Showing posts with label Romance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romance. Show all posts

Sunday, 18 May 2014

To Catch a Thief

A beautiful if underwhelming film, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief marked the director’s third and final picture starring Grace Kelly. Joining the actress is another actor in his third Hitchcock movie, Carey Grant. Grant plays John Robie, a once jewel thief turned French Resistance fighter who now retired, tends to his vineyards high above the Côte d'Azur. When a series of robberies which display Robie’s hallmarks are committed, the police come looking for the man known as ‘The Cat’ and in order to clear his name, he gets hold of a list of potential targets in the hope of out witting and out manoeuvring the real thief. First on the list are Mrs. Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Francie (Kelly).

To Catch a Thief lacks some of the dramatic tension and edge of the seat thrills of Hitchcock’s finest films but what it lacks in tautness, it makes up for in other ways. Hitchcock cleverly gets passed the Hays/Breen censors with some fantastic sexual innuendo and half hidden imagery. The romantic side of the plot is much more developed than the dramatic side and Hitch wows his audience with sexual fireworks (literally) and a John Michael Hays script which while leaving little to the imagination, somehow feels clean and moral. Coupled with the spectacular beauty on display, this is a movie which is worth investing time in.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Out of the Past

1947’s Out of the Past is widely considered to be one of the greatest examples of 1940s film noir. Set around a convoluted plot, the film twists and turns through double, triple and quadruple crosses, landing surprise blows on its dumbstruck and occasionally confused audience. Based on the novel Build My Gallows High and originally released in the UK under the same title, the picture stars Robert Mitchum as freelance Private Detective Jeff Bailey. He’s hired by rich and shady businessman Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to track down a dame, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) who Stirling alleges has disappeared with $40,000 of his money. Told partly in flashback and with a voiceover to match that of Sunset Boulevard’s, the film twists and turns like a twisty-turny thing, through several cities, two nations and a long, albeit undisclosed, period of time.

It took me a little while to get into Out of the Past but when I did, I enjoyed it greatly. Unfortunately my patience wore off towards the end thanks to the elaborate nature of the narrative. This isn’t a film I’d suggest watching after a long day at the office and a couple of martinis inside your stomach. Although a large part of the movie’s charm is its strong story, the frequent double crossing did begin to confuse me as we crossed the hour mark. This isn’t entirely a bad thing however as half the fun is in guessing who has the upper hand and who will strike next.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Comedy musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes arrived in cinemas in the summer of 1953 on the back of a successful Broadway run. Set largely aboard an Ocean Liner and Paris, the movie follows the fortunes of two beautiful showgirls. Although the best of friends, the two women couldn’t be more different from one another. Blonde bombshell Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) is a childlike airhead, desperate to marry rich. Her friend Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is much smarter and more down to earth, interested in love not money. The two head to Paris with Dorothy sent along as a chaperone by Lorelei’s rich and naïve fiancé (Tommy Noonan). Also aboard the ship is a handsome P.I (Elliot Reid), who’s there at the behest of Lorelei’s potential father-in-law.

The film is famous today for Monroe’s iconic and much copied rendition of Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. Along with this song, there are several others in which the two stars sing seductively, strutting across the stage in glamorous and often revealing attire. Many of the songs weren’t to my liking but I had no complaints about the visuals. Around the pair is some excellent choreography. Russell’s rendition of Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love is set inside the ship’s gymnasium and she’s surrounded by the American Olympic Team of whom she makes interesting and amusing props. The actress looks to be in her element. The number also features a mistake in which the actress is knocked into a pool. Director Howard Hawks liked the take though and kept the accident in the finished film. The opening number I’m Just a Little Girl From Little Rock is well staged and sets the film off to a flying start.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night is a Pre Code romantic comedy/road movie directed by Frank Capra. At the 7th Academy Awards in February 1935, the film won an unprecedented haul of awards, becoming the first film to win ‘the big five’ of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. The feat went unmatched for over forty years and has only ever been matched twice. Although slow to catch on with critics and the public alike, word of mouth turned it into an unstoppable box office hit becoming Columbia’s highest grossing movie up to that point. Eighty years on from its release, the film remains an irresistible picture, combining drama and romance with a sizable dollop of Pre Code sentiment and behaviour.

Based on the short story Night Bus, the plot concerns a young heiress called Ellen Andrews (Claudette Colbert) who runs away from her comfortable lifestyle after her father attempts to have her marriage to a newly met aviator annulled. Aboard a bus to New York City she meets a down and out reporter called Peter Warne (Clark Gable). Warne is cocky and carefree and soon discovers there’s a story in the runaway girl. He agrees to help fund her journey to New York in return for cooperation on his story and the two begin a series of adventures on their way to the city.

The Seven Year Itch

Having recently realised that I’ve loved almost every Billy Wilder film I’ve seen, I’ve been seeking out more of his work. It suddenly dawned on me earlier today that I owned one of his films which I hadn’t seen for a few years but remembered fondly. That film was The Seven Year Itch. I first saw the romantic comedy about five years ago and it had been on my shelf ever since. Unfortunately for my memory and for my love of the film’s director, I’d remembered it as a better film than I actually think it is.

The Seven Year Itch is based on the Broadway play of the same name and stars Tom Ewell as Richard Sherman, a slightly awkward man on the cusp of middle age. An abject worrier and daydreamer with an overactive imagination, Sherman sends his wife and young son off to Maine for the summer in order to escape the New York heat. When returning from work that night he meets a beautiful young woman (Marilyn Monroe) in the hallway of his building and begins to have thoughts that belie his faithful and honest nature.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gone with the Wind

Epic in every conceivable facet, Gone with the Wind is a hugely successful, multi award winning melodrama which sweeps its way through intertwined families of the Old South during The American Civil war and subsequent reconstruction era. Notable in its day for its long pre-production and actual production problems, the film has come to be known as one of the most loved in history. As well as receiving a record ten Oscars, a feat that wasn’t beaten for twenty years, it was also the highest grossing picture of its day and still remains the highest grossing film in history when adjusted for inflation. When released in 1939 it also had the distinction of being the longest American sound film, clocking in at a patience testing 221 minutes, or 234 including overture and intermission.

Although recognised upon its release as a critical and commercial success, and despite its place in history well and truly assured, more recent critical reassessments have been less kind, picking up on details which were less consequential in the late 1930s and early 40s. I’d heard both the good and bad second hand but decided to finally set aside many hours on a rainy Sunday and watch it for myself. My opinion of the picture is less favourable than the norm but I’m able to recognise it for its strengths and can’t dispute its historical standing in the medium of film.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Life is Beautiful

Buongiorno principessa!” Two simple words that bought a huge smile to my face during a film which has more emotional peaks and troughs than a very emotionally peaky troughy thing. Life is Beautiful or La vita è bella in its original Italian is a passionate and multi award winning comedy-drama set in Italy during The Second World War. Its dark themes are counterbalanced with some delightful comedy and a sweet story about a man trying to protect his young son from the harsh realities of the war. Italian Jew Guido (Roberto Benigni – also director) is a wildly imaginative and romantic soul who woos a local woman in amusing and inventive ways. Fast forward a few years and Guido and his wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) have a cute little boy called Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). When Guido and Joshua are taken to a work camp by the Germans, Guido puts in tireless effort to hide the truth from his son, telling him that they are playing a game for points in which the winning team will win a real life tank.

Life is Beautiful really is beautiful in of itself. It’s one of the sweetest films I’ve seen and is amongst many people’s (including my Dad’s and girlfriend’s) favourite films of all time. Not only is it a good-natured story but it’s also very bold. Upon its initial release it faced some criticism for making light of the Holocaust but personally I don’t think it does anything to mock that horrific event or undermine the suffering of the millions who had to endure abysmal treatment under the Nazis and their collaborators. Instead it displays the triumph of human spirit and the deep love of a father for going to great lengths to protect his son.

Sunday, 21 July 2013


Sabrina is a fairytale love story set around themes of rivalry and class. Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) is a chauffer’s daughter, living on a large Long Island Estate. For some time she’s been in love with the rich and careless David Larrabee (William Holden) who barely notices her. After two years studying in Paris, the grownup Sabrina returns a beautiful and sophisticated woman and David falls in love. The couple’s relationship threatens to derail a big merger for the family company so David’s brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) decides to woo the girl himself before packing her back off to Paris.

This film is one of several in my girlfriend’s DVD collection that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Hepburn is her favourite actress but it was Sabrina I chose over other films because of the male stars. I’ll happily watch anything Bogart and Holden are in but have to say that I was a little disappointed with this film. The stars failed to gel on screen and a little reading tells me that Bogart was unhappy for the duration of the shoot with both director Billy Wilder and his co-star Hepburn who he believed needed too many takes to get her dialogue right. There was better chemistry between Holden and Hepburn which isn’t surprising as the two began a brief affair while shooting the movie.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Before Sunset

I can’t imagine having to wait nine years for Before Sunset to come around. Released nearly a decade after Before Sunrise, a film with a remarkable and original will they/won’t they conclusion, the film picks up the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) after their one night romance in Vienna in 1995. It should be noted before I go on that this review may well contain spoilers for Before Sunrise so if you haven’t seen that movie yet, beware. I saw Before Sunrise earlier today and the hour long wait between films felt like a lifetime to me, so engrossed in the character’s stories was I. I can’t believe that there are people who had to endure nine years of not knowing what happened after Céline and Jesse went their separate ways.

The film opens in a Parisian book shop where Jesse, now an author is answering questions about his latest book. Towards the end of the interview he notices Céline standing in the corner and instantly loses his train of thought. He manages to sneak away for a coffee with his former fling before a 7:30 pm deadline to catch a flight. It’s on the way to the café that we the audience have our hearts broken. The pair didn’t meet in Vienna six months after the end of the first film. They in fact haven’t seen each other since that magical night nine years ago.

Before Sunrise

A chance meeting aboard a train from Budapest to Paris results in a wonderfully constructed whirlwind romance for two strangers. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is travelling alone through Europe when he begins talking to the pretty French lady across the isle from him. That woman is Céline (Julie Delpy) who is on her way back to Paris after visiting her grandmother in the Hungarian capital. They strike up a friendly conversation which continues in the dining car before Jesse’s stop in Vienna approaches. Sensing a connection he suggests that Céline disembarks with him to continue their discussion. She impulsively agrees and the duo spends the night wandering Vienna together.

Before Sunrise lacks any sort of plot but is nevertheless beautifully written and structured. I never once wished for something to happen besides the continuing conversation and discovery. The dialogue is deeply woven and superbly delivered by two actors on top form. Their connection seems so real that it’s hard to believe that the actors themselves didn’t end up together. Nothing is forced and the conversations meander naturally while at all times remaining high brow and intellectually stimulating. Occasionally there is a lull in the engagement I had with the dialogue but this still works as it’s how one would react when listening to any long conversation.

Friday, 7 June 2013


A few years ago, to me the name Alfred Hitchcock meant that old guy who was famous for making movies that I’d never seen. It took me far too long to watch any of his films but I’ve since been making up for this by watching as many as I can over the last couple of years. What amazes me each time is that almost every film I’ve seen has been at least in part brilliant. Even those which I’m not so mad on often contain a couple of shots or scenes which astound my eyes and he rarely if ever fails to thrill. The latest Hitchcock to flash excitedly in front of my eyes is his 1942 spy thriller, Saboteur. Production on the movie began just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and patriotism, symbolism and propaganda run right the way through the picture in every scene and character.

Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is an aircraft factory worker from Southern California. Following a fire at the plant, in which his good friend dies, the evidence leads detectives to believe that Kane is responsible and he becomes a wanted man, travelling across the country in a bid to unveil the German spy ring that he believes is the true culprit. Along the way he becomes acquainted with Patricia Martin (Pricilla Lane), a model and patriot who attempts to turn the wanted man in time and time again. Their travels lead them to the hornet’s nest in New York City where the suspected spies are planning their latest piece of sabotage.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


May contain mild spoilers

Populaire is a French romantic drama set in the late 1950s. It’s a simple, predictable but sweet film about a provincial girl setting out to conquer the world. Small town girl Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François) has dreams of being a typist and one day travels by bus to her nearest town to apply for a job with a local Insurance Man, Louis Échard (Romain Duris). Her lack of style and understanding of metropolitan life as well as general clumsiness make her stand out from the other applicants, but not in the way she hoped. Demonstrations of her speed typing though, peak the interest of her would be boss and he hires her before deciding to train her for speed typing competitions. With a frisson of sexual excitement and the possibility of proving her father wrong, Rose begins to excel in the unusual sport in which she partakes.

It’s obvious to see from the get go, who the target audience for this film is. Shortly before it began, from our usual seats At the Back, my girlfriend whispered in my ear, “Look at all the shiny heads”. It was true that we were the youngest people in the screening by about thirty years. The film has a simplistic charm and the sort of slow, blossoming romance that will appeal more to the older generation than to those of us with our own teeth and you can tell from the very first scenes exactly where it’s going and what will happen but sometimes it’s nice to get that from a film. Occasionally I don’t mind the odd ‘awww’ moment from a movie but I don’t think Populaire will be popular with all.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

True Romance

Despite initial commercial failure, True Romance’s strong performances and savvy script have made it a cult classic. Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery before the release of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino once intended to direct the film too but eventually sold the script after losing interest. Tony Scott took over in the director’s chair and threw out Tarantino’s non-linear storyline in favour of a more traditional linear approach but the bulk of Tarantino’s story remained. The film features a central love story which gets tangled up in the worlds of drugs, organised crime and Hollywood before untangling itself in a hail of bullets following a very Tarantino-esque Mexican Standoff.

The movie is famous for its cast which rivals any in cinema history. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as the young couple who find love at a triple bill Kung Fu movie night but are joined on screen by a vast array of the great and good of their profession. Names and faces recognisable to all include Michael Rapaport, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Victor Argo and Christopher Walken. I’m struggling to think of any cast which matches the one assembled here and if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Grosse Pointe Blank

Professional assassin Martin Blank (John Cusack) discovers that his next job is in his home town on the same weekend as his ten year high school reunion and to kill the proverbial birds, decides to head back to the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe from which he fled a decade earlier. He tracks down his high school sweetheart Debi (Minnie Driver) who now works as a local radio host and attempts to undo the damage caused by standing her up on prom night. While in town Martin finds himself under the watch of several assassins as well as two NSA Agents but despite the danger is desperate to win back his girl.

Grosse Pointe Blank was a better film than I expected it to be. I’m not a huge fan of John Cusack and would never seek out a film because Minnie Driver was in it. I knew nothing about the story but the most 90s poster in I’ve ever seen did little to wet my appetite. The film is rarely funny and the plot is fairly inconsequential but I enjoyed the chemistry of the two leads as well as the 80s soundtrack and overall was charmed by the movie.

Saturday, 6 April 2013


1927’s Wings was the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. At that first ceremony though there were two categories which were seen as the top award of the night. Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans won Unique and Artistic Production while Wings won Outstanding Picture. The former category was dropped the following year and Outstanding Picture was renamed Best Picture with Wings retroactively considered the overall winner. This seems unfair on Sunrise which in my view is a far superior film which is why I have included it on my Oscar Challenge page.

But back to the matter in hand which is the film Wings. The movie blends elements from a number of genres including action and comedy but is centrally a romantic drama. I say this despite lead actress Clara Bow’s statement that the film was “A man’s picture” in which she played the cream on top of the pie. For me the film is deeper than purely “A man’s picture” and has a highly engaging story about feuding rivals and unrequited love set against the backdrop of the First World War. As America enters the war in 1917 it calls its men to arms and Jack Powell (Charles ‘Buddy’ Rodgers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) answer the call to join the fledgling Air Service. Both men are in love with Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) and vie for her affections. She only has eyes for David. Meanwhile Jack’s beautiful neighbour Mary Preston (Clara Bow) is madly in love with Jack but he barely notices her and the feelings are in no way reciprocated. While in France the two men become friends and forget their feud but their love for the same woman remains as an undercurrent of their friendship.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Slumdog Millionaire

In early 2009 I was stunned by a cinematic experience so bright, colourful, exciting and interesting that I saw the movie twice within a week. The film was Slumdog Millionaire and a month later it won seven BAFTAS and eight Oscars including the big one, Best Picture. The film is a somewhat fantastical but highly engaging story of love, hardship and fortune told from the point of view of young Mumbai tea boy Jamal Malik (Dev Patel). Through his eyes we are told the story of his eighteen years and of his continuing search for his lost love Latika (Freida Pinto). In the hope that she sees him, Jamal becomes a contestant on India’s highest rated game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire but when he fortuitously answers several difficult questions correctly the host (Anil Kapoor) and Police (Irrfan Khan) want their own answers, most pressingly how he knows what he knows.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I love this movie. I love everything about it from the direction, the soundtrack and the story to the cute child actors and cute adult actors (Pinto). After my initial double viewing I didn’t see the film again until today, over four years later. As soon as the titles rolled I got the little tingle that I got on my first viewing and by the end I was sure that my affection for the film hadn’t diminished at all.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Grand Hotel

For a while now I’ve been trying to review every single winner of the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s harder than you’d imagine to get hold of some of these films but I managed to track down Grand Hotel in New York recently. I chose it over 1927’s Wings by price alone but now wish I’d opted for the latter. Grand Hotel won the Best Picture award at 5th Academy Awards and is to this day the only film in history to be nominated for BestPicture and nothing else. The film is based on a play which is in turn based on a novel and is set entirely within the grounds of Berlin’s Grand Hotel at the end of the Weimar Republic’s Roaring Twenties. The film is full of glamour and charm but left me feeling rather bored for almost its entire one hour and fifty minutes.

Grand Hotel became the model for many films that followed and for its time was unique for blending various characters and storylines into a coherent narrative. The film follows some of the guests at the hotel over the course of a couple of nights following a statement from permanent resident Dr. Otternschlag (Lewis Stone) that “People come and go. Nothing ever happens”. Before Grand Hotel films weren’t as bold as to mix so many stories and characters in such abundance but the idea continues to this day with the likes of Babel and Crash.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Apartment

Coming just a year after Billy Wilder’s smash hit Some Like it Hot, the writer/director produced The Apartment, a stunning film which was nominated for ten Oscars and went on to win five, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. All three of those awards are well and truly justified (although the movie beat a personal favourite Psycho to a couple) and the movie is a magnificent triumph of comedy, drama and romance.

A young and lonely office worked called C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is persuaded to let senior colleagues use his apartment in the evenings to entertain young women. This often leaves Baxter alone at work or left outside in the cold streets. When his boss (Fred MacMurray) finds out he too gains access to the apartment with the promise of a big promotion if Baxter plays it smart. Eager to please, Baxter does as he is asked but begins to get second thoughts when he discovers that one of his boss’ girls is elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) whom Baxter is secretly in love with.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet but with a twist. Romeo or R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie, living in a post apocalyptic world. He spends his days shuffling around a long abandoned airport, looking for food and grunting. One day while out searching for brains he comes across a group of young survivors and despite his condition, falls in love with one of them, a girl called Julie (Teresa Palmer). Going against his nature R saves Julie and takes her to a safe place. Something about his love for Julie triggers a reaction inside R’s heart and he slowly becomes more human but with armed militia out to kill zombies, will anyone believe him?

Warm Bodies begins with a fantastic idea. The film is mostly told from a zombie’s perspective which I found really interesting. He has an internal monologue which is deep, thoughtful and funny but outwardly is only able to produce a few groans. Unfortunately the interest soon wears off in favour of the romantic elements. While this is fine the film plays fast and loose with the zombie concept and purists will struggle to engage with a fast moving, talking, sentient zombie.

Saturday, 19 January 2013


In part homage to F. W. Murnau’s film of the same name, Portuguese melodrama Tabu is a film split into two halves which revolve around a Portuguese woman who grew up in Africa and grew old in Lisbon. Shot on actual film and in a narrow 1.37:1 aspect the film exudes an air of the silent era which is doubled with a second act which features no spoken dialogue. Instead of traditional dialogue or even old style intertitles the audience is treated to a narration from an older version of one of the central characters. The second act isn’t totally silent though as background noise of the African bush can be heard while the characters are muted. It is a brave film making decision but works to great effect. Tabu takes some time to get into and will be an instant turn off to many (including me) but once I got into it and especially once I reached Part 2, I was hooked by its enduring story, picturesque setting and exquisite style.

The film opens with an enigmatic prologue set in Africa and telling the story of star crossed lovers. This beautiful opening also introduces a crocodile which goes on to have further significance later on. Unlike the two main sections of the film, this opening could be timeless. There are hints of an early colonial setting but the way it is filmed gives it an eternal feel.