Rutger Hauer

I have only just heard that Rutger Hauer has died, aged 75. That is a tragic loss to acting, and cinema.

I could write about all the film roles I have enjoyed seeing him in, but I have to pick my favourite, from my current top ten film of all time.

He embodied the essence of ‘Blade Runner’ (1987), as the replicant, Roy Batty. And he gave us one of the most iconic death scenes in the history of acting.

Rest in peace, Mr Hauer. You will be missed.

Some French films

An old post from 2013, looking at some lesser-known films from France. David and Eddy have both seen this before.

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The subject of French cinema is a lot to tackle. It is without doubt, the home of some of the greatest films ever made, and many of the best actors to ever perform before a camera. It will need at least two posts on its own at a later date, but here are five film recommendations, just to get you started.

Le Samourai. This 1967 film, shot in Paris, gives you two of the best; the director, Jean-Pierre Melville, and the lead actor, Alain Delon. In this production, they are both seen at the very top of their game. The moody direction and lighting from Melville, the coolest acting style of ‘less is more’ from Delon. The clothes, the hats, the cars, all scream 1960’s, and urban cool. The very good-looking Alain Delon out-cools every actor of his time, in the role of the lonely hit man. It is not…

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An A-Z of Actors: V

I will only add three names this time, as ‘V’ can be a bit tricky. But that should leave you plenty of scope to add your own favourites in the comments.
My selections are not that well-known.

American actor John Vemtimiglia had enjoyed a successful career in films and on television, most notably in the long running series ‘The Sopranos’. Films include ‘Cop Land’ (1997), ‘The Iceman’ (2012), and ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’ (1999). He is one of those rare character actors who always leaves his mark on the smallest role, making me want to find out more about him.

An unusual choice, and another star of The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt was perhaps never meant to be an actor. In fact, he was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, and well-known as a musician. In 1999, he decided to audition for a role in ‘The Sopranos’, despite having no acting experience. He was given the role of Silvio, one of the main characters, and brought him to life on the screen. Then in 2011, he co-wrote and produced the Norwegian/English mini-series, ‘Lillyhammer’, playing a New York gangster in hiding in Norway, with often hilarious results. He is still working in television and radio, as well as continuing to perform and record music.

My last offering today is another American, the Oscar-nominated Brenda Vaccaro. She has had a distinguished career on stage, in films, and on television that has lasted for more than fifty years. Winning awards for her theatre work as well as screen roles, her list of film credits includes some very famous films indeed. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), ‘Going Home’ (1972), ‘Once Is Not Enough’ (1975), and ‘Capricorn One’ (1977). Later films included ‘Supergirl’ (1994), and ‘The Mirror Has Two Faces’ (1996). Now 78, she is still working, and known for supplying voices to various animated characters.

An A-Z of Actors: R

I know these tend to drag on, but please continue to add your own choices in the comments.

Gena Rowlands is an American actress who has been active for more than sixty years. She has won four Emmy awards, two Golden Globes, and has also been nominated for an Oscar, finally receiving an honorary one, in 2015. For over thirty years, she was married to the actor and film-maker John Cassavetes, and appeared in many of his films. After drama school, Gena toured with various theatrical companies, and also worked on television before her collaborations with her husband, on ten films together. In 1974, she won awards for her outstanding role in ‘A Woman Under The Influence’, with her portrayal of a disturbed housewife. More critical acclaim followed in 1980, with the wonderful lead role in ‘Gloria’, as the mobster’s moll who tries to help a young boy being hunted by the Mafia. She has rarely stopped working, with parts in films during every year of the 1980s and 1990s, including notable roles in various TV mini-series too. In 2004, she co-starred in ‘The Notebook’, directed by her son, Nick.

Charlotte Rampling is still popular, in her seventies. As a model and singer too, she became one of the faces of ‘The Swinging Sixties’ in England. After an early role in ‘Georgy Girl’ (1966), she went on to be cast in numerous European films, often taken under the wing of a famous director at the time. As well as her film work, she continued to appear in British and American TV dramas, and she has won numerous European awards for Best Actress, during her long career. Some of her film roles might surprise you, but you may well remember the titles. ‘The Damned’ (1969), ‘The Night Porter’ (1974), ‘Zardoz’ (1974), a strange sci-fi, opposite Sean Connery. ‘The Verdict’ (1982), with Paul Newman, ‘Angel Heart’ (1987), with Mickey O’Rourke, and the French film, ‘Under The Sand’ (2000). In 2015, she was outstanding in the British film ’45 Years’, and she also appeared in the recent ‘Red Sparrow’ (2018).

English actor Mark Rylance already had a distinguished career as a stage actor and television regular, before becoming noticed in films. For ten years, he was artistic director of the restored Globe Theatre, in London, and he has won Tony awards and BAFTAs, for various roles. In 2015, he excelled in the role of Thomas Cromwell, in the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’, as well as winning the Oscar for best supporting actor, in the film ‘Bridge Of Spies’. He then went on to appear in Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ (2017), and in Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’, this year.

Someone who gets little recognition outside of the UK, Saskia Reeves has had a long and distinguished career, mostly in supporting roles. But her performances are never less than powerful, and she deserves to be better known. Her work so far has led her to collaborate with some of the best, including Mike Leigh, and Stephen Poliakoff. She was outstanding as the incestuous lover, in ‘Close My Eyes’ (1991), and went on to co-star in many TV series and adaptations, including ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1999), and ‘Island At War’ (2004). Later roles saw her starring opposite Idris Elba, in the wonderful BBC drama, ‘Luther’, and in David Hare’s ‘Collateral’ (2018).

I have to finish with one of my favourite British actresses, Miranda Richardson. Her work on stage, screen, and television began in 1981, before she was cast as the true-life killer, Ruth Ellis, in the simply superb ‘Dance With A Stranger’ (1985), where she starred opposite the distinguished Ian Holm, and Rupert Everett. At the same time, she was demonstrating a huge talent for comedy, in the long-running BBC series, ‘Blackadder’, with Stephen Fry, and Rowan Atkinson. Her film career continued, with ‘Empire Of The Sun’ (1987), the wonderful ‘The Crying Game’ (1991), and ‘Damage’ (1992), which earned her a BAFTA. Since then, her career has continued unabated. ‘The Hours’ (2002), ‘The Young Victoria’ (2008), ‘Harry Potter’ (2010), and ‘Churchill’ (2017). She is undoubtedly one of the finest modern British actresses.

Films and Cinema: The Future

As you all know, I write a lot about films. I have done A-Z challenges, recent reviews, and a retro series too. When I started this blog, I wrote numerous posts about World Cinema, featuring the films made in various countries. Since I began blogging in 2012, I have only been to the cinema on two occasions, but I have seen many films on DVD, TV showings, and recently via streaming too.

Cinemas no longer hold much appeal for me. They are too small, too bright, and many people who visit them are not real film fans, in the main. At least not ones I recognise, with their takeaway food, popcorn, slurpy drinks, and constant checking of mobile phones. The dark and quiet cinemas of my youth are but a memory.

Films have enjoyed something of a renaissance recently. Many of them are super-hero blockbusters and comic-book franchises of course, none of which interest me. But I can see their appeal for the younger generation of regular cinema-goers. There is still much to celebrate though, with great independent films being made in the UK and America, as well as the continuing excellence of World Cinema offerings from around the globe.

I have come late to streaming services, (I come late to most things…) but my recent experience with a streaming box has opened up new avenues of exploration. What has impressed me most over the last five years has been the real improvement in the quality of TV drama series, and those made specifically for companies like Netflix, or Amazon. In many cases, they have overtaken the popularity of both regular TV scheduling, and mainstream cinema. Television companies like the BBC and Film 4 in Britain are continuing to invest in new films that are shown on TV much sooner than they were in the past. The explosion in the market has raised the game of all the players, that’s for sure.

It has left me wondering if cinema as we understand it has a future. The same applies to conventional television broadcasting. Will the day come when everything is online, I wonder? Will we all pick and choose what to see, and when and where to see it? For many people, that time may have already arrived of course, using Tablets and mobile phones, instead of television and cinema screens. Let’s hope that this does not result in a lack of choice and reduction in quality, in years to come.

What do you think? Are you already one of the ‘streaming only’ generation? Or will you be sticking with the big-screen multiplex experience?

Just been watching…(63)

Testament of Youth (2014)

***This is a true story, set around historical events. So spoilers apply***

Fortunately, the BBC is not letting us forget that we are still remembering The Great War of 1914-1918. One hundred years ago, men were dying all over Europe, in what later became known as WW1. This film was shown at the weekend, and is based on the book of the same name, by British writer Vera Brittain. I have read the book, and also watched the outstanding TV serialisation in 1979. This modern film stays true to both.

Very much a film of two halves, we start off with the rather idyllic lifestyle enjoyed by the English upper classes in the first decade of the 20th century. Polite company, girls looking for husbands, young men looking for suitable wives. Tea on the lawn, swimming in the lake, and walks on the beach. The men are at expensive private schools, and all have solid futures at university, and beyond. Young Vera is a rebel. She wants to go to Oxford University. Few women gained such places back then, and her father fears that it will make her unattractive to any prospective husband. But she is strong and determined, and gains her place at an all-girl college. Meanwhile, she spends the last holiday with her brother, and his two best friends. One of them is besotted with her, and they fall in love and become engaged to marry.

But just as she leaves for Oxford, war breaks out in Europe.

Vera’s fiance promises not to go, but soon joins up. Her brother follows shortly after. The third friend is initially turned down for medical reasons, but as casualties mount, he too joins as an officer. Studying at Oxford, Vera feels useless, and wants to do something for the war effort. She abandons her degree, and becomes a volunteer nurse. After working in England for some time, and seeing the effect of war on the patients she is treating, she asks for transfer to France, to help with the wounded close to the front line, and to be nearer her brother, who is leading his men in the trenches now.

This is a film about tragedy, and how we cope with it. Newspapers in the film are little more than page after page listing the names of men killed in action. Vera’s mother is unable to cope with wartime rationing, and the fact that her household staff have left. Her comfortable life has been shattered, and it affects her mentally. Vera’s sombre father has seen his son off to the war, and is constantly worried about him. As the war goes on, the reality hits home. Vera’s fiance is reported killed, on the very day he should be home on leave to marry her. She gets the news while wearing her wedding dress.
Working in a field hospital in France, Vera is shocked to see her own brother brought in, badly wounded, and left for dead. She nurses him back to health, only to have to watch him leave to go back to the war once again. When they get the news that he has been killed in action later, it almost breaks his distraught father.

This is a noble film. It is not a war film, though there are some short action scenes, mostly in flashback. Much of the action takes place in either comfortable upper-class homes, or amid the horrors of battlefield hospitals, short on resources, and understaffed. I think it is a fine adaptation of the book, with the period feel handled flawlessly, and the viewer completely invested in the emotions and strengths of the characters. Above all, it is the casting that exudes quality. Not a single bad choice, with every actor and actress just right for the role. And what talent is on display too.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander may seem a strange choice to play the rebellious Vera. But she is just perfect, and her accent is exactly right too. This young woman really knows how to act, and I have never seen her give a poor performance. Vera’s parents are played by Dominic West, and the wonderful Emily Watson, and her female tutor at Oxford gives Miranda Richardson the chance to shine once again, this time in a smaller role. The three men in Vera’s life are all just right too. Her brother is played solidly by Taron Egerton, and her fiance by Kit Harington. Their friend Victor, who has always secretly loved Vera, is a fine turn from Colin Morgan, showing real acting quality.

The British film industry has a long history of delivering compelling historical and period dramas. They tend to do these very well indeed, and this is no exception.

Just been watching…(62)

A Quiet Place (2018)

***No spoilers***

I have just seen a 2018 film, in the same year it was released! (Is that a first for me?) I actually went to the cinema in Dereham tonight. The local ‘flea-pit’ family cinema was actually showing a film I wanted to see. Hooray! But they relegated it to ‘Cinema Three’ (Tiny, small screen) and one showing per day, at 7:00 pm. (So yes, I am not long back, and it is fresh in my mind.)

I bought my (old person’s discount) ticket, and went into the cinema around fifteen minutes before the film started. I was the only one there, so sat in the middle of the front row. (The screen is not so big) Once the film had almost started, three other men came in, and sat in the back row. In a market town of almost 15,000 inhabitants, the film could only attract four people, on a Tuesday night. That says a lot about Norfolk, and also how the cinema manages to make ends meet. Still, I digress. On to the actual film.

This is a film about sound, in every way imaginable. The basic plot is that aliens have taken over the Earth, and most of the people are dead. But those dinosaur-like aliens are blind, (they have no eyes) so depend on sound, to hunt and kill us earthlings. We are straight into the action,. with no set-up. (I like that, it presumes some intelligence of the audience) We get clues; newspapers, a family hiding from alien terror, and some stuff written on a white board. And we get an early shock too. One that makes us sit up, and think, ‘WOW!’

Move on just over year, and we are following a family surviving where others have not. They have a head start. Their daughter is deaf, so they can all do sign language. This means that they don’t have to speak out loud, and the monsters won’t hear them. They have moved into a farm, and live most of their lives in the cellar, soundproofed from alien ears. (And they are super-dooper alien ears, I kid you not) They manage as best as they can, and for some reason, they still have electricity. (Though they use candles and oil lamps for light, which is not explained) They have to go out to catch fish, and live their entire lives in fear of making any noise.

OK, flippant stuff over. They show this very well. The kids play Monopoly by shaking the dice onto a soft cloth. They use cloth counters, so as not to make a noise. They speak in sign language all the time, which means subtitles, for those of you who don’t like them. They spread soft sand on paths to walk on, and paint spots on floors and stairs, so they can walk without creaking the boards. The ‘small stuff’ is done very well, and makes the film very interesting. But as I said, this is all about sound. Much of the film is muted, or silent, but when the sound comes, it makes you jump out of your seat. The blind aliens make some great unnatural noises, as well as moving fast. Very fast indeed.

The tension is racked up so high, even an old cynic like me felt it. There are genuine ‘wow’ moments, and I could even forgive the rather clunky (and vaguely familiar) alien close-ups. Much has been made in reviews of the fact that the adult stars are a real-life couple.(Emily Blunt, and John Kasinski) This was not an issue for me, either way. Their acting is solid, that’s for sure. But their two older children take the laurels, managing to appear both genuinely terrified, and resolute at the same time.

This is a dystopian/alien invasion film like no other, based on its use of the sense of sound, and lack of sight for the aliens. It’s a great idea, and it works very well indeed. And the ending is a refreshing change too. But I won’t spoil that.

Shusssssh!