Wednesday, 26 November 2008

MAMMA MIA! (2008)

MAMMA MIA!, like THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, GREASE and even DIRTY DANCING is pretty critic proof. People are just going to keep seeing it time and time again and it is a dead cert to join THE SOUND OF MUSIC on the sing-along circuit. And, to be honest, it is a terrific piece of entertainment with some of the most engaging performances I've seen for some time. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgaard and Julie Walters are obviously having a ball and its pretty infectious. For me though, the best is Christine Baranski who I've adored since her days on THE CYBILL SHEPHERD SHOW. The woman is hot! Rating ****


How could you describe the work of Josef Von Sternberg to somebody who has not seen one of his films ? Baroque springs to mind, Over the top goes part of the way, but the truth is you just have to experience them. THE SCARLET EMPRESS is Von Sternberg at full throttle. Within a few minutes of the film beginning kindly old Edward Van Sloan announces to the baby princess that he is going to read the history of Russia to her and we are treated to a wonderful montage of murder, beheadings, naked women writhing as they burn at the stake, iron maidens, torture chambers, bodies used as clangers inside giant bells! The princess grows up to be Marlene Dietrich and is whisked off to Russia to marry the drooling moron who is heir to the throne. After the death of his mother the prince turns on his own people and tries to replace his wife. Eventually the worm turns and Dietrich initiates a night of the long knives and takes over - an act which involves Dietrich dressing up in a white leathe cossack suit, mounting her chargers and riding up the main staircase of the imperial palace whith a troop of cossacks while Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blasts out on the soundtrack. The film has amazing sets, superb photography, a great cast, terrific score and stunning costumes. Hollywood in the 1930's just didn't get much better than this - or more excessive. Dietrich is simply magnificent. Rating *****

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Saturday, 15 November 2008


I was working in the publicity office of Columbia Pictures when this film was released, although for some reason I never actually got to see the film. Despite being a commercial flop it turned out to be an important film in the history of Columbia as it was directly responsible for the company being expelled from Franco's Spain. Based on a novel by long time Michael Powell collaborator, Emeric Pressberger, the film seems to have been rarely seen since its release,although it is now available on DVD. Like many overtly political films made in America in the Sixties, this never really has the courage of its convictions - in this case to state openly that the film's nominal hero, Manuel, played by Gregory Peck, is a dedicated communist. Manuel is a former hero of the Spanish Civil War who has lived in exile in France for twenty years. When his mother is dying, his old Police Chief enemy (played by Anthony Quinn) tries to lure him back across the border to Spain where he is still a wanted man. The film is not exactly a classic, not even one of director Fred Zinnemann's better films, but it is nicely made although the performances are, because of miscasting, never entirely convincing. Gregory Peck is solid enough but often seems ill at ease with his complicated character, especially during the first half of the film. Quinn is equally miscast as the police chief but thankfully doesn't play it as another variation on his Zorba the Greek (a tendency that marred many of his latter performances. Omar Sharif comes off quite well as a young priest. Robert Hossein is totally wasted in a minor role. It's certainly worth a look although it seems to me that Zinneman either didn't know how to end the film or didn't really know how to achieve what he wanted. Perhaps he should have taken a look at the ending of Kazan's VIVA ZAPATA! Rating **

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Sorry I've been occupied elsewhere but I'll try and and be back for some new reviews soon. Just not had time to catch up. For now another little spirit reviver.......


Saturday, 1 November 2008