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Lotus Flower finds the half drowned sailor

100 Years of… The Toll of the Sea

There are two good ancillary reasons for watching The Toll of the Sea, on top of the fact that it’s a touching, almost heartbreaking drama of a sort it’s almost impossible to imagine being made today. The first is that it stars Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese American star, here only 17 years old in a role that puts her to the test in terms of subtle emoting, and finds her sailing through unscathed. The second is that it’s the oldest existing Technicolor movie left on the planet. There was an older one, The Gulf Between, made in 1917, but that went up in flames and is now permanently lost. It was … Read more
Tyrone Power as Zorro

Zorro: Who Is That Masked Man?

The Mexicans like their heroes the way they like their tacos – with cheese. Enter Zorro. Cue mask, cape and ludicrous pencil moustache Next time you’re in London, try the Robin Hood Zorro restaurant in Hammersmith. This oddly conceived English/Mexican hybrid serves an equally odd drink called the Robin Hood Meets Zorro cocktail. A mouthful to order and a hell of a thing to drink, it contains tequila, gin and beer. The menu doesn’t say it’s served with a bucket, but it probably should be. What is it about Zorro that seems to bring out the naffness in … well, everything? It was not always thus. Dial back to the mists of the … Read more
Sonny in shrunken suit being laughed at

100 Years of… Grandma’s Boy

A prime slice of Harold Lloyd, Grandma’s Boy isn’t as famous as Safety Last! (the one where he dangles from a clock), but it is just as good as an example of his skills. Like the other two members of the Big Three of silent funnymen, Lloyd, like Chaplin and Keaton, often found himself tangling with men much manlier than himself. But whereas Chaplin’s Tramp and Keaton’s Stoneface had a steely puckishness and an aggressive intelligence, Lloyd’s “Glasses” character (as he called the guy in the specs) did not. He was generally speaking more the have-a-go Ordinary Joe. In Grandma’s Boy, “Glasses” is also a weakling and a coward, a Mummy’s Boy squared, … 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
A wounded Juan next to a bull

100 Years of… Blood and Sand

1922’s Blood and Sand was Rudolph Valentino’s third big hit movie in two years and it deserved to be. A grand, well-appointed, beautiful-looking, subtly-acted adventure rippling with themes and sub-themes and with properly fleshed-out side characters, it’s got more going on under the hood than at first appears. Famous Players-Lasky (later to become Paramount) had been caught on the hop by Valentino’s success and insisted that he carry on with the schedule already mapped out for him – which is why you’ll find a number of B movies sprinkled along the way between The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, his breakthrough, and Blood and Sand. Though Valentino was hot stuff (and knew it), … Read more
Hostel II: how bloody do you want it?

Torture Porn, a Beginner’s Guide

Hostel II’s blood, gore and torture is generating column inches faster than a skillsaw can rip through warm flesh, but some people still don’t know what torture porn is. This is for them…   What is a splatter movie? Films like Hostel: Part II slot into the category known variously – depending on whether you’re a fan or a critic – as Shock Exploitation, Splatter, Gorno (that’s gore + porno), Torture Porn or, at the comedy end, Splatstick. They’re catagorised by lots of flesh (usually female), lots of innards (generally animal), a gleeful approach to the subject by their directors (almost always male) and an unnatural fixation with domestic power tools (drills, blowtorches etc). … Read more
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I Became a Ukrainian Vodka Baron

Meet Dan Edelstyn. He’s made a film, he’s resurrected a vodka brand and he’s reviving the fortunes of a faraway Ukrainian village Halfway through making a documentary about his grandmother, director Dan Edelstyn realised he was going to have to start all over again. The film he’d been shooting since 2005 – working title From Bolshevism to Belfast – had been a great story. It told of his Jewish grandmother’s sudden exit from Ukraine in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. How privileged, pretty Maroussia Zorokovich had wound up in Belfast, where her husband, Dan’s grandfather, had promptly gone native and become more staunchly Orange than the Paisley family. It was the story of … 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
Uggie the Jack Russell with co-star Bérénice Bejou in The Artist

Dogs in the Movies

Dogs. Yes, that’s right, dogs. I’ve probably already doubled the amount of traffic to this site just by writing the word “dogs” three times. Four times if you count that mention. Because people just love dogs (five). They can’t help themselves. It’s down to their dependability. A human being might let you down, but a four legged friend probably won’t eat you until you’ve been dead at least four days. A cat would probably tuck in while you were still warm. Trenchant insight aside, a dog’s loyalty and trainability make it a natural for the movies. A dog can be encouraged to do stuff that’s cute. Or, with a sign from off-camera, it … 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 Big … Read more
Lady Marian and Robin Hood

100 Years of… Robin Hood

Accept no substitute. This is the original Robin Hood, or Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (as the registered title insists), the one that Errol Flynn’s 1938 version modelled itself on, the one that gets all the Merry Men, Maid Marian, good King Richard and bad King John, Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham into forms so recognisable that even at 100 years old, it’s instantly obvious who is who. This wasn’t the first screen outing for the mythical character, in fact there had already been five before (if we include 1919’s My Lady Robin Hood), so Robin Hood as a movie character was at least fairly well known, though of … Read more
The cast of You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

The Best Films I Saw in 2013

Here they are, the best films I saw in 2013. It’s a Top Ten job with the best in no particular order, followed by a list of films that made the top ten at some point in the year, then got bounced. This is not a Best of 2013, let me quickly point out, just the best films I’ve seen this year. So a film everyone else has seen but I haven’t won’t be here (I’ve not seen American Hustle yet, f’rinstance). And there might be stragglers from 2012 in here which I caught up with late. It really is “the best films I have seen this year”. If you’re wondering what to … Read more

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