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Writing LRG

Various Film Reviews

Blackheath Gazette Magazine (extracts)

‘Skin Deep’ (1989)

Blake Edwards who died in 2010 is probably best known amongst the public as the husband of Julie Andrews and being the creator, writer and director of the classic series of Peter Sellers’ ‘Pink Panther’ films. But there was a darker and more troubled side to his work. He made what was alongside ‘The Lost Weekend’, probably the finest and certainly the most pessimistic film about alcoholism in ‘Days of Wine and Roses’.

But his films deal with other serious matters too. ‘Skin Deep’ falls into the category of Edward’s ‘male menopause’ movies- this had started with ‘10’ (1979 - a besotted Dudley Moore pursues Bo Derek whilst married to Julie Andrews), was followed by ‘The Man Who Loved Women’ (1981 – a remake of the Truffaut masterpiece about a man (Burt Reynolds –whose psychiatrist is…Julie Andrews - there is a theme here) whose obsession with women make him physically and creatively impotent. And the collection of movies is completed by ‘Skin Deep’ (1989).

In ‘Skin Deep’ Zack Huston (the late John Ritter) is a writer who is both a drunk and a womaniser (both are Edwards’ themes) who is burnt out. His affairs with a variety of women are too much for his wife (Alyson Reed) and he is kicked out of their LA mansion. This, however, does nothing to stop his decline where he continues to hit the bottle, screw around a lot and basically his life goes down the toilet.

It’s a familiar tale for Blake Edwards. It is the old tale of a husband (Edwards himself?)with a loving caring wife who wants more and he really wants it all – a wife at home and a mistress in every port. Here, Edwards tries to explain the man’s ‘anguish’ through the Zack Huston character and the inability to control his passions whether for drink or for women. It’s a good movie even if we have seen it before and Edwards doesn’t really hit the nail on the head, merely brushes it. You do see a lot of beautiful LA bodies though and another delve into Edward’s psyche but that apart, there is nothing special here. A pity.

‘Field of Dreams’ (1989)

I’ve always thought that one of the main distinctions between TV and the cinema is that whilst on the whole, TV tends to merely echo how life is - warts and all, Cinema at its best says “Yes, that is how life is, but this is how it should be”.

There are not many better examples of this philosophy then, I would suggest, in Phil Alden Robinson’s ‘Field of Dreams (1989). On the face of it when you understand the plot line, you might think it is just another Baseball movie, but actually, it is a more mysterious, mystical and spiritual piece of work than that.

In it, Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella an Iowa farmer married to a very feisty and very 1960’s child Amy Madigan and they have a young daughter (Gaby Hoffman). One day while walking in his field Kinsella hears an anonymous voice whisper “If you build it, he will come”. Later, he sees a vision of a baseball field where his crops are and he and his family decided to build a baseball field. Another message he receives tells him to simply “Ease his pain”. Despite crippling debts, Kinsella drives across the USA to find 60’s writing recluse Terrance Mann (a brilliant James Earl Jones) who for some reason, he feels is the answer to what he is being called to do.

They go to a baseball game together, realise that they both have things they have to do and they encounter a (dead) Doctor (Burt Lancaster) who really just wanted to play big-time baseball. These people and events all come together in a final vision of reconciliation and hope.

‘Field of Dreams’ although it is more than 20 years old still packs an amazing emotional punch- yes, it features Baseball but here it is used as a metaphor for life. Someone is in pain, people need to be forgiven, someone needs to respond to the miracle of life and somehow your destiny will come clear to you. In all kinds of ways, it is pretty much a perfect movie. Writer and Director Robinson adapts the novel (Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella) really well and coaxes really sympathetic and mystical performances from an exceptional cast. Costner may never have been better as an ordinary man of the people, Madigan is great as the gutsy, spirited wife and mother, Lancaster at the end of his life is superb as the person who knows the difference he can make to people, whilst James Earl Jones plays a JD Salinger character to perfection and he thrills you throughout.

“If you build it, he will come”. True enough. If you watch this movie whether for the first or fifth time you will be moved. And your life may be different afterwards.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

In my book you simply can’t love the Cinema and not love ‘Cinema Paradiso’- and when I say the Cinema I don’t mean just like watching films on TV, on DVD or online on your I-Pad. If you, like me, have spent too long in various Odeon’s, ABCs, Cineworlds, Empires, or independent cinemas, then ‘Cinema Paradiso’ will really mean something to you because it is about the soul of cinema how the buildings, as well as the films, get into your blood.

It’s 1980’s Rome. A successful film director (Jacques Perrin) is told by his latest lover that someone called ‘Alfredo’ (Phillipe Noiret) has just died. This through a flashback sequence takes the director back to 1940’s Sicily whereas a six-year-old boy known as ‘Toto’ (played by Salvatore Cascio) he spent most of his (our?) time at a local cinema known as ‘Cinema Paradiso’.

It becomes his playground and Alfredo who is the projectionist is his tutor in the marvellous fleapit of a cinema. Toto spends much of his time there not just fascinated with the movies being shown on screen but also absorbing the whole atmosphere, the ethos of the place. The film’s writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore demonstrates that a cinema is not just four walls in which films are projected but a building with its own spiritual force.

The pleasures of the film are varied: the closely observed insights of village life; the local lunatic demanding that everyone gets out of his square, the local priest who censors bits of films (normally the kisses), the cinema snob in the circle who looks down on the ‘commoners’ sitting in the stalls. This is all a delight to take in and performances –especially Phillipe Noiret as the projectionist who becomes blind- are all terrific.

But it is the stirring coda at the end that completes ‘Cinema Paradiso’. Returning to the village for the first time in 30 years to attend Alfredo’s funeral, ‘Toto’ as an adult is given a present that Alfredo bequeathed to him. It’s a collection of scenes that the local priest cut out of the films that were shown. He plays them all in a cinema – a montage of great screen kisses that melts him and us. He is a man who has loved many women but really not one and the scenes take him to the truth of what he has missed and what he must do.

‘Cinema Paradiso’ does not restrict itself to escapist images but it also crucially deals with the laying to rest of ghosts from your past and the fulfilling of one’s own destiny. In the end, it speaks to us all.

Author: Bryan Matthew

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