Archive for January 4, 2008

Sexual Ealing

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2008 by dcairns

It was just after four when I got out the cinema, why was it NIGHT-TIME?

Anyhow, multiplexes are a bit like hell, the version that’s a giant building with a thousand rooms and a thousand tortures in each room, and my local was understaffed so that although I was only slightly late, by the time I’d reached the front of the queue the flick had started, which put me in a bad mood.

Why was I seeing this thing?Because I’d blogged about it, and because Ben Halligan recommended it (maybe he just likes public school movies, though?) and mainly because it got universally lousy reviews and I’ve been working on the theory that whenever that happens there’s something interesting going on. I decided on this after quite enjoying GOYA’S GHOSTS, which got a royal kicking from the broadsheet hacks.

Ealing Studios, if they want to live up to their glorious name, have got to stop remaking Oscar Wilde plays and old British comedies: that’s not what Ealing did. They may have had a conservative side, but at least they were original.

Having said that, the new ST TRINIAN’S is nothing to be ashamed of and certainly doesn’t merit the savagery the press has meted out. There are a few good laughs and lots of loud smiles, and an attempt is made to cram every kind of joke into it, from whoopee cushions to sly demolitions of every film in co-star Colin Firth’s CV. Unlike the earlier films, this one actually takes a bit of time to characterise the obstreperous kids. Like the earlier films, the new girl can’t quite decide if she wants to appeal to her peers or to the Dirty Mac Brigade. There’s some uncomfortable stuff early on as a newcomer is subjected to hazing and humiliation (being broadcast nude on the Internet) and the film looks like turning into sado-erotic faux-child porn. Then an anti-bullying message is produced from somewhere and we’re supposed to forget what we’ve seen.

As the hapless newbie, Talulah Riley shows some comic flair, particularly in a sloping walk alongside her father’s car as she tries to wheedle out of being sentenced to this “Hogwarts for Pikeys“. This almost stands comparison with Joyce Grenfell’s physical comedy work in the original BELLES OF. Gemma Arterton is a rather terrifying sex-bomb as the head girl. Comedian Russell Brand is fairly good as Flash Harry, but doesn’t really get much to do. But really, Rupert Everett is the whole show.

Sex Fritton

Like Alastair Sim in the first film, he plays dual roles, as headmistress Miss Fritton (try saying that three times quickly) and her no-good brother. Both roles are stylishly rendered cartoons, though neither has enough screen time to hold the fraying strands of the story together (the old ST TRINS sequels are likewise all over the shop, narrative-wise). While the rest of the film is scattershot and sometimes funny, Everett nails his every moment with grace and comic invention. The script seems to improve when he’s around, which suggests that either he’s shoring it up with ad-libs or he’s doing the even harder job of turning weak-ish material into gold by sheer force of magnetism and comedy chops. The film is actually worth seeing for him — there, I’ve said it! The moment where he swings through frame on a rope, in slow-motion, grinning at the camera, shows just the kind of CHEEK I’m meaning to blog about sometime.

It’s a shame the makers couldn’t sustain the quality throughout, or decide whether they wanted to be nasty and Ortonesque, mildly anarchic and silly, or preach an alternative educational lifestyle choice. And guys, you CAN’T do all three. But for the benefit of critics who have said things like “It is as funny as the worried frown on the face of an oncologist,” here is a short list of things to admire in this film (Everett is too obviously good to need including).

1) The girls. There are a hell of a lot of them, and they can all act. Some of the short ones are funny just standing there with their unformed faces.

2) The in-jokes. Markedly better than many of the out-jokes, admittedly. The reference to ANOTHER COUNTRY goes so far over the heads of the tweeny audience that they can’t even see the vapour trail behind it.

3) Russell Brand. This isn’t the quite vehicle he needs, but enough of his demented charisma pops out to merit him being given another chance.

All girls together

Footnote: And YES, it IS appalling that The Film Council is backing this muck and not supporting Terence Davies. They should be making quality cinema art AND commercial nonsense — preferably GOOD commercial nonsense — but this one film doesn’t deserve to be the whipping boy for the TFC’s numerous failings.

Footfootnote: actually, Terence Davies could have directed the hell out of this movie.


“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2008 by dcairns


It doesn’t really look like there’s a head growing up out of his neck, more like there’s a scrotum hanging out of his hat. Adorable.

For all his famous work with Walter Matthau (pictured), director Billy Wilder, who can be credited with first pairing Matthau with Jack Lemmon, never seemed to grasp the fundamental truth: we love Walter Matthau. Wilder kept casting W.M. as lowlifes, scumbags and grifters (from a crook in THE FORTUNE COOKIE to a hitman in the appalling BUDDY, BUDDY): hate-figures for Lemmon to act nervous and vulnerable next to, when in fact the entire point of this unique and wonderful actor is his transformation of boredom into an attractive quality, his hangdog avuncular grouchiness, and his long-suffering Oliver Hardy-type appeal to our sympathies.

I have nothing to say

These winning qualities all emanate from from a preposterous physical substance (avoid any film which reveals Matthau in a bath-towel), hunchbacked, pot-bellied, sunken-chested, bow-legged, flat-footed, with long bony hands flapping limply like the wing-tips of a disappointed eagle, and fronted by a rumpled and pouchy kisser that looks like it’s sculpted from all the wrinkly bits snipped off of fifty years of Hollywood royalty at the plastic surgeon’s.

Though celebrated for his comedies, Matthau’s best roles are in thrillers — CHARLEY VARRICK, THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, where his hard-assed side can find fuller expression without turning him into a heavy. Because we want a full demonstration of Matthau’s worst traits, and we want to love him the while.

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN is one of the best films directed by Stuart Rosenberg, who died last March. Rosenberg also helmed COOL HAND LUKE which, in the sunny days of my childhood, seemed to be on T.V. every week. His Matthau film is a funny and smart and very veryseventies cop thriller, based on a Swedish novel but set in San Francisco. It walks a fine, meandering line between liberal tolerance and outright homophobia in its politics, and allows Matthau to grumble, of a high-powered lawyer: ‘Probably got enough juice to get a sodomy beef reduced to “following too close”,’ which is a great line even if it does commit the cardinal sin of using the words “sodomy” “beef” and “juice” in the same sentence. Anyhow, the whole thing fizzles out in an overlong bus chase, but we can forgive that for the beauteous fluorescent striplighting photography, the suave support of Bruce Dern and Louis Gossett Jnr, and Anthony Zerbe, who can do no wrong, and the fact that Joanna Cassidy’s beauty takes the breath away.


CHARLEY VARRICK is an authentically tough movie from the revered Don Siegel, and it’s maybe the guy’s best thriller. Walt is Charley, an independent heist artist who has trouble from corrupt authorities and a double-crossing young punk sidekick (the majestic Andy Robertson, best known as Scorpio the Zodiac Killer substitute in Siegel’s DIRTY HARRY).


THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 can loosely be typed as a group-jeopardy movie, which is to say we can’t quite label it as a disaster movie (although Matthau did contribute a mysterious one-shot cameo to EARTHQUAKE, using the pseudonym Walter Matuschanskayasky. Very weird film, that, being one of the very few contemporary dramas where nearly all the cast were wigs). Joseph Sargent, who’s had an amazingly long career, directs this one, and seems at times to be channelling Fritz Lang, as he cross-cuts narrative strands to make definite statements: a line about the value of a human lifeis followed by a pointed cut to wads of ransom money being counted. Matthau is an island of bored humanity in a dyspeptic sea of surly New Yorkers, in a city on the verge of breaking down utterly because those who, like Matthau, care enough to do a decent job are in a distinct minority (and the film proceeds to thin their ranks even more).


There’s a story I love from the making of BUDDY BUDDY, the only funny thing associated with that movie (which is to Wilder, Lemmon and Matthau as ATOLL K is to Laurel & Hardy — a painful object to be SHUNNED. For once the invective unleashed by Klaus Kinski in his hysterical autobiography is justified when he describes that film) —

Sliding down a laundry shoot, Matthau missed the crash mat and injured his back (stick with me, it gets funnier).

An ambulance is called and Jack Lemmon, an emotional man, kneels by his friend, in tears. “Can I get you anything?” he pleads, and, “Are you comfortable?”

Matthau looks up at him with his Droopy visage and replies, “I make a reasonable living.”

three comrades

(Oh, and I’m working my way through Donald Westlake’s excellent Dortmunder books, and Matthau is my Blue Sky Casting choice for Dortmunder, hands down. Thriller fans, check them out!)

Euphoria #8

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2008 by dcairns

New reader Shane Clifford suggested this piece of Cinema Euphoria starring Anna Karina and her cheeky little face. It’s a PIP, I think you’ll agree.

Jean-Luc Godard (who directed this, from VIVRE SA VIE) and Karina were great dancing partners in the 60s, and I have to add this second clip, from BANDE A PART to the first:

Tarantino showed this to Travolta and Thurman to relax them about the dancing in PULP FICTION: Travolta was nervous about dancing again, Uma was nervous about dancing with Travolta, and this sequence got across the idea that they didn’t have to dance brilliantly but they had to look like they were having a brilliant time.

I’ve been slowly getting over an irrational aversion to Godard and have started realising just how important and original he is. Things that used to annoy me in his work no longer do. I was very moved by his entry in the TEN MINUTES OLDER series, which is the most recent example of his work I’ve seen. Wonder what I’ll watch next?