X, Y & Zee aka Zee and Co.

Zee and Robert get close

Once Elizabeth Taylor realised she wasn’t going to be starring in Cleopatra, or anything like it, any more, she set off on a mad career jag that saw her playing a succession of weirdos, harpies, harridans, drunks and foul-mouthed vixens. If that sounds like something you’d like to see, X, Y & Zee, or Zee and Co., could be the thing for you. As an added bonus you get Michael Caine in one of his best “shouting” roles. It’s “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” all the way through here. Made in 1972 but mainlining the back end of 1960s London, it’s Taylor and Caine as a married couple who’ve … Read more

The Wrong Box

John Mills in bed and Michael Caine standing over him

Lovely wallpaper. It’s not the highest praise you could give to a film, but The Wrong Box is one of those British films of the 1960s that’s so fundamentally terrible that you are left scrabbling to find something good to say about it. It’s a bad picture but isn’t the frame lovely? It’s one of those sub-Agatha Christie comic capers set in the Victorian era, where two ancient brothers are the last survivors of an elaborate tontine pact set up decades before – everyone pays in but only the last surviving member benefits from the payout – with John Mills and Ralph Richardson as Masterman and Joseph Finsbury, the two old duffers trying … Read more


Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine

Doubles and doubling feature a lot in Sleuth, the cockeyed comedy thriller from 1972 written by Anthony Shaffer, the identical twin of brother and fellow writer Peter Shaffer. Anthony also wrote Frenzy, for Alfred Hitchcock and The Wicker Man. Peter wrote Amadeus, Equus and Royal Hunt of the Sun, so no slouch either. They also for a while wrote detective novels together – as Peter Antony. Journalists would often ask the Shaffers whether there was rivalry between them. There was. It featured in Peter’s work (Amadeus is driven by it) and even more obviously in Anthony’s Sleuth, the story of an older man inviting his wife’s younger lover to his home to humiliate … Read more

Best Sellers

Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza in bed

At the Raindance film festival, London, UK, 27 October–6 November 2021 Formula written, if you’re feeling grouchy, inspired by Hollywood’s golden era, if you’re not, Best Sellers has two great performers at its centre – Michael Caine, still pumping out the charisma and deadly comic timing at 88, and Aubrey Plaza, who ups her ante to stay in the game with a wily old master and puts a soft edge on her usual smart sexy sarcasm. Here’s the formula. He’s an aged writer who wrote a best seller 50 years ago but has done nothing since. She’s the poor little rich girl who’s inherited a publishing house and is now watching it collapse … Read more


Raff Law, Michael Caine and Rita Ora

Updating Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, as Twist does, is a bold move. Usually the lure of the dressing-up box and the chance to lay on the foggy London atmospherics prove irresistible. Film-makers tend to stick with its original Victorian setting. Looking through the many, many adaptations, Twisted stands out. It’s a 1996 update set in in New York’s gay subculture. But for the most part Oliver Twist tends to be set in world of street urchins, top hats, horse-drawn carriages and much dropping of aitches. Watching the opening moments of Twist, a question arises: when in the early production process did someone suggest bringing Oliver Twist into the Britpop era? And was this … Read more

The Prestige

Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige

After Insomnia and Batman Begins, big Hollywood numbers taken on to show studio willing – or so it seemed – Christopher Nolan is back to being master of his own destiny, writing with his brother Jonathan and also producing this lavish smoke and mirrors cat-and-mouser. Clearly an attempt to “do another Memento”, it’s about a pair of Victorian magicians in a “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” London, who once were bosom buddies but fell out after a trick went wrong and the wife of one of them died. And since that day they have gone on to different sorts of glory, but as deadly rivals, each trying to out-trick … Read more

The Italian Job

Michael Caine and Noel Coward in The Italian Job

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 21 January Benny Hill born, 1924 On this day in 1924, Alfred Hawthorn Hill was born in Southampton, UK. One of those children who “always wanted to be in showbusiness”, Alfred had managed to become an assistant stage manager in a touring company before joining up to serve in the Second World War, aged 18. He changed his first name to Benny as a tribute to his hero, Jack Benny, though in fact it was the British music hall that really provided the inspiration for Benny Hill’s act. Earlier to understand that music hall’s days were numbered than many of his … Read more

Miss Congeniality

Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality

Call it nominative determinism but the Kirk Douglas-dimpled Sandra Bullock is often the most bullish person in the movies she’s in. This is presumably why somebody thought she’d be ideal playing a tough cop who makes an ugly-duckling transformation in order to go undercover at a beauty pageant. It’s completely unbelievable, of course – Bullock never for a second looks less than a Hollywood A list star, even when made up to look like a dog. But who wants believable when there’s fun to be had? And so we yield to Bullock’s brilliant comic interplay with Michael Caine, as her camp coach in feminine poise (see what I mean by unbelievable), and if … Read more

Batman: The Dark Knight

dark knight 2jpg

Not having enjoyed the first Nolan/Bale Batman film (yes, he was traumatised by bats. I get it!) I wasn’t looking forward to the second. But, having been told how great it was, how awesome Heath Ledger was, how dark it all was, I was prepared to put prejudice to one side and settle back to watch it with an open mind. And I hated it. But no one else seems to feel this way. Why? My own lack of soul to one side, it’s possibly something to do with the death of Ledger, a good actor who generally did more than was necessary in whatever role he took on, was happy to subsume … Read more