I was about fifteen before I read anything more substantial than a newspaper or magazine article. My attitude was, why waste your time reading when there were bikes to ride, rugby to play, model aeroplanes to build or bushland to explore?
But then I had to miss a few days of school due to illness. I had to stay in bed, so out of boredom decided to tackle Herman Wouk's
The Cane Mutiny, an unwanted Christmas present from a couple of years earlier. To my great surprise I found it fascinating, and within a month the floodgates opened. In the following years came Bronte's
Wuthering Heights and Austen's
Pride and Prejudice (both for school and thanks to my English teacher Mr L-Cawsey); a translation of Mallory's
Le Morte d'Arthur; Grebanier's
The Heart of Hamlet (still a favourite, see below) and then a couple of books later, Tolstoy's
War and Peace. After a late start I was finally on my way…
I generally avoid Science Fiction because it almost never gets the science right. A-S is pretty good though. Based on a fascinating idea, it has reasonably good science (for the 1960s) and is only spoilt by a flaccid ending: it would have been much better had the "safety nuke" under the lab gone off despite everyone's frantic efforts to stop it. Andromeda was the first of many Crichton SF thrillers — a shame the rest never matched it. Carl Sagan's messages hidden in Transcendental Numbers is brilliant, but unfortunately the religious tangents and overall sentimentality is a drag.
Maybe not as famous as his earlier
The standard reference on the 1918-20 pandemic. A bit dated in its understanding of how the virus works (eg. there is nothing on Haskell County, Kansas), yet it meticulously reconstructs the progress of H1N1 across the USA, Alaska and Oceania. John M Barry's more recent
The Cranky Count at the height of his powers. What it lacks in scope — it's just a yarn about bourgeois lurv + adultery — it makes up for with its incredible psychological depth, at times even breaking into stream of consciousness to depict the inner turmoil of Anna, Alexi or Kostya. Thankfully it is also (mostly) free of the philosophising and tangential waffle which bogged down so much of Leo Nickolayevich, see also Henri Troyat's spectacularly detailed biography:
One of the better American accounts of the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression. The tone is a fairly left-friendly, but it still covers a lot of ground to explore the popular culture and parade of big names; the social and economical upheaval; the endless political machinations, and especially the ethical dishonesty of the US Supreme Court. Unsurprisingly a lot of the Twenties material is lifted from Frederick Lewis Allen's
Lyons was the United Press correspondent in Moscow during 1928-34. Having secured his job via impeccable Leftist credentials, it is fascinating to watch the scales fall from his eyes as he relates one grim Commie anecdote after another. The book also features eyewitness accounts of the era and a rare interview with Stalin, making it a unique reference about the NEP, early show-trials or first five-year-plan. For a full impact, it should be read alongside
While F. Scott Fitzgerald concentrated on the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age, his friend Lardner dwelt on its darker side: the Junior league baseball players; the clerks, shopkeepers and assorted Babbitts; their frustrated girlfriends and wives; the Irish cops, petty bootleggers and other Prohibition rat–bags. The stories are mostly satirical and funny, but there is always a hint of despair, and sometimes even a vague premonition of the Great Depression just around the corner.
The book to accompany the 2000 television series, examining five turning points in the development of Western music. Obviously it is far more detailed and analytical than the TV show, for Goodall knows his stuff and is not afraid to show it. Luckily he does it with a light touch. In fact it's a relief to find a contemporary artist (in this case a composer) who can elaborate on the history of his field with such humour and warmth.
Chaplin was one of the great but seriously flawed geniuses of the 20th century. Like most comedians his humour grew out of despair, here a childhood in the slums of Victorian London, where he and his brothers were abandoned by an alcoholic father and (ultimately) insane mother. As an adult there were the hugely popular movies, the failed marriages, sex and political scandals, and eventually finding the love of his life in Oona O'Neill when he was fifty-four. Robinson's book is balanced and dares to show glimpses of his subject's darker side, unlike Chaplin's own
The capital city of an empire which lasted centuries, yet we know so little about it. Carcopino's book — practically the only one of its kind — tries to capture what it was like to live there, and he does it reasonably well. What I found most fascinating was learning that the majority of Rome's one million inhabitants were hopelessly idle. Unemployed and politically marginalised, they spent all their time collecting handouts or howling at Colosseum spectacles, or shivering in eight-storey tenement slums, so poorly built that they often collapsed in a strong wind.
A famous book, mainly for its analyses of the 1636-7
The book of the 1955 MOMA photographic exhibition, which inspired a generation to take up candid photography. Some might sneer at its overly sympathetic and optimistic tone, but only misanthropes would want to depict everyday people any other way. That said it is disappointing there are no colour images, or to notice (with adult eyes) that more than three-quarters of the images were posed.
Focuses on the supreme meltdown of the Roaring Twenties, the Wall Street panic in October 1929. Thoroughly researched and documented (Galbraith still had access to key players), there is one curious omission though: he seems to gloss over billions of dollars of Great War debt repayments flooding into the USA. Meanwhile for a more in-depth analysis of pre-crash shenanigans by Wall Street operators, nothing beats Ferdinand Pecora's
Oh-ho-ho… A collection of short stories and articles by HST before the drugs took over. Hilarious, random and anarchistic, but also intelligent and with something to say, unlike more recent Gonzo Wannabes like P.J. O'Rouke. With Hunter S. you get the impression that deep down he was a bit of a moralist who really did care about the state of his country, even if you also marvel at his kamikaze-like self destructiveness.
Should be read alongside Edmnund Taylor's Tuchman also wrote a couple of other favourites:
I lean much more towards Ibsen than Shakespeare. Yet Grebanier's book is an old favourite because it so ruthlessly dissects Ye Bard's play and the many absurd myths surrounding it. It also puts the boot into Laurence Olivier for his cracked interpretation of the Prince. All good fun, and the full text of the play at the rear of the book is riddled with pages of footnotes and asides. BTW speaking of whacko interpretations, check out the backstage existentialism in Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead!
At @ 1300 pages, Runciman has everything you could possibly want to know about the Crusades, and then some. The rise and fall of Outremer; the twilight of Byzantium; Mongol tourism in extremis; Papal/ Italian city-state/ Holy Roman Empire intrigues — it is all here in stunning pre Politically Correct detail. Another interesting read is
The Pulitzer prize winning biography of one of the more enigmatic characters of the 20th century. CL was an autodidact with profound self–discipline and curiosity, and yet could also be aloof and a borderline white–supremacist. Some of Berg's descriptions are beautifully written, especially the 1927 trans-Atlantic flight or the 1932 baby kidnap saga. Unfortunately no mention is made of Lindbergh's seven illegitimate children from three German mistresses (a family secret only confirmed by DNA analysis in 2003). I guess he wasn't so aloof after all…
(1989, Hall & Chester)
What happens when a bunch of flaky Australian environmentalists, more used to charity work in koala-suits than planning an expedition, decide to climb an Antarctic mountain in 1988. Basically you get a woolly–headed shambles from beginning to end (eg. on the way back they managed to hit an iceberg, then got so blown off course that they actually wound up in New Zealand!). Luckily Chester was a talented photographer, while Hall used the 1988 experience to earn further distinction on Mt Everest in 2006.
The downward trajectory of a brilliant and gorgeous woman, who turned her back on love and success to completely self-destruct. Paris' book also captures the heady atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties quite well; in New York, Hollywood and Weimar Germany. Towards the end of her life "Brooksie" wrote intelligent movie-criticism articles with a strangely narcissistic tone — see for example her
The intricate story of how the Manhattan Project came about, as well how science was harnessed by good-natured men to create devices to incinerate entire cities. Alongside The Bomb, Rhodes broadens his narrative into the industrialisation of war in the 20th Century; eg. area-bombing or the engineering behind Oak Ridge. He also spends a lot of time discussing the output of all this technology: the efficient production of megacorpses. A few years later Rhodes wrote a followup about the Hydrogen Bomb in Teller and Ulam. The third book in the series — Arsenals of Folly (2007) — is an improvement, especially in the descriptions of the diplomatic manoeuvring which led to START I.
As a counterpoint to the Cold-War Nuclear Terror, Chaikin narrates one of the great triumphs of civilisation, the Apollo Moon program of 1967-72. Each mission is covered in detail, and about half way through you realise you are reading about an achievement which will endure forever. Chaikin mainly focuses on the public face of the project — the astronauts — but thankfully Murray & Cox
A panel by panel analysis of Michelangelo's fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. It also carefully debunks the myth that the work was done by a single man, for it appears Buonarroti had a team of tradesmen and apprentices to do the lesser scenes or flat areas of colour. Thankfully King goes easy on another lazy myth — that of Michelangelo's supposed “homosexuality”. The bloke never married and painted a lot of male nudes, so he must have been queer, right?…
A good history of America in 1927 for the general reader. The narrative is episodic and far too much time is spent on sport (boxing and baseball), but it's a good collection of anecdotes and character studies at the for tail-end of the 1920s before the crash.
Greeted with hoots of derision on publication, Taylor suggests that WWII grew as much out of Western ineptitude as it did from Nazi megalomania. To me the arguments appear self-evident: Hitler didn't operate in a vacuum; the Treaty of Versailles was a joke; the League of Nations were a useless talking shop; and career-focused bureaucrats do tend towards timidity. Taylor's next work,
Still the best dual biography of polar explorers Amundsen and Scott. It thoroughly debunks the Scott-as-hero myth to reveal him as a muddle-headed martinet, albeit with some charisma. Many have subsequently toiled to refute this (see for example Fiennes:
(1987, Lawrence, Ed. Yule)
Cyril Lawrence was an Australian engineer who served in Gallipoli in 1915 and on the Western front from 1916 to January 1919. Of all the Great War memoirs I have read, this is my favourite. An edited collection of letters and journal entries, he writes with brilliant clarity about what he saw, experienced and felt. His leave-visits to England or Paris also provide a fascinating snapshot of the era. As a companion piece, my choice from among the more famous Owen, Sassoon, Blunden etc.
(1996, Rich & Janos)
Ben Rich tells the story of the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects Unit, where the U2 and SR-71 spy planes were designed and built, and where also the F117A stealth fighter was developed. It's Boy's Own stuff for sure, but some of the anecdotes are hilarious (eg. at the height of the Cold War, the CIA set up a raft of dummy corporations to secretly purchase Titanium for their spy-planes from the CCCP) or eye-opening (the endless problems they had getting the SR-71 to cruise at Mach 3.2 without incinerating the pilots).
A brilliant overview of the development of western art over the last four thousand years: the Classical period; Middle Ages; Renaissance; Enlightenment; Modernism… it's all here. My only real gripe is against its overly judicious tone (no opinionated writing here!), and that the narrative stops in the 1920s, just when things are getting interesting.
Rhodes book (see above) dwelt on the dark side of Science; Feynman explores its brighter side with fun and exuberance. A transcript of a bunch of audio interviews, the chapters can be somewhat disjointed, but the picture that emerges is one of a loopy and mischievous bloke who also happened to be a brilliant physicist. Along the way he cracked safes at Los Alamos, challenged an abacus expert at mental cube-roots (and won), played the bongo semi-professionally and eventually shared a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. If you think all Scientists are dull nerds, then read this to get a More Enlightened Perspective.
An eyewitness account of Scott's 1911 Antarctic expedition, and arguably one of the best travel books ever written. It is also the first and final nail in every Scott-apologist's coffin — they might carp at Huntford being an unqualified Anglophobe, but they can't dismiss Cherry, who admired Scott and was actually there. Some of C-G's descriptions of the frozen continent are beautiful, and his muted criticism of expedition's shortcomings are very sobering. The book actually takes its name from a horror sledging expedition to collect Emperor Penguin eggs, which departed mid-winter in 24hr darkness. BTW the documentary
Even as a small boy I was fascinated by motion pictures. I particularly remember the first time I saw Lean's
Lawrence of Arabia, especially the scene where a ship on the Suez canal appears to sail through sand-dunes! Unfortunately, finely–tuned sensibilities when young can also lead to disappointment: when the first moon-landing was broadcast at school in July 1969, in heavily ghosted B&W, I was outraged:
What does the moon look like? You can't see anything. Miss, this is rubbish! My kindergarten teacher Was Not Amused.
In 1985 I had a chance at becoming a film-director when short-listed for the AFTRS three-year directing course. Aside from my inexperience and youth (21), what flunked me out was ruthless honesty. When the interview panel asked early on the third day what I would do if I didn't get in, I told them:
Frankly, I would go do something else. Eyebrows rise, and forty minutes of backpedalling and hostile questioning later, a line went through my name. Despite the setback, in 2005 I was lucky enough to work for a few months on the Hollywood blockbuster
Superman Returns. A small consolation perhaps, but a taste of what might have been…
After an argument with his teenage son, Max Von Sydow ties him up and throws him into a lake. Rather than drowning, the boy gets stuck upright, with his head just above water. His arms and legs are bound, so he cannot move. He calls for help but no-one comes. Days, weeks pass. Water-plants start to grow on his body and fish come to live in the folds of his clothing. Eventually he becomes integrated into the aquatic environment. Seasons pass. When in winter the lake freezes over, he hibernates; ice-skaters trip over the bump where his head is. With Spring the ice thaws and he finally breaks free… I saw this film over thirty years ago and I still find this sequence astounding.
Okay we all know Peter Shaffer's play is a travesty-bio littered with historical inaccuracies, but Forman's movie is done with such vigour and attention to period detail that you've got to love it. WAM as a giggling pop-star? Why not? Favourite anachronisms? The non-performer orchestra conductors (a century too early) plus musicians depicted using period instruments, yet the soundtrack blasts from steel-strings (they would have actually used catgut, which gives a much gentler sound).
Usually French movie + French director = Bullshit. Thankfully Mimouni did a fascinating and stylish job. The timeline runs forwards and backwards, and for a while you really do wonder just who is doing what to whom. But you get Paris in winter and Monica Bellucci with black bobbed hair, miniskirts and red high-heels… Almost a decade later the movie was remade in a Chicago suburban context as
(2001, Kubrick & Spielberg)
Despite the Spielberg credit, this has Kubrick's fingerprints all over it. Some might hesitate at the child-focused Pinocchio theme, but look deeper — Ai continues Kubrick's pet obsession with human evolution, this time into sentient machines (as opposed to 2001's "star-child"). BTW for a really cracked retelling of Collodi's fairy-tale, check out Benigni spends the entire film yelling…
(2001, Frankel et al.)
Private Ryan done right. 700+ minutes, but thankfully spread over ten parts so you don't have to digest it all in one go. IMO it is the best WWII movie made from a USA perspective, encompassing the period from training in England prior to D-Day, until de-mobilisation following VJ. The way lead actor Damian Lewis grows in moral authority and stature as the story progresses is amazing. BTW for a more meandering and poetic take on WWII, about two hours of Terrence Malick's
Probably the least preachy among the non-verbal “atsi” films. Beautiful 70mm cinematography, brilliant editing and a range of urban, industrial, Third World and natural locations. My favourite sequences are the Balinese Kecak dance/chant, the “breathing” traffic in Manhattan, and the (almost) bell ringing at the Ryoan-Ji Temple in Kyoto.
Samsara (2012) should have been better (cinematography-wise it indeed was), but the large amount of deadpan posing for the camera is a let-down.
There are many favourite Kubrick films, but BL gets the nod because: (i) it is such a wild non sequitur after critics and filmmakers do =)
What happened after the
Band of Brothers got home. It takes a while to get going and it is a bit soapie in places, but Gregg Toland's deep focus cinematography; the sense of waste; the reluctance to rejoin society; unemployed Dana Andrews wandering through a field of scrapped aeroplanes, Frederick March drifting towards alcoholism, Harold Russell trying to cope with the amputation of both hands… amazing. The post-Vietnam (and miserable)
Call me a heretic, but I prefer the sequel to the (constantly revised) original (1982). The world-building of the new film has greater structure and depth, while the holographic character
Joy is (IMO!) far more attractive than the original limpid
Rachel. Of course Ryan Gosling is as wooden as ever, but the other actors do their jobs well. The film also looks and sounds fantastic in 4K-HDD, and love how they still included some Hungarian dialogue as the
far out future street-slang =)
What fascinates about Lean and Coward's film is its severely repressed Anglo Bourgeois sexuality. When the couple should have been getting it on, instead they wasted each other's time friend-zoning each other. Those who swoon at the platonic romanticism of this, or else balk at its hypocrisy, misunderstand the film's central point: If You Have An Unhappy Marriage Then Do Something About It. Thankfully the message wasn't lost on the makers of the B-E inspired
It is not an extended shill for FedEx, nor some bloke stuck on an island with Wilson the Volleyball. Quite simply CA is a brilliant metaphor for terminal illness. Seriously. Ever wonder what people go through when the biopsies come back? This is it, The Phases of Grief in pictures: busy-busy Flying High, then Crash, Abandonment, Bitterness, but also — with time and luck — Acceptance and maybe even Escape. I'm amazed such a hopeful film about this topic was ever made by anyone, let alone mainstream Hollywood.
Grim. Bleak. Brilliant! Having read numerous articles and watched documentaries about the Reactor 4 meltdown in April 1986, the 2019 HBO TV mini-series best explains just how big a horror-show the man-made accident was. The final episode, where Jared Harris gives detailed evidence during a hearing about what caused the accident, is also the most comprehensive explanation that I have ever seen. The series furthermore does a magnificent job paying homage to the thousands of “liquidators” who gave their lives to contain the disaster as much as possible.
Made 9 years after Mann's
No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him. Another interesting crime movie is Owen Roizman. Just don't think too hard about how they lit the interiors…
Rodchenko at 24fps. This B&W Soviet WWII drama features some of the most dazzling camera-work prior to CGI. The spiral tracking shot up the staircase; the single take from the interior of a crowded bus to overfly a column of roaring tanks; the conscription and welcome-home crowd scenes; the death-rattle fantasy of a longed-for marriage which never had a chance to happen… amazing! What impresses even more is that it was made without the usual Commie Agitprop, at a time when both sides were working hard to eliminate each other. A classic way ahead of its time, it is disappointing it has never made any of the top 100 lists.
A brilliant early effort from Lynch. Toning down the industrial-bleakness of Joseph Merrick. Yet what could have easily been an art-school freak-show, instead becomes a sensitive portrayal of a man adrift in laissez-faire England. As it was only Lynch's second feature, great things were expected. Alas he flopped with Mel Brooks (!), the same man responsible for "Young Frankenstein" (see below).
(1933, LeRoy & Berkeley)
It is hard to find a decent film about the Depression made while it was still happening. GDo1933 might appear to be escapist fluff, but look closer — director LeRoy never let the economic disaster drift out of sight. The New Deal aphorisms; the hints of poverty-driven prostitution; the long line of men tramping to
Remember My Forgotten Man; Berkeley's kaleidoscopic dance routines, in which everyone appears to be trapped in an uncontrollable machine…
We're in the Money! — oh no they weren't.
I prefer Kurosawa's underrated 1980 film to his more famous
The film we all needed to counter the stentorian earnestness of Nolan's Batman trilogy (2005-2012). Crazy kaleidoscopic animation, twisted jokes and dozens of references to Caped Crusader lore. It's no surprise that Morgan Freeman regards this film as his favourite Batman movie!
Jean Reno has the world's coolest job; Gary Oldman is Captain Flakey; and 12yr old Natalie Portman is the bob-haired girl of every boy's dreams. The original theatrical release had Oldman humming Uncut International Version, although it's disappointing that Besson insisted on keeping the creepy charades sequence…
Watching "Eleanor of Aquitaine", "Henry II" and "Cœur de Lion" tear great strips off each other is hilarious. Recently remade for TV, the new movie is an interesting counterpoint in that it uses the same dialogue as the original, but in a far less insulting manner. BTW the 1968 "Lion" is a bit of a sequel to Angevin Henry.
Most of Allen's films tend to capsize from the sheer amount of talk, but MP is unusual in its restraint. Despite unfavourable comparisons with yuppiedom, where people are discarded as easily as last year's mobile phone. The self-absorption, conceit, cruelty, lies and then horror when Rhys-Meyers realises he cannot escape this hell, is priceless. 2005 must have been a big year for yuppie bashing: Kristin Scott Thomas as a shopaholic solicitor's wife in Nicholas Cage the target of projectile junk-food in
(1955, Ford & LeRoy)
It is fascinating to compare this film with Caine suggests that bad leaders can still be decent men, and that ultimately The System Is Alright. No such thing with M-R, whose James Cagney is hopelessly rotten, as is the bureaucratic apparatus which nurtures him and destroys Henry Fonda. Aside from its political undertones, the film is also plain fun — cowardly Jack Lemon going out of his way to avoid Cagney; William Powell at his laconic best.
Don't be fooled by the studio gloss, for beneath its carefully polished surface this 70mm bonbon ticks with misanthropy and social mayhem. Everyone has such contempt for everyone else that they sing about it, in detail. Even the love songs have a dark twist: Freddy adores Eliza precisely because he knows nothing about her. Audrey Hepburn is luminous, until they dress her up for the Grand Ball to look like an aluminium Christmas tree, whereas Rex Harrison's Professor Higgins is a masterpiece of barely repressed psychopathy.
(2015—17, Bernard, Brancato & Miro)
Series 1 & 2 chronicle the rise and fall of Drug Tzar Pablo Escobar, with Series 3 focusing on the Cali Cartel. Shot mostly on location in Columbia, you are really given a feeling for what it was like to be there. Brilliant verité cinematography mixed in with some decent action, its a great overview of the 1980s cocaine trade, but lacks the broader multi-thematic approach of HBO's “The Wire” (see below)
Paddy Chayefsky's script is the real star here: a satire of TV and Corporate values, bristling with sarcasm and bitterness. It is also an early critique of the role of television in distracting, reassuring and ultimately tranquillising society. Although dismissed by a few snooty critics for being "as vulgar as the medium it satirises", who would have thought it would virtually become a Reality TV manifesto?…
I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore! Indeed.
A scathing condemnation of the Great War, with songs, laughter and despair. To be honest I hated this film when I was young. I didn't know much about WWI, so I wrote it off as a crass trivialisation. Yeah well, it took twenty years for the penny to drop. The soldiers singing as they dig their own mass-graves; the cricket-score casualty figures (
Ground Gained: 0 Yards); Red Vanessa's self-parody soap-box oration; the relentless use of actual Haig quotes; and then the closing sequence in the Field of Crosses… staggering. For a long time the film was hard to get on DVD, in early 2008 I had to import a region-2 copy from HMV in the UK.
(1923, Blystone & Keaton)
Keaton (and to a lesser extent Chaplin) manage to avoid obsolescence by creating incredibly elaborate gags where you laugh as much at the "mechanism" as the joke. Although O-H won me over when I saw the gimcrack train Keaton had to ride to get home: at one stage using completely mismatched wheels to cope with warped and buckled tracks. This is almost as insane as the open-air cocktail lounge at the rear of W.C. Fields aeroplane, in
Polansky's film has a more authentic European feel. It is also a more balanced work, extending its themes beyond the holocaust to the effects of war on all sides. Admittedly an uneven filmmaker (eg. Nastassja Kinski before the night-clubs.
Set in 1940s New York and loosely based on the life of press-photographer Arthur Fellig, it is one of the few movies which captures the main point of photojournalism — something more thoughtful than "click" and move on. Lead actor Joe Pesci also does an excellent job portraying the self-sufficient and manic obsessive nature of artistic creativity — definitely not a life for Those Who Like To Play In Teams.
Excoriated by New Hollywood fanboy critics (eg. Kael & Ebert), yet it is easily the most beautiful and subtle of Lean's films. Many missed the point that the story wasn't really about the 1916 Troubles, but rather a simple love-triangle done on a spectacularly epic scale; with the music and Freddie Young's 70mm cinematography used to capture the emotional highs and lows of the relationship, nothing more. All the lingering shots of beach, ocean, sunlight, seagulls, storms etc. might be sentimental overkill, but what can you expect from a director who married six times. Appropriately enough, the Spanish/ English Blu-ray transfer is also stunning, although am not holding my breath there will ever be a 4K-HD version =(
Ho-ho, crank up the testosterone for it's Taylor Sheridan time. The movie is a relentless, take-no-prisoners ride from the drug-house corpses at the start to the assassination of the Mexican cartel chief at the end. The shoot-out at the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022). Sheridan has written (and directed) other good films, Villeneuve gives Siccario the cohesion, intensity and relentlessness that these films lack.
James Bond with temporal pincer movements! Critics mostly hated the complexity of this film and the general public complained about the loud explosions and at times incomprehensible dialogue. I have no problems with any of this, although I watch it in 4K-HDD at home. Brilliant, complex and yes at times the backwards-entropy science is a little wobbly, but it's one long rush filled with ideas. It's also the first film to make me sit up and notice that there was more to Robert Pattinson than Twilight (2008).
Paul Thomas Anderson has made some annoying and pretentious films, but “TwbB” isn't one of them. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel, which itself was loosely inspired by the Teapot Dome scandal. Great stuff for 1920s US history nerds, with Paul Dano shrieking and wailing and Daniel Day Lewis chewing the scenery and anyone who gets in his way.
I drink your milkshake! Albert B. Fall rides again!
ToE more interesting. Welles used his last opportunity as a Hollywood director to completely run off the rails. The result is a noir freak-show, a patchy extravagance loaded with self-degrading humour, Kane references, seediness, failure and despair — just like Welles' life.
C'mon, tell me my future!" he barks at Dietrich,
Honey, you haven't got one… she calmly replies (maybe she had seen the rushes for
Of all the films about the 1989-93 Eastern Bloc social transition, TkB captures the spirit of the time best. Maybe it is not as popular or artistically ambitious as the other films in the "Red, White and Blue" trilogy, but the wintry mood, melancholy humour and shady black-market / real-estate dealings make it far more entertaining. The presence of goddess (and nobody's fool) Julie Delpy also helps. Other retro commie favourites are
Выдающийся! 402 minutes and a hundred thousand extras, making it perhaps the most expensive and elaborate film ever made. Admittedly there are a few "Clumsy Soviet" edits and camera moves, but these are compensated for by dozens of beautiful moments: eg. Natasha's dance while her uncle plays the guitar; the lateral tracking shot during the battle of Borodino (probably inspired by Roubaud's panoramic painting); the Burning and then Retreat from Moscow. Despite Mosfilm semi-restoring the movie in 2003, the image quality is still rough. The Russian language 5.1 soundtrack is pretty good though, and is the only way to watch the film (the English dub is weird). In 1970 Bondarchuk rounded up the Soviet Army again to tackle Bonaparte from the other side, this time in film, provided you can forgive the “rocking horse” battle close-ups…
In a series of dreams an old man thinks about his life's disappointments and wasted opportunities. Heavy stuff, but amazingly for Bergman it is done with a light touch. The usual doom and gloom is replaced by humour, warmth and (gasp) hope. Since most of the film is a road-trip, the characters even get to move about, free of the posed rigidity which suffocated Saint Ingmar's later films. The famous dream sequences are also some of the most believable and haunting in cinema — miles ahead of the Dali silliness in
(2002-8, Burns & Simon)
More a televisual novel about the decline of large US cities, than a “Cops, Drugs & Robbers” show. Five seasons with five different themes, all tied together with characters from both sides of the law and politics. A slow, angry burn — the writers had something to say and HBO actually let them do it. It's hard to look at Wendell Pierce in later work and not shout
Bunk!, or Lance Reddick in the John Wyck series (2014—) as the “mild mannered” concierge. The death of Michael Kenneth Williams (
Omar!) by overdose in 2021 was especially tragic.
Based on Hilary Mantel's books about the crises surrounding Henry VIII's penchant for instant-divorce, it's the flip side of the story told in Mark Rylance was a brilliant choice to play Chromwell: street smart, knowing when to be silent and when to act, knowing when to be kind and when not. There is still one more novel in the historical series to film, one day soon.
Is set in a mythical past so painstakingly stolen from Brooks and Wilder's film delivers its humour on so many different levels: from childish puns to obscurity to the openly bizarre Kenneth Mars, whose Inspector Kemp appears to be from another planet. Best of all, the
Putting on the Ritz vaudeville sequence is one of the funniest things you will ever see. Another more obvious comedy favourite is Marxist peasants, migrating coconuts and unexpected medieval authenticity!
I haven't provided commentary for the following as I don't listen to as much music as I used to. In fact I sometimes go for weeks without playing anything — I guess it's just a part of growing older. Nevertheless the following are favourites in one way or another. It is an unusual mix for sure, but like I said I don't listen to these things every day
- Fred Astaire
- John Barry
- Kate Bush
- The Cure
- Phillip Glass
- George Harrison
- Hunters & Collectors
- Steve Howe
- Natalie Imbruglia
- John Lydon
- David Mason
- Fiona McDonald
- Midnight Oil
- George Michael
- Kate Miller-Heidke
- Mike Oldfield
- Pearl Jam
- Steve Reich
- Linda Ronstadt
- Sex Pistols
- Silverchair, after