The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, as shop workers Klara and Alfred, are a perfect pairing.

 

Rating: 10/10

So this is what they mean by the Lubitsch touch. This masterpiece leaves me wondering why rom-coms are just bloody awful nowadays, especially when compared to the classics of the 30’s and 40’s (maybe all the possibly interesting story-lines have been done too well already). The remake of this film the dreadful You’ve Got Mail (how dated it already seems) is a case in point.

This film set in  depression era Budapest, follows the workers of a leather goods shop the Matuschek and Company store, and is based a lot on Lubitsch’s own personal knowledge of the family-run retail business having come from a family that ran a tailor’s shop which he had helped out in.  The engaging cast of characters include the lonely and authoritarian shop owner Mr. Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan aka the wizard in Wizard of Oz), the hard working, cultured and intelligent salesman and bachelor Alfred (the wonderful James Stewart) who has slowly worked his way up the shop’s hierarch. Then there is the humble, knowing and affable clerk Ferencz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) who acts as Alfred’s confidante, the pretentious, obsequious and manipulative Pirovitch who slyly solicits favour from Matuschek’s wife and the wisecracking, savvy and ambitious errands boy Pepi (William Tracy).Finally there’s Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), the love interest and ambitious and clever saleswoman who is at first Alfred’s arch nemesis. Little do Klara and Alfred that they while they are exchanging witty barbs (such as this brilliant perfectly-timed exchange: Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth. Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I’d find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter… which doesn’t work.) they are falling in love with each other via anonymous correspondence.

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Pete Postlethwaite Tribute (1946-2011)

I was very saddened and shocked to hear of such a great actor’s demise, having not even known he was ill, he apparently kept it from a lot of people. He was an excellent Shakespearian and character  actor (and with such a memorable unusual face how could you forget his roles), able to really own his large variety of characters, imbuing his roles with pathos, humour and intelligence. I really have to see more of his films now but here of some of my fave performances out of the ones I have seen. RIP Pete:

1. The Usual Suspects (1994)

2. Romeo + Juliet  (1996)

3. Brassed Off  (1996)

4. The Constant Gardener (2005)

5. Criminal Justice (TV) (2008)

6. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

7. Amistad (1997)

Films I must see of his:

1. In The Name of the Father (1993)

2. Last of the Mohicans (1992)

3. The Town (2010)

4. Killing Bono (2011)

 

Everlasting Moments (2008), Dir. Jan Troell

Maria (Maria Heiskanen) finds a new purpose in life in taking pictures

Rating: 10/10

I watched this Swedish film, courtesy of Love Film, in a bid to watch more Scandinavian films and  was very glad I did. The  film-based on a true story ans set in the early 1900s-looks at the life of working-class housewife Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) and her family, which consists of her violent and heavy drinking dock worker husband Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt), her loyal daughter Maja (Callin Ohrvall, Nellie Almgren) who also narrates the film and her three sons, Erik (who dies tragically  early from polio), Elon and Seven and two daughters Stina and Anna. When Maria wins a camera in a lottery and is persuaded by the genial local camera shop owner Sebastien Pedersen (Jesper  Christensen) to keep it, despite the protests of her husband who wants to sell it, Maria’s life is transformed by her natural talent as a photographer.

The film is then also a tribute to the early pioneering days of photography when people were first starting to realise that money could be made from good photographs and that photographs provided an important lasting record of the times. Appropriately enough the film is beautifully shot by Troell and co-cinematographer Mischa Gavrjusjov  who frame people in slow languid takes and capture the period in precise detail, taking in the extremities of rural green landscapes, bare fading cottages and bustling sawdust strewn and smoke-filled docks  and busy streets.

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Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Dir. Blake Edwards

 

Rating: 10/10

Days of Wine and Roses is definitely the kind of film I should’ve heard of. It stars one of my favourite actors the legendary Jack Lemmon and is directed by Blake ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ Edwards. But before I accidentally stumbled upon it on TV I’d never heard a word about it which is ridiculous because this is a marvellous, dark and moving film, up there with The Lost Weekend (1945) in its depiction of alcoholism.

Jack Lemmon stars as Joe Clay, a successful PR man who as part of his job seduces his top clients by drinking with them (much like Mad Men). What starts off as perks of the job quickly descends into something habitual and dangerous. When he meets the pretty secretary Kirsten (Lee Remick) at a client’s party she is a rather  innocent woman who biggest addiction is to chocolate and who never saw the appeal of alcohol. Joe soon initiates her to the pleasures of alcohol by mixing her a Brandy Alexander.

They soon get married and start a family though their happy family life is soon spoilt by their descent into alcoholism. Joe’s boss starts to notice his late starts and dishevelled and tired appearance and has to fire him, while Kirsten is becomes increasingly neglectful of their child and accidentally sets fire to their house after drunkenly falling asleep. They try to start afresh and stay at Kirsten’s dad Ellis’s (Charles Bickford) house, Joe trying to help out in Ellis’s nursery and win his approval again.  He soon reverts however to a terrible state and has to spend time in an insane asylum, while there he is befriended member of AA and manages to regain control of his life, while Kirsten remain lost in a drunken stupor spending nights in a cheap motel and refusing to attend AA meetings despite the pleas of Joe.

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Greenberg, Dir. Noah Baumbach (2010)

 

Florence (Greta Gerwig), Ivan (Rhys Ifans) attempt to make Roger's (Ben Stiller) birthday a cheery one.

Rating: 9/10

US Indie films seem to thrive on the idea of misanthropes doing, well, nothing particularly much whilst they and surrounding quirky characters spout quotable and witty aphorisms. Baumbach certainly doesn’t stray too far from this often critically approved formula, but still manages to inject his film with great insights and interesting characters you can invest in.

The film takes as it central character Roger Greenberg, (Ben Stiller, who as in The Royal Tenebaums proves his ability to give a more subtle, dramatic and layered performance) a bored middle-aged man who decides to take a break from carpentry and just do nothing, house sitting for his brother in sunny LA to escape from New York. It’s also important to note that he has just been released from a mental hospital after having suffered a nervous breakdown, which explains some of his often neurotic and abrupt behaviour throughout the film.

While he is doing ‘nothing’ we meet his friend and ex-band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans in top supporting form), who we later learn is resentful that Roger refused to sign a major record deal with their band on issues of principle.  He also doggedly and pitifully pursues his ex-girlfriend  Beth (the ever engaging Jenifer Jason Leigh, who also collaborated with Baumbach on the film’s story) who now has kids and  zero interest in getting back together with Roger and has clearly moved on.  He also meets his brother’s PA the pretty and, you guessed it, kooky and vulnerable Florence (Greta Gerwig in a breakout role), who Roger cruelly dismisses and then realises he actually really likes (as I say it’s not the most original of films but sti. He also look after his brother’s dog who to his brother’s anger gets sick while in his care. He also writes a  lot of angry letters to various companies complaining about such grand matters as the faulty recline button on his American Airlines flight.

The  film is full of great lines such as when Roger’s embittered response to Ivan’s belief that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ is that ‘life is wasted on people’ (the film also has a great party scene which shows through Roger’s questioning of the twenty-somethings at the party, how much assumptions about young people’s lifestyles and attitudes are formed by the media. As Roger says casually whilst high on coke:  “I read an article: aren’t you guys all just fucking on the internet?”). But it is also more than just witty lines, what make it better than trendier-than-thou films like Juno is that you really want to know what motivates someone like Roger. You see that behind the pessimism and cruel behaviour is disappointment and frustration, “hurt people hurt people” as Florence puts it. While with Florence though you at first wonder why she would fall for an odd-ball like Roger, you also see that part of it is probably her own insecurity, while another part is that she-unlike other ordinary people- is able to see, despite everything, something to like and admire.  The result is that the developing relationship between Roger and Florence is genuinely touching and well-developed, with good chemistry between Gerwig and Greenberg. 

So if you’re looking for a film which is fast and furious with MTV-like editing look away, but if you’re looking for a film that’s intelligent,  funny, subtle and honest look no further.

Les Cousins, Dir. Claude Chabrol (1959)

Juliette Mayniel as Florence visually trapped and Gerard Blain as Charles desperately trying to reach out to her.

Juliette Mayniel as Florence visually trapped and Gerard Blain as Charles desperately trying to reach out to her.

Rating: 10/10

I saw this  as part of the BFI’s nouvelle vague season. I also saw Diary Of A Country Priest  before this at the bfi and was so bored I left half-way through ( must see classic indeed) so this, the first new wave hit in Britain,  was a nice change to that film,  and it made me want to see more films by this French legend (I eagerly await the release of A Girl Cut In Two) .

The plot of is quite a simple one, and was apparently inspired by Balzac (who is also referenced in the film in a scene in a bookshop). It concerns two cousins who represent the differences between country folk and city folk. The fun-loving, amoral  and woman-chasing Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) and the naive, sensitive and studious mummy’s boy Charles (Gerald Blain). Charles comes to live with Paul in Paris, much to his mother’s concern, whose fear that he will fall in love with the first woman he meets comes true when he is enchanted by the beautiful but incompatible  Florence (Juliette Mayniel ).

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57000 Km Between Us (57000 Entre Nous), Dir. Delphine Kreuter (2007)

Marie Burgun as Nat taking shelter in her room

Marie Burgun as Nat taking shelter in her room

 Rating: 6/6

This is an entrancing, original  and interesting debut from Kreuter which I saw as part of the 23rd London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, and I really hope that it gets a wider release beacuse this is film that deserves to be seen.

The film primarily works as a social satire of the age of the internet. It revolves around fourteen-year-old  Nat’s (a wonderful and entrancing Marie Burgun) family the self-obssesed Margot (Florence  Thomassin) and her equally vain partner Michel (Pascal Bongard) , and contrasts her alienated relationship with them to her more affectionate relationship with her transgender father Nicole (Stephanie Michelini) and her loving partner Khaled (Mohamed Rouabhi). Whose sexuality, refreshingly, in the film is no issue for Nat or Khaled and is accepted without question.

The internet for Margot and Michel are seen as the tools of self-promotion,they have their own website and are constantly staging their lives in order to generate a bigger fanbase. A particualrly comic moment occurs when Margot gets concerned over losing 45 fans from last week and suggests it because they ‘don’t look happy enough.’

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