the easiest way for me to give you a flavour of the movie is to point you at the trailer.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- There are two quite different movies of this name.
- The first is Stanley Kubrick's great movie, in the high-definition version made to be shown on the giant curved Cinerama screen. This is the version that I am describing.
- The second is the same movie, reduced to a 35 mm print and shown in ordinary cinemas or on TV. I saw this once (in our local London fleapit) and was bitterly disappointed.
- I took my Dad to see the first version at the London Cinerama theatre, shortly after it came out in 1968. I had to save up to buy the seats, each of which cost 17/6, or about 88p in decimal equivalent (at a time when a pint of beer cost around 2/- or 10p). For me at the time this was a lot of money, and it was worth every penny.
- Made long before there was such a thing as CGI, this dazzling (and occasionally baffling) masterpiece was the first movie that took the viewer into space in a highly realistic fashion. Nowadays we are treated to space fighter-planes roaring through the soundless vacuum of space, manoeuvring magically with wings that have no air to grip. Kubrick's accurate vision of space is of gulfs of emptiness, through which the main craft of the story, realistically designed, cruises silently — although Kubrick brilliantly emphasizes both the magnificence and the loneliness of space through the movie's music.
- In one memorable sequence, the astronaut David Bowman, outside the ship in a pod without his space helmet, locked out by the psychotic on-board computer, makes a re-entry into the main vessel by using the pod's manipulators to manually open the emergency airlock. The problem is that the airlock chamber is now in vacuum, in which he won't live long without his helmet. Bowman resolves this by revolving the pod, blowing the pod's door hatch using its emergency explosive bolts, and entering the airlock chamber propelled by the evacuating air from the pod.
- Filmed from inside the airlock, the blowing of the door and the entry of Bowman into the chamber, weightless and scrambling to reach the outer door's closing mechanism before he dies, is totally silent until the door finally closes and air floods the chamber (Bowman, seriously pissed off, then heads for the sequence shown in the screenshot above).
- The airlock sequence (which, like everything else, Kubrick scientifically researched) received applause from the audience when we watched it, something that very rarely happens in a British cinema. (The only other such applause I remember was in response to another "re-entry" sequence, most unrealistic but highly impressive, when in Robert Zemeckis's wonderful science-fiction comedy Back To The Future, Marty McFly re-enters his own time with the help of a well-timed bolt of lighting!)
- 2001 had many of the qualities, good and less good, of Arthur C. Clarke's writings - not surprising since it was based on Clarke's short story The Sentinel, which appeared in an anthology of the same name. The story tells of an alien artifact left on the Moon as a kind of alarm tripwire: when it is disturbed, it warns the ancient alien race that planted it there of Man's technological development.
- The story was expanded considerably for the movie, both as Kubrick interpreted it, and in the form of a different (and much more explicit) story that Clarke wrote as a novel as the movie developed.
- There are two aspects of this magnificent movie that didn't appeal to me. One was the naff dialogue that takes place on the Space Station before the Moon monolith is visited. The other is the final sequence, where the previously highly realistic space voyage encounters a monolith floating inexplicably in space, and the journey suddenly becomes a psychedelic light show, followed by a surreal sequence that ends in (presumably) Bowman's return to Earth as a foetal "Star Child".
- Artistically the cryptic ending can be justified, even if it leaves many people baffled and disappointed: after all, are we going to understand what we find when we do encounter an alien civilization? (This question was made a little more explicit in Robert Zemeckis' movie Contact, based on the novel by the great Carl Sagan.)
- You will find an excellent and very full article on 2001 here, and I also recommend this review.
- Babylon 5
- When J. Michael Straczynski started work
on this great television series he had a number of goals, among them:
- The show would have to be good science fiction as well as good television.
- It would have to do for science fiction television what Hill Street Blues had done for police dramas, by taking an adult approach to the subject.
- While remaining within a reasonable budget, it would have to look unlike anything ever seen before on TV, presenting individual stories against a much broader canvas.
- It would build characters for grown-ups, incorporating real science but keeping the characters at the center of the story.
- It would act as a mirror to the real world, a world containing greed and homelessness in which people grow, develop, live and die, and in doing so would covertly teach.
- His goals (an interesting contrast to Kubrick's in making 2001: A Space Odyssey) were certainly achieved, with considerable humour balancing the darker elements. This was probably the best science fiction series ever made, until 10 years later came the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (see below), which IMO now holds that honour.
- I was always a "Trekkie", both in its original form and in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which brought a marked note of dignity to the proceedings, as well as some remarkably good-looking people. However Babylon 5 has much deeper and longer story lines than Star Trek and has a grittier feel to it.
- You will find an excellent and very full article on Babylon 5 here.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003 miniseries followed by 2004-2009 TV series)
- 10 years after Babylon 5 (above), and 25 years after the original Battlestar Galactica, this series became the new benchmark by which future science fiction television (and movies) would be judged.
- As of 2015, it remains one of the strongest sustained dramas of any genre, fascinating even for people who don't think they like science fiction.
You will find my full article on this series here in my Categorian blog.
- Since you're here...
- "Real" science fiction (with a few exceptions such as the modern Battlestar Galactica, above) means books to me, rather than movies. Movies can take us most enjoyably to interesting new worlds or scary monsters, or both, but rarely have the depth of both scientific speculation and human character that the best written science fiction has.
- If you're interested in science fiction books, I have a section on SF on my books page which you'll find here.
What To See Next?
Generally I go to movie review sites for two reasons: either to keep an eye on new releases that I don't want to miss, or to check out an older movie being shown on TV.
You will find some highly recommended links for both purposes here in the right hand panel of this page.
When you get there (remember you'll be looking at the right hand side of the page) hover the mouse over each link to read of a summary of what it offers.
- Extra... Extra...
- I also have a large number of posts about
movies (and some quality TV productions) on my Categorian blog, which contain many that don't appear on this page.
You will find them all here (movies) and
- May I also strongly recommend the Films section of Phillip Kay's blog (as well as all the other stuff on his pages). If you like my pages here, then you will really like all of Phillip's stuff.
How Do They Do That?
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"
This image is a matte painting by Ken Lebras.
Such paintings, and the way in which they are used, are part of the movie industry's fascinating storehouse of movie magic.
We take this magic for granted nowadays — but if you're interested in knowing more, you can have hours of fascination by following the links that I provide here in the right hand panel of this page, as well as visiting some of the studio sites listed here (also in the right hand panel).
When you get there, hover the mouse over each link to read of a summary of what it offers.