Film Review – THE GIRL HUNTERS (1963)

The Girl Hunters (1963) - The Stalking MoonTHE GIRL HUNTERS (UK, 1963) **½
      Distributor: Colorama Features (USA) / Twentieth Century Fox Film Company (UK); Production Company: Fellane; Release Date: 12 June 1963 (USA), 16 July 1964 (UK); Running Time: 98m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Roy Rowland; Writer: Mickey Spillane, Robert Fellows, Roy Rowland (based on the novel by Mickey Spillane); Producer: Robert Fellows; Associate Producer: Charles Reynolds; Director of Photography: Kenneth Talbot; Music Composer: Philip Green; Film Editor: Sidney Stone; Art Director: Tony Inglis; Costumes: Rene Coke, Dan Millstein (Miss Eaton’s wardrobe); Make-up: Sidney Turner, Alice Holmes; Sound: Jim Roddan, Hugh Strain, Gerry Turner.
      Cast: Mickey Spillane (Mike Hammer), Lloyd Nolan (Federal Agent Arthur Rickerby), Shirley Eaton (Laura Knapp), Scott Peters (Police Captain Pat Chambers), Guy Kingsley Poynter (Dr. Larry Snyder), James Dyrenforth (Bayliss Henry), Charles Farrell (Joe Grissi), Kim Tracy (Nurse), Hy Gardner (Hy Gardner – the Columnist), Benny Lee (Nat Drutman), Murray Kash (Richie Cole), Bill Nagy (Georgie), Clive Endersby (Duck-Duck), Ricardo Montez (Skinny Guy), Larry Cross (Red Markham), Tony Arpino (Cab driver), Hal Galili (Bouncer), Nellie Hanham (Landlady), Robert Gallico (Dr. Leo Daniels), Michael Brennan (Policeman), Howard Greene (Policeman), Grant Holden (Policeman), Francis Napier (Detective), Larry Taylor (The Dragon).
      Synopsis: Legendary detective Mike Hammer has spent seven years in an alcoholic funk after the supposed death of his secretary, Velda. He is brought back to the land of the living by his old friendly enemy, police lieutenant Pat Chambers.
     Comment: Mickey Spillane plays his own literary creation, New York PI Mike Hammer, in this straight adaptation of his seventh Hammer novel. Here Hammer has been 7-years a drunken bum following the assumed death of his secretary Velda. When he is given hope Velda is still alive by a dying man, Hammer seeks to find the truth behind her disappearance and becomes embroiled in an espionage plot which puts him at the centre of the target for a professional killer. Eaton plays the widow of a US senator who was also involved in the plot and Nolan a government agent who has Hammer working to unravel the mystery. Made in the UK, art director Inglis does well to create authentic street scenes and sets. Spillane is stiff as Hammer and struggles to deliver his own dialogue with the tough intensity one imagines on the written page. Nolan is the movie’s bright spot along with Green’s mournful score. Like its source, the movie fails to close out the story and a sequel (an adaptation of Spillane’s follow-up novel The Snake) was intended but never shot. The tough-guy antics,  moody atmosphere and black-and-white photography suggest the movie belongs in another time – unfortunately its execution falls short of its ambition.

Film Review – WILD (2014)

Wild (2014) | The CinephiliacWILD (USA, 2014) ***½
      Distributor: 20th Century Fox; Production Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures / Pacific Standard; Release Date: 29 August 2014 (USA), 13 October 2014 (UK); Filming Dates: began 11 October 2013; Running Time: 115m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: Codex; Film Process: ARRIRAW (2.8K) (source format), Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Writer: Nick Hornby (based on the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed); Executive Producer: Nathan Ross, Bergen Swanson; Producer: Bruna Papandrea, Bill Pohlad, Reese Witherspoon; Associate Producer: Jeffrey Harlacker, T.K. Knowles, Cheryl Strayed; Director of Photography: Yves Bélanger; Music Supervisor: Susan Jacobs; Film Editor: Martin Pensa, Jean-Marc Vallée (as John Mac McMurphy); Casting Director: David Rubin; Production Designer: John Paino; Art Director: Javiera Varas; Set Decorator: Robert Covelman; Costumes: Melissa Bruning; Make-up: Kymber Blake, Tanya Cookingham, Miia Kovero; Sound: Mildred Iatrou; Special Effects: Bob Riggs; Visual Effects: Julien Maisonneuve, Jean-François Ferland.
      Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl), Laura Dern (Bobbi), Thomas Sadoski (Paul), Keene McRae (Leif), Michiel Huisman (Jonathan), W. Earl Brown (Frank), Gaby Hoffmann (Aimee), Kevin Rankin (Greg), Brian Van Holt (Ranger), Cliff De Young (Ed), Mo McRae (Jimmy Carter), Will Cuddy (Josh), Leigh Parker (Rick), Nick Eversman (Richie), Ray Buckley (Joe (as Ray Mist)), Randy Schulman (Therapist), Cathryn de Prume (Stacey), Kurt Conroyd (Greg’s Friend), Ted deChatelet (Greg’s Friend), Jeffree Newman (Greg’s Friend).
      Synopsis: A chronicle of one woman’s one thousand one hundred mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.
      Comment: Story based on the memoirs of Cheryl Strayed who hiked across the Pacific Crest Trail in order to bring some sense to her life following the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. Witherspoon gives a wonderfully gritty performance as she comes to terms with the gruelling landscape and the challenges presented along her journey. We get to gradually understand her motivation through flashbacks of her life. We see her mother (Dern) leave an abusive relationship, taking her children with her and schooling them in how to embrace life. When her mother dies of cancer, Witherspoon’s life unravels and she goes off the rails. The experience of her adventure enables her to get her life back in perspective. It is a well-directed and acted movie, but the flashback scenes, whilst totally relevant to the story, are occasionally distracting and somehow detract from the portrayal of the ordeal of the hike. There are still touching and humorous moments along the way and the production team have managed to capture the beauty and danger of the wild.

Film Review – SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1960)

Film - Saturday Night And Sunday Morning - Into FilmSATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (UK, 1960) ****
      Distributor: British Lion Films (UK), Continental Distributing (USA); Production Company: Woodfall Film Productions; Release Date: 27 October 1960 (UK), 3 April 1961 (USA); Filming Dates: began 26 February 1960; Running Time: 89m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Karel Reisz; Writer: Alan Sillitoe (based on the novel by Alan Sillitoe); Executive Producer: Harry Saltzman; Producer: Tony Richardson; Director of Photography: Freddie Francis; Music Composer: John Dankworth; Film Editor: Seth Holt; Art Director: Edward Marshall; Costumes: Sophie Devine, Barbara Gillett; Make-up: Harold Fletcher, Pearl Tipaldi; Sound: Chris Greenham, Peter Handford, Bob Jones.
      Cast: Albert Finney (Arthur Seaton), Shirley Anne Field (Doreen), Rachel Roberts (Brenda), Hylda Baker (Aunt Ada), Norman Rossington (Bert), Bryan Pringle (Jack), Robert Cawdron (Robboe), Edna Morris (Mrs. Bull), Elsie Wagstaff (Mrs. Seaton), Frank Pettitt (Mr. Seaton), Avis Bunnage (Blousy Woman), Colin Blakely (Loudmouth), Irene Richmond (Doreen’s Mother), Louise Dunn (Betty), Anne Blake (Civil Defence Officer), Peter Madden (Drunken Man), Cameron Hall (Mr. Bull), Alister Williamson (Policeman).
      Synopsis: A rebellious, hard-living factory worker juggles relationships with two women, one of whom is married to another man but pregnant with his child.
      Comment: Finney is an angry young factory worker rebelling against the conventions of life in post-war Britain. In doing so he indulges in an affair with Roberts, the wife of one of his work colleagues whilst being attracted to the young and naïve Field. Whilst a product of its time, spearheading the British New Wave in the early 1960s, it retains much of its power through Finney’s superb performance and those of a strong support cast including Roberts as the misled married woman. Sillitoe’s script is sharp, witty and socially aware and Reisz translates it well to the screen. Francis’ black and white cinematography wonderfully captures the industrial heart of Nottingham with its smoke billowing factories and terraced rows. The themes of generational gaps and the rebellious youth in post-war Britain are keenly observed in this ground-breaking drama right through to its ironic closing scene.

Book Review – THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) by Mickey Spillane

THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) ***½
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 171pp (524pp) with The Snake (1964) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6
      Blurb: Seven years of hitting the hard stuff have taken it out of PI Mike Hammer. That’s how long it’s been since he gave his beloved secretary the job from which she never returned. Now he’s back with a vengeance. Velda is alive, if only he can reach her in time. But New York’s toughest investigator still has friends in the right places. And his long-neglected .45 is definitely one of those. Piecing together the puzzling deaths of a senator, a newsagent and an FBI man, Hammer finds the missing link in a murderous network of international spies. One that turns out to be Spillane’s kind of beauty – and who knows a good deal more than she should.
      Comment: There was a 10-year gap between Mickey Spillane’s sixth and seventh Mike Hammer novels (Kiss Me Deadly and The Girl Hunters).  During this period Spillane semi-retired from writing and had become a Jehovah’s Witness. The Girl Hunters addresses the absence of Mike Hammer novels during this period by introducing a plot element that has Hammer’s secretary Velda missing in action for the last seven years. Hammer believing her dead has turned to drink, lost his PI licence and his friendship with NYPD captain Pat Chambers. But when a dying man gives Hammer hope Velda is still alive, he sobers up and resolves to find her. The mystery elements are blended well as the dying man is linked to the murder of a US senator and these events, in turn, are linked to the case Hammer and Velda were working on before her disappearance. Meanwhile, Hammer has become involved with Laura, the senator’s widow. The plot may be fanciful with its mix of espionage and hit-men, but Spillane manages to keep the reader from dwelling on the absurdities and emboils us in Hammer’s search for Velda. Whilst the early passages are slow as we become re-acquainted with Hammer and learn of the nature of Velda’s disappearance, once this set-up has been explained the pace quickens and the action is tough, sexy and intriguing. The finale is pure Spillane and will satisfy his loyal fan base. Written with tough-guy dialogue and in a spare first-person narrative prose, Spillane hits his stride once more and would enter a second prolific phase of writing, which could have been written ten years earlier.  A year later the book was adapted into a movie, in which Spillane played his own creation.

Film Review – THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990)

Three British Quad film posters, The Hunt For Red October, Crimson ...THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (USA, 1990) ****
      Distributor: Paramount Pictures; Production Company: Paramount Pictures / Mace Neufeld Productions / Nina Saxon Film Design; Release Date: 2 March 1990 (USA), 20 April 1990 (UK); Filming Dates: began 3 April 1989; Running Time: 135m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) | Dolby SR (35 mm prints); Film Format: 35mm, 70 mm (blow-up); Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 2.20:1 (70mm); BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: John McTiernan; Writer: Larry Ferguson, Donald Stewart (based on the novel by Tom Clancy); Executive Producer: Larry DeWaay, Jerry Sherlock; Producer: Mace Neufeld; Director of Photography: Jan de Bont; Music Composer: Basil Poledouris; Film Editor: Dennis Virkler, John Wright; Casting Director: Amanda Mackey; Production Designer: Terence Marsh; Art Director: William Cruse, Dianne Wager, Donald B. Woodruff; Set Decorator: Mickey S. Michaels; Costumes: James W. Tyson (uncredited); Make-up: Wes Dawn, Jim Kail, Dino Ganziano; Sound: Cecelia Hall, George Watters II; Special Effects: Al Di Sarro; Visual Effects: Scott Squires.
      Cast: Sean Connery (Marko Ramius), Alec Baldwin (Jack Ryan), Scott Glenn (Bart Mancuso), Sam Neill (Captain Borodin), James Earl Jones (Admiral Greer), Joss Ackland (Andrei Lysenko), Richard Jordan (Jeffrey Pelt), Peter Firth (Ivan Putin), Tim Curry (Dr. Petrov), Courtney B. Vance (Seaman Jones), Stellan Skarsgård (Captain Tupolev), Jeffrey Jones (Skip Tyler), Timothy Carhart (Bill Steiner), Larry Ferguson (Chief of the Boat), Fred Thompson (Admiral Painter (as Fred Dalton Thompson)), Daniel Davis (Captain Davenport), Ned Vaughn (Seaman Beaumont – USS Dallas), Anthony Peck (Lt. Comm. Thompson – USS Dallas), Mark Draxton (Seaman – USS Dallas), Tom Fisher (Seaman – USS Dallas), Pete Antico (Seaman – USS Dallas), Ronald Guttman (Lt. Melekhin – Red October), Tomas Arana (Loginov (Cook) – Red October), Michael George Benko (Ivan – Red October), Anatoli Davydov (Officer #1 – Red October (as Anatoly Davydov)), Ivan G’Vera (Officer #2 – Red October), Artur Cybulski (Diving Officer – Red October), Sven-Ole Thorsen (Russian COB – Red October), Michael Welden (Kamarov – Red October), Boris Lee Krutonog (Slavin – Red October (as Boris Krutonog)), Kenton Kovell (Seaman – Red October), Radu Gavor (Seaman – Red October), Ivan Ivanov (Seaman – Red October), Ping Wu (Seaman – Red October), Herman Sinitzyn (Seaman – Red October), Krzysztof Janczar (Andrei Bonovia – Konovalov (as Christopher Janczar)), Vlado Benden (Seaman – Konovalov), George Saunders (Seaman – Konovalov (as George Winston)), Don Oscar Smith (Helicopter Pilot), Rick Ducommun (Navigator C-2A), George H. Billy (DSRV Officer), Reed Popovich (Lt. Jim Curry (as LCDR Reed Popovich)), Andrew Divoff (Andrei Amalric), Peter Zinner (Admiral Padorin), Tony Veneto (Padorin’s Orderly), Ben Hartigan (Admiral (Briefing)), Ray Reinhardt (Judge Moore (Briefing)), F.J. O’Neil (General (Briefing)), Robert Buckingham (Admiral #2 (Briefing)), A.C. Lyles (Advisor #1), 53David Sederholm (Sunglasses), John Shepherd (Foxtrot Pilot), William Bell Sullivan (Lt. Cmd. Mike Hewitt), Gates McFadden (Caroline Ryan), Louise Borras (Sally Ryan), Denise E. James (Stewardess), Stanley (Self).
      Synopsis: In 1984, the USSR’s best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war?
      Comment: Connery is a Russian submarine commander who US intelligence analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) believes is looking to defect with his vessel and its revolutionary silent drive system.. The Russian navy is in pursuit and the US authorities are hedging their bets believing the submarine to be armed with nuclear missiles. McTiernan directs with a great sense of atmosphere and tension and is helped by an excellent cast led by Connery and Baldwin. Despite a couple of hokey visual effects, the production is well-mounted and the technical credits are top class – notably the sound and production design. It launched a successful series of films in which Harrison Ford (who was initially offered the role for this film but turned it down) and later Ben Affleck and Chris Prine would take on the role of Ryan. Connery trained for the role by spending time stationed on a submarine. Won an Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing (Cecelia Hall, George Watters II). Followed by PATRIOT GAMES (1992), CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (1994), THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002) and WITHOUT REMORSE (2020) as well as the TV series Jack Ryan (2018-9).

Film Review – THE FUGITIVE (1993)

1993 – The Fugitive – Academy Award Best Picture WinnersTHE FUGITIVE (USA, 1993) ****
      Distributor: Warner Bros; Production Company: Warner Bros. / Kopelson Entertainment; Release Date: 29 July 1993 (USA), 24 September 1993 (UK); Filming Dates: 3 February 1993 – 15 May 1993; Running Time: 130m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo (4 channels); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Andrew Davis; Writer: Jeb Stuart, David Twohy (based on a story by David Twohy and characters created by Roy Huggins); Executive Producer: Keith Barish, Roy Huggins; Producer: Arnold Kopelson; Director of Photography: Michael Chapman; Music Composer: James Newton Howard; Film Editor: Don Brochu, David Finfer, Dean Goodhill, Dov Hoenig, Richard Nord, Dennis Virkler; Casting Director: Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Amanda Mackey; Production Designer: J. Dennis Washington; Art Director: Maher Ahmad; Set Decorator: Rick Gentz; Costumes: Aggie Guerard Rodgers; Make-up: Peter Robb-King, Kathe Swanson; Sound: Bruce Stambler; Special Effects: Roy Arbogast, Tom Ryba; Visual Effects: William Mesa.
      Cast: Harrison Ford (Dr. Richard Kimble), Tommy Lee Jones (Samuel Gerard), Sela Ward (Helen Kimble), Julianne Moore (Dr. Anne Eastman), Joe Pantoliano (Cosmo Renfro), Andreas Katsulas (Sykes), Jeroen Krabbé (Dr. Charles Nichols (as Jeroen Krabbe)), Daniel Roebuck (Biggs), L. Scott Caldwell (Poole), Tom Wood (Newman), Ron Dean (Detective Kelly), Joseph F. Kosala (Detective Rosetti), Miguel Nino (Chicago Cop #1), John Drummond (Newscaster), Tony Fosco (Chicago Cop #2), Joseph F. Fisher (Otto Sloan), James Liautaud (Paul), David Darlow (Dr. Lentz), Tom Galouzis (Surgeon), James F. McKinsey (Surgeon).
      Synopsis: Dr. Richard Kimble, unjustly accused of murdering his wife, must find the real killer while being the target of a nationwide manhunt.
      Comment: In this big-screen adaptation of the TV series, Ford plays Dr Richard Kimble, accused of killing his wife (Ward) in a  domestic dispute, when in fact she was murdered by a one-armed man. When Ford escapes after being convicted, US Marshal Jones is brought in to track him down, Whilst Ford tries to clear his name. This high-energy action thriller is very well directed by Davis and in Ford and Jones has two stars at the top of their game. Ford’s everyman role plays to his strengths, whilst Jones’ determined lawman is a great rival. Good use of Chicago locations and some superbly staged action sequences – notably the train crash leading to Ford’s escape – led to the film being a box-office smash and well-received by critics. Jones won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Based on the 1963-7 TV series created by Roy Huggins. Followed by U.S. MARSHALS (1998) and a second TV series in 2000.

Film Review – THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Pre Code Confidential #4: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU ...THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (USA, 1932) ***½
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Cosmopolitan Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) ; Release Date: 5 November 1932 (USA), 24 November 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 August 1932 – 21 October 1932; Running Time: 68m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Charles Brabin; Writer: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard (based on the novel by Sax Rohmer); Director of Photography: Tony Gaudio; Music Composer: William Axt (uncredited); Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons; Costumes: Adrian; Make-up: Cecil Holland (uncredited); Sound: Douglas Shearer; Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (uncredited).
      Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See), Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod), Everett Brown (Slave (uncredited)), Steve Clemente (Knife Thrower (uncredited)), Willie Fung (Ship’s Steward (uncredited)), Ferdinand Gottschalk (British Museum Official (uncredited)), Allen Jung (Coolie (uncredited)), Tetsu Komai (Swordsman (uncredited)), James B. Leong (Guest (uncredited)), Oswald Marshall (Undetermined Role (uncredited)), Chris-Pin Martin (Potentate (uncredited)), Lal Chand Mehra (Indian Prince (uncredited)), Edward Peil Sr. (Coolie Spy (uncredited)), Clinton Rosemond (Slave (uncredited)), C. Montague Shaw (Curator Dr. Fairgyle – British Museum Official (uncredited)), E. Alyn Warren (Goy Lo Sung – Fu Manchu Messenger (uncredited)), Olive Young (Cantina singer (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. They have to get there fast, as the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu is also searching, and if he gets the mysteriously powerful relics, he and his diabolical daughter will enslave the world!
      Comment: Karloff is excellent as Sax Rohmer’s evil Dr Fu Manchu in this pre-Hays code adventure controversial for its racial overtones. Stone leads an expedition to Africa in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan to claim the sword and mask from within. Karloff seeks the treasures for his own benefit. Sumptuously designed and with torture scenes that would have pushed the censors a couple of years later, it is a fascinating adaptation of Rohmer’s simplistic story if rather leaden due to the static camerawork. Loy is deliciously treacherous as Karloff’s daughter who seduces Starrett – the pair being an obvious influence on FLASH GORDON’s Emperor Ming and Princess Aura. Charles Vidor was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced as director by Brabin. Rohmer’s original novel was serialized in Colliers between 7 May and 23 July 1932.

Film Review – MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995)

MIGHTY APHRODITE (USA, 1995) ***½
      Distributor: Miramax; Production Company: Sweetland Films / Magnolia Pictures; Release Date: 1 September 1995 (Italy), 27 October 1995 (USA), 12 April 1996 (UK); Filming Dates: 3 October 1994 – 16 December 1994; Running Time: 95m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Dolby SR (Mono); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: J.E. Beaucaire, Jean Doumanian; Producer: Robert Greenhut; Associate Producer: Thomas A. Reilly; Director of Photography: Carlo Di Palma; Music Supervisor: Dick Hyman; Film Editor: Susan E. Morse; Casting Director: Juliet Taylor; Production Designer: Santo Loquasto; Art Director: Tom Warren; Set Decorator: Susan Bode; Costumes: Jeffrey Kurland; Make-up: Fern Buchner, Romaine Greene; Sound: Robert Hein.
      Cast: Woody Allen (Lenny), Mira Sorvino (Linda Ash), Helena Bonham Carter (Amanda), Michael Rapaport (Kevin), F. Murray Abraham (Leader), Olympia Dukakis (Jocasta), David Ogden Stiers (Laius), Jack Warden (Tiresias), Peter Weller (Jerry Bender), Danielle Ferland (Cassandra), Claire Bloom (Amanda’s Mother), Donald Symington (Amanda’s Father), Steven Randazzo (Bud), J. Smith-Cameron (Bud’s Wife), Jeffrey Kurland (Oedipus), Jimmy McQuaid (Max), Paul Giamatti (Extras Guild Researcher), Yvette Hawkins (School Principal), Jennifer Greenhut (Lenny’s Secretary), Kenneth Edelson (Ken).
      Synopsis: When he discovers his adopted son is a genius, a New York sportswriter seeks out the boy’s birth mother: a prostitute.
      Comment: Allen is a sportswriter married to Bonham Carter, an art curator. When they decide to adopt a baby boy who grows up to be a highly intelligent boy, Allen resolves to track down the boy’s mother. When he discovers Sorvino is a porn star, Allen resolves to put her back on the right path, but meanwhile, his own marriage is in trouble as Bonham Carter is wooed by Weller. In one of his most adult comedies, many of Allen’s typical tropes are evident – fragile relationships, personal insecurities, the need to educate and mentor – but there is a freshness in the way they are presented that makes the film a pleasure to watch. A witty narration is provided by a Greek chorus and the story whistles along to its ironic finale. Sorvino is wonderful as the porn star totally lacking in self-awareness and whose naivety charms Allen. The actor-director delivers many funny one-liners as he takes it upon himself to mentor her. The supporting cast is strong with Abraham the leader of the Greek chorus and Rapaport as a dim-witted boxer suckered by Allen into a blind date with Sorvino. Yes, the ending feels a little overly-contrived, but the piece is styled as a parable and largely works in this format. Look out for the many trinkets in Sorvino’s apartment. Dick Hyman acts as music coordinator and arranger presenting a number of standards on the soundtrack. Sorvino was awarded an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress with Allen’s screenplay also nominated.

Book Review – APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) by Woody Allen

APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) ****
by Woody Allen
This hardback edition published by Arcade Publishing, 23 March 2020, 392pp
© Woody Allen, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-951627-34-8
Apropos of Nothing by [Woody Allen]     Blurb: In this candid and often hilarious memoir, the celebrated director, comedian, writer, and actor offers a comprehensive, personal look at his tumultuous life. Beginning with his Brooklyn childhood and his stint as a writer for the Sid Caesar variety show in the early days of television, working alongside comedy greats, Allen tells of his difficult early days doing standup before he achieved recognition and success. With his unique storytelling pizzazz, he recounts his departure into moviemaking, with such slapstick comedies as Take the Money and Run, and revisits his entire, sixty-year-long, and enormously productive career as a writer and director, from his classics Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters to his most recent films, including Midnight in Paris. Along the way, he discusses his marriages, his romances and famous friendships, his jazz playing, and his books and plays. We learn about his demons, his mistakes, his successes, and those he loved, worked with, and learned from in equal measure. This is a hugely entertaining, deeply honest, rich and brilliant self-portrait of a celebrated artist who is ranked among the greatest filmmakers of our time.
      Comment: Woody Allen’s autobiography is a fascinating insight into the life of one of modern cinema’s true geniuses. But, like some of his films, it feels like it could have been even better. Caught between two stools – 1. Giving an honest and witty account of his life and his films and 2. Finally taking the opportunity at length to give his version of the molestation allegations made against him by Dylan Farrow. Allen says that he hopes no-one has bought the book simply on the back of point 2 and regrets having to devote so much space (more than 80 pages) to that issue. That he does so is a necessity, however, as much of the publicity around the case has been based on one side’s account – which was proved to be heavily flawed by a thorough investigation and is further questioned on reading Allen’s plausible version of the whole sorry tale that has likely unfairly tarnished one of America’s greatest filmmakers. It has done so to such an extent that his films can no longer be funded in his own country where there have been vigorous attempts by the Farrow family to prevent publication of this book – Ronan Farrow taking the highly dubious moral high ground view that in such allegations only the point of view of the accuser is to be heard. If those too eager to jump on the accusatory bandwagon would only take the time to read Allen’s account of events they will no doubt reflect on their initial judgement and come to doubt the motivation behind a campaign against Allen led by his manipulative former partner (although importantly not co-habiting partner), Mia Farrow, whose own behaviour is remarkably questionable. Allen’s indifference to his predicament is perhaps the most frustrating element. His philosophical attitude, whilst dignified has also not helped his case. My advice is to read his account and judge for yourselves.
Despite my own inclination –  having read accounts from both sides and considered the judgement of the investigation into the allegation that took place at the time  – that Allen has been falsely accused by a vindictive former partner with highly questionable parenting techniques, there are elements of Allen’s life story that leave the reader a little uncomfortable about his partner choices. It is ironic that his happiest relationship, and a marriage that has lasted 25 years, is with Soon-YI the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, who was twenty-one when Farrow learned of their affair. Allen has made his partner choices on impulse and little rationalisation and suffered the consequences of those choices. But that shows he is only human in his naivety and he is certainly not unique in having naivety as one of his flaws.
On his career, both as a filmmaker and part-time musician, Allen remains winningly self-deprecating. In his own view, he has never made a great movie. There will undoubtedly be many who agree, possibly based on preconceptions or just a sheer divergence of taste. Most authoritative commentators and scholars of film history would put a strong case for at least four masterpieces in his filmography. For me, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanours stand with the very best American cinema has to offer. Many of his other films come close. he has also made his share of average movies, or movies that do not achieve his ambition. Allen firmly lays the blame for any quality divergence at his own door – acknowledging his lack of perfectionism as a director or his inability to convert his writing vision to celluloid. He looks to surround himself with the best people he can get. His choice of legendary cinematographers and top-class actors is unquestioned. The freedom he gives these artists to explore their craft is his real skill. Allen will only pull them up if their interpretation of his script or direction is off-key.  He has been known to wholly re-shoot movies or re-cast parts. Again he does not blame the actor or artist’s skills, merely that his own initial judgement in the choice was wrong.
Where the book may disappoint is in the insight Allen offers on his own body of work. We rarely get to scratch beneath the surface of the themes he explores in his movies. Allen’s way is to write film, edit, release and move on. he never looks back and never rewatches any of his movies once they have been completed and released. he no longer reads critiques and has never accepted awards. Many of his movies are covered in 1-2 pages, which to some extent in a sizeable filmography is understandable, but offers nothing to the fan or scholar wishing to get further insight into his films or the creative process in their making.
Hopefully, before he leaves this world the truth around the allegation that has dogged his career since the early 1990s will win out and Allen’s stature in motion picture history will be rightly acknowledged. In the meantime, this autobiography at least enables him to state his case and for those who retain an open mind, it will help them arrive at their own balanced judgement.

McFarland offer 40% off Popular Culture Books until 17 May

McFarland & Company - WikipediaI received the following e-mail from McFarland promoting a 2-week 40% discount offer on popular culture books, which will include my titles The World of Shaft and The Songs of Genesis:

Dear Author:

From our founding in 1979, McFarland has championed serious scholarship about popular culture. Longtime customers remember the classics like Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies!—how many of you own the original hardcover in yellow cloth binding? Today, popular culture studies is perhaps our best-known line, with more than 2,000 books about horror and science fiction film, old time radio, biographies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, current television series, theatre, dance…whatever your interest, you’re sure to find it here. To express our appreciation for readers old and new, we’re offering 40% off ALL titles about popular culture through May 17 with coupon code POP40.

We wanted to fill you in so you can spread the word or take advantage of it yourself.  The sale will be shared on McFarland’s website and social media sites first thing on the morning of Monday, May 4…we welcome your likes/shares/retweets.

Thanks!
Adam Phillips
Sales Manager
McFarland