Thursday, 20 November 2014


2013 - Dir.: Stephen Frears - 1 hours 38 minutes (UK)
Show at The FeckenOdeon on 29th November, 2014

In the 1920’s, religious orders established what were called Mother and Baby Homes on the premises of lands and buildings donated to the Church. These facilities housed girls and women who had become pregnant out of wedlock and their children. Countless women were separated from their sons and daughters, who were often given up for adoption against their will. This film is the true story of one of the mothers.
There is no doubt that the Roman Catholic Church did Philomena Lee a great wrong when it allowed nuns to sell her son for adoption in America. It’s perhaps in the spirit of that Church’s creed of the forgiveness of sins that Philomena felt that meeting the Pope after this film’s release somehow made things a bit better. "I felt such a sense of relief for the guilt I carried and that I still carry a little bit today," she said after the audience," Those nuns would be so jealous of me now." The encounter came about through Mrs Lee establishing the Philomena Project, which lobbies for open access to adoption records. It happened less than a day after a Vatican spokesperson said: "The Holy Father does not see films, and will most certainly not be seeing this one.” The very next day it became clear that, not only had Pope Francis seen the film, but it was he who had requested an audience with Philomena.
Martin Sixsmith, who wrote Philomena’s story, as well as being a journalist, is an authority on Russian poetry and art. He has now returned to things Russian and is busy making documentaries about Mr Putin. He and Philomena remain friends and attended the glamorous movie premiere together - something those nuns might also have been jealous of. Both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan befriended Philomena and Mr Coogan accompanied her on her visit to Rome.

Sunday, 9 November 2014


2014 - Dir: John Michael McDonagh  - 1 hour 41 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 14th November, 2014

Calvary emerges directly from the current crisis of Irish Catholicism brought about by sexual abuse by priests and its institutional covering-up. This subject may be distasteful for some - but it has happened and can no longer be swept under the Papal carpet.
This is the kind of movie that galvanizes and discomfits while it’s on screen, and is terrific fodder for conversation long after its credits roll. Even if you are neither Catholic nor Irish, this “Calvary” will engage your attention. This is a whodunit with a difference, a black comedy with aspirations, merrily lifting its name from the small hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was slain. “Calvary”: the title serves notice and puts the viewer on guard. It flashes like the final destination on the front of a bus, as director McDonagh proceeds to steer us back and forth along the west coast of Ireland, veering between the profane and the sacred, the damned and divine. We know where this is leading, whether we like it or not. Your best advice is to sit back, hang on to your rosary beads and enjoy the ride…..
Maybe the director intended to create a composite portrait of a place from which the sea of faith has, within a generation (and, some would say, with good cause), begun its long retreat. The owner of the village pub, talking to Father James, refers to “your kind,” as if religion were the mark of an alien race. Tellingly, the community's most purely contented individual appears to be the non-believing doctor, who sucks cigarettes outside the hospital and accepts his own limitations with a lip-smacking relish. There are moments and characters here that initially amuse… but the laugh is stillborn as we realise the grim chill of the reality that is 21st century Ireland. A dark comedy tinged with bitterness.
The Director/Writer: At the age of 11 John Michael McDonagh could be found most Sundays carrying processional crosses and ringing Sanctus bells while his little brother, Martin, now a playwright and filmmaker, sang in the choir. Mr. McDonagh recently said he himself never had problems with a priest, aside from one in secondary school who caned him repeatedly. He wrote the script to the 2003 film “Ned Kelly” and wrote and directed the Irish comedy detective film “The Guard”. He’s no stranger to controversy having referred to the Irish film industry as “amateurish” during an award ceremony. He’s currently working on the third in his so called “suicide trilogy” - apparently a much lighter comedy entitled “The Lame shall Enter First”.
Brendan Gleeson: (Not to be confused with Jackie Gleason) Though Mr Gleeson is rapidly building a reputation as an Irish character actor, there’s the skill of a classical actor underneath all the blarney. He spent a good part of his early career on stage at Stratford upon Avon and only began acting in films in his late 30s. He’s worked with the likes of Mel Gibson and Stephen Spielberg and was Professor Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films. He’s been a teacher but has never been a priest.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Double Indemnity

1944 - Dir.: Billy Wilder - 1 hours 47 minutes
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 25th October, 2014

The story on which “Double Indemnity” is based was written in the 1930s by James M. Cain, the hard-boiled author of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. A screenplay kicked around Hollywood, but the Hays Office refused it a production license because it would "harden audience attitudes toward crime.” By 1944, Wilder thought he could film it. Cain wasn't available, so he hired Raymond Chandler to do the screenplay. Chandler, whose novel “The Big Sleep” Wilder loved, turned up drunk, smoked a smelly pipe, didn't know anything about screenplay construction, but could put a nasty spin on dialogue.
Together Chandler and Wilder eliminated Cain's complicated end-game and deepened the relationship between Neff and Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), the claims manager at the insurance company. They told the movie in flashback, narrated by Neff. The voice-over worked so well that Wilder used it again in "Sunset Boulevard” (1950), which was narrated by a character who is already dead the first time he speaks. "Double Indemnity” originally ended with Neff in the gas chamber, but that scene was cut because an earlier one turned out to be the perfect way to close the film.
This is a dark, cynical, witty, and sleazy thriller about adultery, corruption and murder - and yet it has style by the bucket load and a plot that compels you to watch until the last frame, despite your natural reluctance.
Barbara Stanwyck (Ruby Stephens) had a hard start to life. Her mother fell under a tram when Ruby was only 4 and her father disowned her. By the age of 16 she was a showgirl in Ziegfeld Follies and in 1926 she made her first film. It was the start of a career that lasted for 64 years in film, TV and on stage. Her nickname was “Missy” and she had a reputation for getting a scene right in the first take - every time. She died in 1990, aged 82.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Lunchbox

2013 - Dir: Ritesh Batra - 1 hour 44 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 10th October, 2015

Every weekday without fail something rather extraordinary is to be seen around midday on the chaotic streets of Mumbai. This is the sight of hundreds of stainless steel tiered tiffin boxes or dhabbas piled high on handcarts and bicycles being pushed through the streets by dhoti-wearing, white-capped wallahs. Expertly run by the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers' Association, armies of these dhabbawallahs provide the invaluable daily service of speedily delivering piping hot home-cooked lunches to more than 200,000 busy office workers.
Many workers live 50 kilometres or more from their desk, a long commute on a packed train. There is certainly not time for the cook of the house to prepare a full meal before they leave home. So the lunch-filled tiffin boxes are picked up later in the morning, colour-coded and transported to the station, where they are collected by the tiffin wallahs, whose mission is to deliver each box to its corresponding workplace still hot from the pan – and to return the empty box to the home before the end of the working day. The service is reckoned to be one of the most efficient operations in the world. Its motto is “On time, every time”. With the essential core values of punctuality, teamwork, honesty and sincerity providing the backbone to the business, they have a staggering 99.99% success rate. This film is the story of a very, very, very rare failure.
A huge success in its native India, Ritesh Batra's film is actually a romance in the classic tradition - a “Brief Encounter” transposed to the rhythms and flavours of modern-day Mumbai. A romance about strangers who fall in love by way of letters. “The Lunchbox” isn’t an example of bravura moviemaking or cutting-edge style but simply a tale told with intelligence, restraint, and respect. It was originally conceived as a documentary about the lives of the dhabbawallahs and Mr Batra went to live among them in the hope of finding a personal story that would give the film a narrative. Gradually he became aware of the people on either side of the daily delivery and started to wonder what might happen if things went just a little bit wrong.
The film is ground breaking in many ways. For an Indian film to have no songs is unusual. Even more unusual is for an Indian film to tackle potential infidelity in such a head on way. We westerners may find the ending a little woolly. Perhaps we can bear in mind that if the film ended in the way we might wish it to it may have caused offence in India and it might well have felt the wrath of the censor.
There are some lovely performances here - Imrat Kaur, a much loved Indian TV star, plays Ila and seizes the chance of a role requiring great subtlety and feeling. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is more used to playing tough guys but here displays a considerable talent for light comedy. Bharati Achrekar as the unseen Auntie has made a career out of comic mothers…. but through it all moves the marvellous Irrfan Khan. One of the finest actors of our time, and blessed with a voice that can turn any of the languages he speaks into music, Mr. Khan is the film's heart and soul as he reads aloud Saajan's notes of longing. "I think we forget things if we have no one to tell them to," he writes to Ila. Luckily for them, and for us, the two have memorable things to tell. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014 - Dir.: Wes Anderson - 1 hour 40 minutes. Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 27th September, 2014

While other filmmakers get their hands dirty in kitchen sinks, Wes Anderson surely slips his into luxury cashmere mittens. His films overflow with intricate detail and make no pretence of existing in a world other than their own, just-about-earthbound parallel universe. So the five-star premises of this energetic comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – a wedding-cake-like, pastel-coloured establishment situated somewhere in 1930s Mitteleuropa and peopled by eccentrics and lunatics – feel like business as usual. His films, notably “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Fantastic Mr Fox”, have always been made on minimal budgets through independent producers - so having a substantial pot of money from 20th Century Fox has allowed him to let his imagination run riot. 
The extra cash has also permitted him to employ a whole army of outstanding actors from Ralph Fiennes in the lead… through Tilda Swinton (worth her weight in latex)… to F. Murray Abraham (Salieri in “Amadeus”). The film was mostly shot on location in East Germany using old technology (35mm film) before being digitally edited. Incidentally… The name of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka comes from the Polish vodka Zubrowka - vodka seasoned with Bison grass.     

The Republic of Zubrowka 
The hotel and the republic are supposedly fictional… and yet the most respected hotel review site on the net lists it - and it has lots of reviews….I really enjoyed every little bitty bit of the Grand Budapest Hotel. The only negative thing I can say is that there seemed to be several military men in and out of the lobby at different times. Almost as though they were casing the joint. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about." Wendy J, Jacksonville, North Carolina

Saturday, 2 August 2014


2013 - Dir.: Alfonso Cuarón - 1 hours 31 minutes (UK)Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 30th August, 2014

There's a sequence in Stanley Kubrick's “2001: A Space Odyssey” in which the rebelling supercomputer Hal throws a space pod at astronaut Frank Poole, sending him spinning silently through the empty void. This sequence is effectively expanded to feature-film length in “Gravity”. Created through a painstaking combination of physical and digital performance that shatters the divide between live action and animation, “Gravity” boasts a level of sheer visual inventiveness that would have left Stanley Kubrick's head spinning. Aided by the technicians at London's Framestore, “Gravity” invites us to gaze in awe at the cinematic spectacle of space, to marvel at the weighty mysteries of this big-screen cosmos. And marvel you will, as director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki opens a Pandora's paintbox of light, bouncing the brilliant reflections of celestial bodies around the virtual set with a clear, crisp precision. It is, in the best sense, a fairground ride of a film, sweeping you off your feet, turning you upside down, spinning you right round and round and round… before dropping you back down to Earth; wobbly legged, jaw dropped and appropriately light-headed. You have been warned!
The majority of the film was shot digitally at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios. Only the final scene was shot on 65mm film because, as will become clear, the director needed to create a completely different atmosphere. 80 of Gravity’s 91 minutes were created by digital special effects which took 3 years to create. Who says the camera never lies?

Director Alfonso Cuarón admits that some scientific truths are bent in the interests of drama - however, the film's cascade of debris is a very real possibility. This scenario is known as the Kessler syndrome. A cascading Kessler syndrome involving an object the size of the International Space Station would trigger a catastrophic chain-reaction of debris. The orbiting debris field would make it impossible to launch space exploration missions or satellites for many decades. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014


1975 - Dir: Ken Russell - 1 hour 53 minutes. Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 1st August, 2014

“TOMMY BY THE WHO” - More correctly the credit line should read “Tommy by Pete Townsend”. The Who’s guitarist had experimented with a shorter work on the same theme but it was not until 1968, when long playing records began to outsell singles, that it became possible for him to push the idea of a full length rock opera. Townsend sketched out the story and wrote most of the music with the rest of the group adding and influencing the shape in rehearsal. The album was released in 1969 and was a sensation.
Unusually for a rock work there’s a linear narrative. The piece chronicles the story of a boy who becomes deaf, dumb and blind after witnessing the murder of his father. Through his mastery of pinball, he is cured, elevated to prophet status and then turned on by his followers. This examination of spirituality and self was a massive success and rapidly climbed album charts the world over. The Who’s subsequent tour included a full performance of Tommy at each show. Ultimately, the barrier-shattering work was performed at several major opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.
AND THEN THERE WAS KEN: The choice of Ken Russell as director at first seemed to be at odds with the more subtle aspects of the story of Tommy. The director had just been responsible for a series of stylish shockers - Women in Love, The Devils and The Music Lovers to name but three. However, in his early work, Ken had demonstrated a great musical understanding with his BBC essays on the great composers. He also had a reputation for consummate craftsmanship - and an ability to pilot the most difficult of projects to a successful conclusion. The latter quality would have been considered essential for a film involving rock musicians. In the event Robert Stigwood made a wise choice. Russell instantly bonded with the band, moulded the story into a visual spectacular and conscripted the most unlikely performers to flesh out the drama. A lesser director would have merely made a record of a performance - Russell turned it into a bravura display of epic proportions. It’s way over the top, predictably vulgar in parts, breathtaking in others. Ground breaking techniques were used which stretched the technology of the age. Crash zooms, strobe effects and fast cutting have become standard tools but in 1975 they were a challenge for technicians and audiences alike. Many of the set pieces were way ahead of their time and still stand up after 40 years. Whether the whole film survives the test of time is less certain - but you are the best people to judge. Tommy hasn’t been seen in cinemas for 30 years - so you are the first people to see, feel and hear it as it was meant to be seen, felt and heard. Ken Russell died in 2011 at the age of 84. It’s difficult to imagine such a wild and provocative film maker being allowed to flourish in 2014’s antiseptic climate.
QUINTAPHONICS: Tommy has not been available in its original form for many years. This new digital restoration includes the original “Quintaphonic” soundtrack. In 1975 a few UK cinemas were equipped with 4 track sound but none could cope with 5 tracks. Selected city centre theatres were specially equipped for the film - but ordinary local cinemas played the film in mono. There were reports of some theatres trying to play the track though their standard stereo systems and blowing up the loudspeakers. We are equipped with 5.1 surround sound so we can play the soundtrack in its intended form without risk of destruction. The director insisted that it should be played loud - so this will certainly not be a quiet night at the movies!

Cuban Fury

2014 - Dir: James Griffith - 1 hour 38 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on July 4th, 2014
This is a bit of fun for a summer Friday night. Light and frothy… so it’s interesting to find out that there’s a grain of autobiographical truth behind it. Leading actor and salsa sensation Nick Frost came up with the idea for the film because of his own frustrated fixation with dance. He always loved the idea of dancing on screen, but he was afraid to tell anyone. “It would haunt me,” he says. “Every now and again it would pop up and say, ‘You need to tell someone about me.’” One night he came home from a party and simply couldn’t keep his secret any longer. He sent an email and then fell asleep in his clothes. “I woke up the next day and my mouth was dry and I looked at my laptop and there was a reply reading, ‘This is a great idea. Let’s do it,’” Frost says. “I was terrified but it was also a tremendous relief.” In the movie it looks like Frost knows what he’s doing on a dance floor - and he does. He spent seven months learning salsa and even although “there were tears,” he knew he had to pull it off - if for no other reason than as the producer he’d committed to mastering the moves to get his dream project funded. “I’ve been in meetings where I’m saying, ‘Yeah, of course I’ll dance - don’t worry about me’ to get it green-lit,” he says. “It was only until half-way through month six that I was convinced I could do it”
Chris O’Dowd, last seen here in “The Sapphires”, is one of the busiest actors in the business. He has at least three projects on the go at the moment and co-wrote his recent Irish film “Calvary”… and he’s the voice of Dr Cockroach in “Monsters vs Aliens” on the telly. Ian McShane, who has made a career out of slightly seedy characters, has also been busy. He’s best remembered for Lovejoy (all 73 episodes of it) but since that last graced our screens in 1994 he’s never stopped working. Blockbuster or independent art picture, he’s in them all - He’s Blackbeard in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Captain Hook in Shrek and currently has no less than 5 films on the verge of release. Rashida Jones, though excellent in this film, has obviously been parachuted in to add a bit of appeal in the American market. She’s the daughter of Quincy Jones and stars on American TV in “The Awesomes”… whatever that is!
Salsa dancing originated in New York in the mid-1970s. It evolved from earlier dance forms such as "Cha cha cha" and Mambo which were popular in New York, and incorporated elements of Swing dancing and Hustle, as well as bits of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean dances such as Guaguanco and Pachanga.
There is some controversy surrounding the origins of the word salsa. Some claim that it was based on a cry shouted by musicians while they were playing their music. Other believe that the term was created by record labels to better market their music, who chose the word "salsa" because of its spicy and hot connotations. Still others believe the term came about because salsa dancing and music is a mixture of different styles, just like salsa or "sauce" in Latin American countries is a mixture of different ingredients.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Captain Phillips

2013 - Dir: Paul Greengrass - 2 hours 14 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 9th May, 2014

If you ever wanted to experience what it would be like to be held hostage by a band of desperate and dangerous high-seas buccaneers as they brandish automatic weapons with careless abandon, then this is probably as close as you will ever get, or want to get.
For those whose idea of a pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow – or Long John Silver... or Captain Pugwash, for that matter – this real-life account will be a rude awakening as it presents the real present day thing. British docudrama specialist Paul Greengrass is at the top of his craft here - nervous handheld cameras, grainy cinematography, a mostly anonymous cast, and a tension-drenched situation - to re-create the 2009 attempt to hijack an American cargo ship. Lean-and-hungry members of the world’s under-class - a ragtag, brazenly opportunistic band of young Somali men - stage their attack as if pulling off a smash-and-grab at a jewellery store. After that, it's full steam ahead and no turning back.... you have been warned!
The real thing...
Of course this is based on an actual event where the real Captain Phillips was captured by Somali pirates but it’s doubtful if the movie is completely faithful to the actual story. Fellow crew members on the Maersk Alabama have poured cold water on the idea of Phillips as a hero. After the hijacking, 11 crew members sued Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp. for almost $50 million, alleging “wilful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety.” “The crew had begged Captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast,” said Deborah Waters, the attorney who brought the claim. “He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.” Some of the crew allege that Phillips was verging on insane and welcomed the attack almost as a means of suicide. Phillips was hailed as a hero after his rescue by a nation that has a record of hero worship and now we have this film - fiction is sometimes stranger than truth!
The facts about Somali piracy...
Somali piracy rose to prominence after a huge spike in ship hijacks in 2009 (when this film is set), with more than 163 ships attacked and 46 boarded by pirates. The ‘trade’ soon boomed as the Somali pirates realized that they could make huge sums of money from ransoms paid by the ships’ owners.  At one point, the ransom demands averaged at around $5.4 million. And the delays and damages were costing the maritime industry around €7 billion-a-year. The European Union Naval Force Somalia, also known as EU-NAVFOR-ATALANTA, was set up in late 2008 with the aim of escorting merchant vessels in the area. More than 20 EU countries have participated in the mission and the problem has been much reduced with only 3 attacks recorded in 2013. However one ship, the FV Naham 3, and 28 crew members are still being held hostage, as are another 26 sailors captured from other ships.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Murder on the Orient Express

1974 - Dir.: Sidney Lumet - 2 hours 8 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 26th April, 2014

It has to be admitted that at one time this film was never off the telly. However, those of us who saw it in the cinema have always felt that the small screen really didn’t do it justice. It’s a big film, made with big money, with big stars, big music and big acting - hardly the sort of thing to be confined to a box in the living room. Now, like so many pre-loved classics, it’s been dusted off, cleaned up and digitally restored to its sparkly, glossy bigness and is fit to dazzle us on the big screen once more.
It’s set 1934 - at a time where the very rich live a charmed existence born along on a fluffy cloud of luxury - or, in this case, in a fluffy train of luxury - untroubled by any thoughts of the poverty and strife endured by the lower orders (nothing changes!). It might be sacrilege to suggest that Agatha Christie was a snob but, let’s face it, she was. Servants and working folk are always “colourful” and quirky and quite often are proved conveniently to be the murderer (thus allowing the nobs to carry on with their carousing unhindered by the hangman’s noose). This story is perhaps her most socialist - we shan’t mention the reason lest there are any of you who have never read the book or seen the film. Let’s just say it’s an equal opportunity murder.
One of the enduring delights of this movie is the lush score by Richard Rodney Bennett. It was originally intended to do it on the cheap and get Bennett to arrange some 1930s tunes for the soundtrack. Bennett, a classical composer who loved jazz, persuaded the director to let him compose an original score. The composer wrote many film scores and one of the last was for “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.
The 84-year-old Agatha Christie attended the movie premiere in November of 1974. It was the only film adaptation in her lifetime that she was completely satisfied with. She felt that Albert Finney's performance came closest to her idea of Poirot though she hated his moustache.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Great Beauty

La Grande Bellezza
2013 - Dir: Paolo Sorrentino - 2 hours 14 minutes
Shown in FeckenOdeon 2 on 6th April, 2014

The Film:
“Rome is the Eternal City, but it is also one of the great cities of cinema, which means continuous change and flow. “The Great Beauty” plunges headlong into the current. All you can do is plunge in there with it and clamber out a couple of hours later, sopping wet, gulping the air and perhaps having lost a shoe.” - extract from the Daily Telegraph review - you have been warned! 
“Rome is alive at night. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Rome is the party that never ends. (Clubs don't get going until after midnight.) Discos compete for extravagant themes and décor and provide a great evening for the young and foot loose. Thursdays through Sundays are club nights when the whole city seems to be out on the town.” - from a tourist guide to Rome.
This is the back ground against which this film is set and which provides a stark contrast with the classical beauty of the city. It is said that the film is a commentary on the world of Silvio Berlusconi - enthusiastically bunga-bunga partying (like Nero fiddled)... while his city, and the nation headed for certain destruction. It’s a theme echoed in the work of other Italian directors - Roberto Rossellini and Federico Fellini to name but two - and perhaps the “Eternal City” refers to the perpetual nature of hedonism and corruption that clings to this most lovely place.
The Director:
Paolo Sorrentino isn’t a well know name in the UK but that may all be about to change. The success of this much lauded film is about to propel him onto the international mainstream scene. His next project is to be “Into the Future” and will star Michael Caine. He’s also due to make a TV series for Sky entitled “The Young Pope”. 
Sorrentino was born in Naples in 1970. His first film as screenwriter, “Polvere di Napoli”, was released in 1998. He also began directing short movies before making his feature-length debut with One Man Up (L'uomo in più), for which he was awarded the Nastro D'Argento prize. A string of successes followed, including a controversial biopic of politician Mario Andreotti and an English language film “This Must be the Place” starring Sean Penn..
This film “The Great Beauty” is his most spectacular success. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2014 Academy Awards as well as the  BAFTA award for Best Film Not in the English Language. It also carried off the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It has not been widely shown in the UK

Saturday, 22 March 2014


2013 - Dir.: Sacha Gervasi - 1 hour 33 minutes (UK)
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th March, 2014

Sir Alfred Hitchcock remains one of the most famous directors in movie history, not only because of his droll public image, but also because of the enduring appeal of so many of his films. He knew something universal about moviegoers, and it may come down to his most familiar theme: The Innocent Man Wrongly Accused. It's surprising, then, that his most successful and infamous film, "Psycho" (1960), had no leading characters who were innocent, certainly not Norman Bates and not even the purported heroine, played by Janet Leigh. This film tells the story of the making of Psycho from the point of view of Mr & Mrs Hitchcock. It dwells less on Hitch’s supposed obsession with young blonde ladies (as other films and a recent stage play have done) and looks at the strains and stresses placed on the relationship by the creative and financial process of making a film that no-one else wanted made. Who can say if it was actually like this? Perhaps, in the spirit of The Master, we really shouldn’t care if it makes good cinema - and, with two of our most forceful actors on screen, how could it fail to be good cinema? This film received a bit of a lukewarm critical reception - perhaps because it appeared very soon after another film and a TV play about Hitchcock. It certainly takes a different standpoint and, one suspects, it doesn’t take itself as seriously - rather like Hitch himself.
● Real-life serial murderer Ed Gein inspired the character Norman Bates in the original Robert Bloch novel 'Psycho'; Gein also inspired the character of Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) in 'Thomas Harris''s novel 'The Silence of the Lambs'... and Gumb was chillingly played by Anthony Hopkins in the film version.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Band's Visit

Bikur Ha-Tizmoret
2007 (Israel) - Dir: Eran Kolirin 1 hour 27 minutes
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 14th March, 2014
When you travel to an unfamiliar foreign country you’re bound to feel nervous. If you’re Egyptian and you travel to Israel you’re understandably going to be even more nervous. The two countries haven’t always seen things the same way and the slightest mistake could be misunderstood and build into an international incident. Under such circumstances you’d be extra careful... probably. But anyone can make a mistake - even the grandly titled and immaculately costumed Egyptian Police Ceremonial Band. Even Ceremonial bandsmen are human... and fallible. When you’ve got yourself lost in the middle of nowhere and the last bus has gone there’s nothing for it but to get on with the people you’ve been taught to dislike. The revelation that they’re like you - ordinary, bored, wanting company... love, peace... comes as a welcome shock. It’s a bit like discovering that even Parisians have a sense of humour (oh yes they do!) or that Milton Keynes has a nice pub. This likeable film doesn’t preach about how we should all get on together and break down the walls that divide us - it acknowledges that ordinary folk like us can do nothing about the entrenched attitudes of politicians and zealots - so we might as well just get on with people in general. 
First-time writer and director Eran Kolirin, whose film was inspired by a real-life incident of a lost Egyptian police orchestra in Israel, spent years developing the script. He eventually drew on talent from both sides of the Arab-Israeli world to make a film that drives its message home through the very fact that it was possible to make it.

The Band's Visit won seven Ophir Prizes from the Israeli Film Academy, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and acting awards for stars Ronit Elkabetz (her third Award of the Israeli Film Academy), Sasson Gabai (his first win after three nominations) and Saleh Bakri, plus awards from festivals all over the world, including three from Cannes, the most prestigious festival in the world, including the FIPRESCI prize. It was, however, disqualified as Israel's entry for Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (Oscar) nominee because over 50% of the dialogue was in English and denied a nomination for the very astute point that the film makes about communication in the modern world. If you don’t speak Egyptian you speak English - if you don’t speak Israeli you speak English! Time to revise the categories?! Even without the nomination, The Band's Visit was one of the most well reviewed films and financially successful foreign imports to the USA in 2008. Now impressario Harold Prince has decided to present The Band’s Visit as a stage musical. It will open in Tokyo later this year before going on to Broadway.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Apartment

1960 - Dir.: Billy Wilder - 2 hours 5 minutes
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 22nd February, 2014

When Billy Wilder made “The Apartment” in 1960, offices were only on the edge of being mechanised and armies of people were needed to operate them. One of the opening shots in the movie shows Jack Lemmon as one of a vast horde of wage slaves, working in a room where the desks line up in parallel rows almost to the vanishing point. This shot is a deliberate tribute to King Vidor's silent film “The Crowd” (1928), which is also about a faceless employee in a heartless corporation. Strangely the “open plan” office has made a comeback in recent years. 
This is the director’s second collaboration with Jack Lemmon, who plays a variation on that recurrent Wilder character, the weak guy who becomes a pimp or a gigolo to advance his career. In this instance, he's an insurance company clerk who wins promotion by lending his Manhattan flat to lecherous senior employees, among them his chilly departmental chief, superbly played by Fred MacMurray, also making his second appearance in a Wilder film. Alexander Trauner's sets are unforgettable and Shirley MacLaine is deeply moving as the exploited lift attendant Lemmon comes to care for. One of the striking things about this film isn't the romance, or even the comedy, but the shabbiness, pettiness and nastiness of the office politics - many of us will sympathise!
The scene on the cold night on the park bench was really cold. Jack Lemmon had to be sprayed with anti-freeze to stop him frosting over.
The nasal spray was actually milk - real spray wouldn’t have shown up on the black and white flm
C.C. Baxter is just a poor worker - but inside his apartment are two authentic Tiffany Studios lamps, worth hardly anything when the film was made, but now worth between $30,000 and $40,000 each.

The Sapphires

2012 - Dir: Wayne Blair
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 14th February, 2014

This is a light hearted film but the plight of Australia’s native people is hardly the jewel in that county’s crown. Until 1967 Australian law classed Aboriginal people as "flora or fauna." The government had the authority to remove light-skinned native children from their families as part of a program (depicted in "Rabbit-Proof Fence") to make them part of the white community. It’s against this background that the film is set. The fact that it’s based on a real group and that they did indeed become successful despite all the odds is encouraging - but one fears that it is not the end of the story of Aboriginal repression. The film is co-written by the son of one of the real-life singers and directed by Wayne Blair, who starred in the play based on their story, "The Sapphires" is clearly a labour of love for all involved. It's also a warm tribute to four women for whom success as performers was just the beginning.
The film is only partially accurate - there really was an all-female Australian aboriginal singing group named The Sapphires in the 1960s, although originally there were three of them: Laurel Robinson (the mother of screenwriter Tony Briggs), Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers. They performed at hotels, pubs, cabarets, clubs, parties, army barracks and universities around Melbourne. When they were invited to Vietnam to perform for the troops, Briggs and Mayers declined, as they were against the war, so Robinson enlisted her sister Lois Peeler to join her. In Vietnam, the duo of Robinson and Peeler performed backing vocals for a New Zealand Maori band they had performed with in Melbourne. It was this Maori band who introduced them to soul music; the character of Dave Lovelace, portrayed in the film by Chris O'Dowd, did not exist.... but without him there would have been no love story... and without the feisty four it wouldn’t have been half as entertaining. There was controversy surrounding the film’s American release when the distributor chose to promote Chris O’Dowd as the “star” and relegated the band to the background. 
The Sapphires was an enormous box office success in its native country - the biggest earner of 2012. Despite a clutch of awards from film festivals around the world, the big distributors chose to ignore it. It received minimum publicity for a minimal release of just 5 weeks at “selected screens” in the UK  and fared equally poorly in the USA. As is often the case it has been left to community cinemas and film societies to pick up the pieces and the film has been showing throughout the country to packed and appreciative houses. We’re delighted to be part of this “underground” circuit.


2012 - Dir.: Dustin Hoffman - 1 hours 38 minutes
Shown at the FeckenOdeon on 25th January, 2014

All of a sudden it’s OK to be old in the movies - not only old but old and British. A crop of box office hits including “Calendar Girls” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” convinced the big cinema chains that the wrinkly pound was worth chasing. It won’t last long of course. The studio executive committees are busy grinding out predictable clones and there have already been a couple of fairly nauseating examples - including one that virtually repeated the plot of Calendar Girls (only with chaps - try not to think about it!). 
Quartet could easily have turned out that way but it’s saved by a director who eats, sleeps and dreams cinema - and who, surprisingly, has never directed a film before. Dustin Hoffman was 75 when he first shouted “action” on a movie set and you can feel his determination to make this one count (perhaps his first and last chance?) - undoubtedly his sympathy for the subject matter is perfectly natural. He’s helped by a literate script by Sir Ronald Harwood (76) who rewrote his stage play of the same name. 
The play ran in London in 1999 and 2000 and was a popular success.  The Daily Telegraph commented: "...the show's heart is in the right place and a cherishable company of senior thesps give it everything they’ve got, breathing vitality into a script that could be an inert embarrassment if performed by less accomplished players." The senior thesps involved in 1999 were  Sir Donald Sinden, Alec McCowen, Stephanie Cole and Angela Thorne. Tonight’s quartet are no less senior and no less cherishable!
Tom Courtney (75), Maggie Smith (78), Billy Connolly (70) and Pauline Collins (72) relish the chance to prove that it really ain’t over until the fat lady stops singing.
PLEASE REMAIN SEATED DURING THE CREDITS - apart from the fact that the music is beautiful, there are fascinating “then and now” pictures of members of the cast - many of whom have been performers on the operatic and musical stage for a very long time (opera lovers should look out for former Royal Opera stars Dame Gwyneth Jones (76) and John Rawnsley (a mere 62).