LAST CHRISTMAS (UK/USA, 2019) ***
Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Calamity Films / Feigco Entertainment / Perfect World Pictures / Universal Pictures; Release Date: 8 November 2019 (USA), 15 November 2019 (UK); Running Time: 103m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: DXL RAW; Film Process: DXL RAW (8K); Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: 12 – moderate sex references, language.
Director: Paul Feig; Writer: Emma Thompson, Bryony Kimmings (based on a story by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise); Executive Producer: Sarah Bradshaw; Producer: Erik Baiers, Jessie Henderson, David Livingstone, Emma Thompson; Associate Producer: Simon Halfon; Director of Photography: John Schwartzman; Music Composer: Theodore Shapiro; Film Editor: Brent White; Casting Director: Alice Searby, Fiona Weir; Production Designer: Gary Freeman; Art Director: Tom Still, Richard Hardy; Set Decorator: Raffaella Giovannetti; Costumes: Renee Ehrlich Kalfus; Make-up: Pippa Woods; Sound: James Mather; Special Effects: Michael Dawson; Visual Effects: Scott Dougherty.
Cast: Emilia Clarke (Kate), Henry Golding (Tom), Michelle Yeoh (Santa), Emma Thompson (Petra), Lydia Leonard (Marta), Patti LuPone (Joyce), Ingrid Oliver (Police Woman Crowley), Laura Evelyn (Police Woman Churchill), Rebecca Root (Dr. Addis), Sue Perkins (Ice Show Director), Boris Isakovic (Ivan), Maxim Baldry (Ed), Bilal Zafar (Oscar), Michael Addo (Fit Looking Guy), Peter Mygind (The Dane aka ‘Boy’), Rob Delaney (Theater Director), Peter Serafinowicz (Theater Producer), Sara Powell (Casting Director), Ritu Arya (Jenna), Ansu Kabia (Rufus), Fabien Frankel (Fabien), Angela Wynter (Ice Show Casting Director), Ben Owen-Jones (Danny), David Hargreaves (Arthur), Joe Blakemore (Army ‘Tom’), Calvin Demba (Nathan), Anna Calder-Marshall (Dora), Amit Shah (Andy).
Synopsis: Kate is a young woman subscribed to bad decisions. Her last date with disaster? That of having accepted to work as Santa’s elf for a department store. However, she meets Tom there. Her life takes a new turn. For Kate, it seems too good to be true.
Comment: A largely tick-box Christmas movie played out against the music of George Michael and Wham makes for diverting entertainment. Thompson and Kimmings’ script crams in all the traditional smarts of the modern-day rom-com whilst offering a twist late in proceedings that is the one genuinely surprising moment. Clarke tries hard, perhaps too hard, in the lead role and as a result, her character struggles for empathy from the audience. Thompson delivers a funny turn as her Yugoslavian mother, but their implied conflict is too easily resolved. Yeoh also scores as the dedicated Christmas store manager where Clarke works as an assistant. The songs are timeless and significantly add to the feel of the movie. Ultimately, despite its final twist, this feels like it wants to be a traditional seasonal feelgood movie to which the occasional political messaging comes across a bit off-key.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (USA, 2012) ***
Distributor: Warner Bros.; Production Company: Warner Bros / Malpaso Productions; Release Date: 19 September 2012 (USA), 30 November 2012 (UK); Filming Dates: Began March 2012; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital | Datasat | SDDS; Film Format: 35mm (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
Director: Robert Lorenz; Writer: Randy Brown; Executive Producer: Tim Moore; Producer: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Michele Weisler; Director of Photography: Tom Stern; Music Composer: Marco Beltrami; Film Editor: Joel Cox, Gary Roach; Casting Director: Geoffrey Miclat; Production Designer: James J. Murakami; Art Director: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr.; Set Decorator: Gary Fettis; Costumes: Deborah Hopper; Make-up: Luisa Abel; Sound: Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: Steve Riley; Visual Effects: Darin McCormick-Millett.
Cast: Clint Eastwood (Gus Lobel), Amy Adams (Mickey Lobel), Justin Timberlake (Johnny Flanagan), Matthew Lillard (Phillip Sanderson), Jack Gilpin (Schwartz), John Goodman (Pete Klein), Robert Patrick (Vince), Scott Eastwood (Billy Clark), Ed Lauter (Max), Chelcie Ross (Smitty), Raymond Anthony Thomas (Lucious), Matt Bush (Danny), George Wyner (Rosenbloom), Bob Gunton (Watson), Tom Dreesen (Rock), James Patrick Freetly (Todd), Joe Massingill (Bo Gentry), Jay Galloway (Rigoberto (Rigo) Sanchez), Sammy Blue (the blues guitar musician).
Synopsis: An ailing baseball scout in his twilight years takes his daughter along for one last recruiting trip.
Comment: Whilst the movie may be both predictable and a little contrived it is more than compensated for by the central performance of Eastwood and his strong chemistry with Adams (as his estranged daughter) and Timberlake (a former protegee). Goodman is also good in a supporting role as Eastwood’s boss. Traditional crowd-pleasing elements combine with the grizzled cynicism of Eastwood’s character to make for an enjoyable, if slight, entertainment.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (USA, 1995) ****
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures / Amblin Entertainment / Malpaso Productions; Release Date: 2 June 1995 (USA), 15 September 1995 (UK); Filming Dates: 15 September 1994 – 31 October 1994; Running Time: 135m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: DTS | Dolby Digital; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
Director: Clint Eastwood; Writer: Richard LaGravenese (based on the novel by Robert James Waller); Producer: Clint Eastwood, Kathleen Kennedy; Associate Producer: Michael Maurer, Tom Rooker; Director of Photography: Jack N. Green; Music Composer: Lennie Niehaus; Music Supervisor: Peter Afterman (uncredited); Film Editor: Joel Cox; Casting Director: Ellen Chenoweth; Production Designer: Jeannine Oppewall; Art Director: William Arnold; Set Decorator: Jay Hart; Costumes: Colleen Kelsall; Make-up: Michael Hancock; Sound: Bub Asman, Alan Robert Murray; Special Effects: Steve Riley.
Cast: Clint Eastwood (Robert Kincaid), Meryl Streep (Francesca Johnson), Annie Corley (Carolyn Johnson), Victor Slezak (Michael Johnson), Jim Haynie (Richard Johnson), Sarah Zahn (Young Carolyn), Christopher Kroon (Young Michael), Phyllis Lyons (Betty), Debra Monk (Madge), Richard Lage (Lawyer Peterson), Michelle Benes (Lucy Redfield), Alison Wiegert (Child #1), Brandon Bobst (Child #2), Pearl Faessler (Wife), R.E. ‘Stick’ Faessler (Husband), Tania Mishler (Waitress #1), Billie McNabb (Waitress #2), Art Breese (Cashier), Lana Schwab (Saleswoman), Larry Loury (UPS Driver), James Rivers (James Rivers Band), Mark A. Brooks (James Rivers Band), Peter Cho (James Rivers Band), Eddie Dejean Sr. (James Rivers Band), Jason C. Brewer (James Rivers Band), Kyle Eastwood (James Rivers Band), George Orrison (Café Patron), Ken Billeter (Café Patron), Judy Trask (Café Patron), David Trask (Café Patron), Edna Dolson (Café Patron), Dennis McCool (Café Patron), Michael C. Pommier (Café Patron), Jana Corkrean (Café Patron), M. Jane Seymour (Café Patron), Karla Jo Soper (Café Patron).
Synopsis: Photographer Robert Kincaid wanders into the life of housewife Francesca Johnson, for four days in the 1960s.
Comment: A sublime example of how a top-class director and two wonderful central performances can elevate a standard sentimental romantic drama into something much more. Streep is utterly convincing as the Italian housewife falling for Eastwood’s travelling photographer. Eastwood the director knows Streep’s qualities as an actress to inhabit the roles she plays and maximises her contribution, whilst himself producing an atypical sensitive portrayal. Whilst the story offers nothing new to the genre, the interplay between the stars is so powerful as to carry the familiar material through to its logical conclusion.
Notes: Streep received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination in 1996 for her performance in the film.
You’ve Got Mail (1998; USA; Technicolor; 119m) ***½ d. Nora Ephron; w. Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron; ph. John Lindley; m. George Fenton. Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Steve Zahn, Dave Chappelle, Greg Kinnear, Dabney Coleman, Jeffrey Scaperrotta, John Randolph, Heather Burns, Hallee Hirsh, Cara Seymour, Katie Finneran, Michael Badalucco. Two business rivals hate each other at the office but fall in love over the internet. Hanks and Ryan replicate their SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE routine in this amiable romantic comedy. Their on-screen chemistry adds significantly to the predictability of the story. Whilst much of the scenario is overly contrived it maintains a warmth and a sprinkling of satire that proves enough to win through. Based on the play “Parfumerie” by Nikolaus Laszlo previously filmed as THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940). [PG]
Circus World (1964; USA; Technicolor; 135m) *** d. Henry Hathaway; w. Ben Hecht, Julian Halevy, James Edward Grant, Philip Yordan, Nicholas Ray; ph. Jack Hildyard; m. Dimitri Tiomkin. Cast: John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Claudia Cardinale, John Smith, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, Wanda Rotha, Kay Walsh. A circus owner is beset by disasters as he attempts a European tour of his circus. At the same time, he is caught in an emotional bind between his adopted daughter and her mother. Spectacular circus action makes up for lack of plot and two-dimensional characters. High production values and an exciting finale built around a devastating fire are also pluses. Wayne and Nolan give strong performances, but the rest of the cast are swamped by a script that gives them little to get their teeth into. Aka: THE MAGNIFICENT SHOWMAN. [U]
Operation Pacific (1951; USA; B&W; 111m) ***½ d. George Waggner; w. George Waggner; ph. Bert Glennon; m. Alan Crosland Jr. Cast: John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Ward Bond, Scott Forbes, Martin Milner, Philip Carey, Milburn Stone, Paul Picerni, William Campbell, Kathryn Givney, Cliff Clark, Jack Pennick, Virginia Brissac, Lewis Martin, Sam Edwards. During WWII, a submarine’s second in command inherits the problem of torpedoes that don’t explode. When on shore, he is eager to win back his ex-wife. Well-made war film combines tense battle scenes with standard romantic interludes. The submarine action is well-staged allowing Wayne moments of heroics. The scenes on land are more formulaic as Neal and Wayne try to figure out their future. A colourised version was released on video. [PG]
Angel and the Badman (1947; USA; B&W; 100m) *** d. James Edward Grant; w. James Edward Grant; ph. Archie Stout; m. Richard Hageman. Cast: John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Bruce Cabot, Irene Rich, Lee Dixon, Stephen Grant, Tom Powers, Paul Hurst, Olin Howland. An outlaw is nursed back to health and sought after by a quaker girl. Entertaining morality tale delivers a tight, well-scripted, if fairly simplistic, story. Wayne is a confident lead and Russell is appealing as the girl who becomes his saviour. Carey, as a Marshal out to get Wayne, is wonderfully droll. Some may balk at the sermonising, but the approach is actually well-balanced. Partly shot in Monument Valley. First film produced by Wayne. Inspiration for WITNESS (1985). Remade for TV in 2009. [U]
Fighting Seabees, The (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ***½ d. Edward Ludwig; w. Borden Chase, Æneas MacKenzie; ph. William Bradford; m. Walter Scharf. Cast: John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Dennis O’Keefe, William Frawley, William Forrest, Leonid Kinskey, J.M. Kerrigan, Grant Withers, Paul Fix, Addison Richards, Roy Brent, Jay Norris, Duncan Renaldo, Roy Barcroft, Charles D. Brown. Construction workers in World War II in the Pacific are needed to build military sites, but the work is dangerous and they doubt the ability of the Navy to protect them. Action-packed WW2 drama tells the story of the creation of the Construction Batallion known as the “Seabees”. Wayne is hot-headed head of construction whose methods are at odds with navy commander O’Keefe whilst both fight for the attentions of journalist Hayward. Jingoistic and full of macho banter, it nevertheless is propelled via well-handled battle scenes and strong cast. Also available in a computer colourised version. [U]
“Crocodile” Dundee (1986; Australia/USA; DuArt; 97m) ***½ d. Peter Faiman; w. John Cornell, Paul Hogan, Ken Shadie; ph. Russell Boyd; m. Peter Best. Cast: Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Blum, John Meillon, Michael Lombard, David Gulpilil, Irving Metzman, Reginald VelJohnson. An American reporter goes to the Australian outback to meet an eccentric crocodile poacher and invites him to New York City. Hogan’s commentary on culture clashes is delightfully funny. The charm of the leads is enough to carry a formulaic plot and there is much fun to be derived from seeing Hogan’s “Crocodile” Dundee cope with multi-layered city life – from the trappings of the rich to the sleaze of street life. Finale is rushed, but a sequel was pretty much guaranteed. Followed by CROCODILE DUNDEE II (1988) and CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES (2001). 
To Have and Have Not (1944; USA; B&W; 100m) ****½ d. Howard Hawks; w. Jules Furthman, William Faulkner; ph. Sid Hickox; m. Franz Waxman. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Sheldon Leonard, Walter Szurovy, Marcel Dalio, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Aldo Nadi. During World War II, an American expatriate helps transport a French Resistance leader and his beautiful wife to Martinique while romancing a sexy lounge singer. Hawks worked with themes that sustained him throughout his career and many of his signature moments are on display here. The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall nearly melts the screen and their dialogue is wonderful. The plot mirrors some of the themes seen in Bogart’s earlier classic CASABLANCA and this comes very close to repeating the earlier film’s success. Filled with excellent character performances from a strong supporting cast and finding room for a handful of musical numbers, this is entertainment of the highest order. Based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Legendarily, Hawks bragged to Hemingway that he could take the worst of his novels, and make a good film of it. He did this by disregarding the novel’s contents. [PG]