Category Archives: Film

Divorce sends me back to the UK and waiting for my Peppy Miller

By Calvin Palmer

Regular readers of this blog, the three of you know who you are, will have noticed the change in the header photograph. The cityscape of Jacksonville is gone and has been replaced with a photograph of the Cromarty Firth in Scotland.

I am back in the UK for a while and facing an uncertain future after my wife – aged 56 going on 23 – decided to divorce me after 13 years of marriage. Her timing was impeccable. The announcement came on the eve of our wedding anniversary.

The news was not unexpected but it still came as something of a shock. Given that my income last year amounted to $90.40 from amazon.com advertising on another blog site, I had little option but to head back to the UK and take stock of the situation.

I am staying in the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland, courtesy of a friend from my university days who kindly offered me accommodation while I find my feet and rebuild my self-confidence before heading back to the United States to start my life there all over again . I will forever be in his debt.

After living in the Riverside area of Jacksonville, and on a busy road, the first thing I noticed was the peace and quiet. I have yet to hear a vehicle pass by the house at night; mind you, the house in Scotland is situated 150 yards from the road, which is a dead-end.

So the sound of trains blowing their horns at every level crossing has disappeared from my life – I kind of miss that – but I am certainly glad to be free of those inconsiderate bastards who used to drive through Riverside with their drums and bass tracks pounding from the subwoofers in their cars and shattering the stillness of the early hours.

I don’t know whether it is just me but the older I get I find my tolerance of noise is lower than when I was younger, so being surrounded by the Scottish countryside is perfect for me.

But there are drawbacks. My location is a little remote; the nearest village is a 15-minute drive away. I have had little chance to socialize. I am not sure the people in these parts will respond to conversation from strangers in the same way that Americans do. We shall see.

I made my debut back on British roads yesterday and did all right, given that most of the route was along single-track roads. They appear extremely narrow after driving on roads in America.

I have also rediscovered the noble art of pegging washing out on a washing line. In both Texas and Florida, despite the hot climes, washing was always dried in the tumble drier. I know, it was scandalous behaviour, right up there with driving a car powered by 3.5 litre V6 engine.

The highlight of the week was watching The Artist; my hosts had recorded the film on their Skybox. I knew the film had been well received by the critics and won a raft of awards but, hitherto, I had not been drawn towards it – a great failing on my part.

It turned out to be one of the best films I have seen in a long time. The lack of dialogue hardly seemed to matter, mainly because of the superb acting of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the masterful direction of Michel Hazanivicius and the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource.

The film got a bit too close for comfort in the final scenes after George Valentin was told to get out of the house by his wife. I readily identified with the character’s slide into reduced circumstances and could feel his growing sense of desperation. Unlike George, I have not sought refuge in a bottle; perhaps that will come later, although I sincerely hope not.

George was eventually saved from the abyss by the charming Peppy Miller, who helped him to bury his pride and resurrect his career.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in a scene from The Artist. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

When the film ended, I was left to ponder, where is my Peppy Miller? I hope she turns up soon.

So if any of you delightful women out there can come to the rescue of a writer/sub-editor/proof-reader/photographer and generally nice guy, just get in touch.

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Willing ‘gels’ keep Brodie in his prime

By Calvin Palmer

Masterpiece Mystery, on the PBS channel, presented the first episode of Case Histories last night. For me, this series is something of an unknown quantity. Its pedigree does not go back to when I lived in the UK; friends in the UK have not made mention of it; and the star, Jason Isaacs, does not readily spring to mind.

A Google search revealed that I have seen Isaacs before and in England; he had a role in an episode of Inspector Morse in 1992. I have also seen him in A State Within, which aired in 2006. He also played Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films.

I am usually good at remembering people’s faces, Isaacs would seem to be the exception.

Playing a bluff Yorkshire man – all Yorkshire men seem to be bluff although I suppose Alan Bennett is one obvious exception – and ex-policeman turned private investigator Jackson Brodie, I kind of warmed to Isaacs’s character and interpretation.

At first, I thought the series was set in Yorkshire but it soon became apparent the location is Edinburgh. Watching Case Histories you would be forgiven for thinking that the Scots have all left Scotland’s capital. I think out of a dozen or so characters, only three spoke with a Scottish accent.

Google further revealed that Case Histories is based on the novel of the same name by Kate Atkinson, where the action is set in Cambridge. I guess the choice of Cambridge for a TV series was considered to be too similar a setting to Inspector Morse and the later Inspector Lewis TV series.

The plot of Case Histories has sufficient twists and turns to keep the mind engaged. The only downside was the salacious interludes, such as the woman who has sex with Brodie in order for him to take her case; another of his clients had the hots for him from the get-go and ended up in bed with him in the closing scene; and then the sister of the aforementioned client confesses to having fabricated a significant other and we get to see her beginning foreplay with a recently acquired lesbian partner. I guess the sex romps and lesbianism help with the viewing ratings but clearly any female nudity in these scenes is strictly frowned upon.

Women and gay male viewers get to see Isaacs topless and sporting his collection of macho tattoos but male viewers are denied similar views of Brodie’s sexual conquests. Whatever happened to equal opportunity?

A series of flashbacks underpinned the main plot, where a young Brodie witnesses his sister’s body being dragged from a river. We later saw Brodie lay some flowers at her grave. She was 16 when she died. Whether her death was the result of an accident, suicide or murder will no doubt be revealed as the series unfolds.

Brodie is also facing issues with his ex-wife who plans to deny him access to his daughter, Marlee, by taking up a temporary post in New Zealand. Marlee is played in a natural and realistic way by Millie Innes. Unlike child actors in American TV series, where one’s initial reaction is simply to throttle them and put an end to their obnoxiousness, Innes gives an endearing portrayal.

From last night’s episode, viewers gain the impression that Brodie left the police force under something of a cloud. He had achieved the rank of inspector and mention was made of his exposure of wrongdoing by police colleagues. No doubt this theme will be expanded upon in later episodes.

Case Histories is eminently watchable and gives me my Sunday night English drama fix. You have to live in a foreign country to realize just how comforting it is to hear one’s native language being spoken in familiar accents. And besides, I get to see glimpses of dear old Blighty, as well as the eccentricities of the English. Little things, such as someone spreading Marmite on their breakfast toast, mean an awful lot to me. I still do the same even living in America.

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‘An American In Paris’ musical leads to the wit of Oscar Levant

By Calvin Palmer

Musicals as a form of entertainment hold little appeal for me. To have characters carrying on a dialogue and then suddenly bursting into song, and often a dance routine as well, seems so unrealistic.

Opera is an entirely different matter. It is singing all the way and with the added bonus of some of the finest music that has ever been written. Also opera stars can sing and hit all the notes as they are written.

So why did I sit through An American In Paris on the Turner Movie Classics channel the other night? Is it a sign that I am losing it once and for all, a portent of my decline into old age?

Frankly, I was stressed. Earlier in the day, I had received some distressing news from the UK and I just wanted something to keep my mind occupied and sad thoughts at bay.

And, as musicals go, it isn’t the worst one that has ever seen the light of day. The music of George Gershwin helps lift it to a higher plane among the genre.

The 16-minute ballet finale also struck me as being ahead of its time. Had someone involved in the choreography been experimenting with mind-altering drugs? It seemed almost trippy. At the time the film was released, 1951, a trip meant a journey from one place to another. People would take a trip to London, Paris or New York. It would take another decade before the word trip gained a whole new meaning.

After having watched one of these old movies, I tend to look it up on Google and Wikipedia gives me all the background details. More often than not I also check out the biographies of the stars.

I discovered that Greer Garson was British, after watching Mrs Miniver, and that her co-star Walter Pidgeon was Canadian.

In the case of An American In Paris, I checked out  the biography of Oscar Levant who plays the part of struggling concert pianist Adam Cook. Prior to the seeing the film, Levant had never registered on my cinema radar.

Levant was a pianist and composer in real life.  He had studied under Arnold Schoenberg and had written scores for more than 20 films.

His career later moved to radio and TV, hosting The Oscar Levant Show from 1958 to 1960 before it was taken off the air because of his comments about Mae West’s sex life.

Dear Oscar was something of  a wit and his Wikipedia entry concludes with some of his famous quips. One of them seared into my soul:

It is not who we are but what we fail to become that hurts.

Another Levant quote made me smile.

Leonard Bernstein is revealing musical secrets that have been common knowledge for centuries.

Ouch!!!

A few nights later, Leslie Caron, one of the stars of An American In Paris, cropped up again on the TMC channel in the musical Gigi.

I remember my parents had the EP of Gigi that used to be cranked out on an old record player. An EP was the size of a vinyl single but contained four or five tracks rather than just two. I have to admit that, as a child, I thought The Night They Invented Champagne was brilliant. I had a lot to learn in those days.

I caught the song in the movie. It didn’t quite have the same affect as it did 50 years ago, proof positive that my musical education has progressed over the years.

On Sunday night, the TCM channel featured My Fair Lady. I can well remember when it was released in 1964, my parents, aunts and uncles oooing and aaahing, thinking it was the best film ever made. With Beatlemania sweeping both sides of the Atlantic, and the British pop scene in full swing, My Fair Lady  just didn’t cut it.

The only thing that stops me from instantly flipping channels when it comes on TV is the delectably gorgeous Audrey Hepburn.

I have to confess to liking the song I Could Have Danced All Night.  Well, it is such a catchy and up tempo tune. I have another confession. I also liked Kathy Kirby’s cover of Secret Love, released in 1963.

I didn’t sit and watch My Fair Lady but caught a few minutes here and a few minutes there. I left it on while I worked in the office but as soon as I heard I Could Have Danced All Night strike up, I went back to the TV set. But as I watched the number something seemed wrong, even if I am smitten by Audrey Hepburn. She didn’t appear to be actually singing. I don’t ever remember any mention of her ever having a wonderful singing voice.

I went back to Google and Wikipedia once the number had finished. My suspicions were right. Hepburn’s singing was deemed inadequate and her voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon.

It seems a little odd to cast someone to star in musical when they cannot sing but I guess that’s Hollywood for you. Never let an absence of a particular talent stand in the way of box office takings. Remember Clint Eastwood singing in Paint Your Wagon. I rest my case.

I will leave the final word to Oscar Levant who once remarked:

Strip away the false tinsel from Hollywood and you find the real tinsel inside.

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Skyline and the Cowboys

By Calvin Palmer

TV ads for the movie Skyline were shown yesterday during the coverage of NFL games.

A more appropriate voice-over at the end of the ad would be: “Utter Bollocks. Coming to a cinema near you on Friday. Rated IQ 13.”

Speaking of utter bollocks, the phrase sums up perfeclty the display by the Dallas Cowboys against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The outlook for Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips now looks grim.

Is Phillips to blame for the Cowboys being 1-7 for the season? I don’t think so. The poor performances are down to the players. In terms of effort and application, any high school team would put these overpaid “stars” to shame.

Oh I can see the likes of say corner back Mike Jenkins strutting his stuff in the Dallas nightclubs, telling all the girls he “plays” for the Dallas Cowboys. I am afraid his definition of “play” is at considerable variance with what most Cowboys fans understand by the word.

Jenkins, like most of the Cowboys players, seems to have forgotten the sporting maxim, “You are only as good as your next game.”

Sadly, for the Cowboys, their next game is against the in-form New York Giants.  And it will take more than a mere seven days to stop the rot that has blighted America’s team.

I have witnessed some appalling performances by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the past two seasons but nothing that compares with the egregious display by the Cowboys yesterday evening. Yup, they were bad — diabolically bad!

At the start of the season, the Cowboys were thinking they would reach the Superbowl, due to be played in their brand new stadium. The operative word being “thinking”. I doubt anyone outside the Dallas Cowboys organization thought that was a realistic proposition and I daresay a few within it also thought the notion preposterous.

If you can hear a loud metallic scraping noise throughout the day, do not be alarmed. It is only the sound of knives being sharpened to stab Wade Phillips in the back.

“Et tu, Jerry!”

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Invictus conquers with an uplifting tale

By Calvin Palmer

The unifying role of sport is the theme of director Clint Eastwood’s latest film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman in the role of South Africa’s president, Nelson Mandela.

The story tells of Mandela’s bid to unite a country after the decades of Apartheid kept blacks and coloreds apart from the white population.

Picture courtesy of http://www.moviesonline.ca.

In any regime change, what went before is usually discredited and swept away by the new.

For South Africa, its rugby team – the Springboks – was a national icon revered by the whites and came to typify the years of Apartheid. Blacks in the country would support the opposing team rather than the Springboks because what the team represented.

On coming to power, Mandela was quick to realize the need of uniting the country into a cohesive entity that would enable it to prosper, thus allowing the social wrongs to be righted.

He was wise enough to know that getting rid of the Springboks, as his party wished to do, would plunge the country into chaos. The whites made up the bulk of the army and police force, as well as controlling the economy.

Mandela could hold the moral high ground with his party. He had been imprisoned for 30 years and forced to do hard labor. Many men would seek revenge on their captors but Mandela knew the power of kindness and how doing the unexpected can sometimes break down barriers.

Cynics may say that the South African rugby team, particularly its captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), was manipulated by a politician for his own ends. But it is cynics who often poison the well of humankind.

Eastwood sees people as people; black, white, brown or yellow are all part of a humanity that shares fundamental values. The differences between people are far outweighed by the common experiences and personal aspirations they share.

Invictus builds on his last film Gran Torino, which exposed the moral bankruptcy of racism at the street level, and demonstrates how institutionalized racism is just as redundant as a philosophy and detrimental to the well being of a nation.

Where divisions exist, bridges have to be built and Mandela as a politician is astute enough to realize that the Springboks are part of the bridge that will lead to a united country.

As a leader of 42 million people, Mandela shares his vision with Pienaar the leader of 15 men on the rugby field and Pienaar responds. He wants success for his team by winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup, a success that will bring Mandela and the country an even greater and lasting victory.

The film succeeds on many levels, most notably with the match sequences. It is always difficult to bring the action of sporting contests to the big screen without them looking stage-managed. The action on the field in this film looks about as real as it can be, even including a look-alike of the All Blacks awesome  Jonah Lomu. American audiences will look on aghast at the crunching tackles executed by players without shoulder pads and helmets.

And just like Helen Mirren in Stephen Frears’ The Queen (2006)  became Queen Elizabeth II, so Freeman becomes Nelson Mandela. In both instances the likenesses are uncanny.

But whereas The Queen stuck to the facts, Invictus suffers from a Hollywood version of events, according to The Daily Telegraph. But as the old saying goes, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” And Invictus is without a doubt a good story.

When the Oscar nominations are announced in a few months, it will come as no surprise to see Invictus among the contenders for the Best Film award, as well as competing in several of the individual categories.

Invictus takes its title from a 19th century poem by William Ernest Henley whose words gave Mandela inspiration to endure the hardship of his time in prison. The title means “unconquered” in Latin. The last stanza reads:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

A memorable line from the film comes from one of Mandela’s white security guards discussing the merits of rugby with a black colleague whose choice of sport is soccer, as was the case with most of South Africa’s black population.

The white security guard explains: “Soccer is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, while rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”

Eastwood demonstrates with Invictus that we all have the capacity to be gentlemen if given the chance and banish hatred from our hearts.

Invictus rated PG-13, 134 mins.

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Film director Polanski arrested over sex with under-age girl 31 years ago

By Calvin Palmer

Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski has been arrested by Swiss police hours before he was due to receive an award at the Zurich Film Festival.

Polanski, 76, has been a fugitive from justice for 31 years after fleeing the United States in 1978 before being sentenced for unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said moves to detain Polanski were set in motion last week.

Prosecutors forwarded an arrest warrant to the U.S. Justice Department which then presented it to authorities in Switzerland.

The Swiss Justice Ministry said it was awaiting an official request from the U.S. to extradite Polanski following his arrest.

Two months ago Polanski asked a California appeals court to overturn a judge’s refusal to consider his request to throw out a 1977 case in which he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Judge Peter Espinoza agreed there was misconduct by the judge in the original case, but said Polanski must return to the U.S. to apply for dismissal.

The victim at the centre of the case, Samantha Geimer, has previously asked for the charges to be dropped, saying the continued publication of details “causes harm to me, my husband and children”.

Polanski, who lives in Paris, has avoided two previous attempts to apprehend him when he was due to attend countries that have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

A statement from the organizers of the film festival stated: “Roman Polanski, one of the greatest film directors of our time, would have received an award for his life’s achievement at the Zurich Film Festival.”

Polanski won the Oscar for best director in 2002 for The Piano.

[Based on reports by The Daily Telegraph and AFP.]

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Rare Audrey Hepburn postage stamp fetches $93,800

By Calvin Palmer

A rare postage stamp depicting movie star Audrey Hepburn smoking a cigarette sold for €67,000 ($93,800) at an auction in Germany today.

The Schlegel auction house declined to identify the buyer, who was represented by an agent.

Audrey Hepburn stamp sold at auction in Germany. Picture courtesy of the Associated Press.

Audrey Hepburn stamp sold at auction in Germany. Picture courtesy of the Associated Press.

The stamp is part of series featuring stars of the silver screen such as Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo produced by the German government in 2001.

But the print run of 14 million Audrey Hepburn stamps was destroyed after Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer, objected to the cigarette holder dangling from the actress’ mouth and refused to grant copyright.

However, a number of the Hepburn stamps had already been delivered to Deutsche Post for approval. Thirty of these stamps escaped destruction when an unknown employee pocketed them and used them to send letters postmarked from Berlin.

The stamp, only one of five in existence – has a reserve price of €30,000 ($41,959) at the auction at Berlin’s Kempinski Hotel Bristol.

“We can only guess that whoever took the Hepburn stamps from Deutsche Post didn’t realize their value and just used them on normal letters,” auctioneer Andreas Schlegel said.

One of the four other Hepburn stamps fetched €53,000 ($74,036) at an auction in Düsseldorf in 2005.

Audrey Hepburn became a movie icon during the 1950s and 1960s with her starring roles in Roman Holiday (1953), Sabrina (1954), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960), Charade (1963), My Fair Lady (1964) and Wait Until Dark (1967). She died of colon cancer in 1993 at the age of 63.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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