After so many famous deaths this year, I need something to cheer me up. Thankfully, today is the 82nd birthday of the amazing Maggie Smith. The iconic dame has been in the movie business for over 60 years and is still going strong. She is the definition of a scene stealer, owning the screen whenever she graces it. At least she is still with us and her talents are still being put to good use. Happy Birthday Maggie Smith, you are a true treasure.
I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Carrie Fisher, days after she suffered a heart attack. She was taken too young at the age of only 60. I am in complete shock I must say as this is a big loss. For me, she will always be the resourceful Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies. I admired her frankness in her admittance to suffering from depression and drug addiction in the past, she truly was open about it and never shied away from it. While I am very sad to hear of her passing, I take comfort in knowing that her legacy in film is secured and her spirit will live on.
The Riot Club
- Max Irons as Miles
- Sam Claflin as Alistair
- Douglas Booth as Harry
- Holliday Grainger as Lauren
- Natalie Dormer as Charlie
- Jessica Brown Findlay as Rachel
- Tom Hollander as Jeremy
A dark and often uncomfortable film set within a secret Oxford society of toffee-nosed young men, The Riot Club has currency undoubtedly. And while the direction is confident at burrowing into this world and the performances pretty good, it never quite pulls together as a film which ultimately knocks it down in estimations.
Two young men, Miles and Alistair begin their first years at Oxford University. Both boys are from prosperous backgrounds but are very much opposite in terms of attitude; Miles is an amiable guy, who despite being from money, is quite open-minded and funny, while Alistair is a surly, resentful guy with a massive chip on his shoulder. Starting life in university, they both begin to hear of The Riot Club. It is a secret society that has been going for centuries and is dedicated to debauchery, drinking and selfishly bad behaviour. The club needs ten members each term and at the minute, there are only eight people. Slowly, both boys are coerced into the club, which gets away with most of its activities through the use of money and entitlement. Now proper members, they are invited to the celebration dinner that the club hosts every year. As they have been banned from quite a few establishments for misdemeanors in the past, they settle on a pub and take their hedonism to the back room. As the night progresses, things begin to get out of hand very quickly. And when a shocking act of violence is committed, it threatens to shatter the club to the very core and tear their futures apart.
Having directed the perceptive An Education, Lone Scherfig transfers her skills to this cruel subject matter. Her direction is quite adept as she shoots from something of an outsider’s point of view; getting us to sneak into this debauched world of privilege and abhorrence, even if we don’t understand it. Scherfig is at her best when it comes to the crux of the film, which is the annual dinner scene where the dramatic heft comes in. Playing with whirling camera angles and too close for comfort close-ups, she intelligently gets across the scathing attack on the rich, who have no cares but their own and don’t give a damn about who they hurt. It is the best part of an uneven movie and one that savagely builds to violence. Before that, the pace takes a little bit too long to get really going and you may find yourself losing interest. At least when the dining scene hits, it grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pulls you in. If most of the film had been confined to this extended scene, then the claustrophobic impact may have hit a little harder than it actually did. The script from Laura Wade, and based on her own play, takes vicious aim at the class system, a culture of entitlement and the accountability of actions. Yet while this barbed snarl comes through loud and clear, it unfortunately feels rather heavy-handed and not quite as perceptive as it likes to think it is. Most of the characters in the eponymous club are rich, snotty and ultimately vile human beings and while that may be the point of them, you don’t half feel a bit sordid watching them behave this way. The main character of Miles is the one closest thing to a hero as he is the most at odds with everything and slowly becomes aware, but he is by and large the only real character to like. All the rest, you really just want to reach through the screen and thump for their arrogance. A bit more bite in the writing may have lifted The Riot Club higher, but it never quite gets beneath the themes that it raises. In the end, a lot of it just feels like another boys behaving badly film that has been done to death over the years. A quietly intriguing and bristling score at least brings some much-needed tension and irony to the film.
What gives The Riot Club extra points is most of the cast. Max Irons plays the mainly upstanding member of the group who is seduced by the adventure at first, but then begins to feel disillusioned when he sees how vile it really is. Irons does a commendable job that makes you feel sympathy towards him as he realises the wrong that the club revel in, even if it is a little too late once chaos erupts. Sam Claflin is equally as marvellous, tearing up the screen little by little as a young man who feels inferior and acts out in a snobbish way to get some form of power. His vitriolic speech in the middle of the film where he boasts of his elitism and disdain for the poor is a pretty damn fine piece of acting. While the other members of the group blend into each other with their shared nastiness and pompous snobbery, Douglas Booth stands out playing the raffish one who is never far from a lady. The Riot Club has only around three female parts and while none of them are a particular stretch, the actresses inhabiting them do a commendable job. Holliday Grainger essays the role of Max’s less well off girlfriend who while sweet can spot a mile away that his involvement in the club will only lead to a downfall. Natalie Dormer has what amounts to a cameo as a prostitute who quite rightly puts the boys in their place and clearly won’t take no guff. The last girl is Jessica Brown Findlay as a waitress who also doesn’t take well to the harassment and attitude of the disreputable toffs. Tom Hollander has an eye-catching cameo here that makes the most of his time on screen.
Appropriately dizzying and disquieting as it is, along with confident direction, The Riot Club simply doesn’t have enough within it to make it stand out and could have been telegraphed better. And given the nasty characters, the film can be repulsive to many and it never reaches the levels of bitter satire that it aspires too.
Firstly, I would like to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas for tomorrow. Have a splendid time with family and friends. I thought it would be good to get one last recap post before the new year. So following are some of my old reviews that you may have missed. Next year, I will continue with similar posts.
She Done Him Wrong
- Mae West as Lady Lou
- Cary Grant as Captain Cummings
- Noah Beery as Gus Jordan
- Owen Moore as Chick Clarke
- Gilbert Roland as Serge
- Rafaela Ottiano as Rita
A big moneymaker in its day that saved Paramount from bankruptcy and announced Mae West as something of a sexual firebrand chafing at views of purity, She Done Him Wrong has quite a lot of historical value attached to it. Based on a Broadway play of West’s, the plot is a bit lacking, but the star vehicle for West is very entertaining due to her iconic personality and sense of impudent humour.
1890’s Bowery, New York; Lady Lou is a bejeweled and popular entertainer at a local saloon. She enjoys the company of many men, in particular those who can provide her with jewelry. The latest man in her life is the owner of the saloon Gus Jordan, who showers her with diamonds and luxuries as she is the star attraction. On the side however, along with two sleazy associates Serge and Rita, he is involved in seedy dealings in order to fund the flow of diamonds. Lou also catches the attentions of a young mission director named Captain Cummings, who she also takes a bit of a shine to( despite him having a secret agenda). While stringing men along, Lou must contend with her former flame Chick Clarke. He is currently in prison and is very possessive of the irrepressible Lou, and vows that if she strays he will make her sorry. Soon things start getting eventful around the saloon for all the men in Lou’s life and the woman herself, especially when Chick Clark escapes and heads straight to her. But as always, Lady Lou knows what to do in order to look after her own interests in typically sexy fashion.
Lowell Sherman’s direction is simple and straightforward, allowing the various events to play out in a quick and easy way. The plot in She Done Him Wrong is largely secondary to the sassy persona of West, though it has its moments of eventfulness as it includes crime and comedy. The biggest draw of the film is how it revels in a sense of naughtiness that caused a bit of a stir back in the day(hell the production code was introduced not long after this movie was released.) Some of it may appear take today, but the sheer amount of innuendo, ribald suggestion and rudeness is for all to witness, and for my money you can still see why this had tongues wagging and people a little shocked as parts of it still have a blue pizzazz. And we shouldn’t forget, Mae West had a writing credit for this film taken from her own play, which firmly established her as a shrewd and witty comedienne who did things her way and wouldn’t compromise. The script, especially the dialogue for the part of Lady Lou practically fizzes with saucy verve and sly wit( who can forget her classic line of ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?’); making the film a brisk affair that you don’t have to deeply think about, but you can just sit back and appreciate the playful sexiness it has by the bucket load. You’re not going into the film expecting an intricate plot, you’re going in for the rollicking excitement and to view how the movie obviously caused scandal in a gleeful way upon initial release in the 30’s. One can get the feeling that too much is trying to be put into this short film and to some extent that is a little true, but this flaw is largely compensated for by the energy and bawdy humour that can cover that crack. A bit more coherence could have been put in, but one can overlook that with the help of West’s larger than life appearance and button pushing attitude. A jaunty score is the excellent thing to accompany this and includes a good few musical numbers performed by West herself.
Mae West for lack of better words, is the picture and the star attraction. Everything revolves around her outrageous attitude and forthright view on sex. And boy does Mae West know how to up the ante in what was her second film and the one that really announced her as a force of nature. The way she acts as Lady Lou is just so open and raunchy, with saucy dialogue coming from her mouth by the minute and the way she struts across the screen like a diva. It’s fun to see West sashay through the picture with a cheeky twinkle and supreme confidence in massive amounts. I must say from seeing her in this film, it isn’t difficult to see why she was so popular and controversial. Plus it has me interested to see more of her no cares in the world attitude in other movies. When you have someone as brash and scene stealing as Mae West on film, the rest of the cast somewhat pales in comparison, though some have their moments. It’s interesting to see a young Cary Grant as the slightly awkward mission captain who may not be as innocent as he appears. He displays quite a few glimpses of that debonair charisma that the world would come to love when he became a Hollywood King. Noah Beery is good enough as the benefactor, while Owen Moore is impressive as Lou’s imprisoned beau. Gilbert Roland and Rafaela Ottiano are also good enough touches to the film, if somewhat overly secondary. These roles are somewhat small as West is the real draw and driving force in She Done Him Wrong.
The plot is nothing really special, but the salty script, unmistakable Mae West and an early performance from one Cary Grant are the chief attractions in She Done Him Wrong. If you want a film to give you the essence of Mae West and her persona, She Done Him Wrong is a very good place to begin.
It’s a Wonderful Life
- James Stewart as George Bailey
- Donna Reed as Mary Hatch Bailey
- Lionel Barrymore as Henry Potter
- Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy
- Henry Travers as Clarence
A movie that practically defines the term life affirming, It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful hymn to the spirit of community and the difference of one person on so many others. A perennial Christmas movie, it earns all of that adulation through the story, moving direction of Frank Capra and the lead performance from the iconic James Stewart.
George Bailey is a dreaming young man who has always wanted to travel and explore. Unfortunately, fate has had different plans for him which leaves him forever in his hometown of Bedford Falls. As he is a kind-hearted man, over the years he has had to make multiple sacrifices to help others. The biggest one was foregoing an education after his father’s death, so he could take over the building and loan business. This is largely due to him not wanting the sly and crafty banker Henry Potter to take advantage of the small town, as he is known for trampling all over anyone who gets in his way. George gets some respite from his troubles thanks to his lovely wife Mary and their young children, but even then George starts to feel like he hasn’t achieved anything and has constantly put his life on hold. Events come to a head on Christmas Eve when his Uncle Billy, who works with his nephew, loses a large sum of business money that secretly falls into the hands of the wicked Potter. Terrified of the potential scandal on his business and how it will affect all of those closest to him, George is beset by suicidal thoughts. While George is contemplating killing himself, prayers from many have reached the heavens and a bumbling angel by the name of Clarence appears to George. Clarence is there to persuade George that he should continue with life(in return he will receive his wings), even though George dismisses his ideas. Seeing no other option and throw his powers, Clarence shows George what life would have been like if he hadn’t existed, hoping it will bring him back from the brink and notice how valuable he is.
Frank Capra’s direction is one that touches the soul deeply and never rings false with any of the emotion displayed. With gentle humour and careful insight, he conjures up the importance of being there for others and while life can be unfair to us, we can be rewarded for our good deeds with the respect of others. While It’s a Wonderful Life is known for its sentiments and uplifting story, it also manages to temper this with the possibility of what if, as a despairing George comes to see how much he has influenced everyone and the deeply felt love they have for him. Even when there are melancholy moments, the glimpses of hope are never very far and this film balances both joy and bittersweetness in peerless fashion. It’s a Wonderful Life splendidly poses the notions that even when it is a dark time, there is always something out there to pull you back up again. I particularly love the framing device used in the film. We begin with two angels(represented by flickering lights in the sky) explaining about George and what he plans to do. Clarence joins and is given his task to help poor George see that life is worth living and then we get the vignettes from George’s life to explain just why he is contemplating ending it all. In the second half of the picture, the narrative catches up with the present and the mystical and divine intervention takes the film to soaring heights of finely felt emotion and morality. I don’t know why the structure of the film appealed to me, but I think it had something to do with how it fleshed out George as a character and made us all see the doubt that was creeping into him. A suitably twinkling score, laced with the festive cheers bubbling underneath it, evocatively brings forth the observation of how one person can have a big impact in the grand design of things, without actually realising just how cared for they are. Simply stated, you can’t help but be pulled into this lovely film in all its moving and specially magic glory.
James Stewart is what truly makes It’s a Wonderful Life such a favourite of many. His intrinsic ordinariness and relatability are ideally found in the part of George Bailey, along with the nagging self-doubt that plagues him. Stewart excels at making the part one of humility and altruism, yet never falls into soapy melodrama because of how grounded he makes the role. We can all relate to someone like George, who has worked hard and had to sacrifice to help others, and Stewart’s heartfelt delivery is the winning key to it. Donna Reed stunningly supports him as the caring and giving wife, who sticks with him through thick and thin. For this kind of story of the individual making the difference against something, you need a good villain and Lionel Barrymore more than fits that bill. His part of Potter is a nasty piece of work in the boo/hiss variety and the presence of Barrymore infuses him with the villainy needed. Thomas Mitchell and Henry Travers practically light up the supporting characters; Travers in particular is ideally cast as the guiding angel sent to help George in his time of need.
A film that will warm the heart and soul, as well as make you laugh, cry and be happy, It’s a Wonderful Life encompasses such a range of feelings and messages that it can’t be forgotten because of its care and deep soul. And who doesn’t love breaking this movie out for Christmas time?
Everyone check out this outstanding drawing by Megan. She kindly drew my butt and with it being my birthday today, it seemed appropriate for a birthday suit shot!
Per his request, my pal Vinnnie in a sketch of his bottom. Despite the obvious main subject matter, I’m actually most pleased with how I drew the right hand and fingers. That was difficult. To view the original photo I copied for this sketch, please go visit Vinnie’s wildly entertaining film and TV blog. Here is le derrière:
I know people may be wondering why I posted this now as it isn’t Christmas just yet, but bear with me. Of late, with the preparations for Christmas, my movie watching has slipped a bit. Usually this happens around this time of year for me, and I generally watch a lot of movies just as Christmas hits. It seems that the television is once again filled with great movies to view this year. Anyway back to my point, if you wonder where I am over the Christmas period, I’m just celebrating with family and friends. In case any of you wonder if I’ve gone missing, I haven’t and who knows I may have time to blog. I guess what I want to say is to everyone out there, have a spectacular Christmas and thank you for your continued excellence. And as its me, I had to put something sexy for you all.
I am a huge fan of the legendary Angela Lansbury. I mean her work ethic and quota of stage, screen and theatre appearances is staggering. For many people, they remember her for playing the amiable mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, who solved various crimes with her knack for detail and peerless observations. Now I love the show and I like how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Plus, you have the delightful Lansbury as excellent as ever playing the sharp-minded Jessica, who always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else. I don’t think I’ve come across anyone who doesn’t love Murder, She Wrote. I mean, what’s not to love? I continue to watch the show on re-runs because it just has that nostalgic quality to it. Please let me know your opinions on the show.