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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
Stan Laurel as Rhubarb Vaselino

100 Years of… Mud and Sand

Before Laurel and Hardy there was Laurel and Laurel, and in 1922’s Mud and Sand we get to see Stan Laurel’s original silent-movie partnership at work. The film is a longish short (40 mins) spoofing the Rudolph Valentino hit Blood and Sand, the story of a poor Spanish toreador who hits the big time and has his head turned by the wiles of a vampish older widow. Tragedy ensues. Turned out within three months of Valentino’s all-action spectacular – one of the biggest films of the year – Mud and Sand’s target is obvious, with Stan Laurel playing the slick-haired accidental toreador hero and irresistible love icon Rhubarb Vaselino. (The on-screen intertitles call him … Read more
Ruth Weyher as the "Woman"

100 Years of… Warning Shadows

The remarkable Warning Shadows (Schatten: Eine nächtliche Halluzination) is often lumped together with other German movies of the 1920s as expressionist but it’s only tangentially an expressionist movie. It’s too strange to fit in that box, too individualistic. As silent movies go it’s strange too. Once it’s done its introductions – the characters’ names materialise as the actors appear on stage in front of a white screen which will take on significance later – there are no intertitles, not one. The American born but Germany-raised director/writer Arthur Robison does it all with images and his actors, no further explanation necessary. The story is weird as well – like a sexed-up fairy tale – … 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
Rudolph Valentino as the Sheikh

100 Years of… The Sheikh

Rudolph Valentino had two big films in 1921. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by far the biggest grossing film of the year, was the one that made him a star. But The Sheikh was even more important. It made Valentino so famous that we still talk of him today, long after the auras of fellow stars like Norma Talmadge and Wallace Reid have faded. The Four Horsemen gave Valentino the “Latin lover” tag but The Sheikh made it stick, something that Valentino – striving to have a varied career – struggled against before bowing to the inevitable in 1926 with Son of the Sheikh. In an intense but short time at the … 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
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 team up with Toni … 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
Caren Pistorius in Slow West

The Best Films of 2015

There’s a tendency among people who watch a lot of films to boost ones that stand out rather than ones that are good. This can lead to some perverse choices in the “best of” lists that proliferate at this time of year. So that probably explains the rogue nature of the list below – ha ha. If you’re expecting to find Spectre (not at all bad) or the latest Marvel movie or Jurassic World, look elsewhere. These are just the films, of the maybe 350 films or so that I’ve watched in the past 12 months, that jumped out and grabbed me. Some of them are 2014 releases. Ten Best Paddington (dir: Paul … Read more
Mike Meyers and Jessica Alba in 2010's The Love Guru

The Razzies – Winners Who Showed Up

One supposedly represents the best of the best and the other the worst of the worst. In theory the Oscars and the Razzies are polar opposites, yet they have something in common. Each loves a pile-on. Every year as awards season comes around again, a fog seems to descend on the members of the voting academies, groupthink sets in and some perfectly OK but largely unremarkable movies start mysteriously migrating – up to become Academy Award contenders, or down to where the Razzies await. If a bona fide celebrity is involved, the movement can be quite dramatic. Was Driving Miss Daisy really the best picture of 1990? Against, say, Do the Right Thing? Did … 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. Take Elizabeth … 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

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