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Pope Benedict in Brasil in his red loafers

Popes on Film

News that Pope Benedict XVI has decided to hang up the red papal slippers sets the mind a-wandering. Who are the great popes of cinema? Oddly, this is a harder question to answer than you might think. For starters, there are many films that feature a pope at the edge of the action but very very few are actually about a pope. Also, the pope, though held in contempt in some quarters, gets a rather easy ride in the movies, possibly because so many Hollywood films were made by Jewish emigres with first hand experience of what can happen when religion is dragged into the foreground. Either way, popes and knuckle-whitening drama don’t … Read more
Forrest Stanley and Marion Davies in a clinch

100 Years of… When Knighthood Was in Flower

When Knighthood Was in Flower answers the question posed by Citizen Kane – just how much of a chump was media magnate William Randolph Hearst over actress Marion Davies? Here is how much – a massive movie conceived on the grandest scale, produced by a company Hearst set up expressly to make Davies a star, with her name above the title, opening credits making great claims to the film’s historical accuracy, an opening scene with a grand entrance by Davies’s character in a royal barge, exteriors shot in Windsor, UK, even though much of the rest of the film was shot in New York and Connecticut, followed by an advertising campaign on the … Read more
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The Olsen It’s Cool to Like

Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of those squeaky Olsen twins, is going into the family business. Is the business ready for her? Is our interviewer?     One of the hazards of this journalism game, particularly if you’re a middle aged man, is meeting attractive young female actors in the interview situation. They’re likely to look at you intently, laugh at your feeble stabs at humour, lean towards you confidentially, look interested. And of course they’re in the acting game, so being plausible is a large part of what they do. It’s unbelievably easy to believe these bundles of talent and hotness fancy you. It’s a frequent occurrence to leave the interview completely smitten. … Read more
Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Léon

Jean Reno: The Bulletproof Star

In a long career that’s seen him starring in films good, bad and spectacularly terrible, the public’s affection for French icon Jean Reno has never wavered. How does he do it? Big guy. Woolly hat. Stubble. Shades. Round shades. Dark round shades. Doesn’t say much. Kills people. Sensitively. Ask a roomful of people to come up with a word or two about Jean Reno and that’s pretty much what you’d get. You might also get French. Likes his dinner. And cool. Very cool. But what about versatile? Best known for playing loners, hitmen, tough guys, individuals who don’t say much because they don’t have to, to most people Reno is that French guy … Read more
Julian Richings in Cube

What Is an Aseptic White Room Thriller?

  The simple answer to the question “what is an aseptic white room thriller” (AWRT) is Cube, Vincenzo Natali’s cult Canadian sci-fi movie from 1997. More abstractly, it’s a film that takes place on a single set, usually white though not necessarily. Lighting will be clean, clinical, fairly devoid of shadow. Soundtrack music will be scarce or absent. As for sound design, a background hum of air-conditioning is standard. Clanking, the whooshing of doors, “noises off”. It’s the plot that is most definitive. In the AWRT no one really knows what’s going on. Typically the film opens with the characters who don’t know each other waking up somewhere far from home, to find … Read more
Sabrina Ferilli and Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty

The Films of Paolo Sorrentino

  Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) is a portrait of Rome through the eyes of a world weary writer. It’s being hailed as Sorrentino’s La Dolce Vita and stars Sorrentino’s Marcello Mastroianni, Toni Servillo. It’s close to a masterpiece in other words, making this a good time to take a look at the career of Italy’s best film-maker right now. Firmly in the tradition of the 1960s generation of Fellini and Visconti, yet clearly his own man too, Sorrentino’s films are intelligent, engaged, stylish, beautifully made and intriguing – they’ve got the lot, in short.       One Man Up (2001) Sorrentino’s debut feature also saw him … Read more
daniel craig planet ocean

James Bond: The Omega Man

007 first strapped on an Omega watch in 1997. Since then the once-ailing franchise has gone from strength to strength. Coincidence? Every human being on the planet, even those in Bhutan, or out in the rainforest distilling poison from tree frogs, knows who James Bond is. So ubiquitous is he that even people who haven’t yet been born have a favourite James Bond actor, a favourite Bond girl, a favourite Bond movie, Bond song, car or baddie. In fact even as I write these words images of Louis Armstrong, Daniel Craig, an Aston Martin Vanquish, Jaws and Denise Richards (wrong, I know) are flashing across my cerebral cortex. But, now that Adele has belted … Read more
The musketeers and D'Artagnan join swords

100 Years of… The Three Musketeers

You’d have thought that the silent The Three Musketeers from 1921 would be the first film adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s novel but it wasn’t. Depending on how you count these things it was around the seventh or eighth film version since 1903. It wasn’t even the first of 1921. That honour went to a French serial shot in 14 episodes, Les Trois Mousketaires. But this one, directed by Fred Niblo and starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr, eclipses all the forerunners and most of the successors, largely thanks to the presence of Fairbanks, cusping 40 when he made this but leaping around and larger than life from the moment he hits the screen. This happens … Read more
Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale

James Bond’s Testicles

Have you ever noticed how James Bond is always getting his balls interfered with? The world’s most virile spy is bursting with so much testosterone that women want to get their hands on them and can’t help but fall into bed with him. Men, on the other hand, feel so threatened they want to crush him/them. Either that, or his heterosexual payload intimidates them so much that they come over all gay – again and again 007 is beset by the world’s elite effete, men with an exaggerated interest in long-haired cats and their own clothes, and who treat beautiful women with a casual disregard. Most notably there was the dual shape of … Read more
the original poster

Isn’t It Iconic?

La Dolce Vita might not be the best Italian film ever made. Or the cleverest, steamiest or most gripping. But it is the most iconic. Here’s why… Just a touch over 50 years ago the assembled critics at the Cannes film festival gave Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita a standing ovation. Not at the end of the film, or even at the moment when Anita Ekberg gets into the Trevi fountain, its most remembered scene. No, what got them to their feet was the film’s opening shot. It’s of a huge statue of Jesus Christ being airlifted out of Rome, the Eternal City. It doesn’t look like much now but back then this … Read more
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins

Dick Van Dyke on DVD

  What a great thing Dick Van Dyke has been. First there’s that improbable name. Even more improbable, it’s his real name. Then there’s his legs, long and lean and made for comedy dancing and comedy pratfalls. And his smile – as wide as the screen and surely the biggest on TV, if we’re not counting that of Mary Tyler Moore, who played his screen wife. We tend to think of him as a TV performer – no less than three TV series have been named after him, including the seminal Dick Van Dyke Show of the 1960s, the direct descendants of which (via Mary Tyler Moore and James Burrows) are Friends and The … Read more
Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino

100 Years of… The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was the first of five films Rudolph Valentino made in 1921 and though it’s the film that made him a star he’s not the star of the film, which is an ensemble piece. The star is the film itself, an epic so complete and fine-tuned that it’s a reference point today whenever producers and directors are aiming to tell tender human stories against a background of raging conflict. It’s a big film too – two and a half hours long, which isn’t gargantuan compared to, say, Birth of a Nation (three and a quarter hours) or Greed (originally four and a half hours) – but surprises people who … Read more

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