Monday, October 27, 2008

Actress Profiles: Talullah Bankhead in A Royal Scandal (1945)

As the figurehead of any imperialist nation the monarch is supposed to be the person you live for, fight for, and die for. The role of the monarch, an increasingly less productive and passive one if you consider history, has seen its fair share of victims. Talullah Bankhead, as Russian Czarina Catherine the Great, is indeed one of those people worth living, fighting, and dying for, but is certainly no less ambivalent than your average Kaiser, Emperor, Queen, or otherwise and a great deal more honest in articulating just how little she does know (or really care) about her empire and the people in it. A Royal Scandal depicts an often trashy and frivolous comedy within the confines of an adorned part of Russian heritage, and refuses to show what life is like outside of this campy madcap palace. What it does do, however, is introduce an outsider, soldier Alexei, who proceeds to really shake things up, both through his strong political beliefs and his devilishly good looks, which make more than an impact upon the restless monarch.

It's twenty minutes before Bankhead makes an appearance in A Royal Scandal, the first portion of the film dedicated to Charles Coburn's absorbing, charismatic Chancellor, William Eythe's plucky and eager Liutenant, and Vincent Price's hilarious scene-stealing performance as a French ambassador. It's a smart move, because without these early exchanges there simply wouldn't be the sense of politics or cohesive network within the palace that is vital to the film's final act, and it would diminish the anticipation and subsequent satisfaction of being introduced to a woman that makes such a lasting impression with every flail and quip that it's almost a punishment when she's not on-screen.

If you've seen Lifeboat it's easy to guage that Talullah has a real gift for rattling off one-liners and being deliciously dismissive of people in bitchy diva-esque fashion. As a morally-questionable Russian leader she gets the opportunity to be this diva, and as in Hitchcock's wartime tale, not an infallible one. It's interesting though that A Royal Scandal flourishes so well as a piece of political satire despite exhibiting many of the hallmarks of the screwball style. Love triangles, sexual innuendo and a lot of farce litter this film, and if made ten years earlier the master of the screwball idiot, Ralph Bellamy, would surely have made a beeline for the role of Alexei. For Bankhead, however, it's something to think about.

The very nature of A Royal Scandal's approach to Catherine the Great -- portraying her as a rather willing damsel, swallowed by her own power and inability to utilise it effectively -- gives Bankhead a lot to work with, and she doesn't disappoint. The nature of her Catherine is strong, stubborn, charismatic, but rather insecure in herself (something contradictory of a true screwball heroine) and seemingly entrenched in a behind-closed-doors existence. She wants so desperately to perch herself on an incomparable pedastal but doesn't put this into practice, getting involved in silly trivialities in her court, unable to tear herself away from what she's supposed to be better than. It's rather sad in a way but Bankhead makes the Czarina such a flexible character; a very component of the rasping infrastructure that makes her position vulnerable in the first place, and someone whose bark and bite seem separated by a wave of intrigue. It works.

Rating: ****

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Live Blogging: Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor (2)

I'm signing out. It's been fun.

10.47pm: You can already see them thinking up the "I can't be in the bottom two again this week" video for Scott. Simon sends Daniel home. Cheryl sends Scott home. What is she doing?! I feel like she's fallen hook, line and sinker for this wife thing. Danni votes Scott out. Louis sends Scott home as well. And cried in his explanation. Daniel wins on emotion but as a talent competition you really have to wonder. It won't be long before Louis is calling Daniel a pub singer once more. Sad and exploitative.

10.40pm: Scott's up first. I thought they'd leave Daniel's slushy memoriam to last. It'll take an amazing performance to sway one of the three though. Scott's giving a creditable showing. It's funny that I preferred him the first week when he was completely out of his depth. He at least had a bit of character whereas tonight it's all been plain and pedestrian.

Daniel's on. I have difficulty taking him seriously after they've caked him in such copious amounts of make up. I hope he doesn't cry. Oh, he did.

10.30pm: Here are the results... First through is Eoghan. Meh. Next: Alexandra. Two of the gazillion acts the judges championed. Ruth is through! Woohoo! I wasn't sure after last week but she must have solid support after all! JLS next. Excellent. Rachel is through. Was there ever any doubt after she closed the show and arguably stole it? Diana!!!!!!!!! Need I offer elaboration? Laura goes through. She wasn't good but she's popular. Scott, Austin or Daniel? It's Austin! Scott and Daniel in the bottom two. I got one out of two anyway. I hope Daniel goes.

They're singing again. Daniel's singing a Josh Groban song. He mentioned his dead wife. Call me a cynic but MEH. It's going to be cheese central. Scott's opted for George Michael's I Can't Make You Love Me. Like it. There's no way Daniel will survive this. Simon and Louis can't stand him and Cheryl has voiced her doubts already. He's toast but these final two performances will be interesting. Let the sing-off commence...

10.25pm: They were totally miming. I wasn't sure until Laura came on and really let the side down. Maybe she skipped the coaching session.

What kind of example is this setting?

10.20pm: So they just did the slushy war hero tribute and now they're singing Hero. How they can ever expect to top Mariah's version is anyone's guess. It looks like they're miming, actually. Eoghan was in tune anyway. Yes, I'm a bitch.

My X Factor Scores

Diana - 8/10
Rachel - 8/10
JLS - 8/10
Ruth - 7/10
Austin - 7/10

Alexandra - 6/10
Scott - 6/10
Eoghan - 6/10
Laura - 5/10 (!!)
Daniel - 5/10

9.20pm: Simon says it's the best performance of the night. He may well be right (for once) but it's for the public to decide. She should be alright this week. Lol. Rachel is so funny. I love her humility. Her outburst of "rock on Nigel" reminds Simon to thank the orchestra who performed much better than the contestants. On Strictly Bruce thanks them before they've touched an instrument. Go figure.

So the night is over and it's been mediocre. The last three performances were way the best and rescued a disappointing night. Something tells me that Ruth may not have done enough to win over the people who seemingly neglected her last week. Scott went first and didn't make much of an impact, so as much as it pains me I predict that Ruth and Scott will be in the bottom two. Results show is at 10.10pm and includes a performance of Hero by the final twelve. Wonders never cease.

9.15pm: Rachel is last. She's singing Feeling Good. Major parallels to Beverley, who sang this last year at the end of the night and walked away with the plaudits. Her dress is hideous. Very reminiscent of the aquamarine one thingy wore earlier... *scrolls down*... Erin. She's got attitude singing this. A knowing look and a little wink. Love it. 8/10.

9.12pm: She gets rave reviews. Cheryl is right. She's mesmerising. I'm beginning to wonder, however, that it might be better if she doesn't win this. She's better than a recycled ballad that's number one for three weeks over christmas. I adore her.

9.09pm: She's on a swing with the cutest hat on that you've ever seen. Singing Smile her tone of voice suits it. Somehow they've made this work. I like that her voice is fragile and seems to linger with you for so long. 8/10.

9.06pm: Diana next. Love this girl. She reminds me of Kate Bush. I'm a bit worried for her this week. She's not a big band type.

9.00pm: Simon has a nerve to criticise JLS for their vocals after Eoghan's occasionally shambolic effort. The urge to chant "You don't know what you're doing" is getting ever more prominent.

8.57pm: They're singing. Finally. Aint That a Kick in the Head. Good song. They're singing it well. The lil' guy is good. Bags of style. I like the choreography as well. It's been a long time coming but the night is finally alive. 8/10.

8.55pm: JLS are next. One of their mothers has multiple sclerosis. Quite frankly I don't care. Are people incapable of saying "no" to these emotionally manipulative techniques?

8.51pm: He gets rave reviews. I said there was a pattern. He was good though so it isn't that much of a travesty. As long as he doesn't speak or cry I'm down with it.

8.48pm: Austin's singing Mack the Knife. I've heard it a million times. Great suit. I feel like even Gareth Gates did this better all those years ago (seven now, can you believe it?). He's sat on the judges desk. Hmm... He's animated enough. Vocally it's better than all of the other boys. 7/10.

8.40pm: She gets raves. It's become a pattern tonight, despite none of the performances impressing me in the slightest.

8.35pm: Cheryl never seems to say anything that isn't on the fence. She's supposed to be more feisty than this. Alexandra next. She's singing Candyman. Another XTina. It's hardly a vocal showcase but they've gone the whole hog with the set design. She looks good but is it enough? Maybe. It just feels a bit like karaoke. 6/10.

8.33pm: Ruth warns Simon not to forget her name. He says it's her best performance. Bar Purple Rain he's right.

8.30pm: She's singing Summertime. They're compensating for the refusal to sing in Spanish by dressing her like a flaming senorita. It works. Sexy hips! Her sultry tone works well with the style. She's got guys in berets alongside her. Spain and France amidst the classic American swing. Not sure it works. Don't love the song but she did it well. 7/10.

8.27pm: Is it me or does Dermot feel like such a sell-out these days? I'm glad he doesn't take the whole thing as seriously as Kate Thornton seemed to but this primetime slot has swallowed a lot of his personality. Still a cutie though.

It's Ruth next. Her performance of Purple Rain last week was AMAZING. She's not singing in Spanish so Simon will probably slate her again. I don't think it really worked anyway. Here we go...

8.24pm: He gets rave reviews. Eh? I honestly think these four have no idea what they're talking about. Something tells me Simon may have picked up on the vocal problems had it not been his own guy up on the stage.

8.22pm: Eoghan's singing L.O.V.E. He's flat on a fair chunk of the song. I hope they notice. His performance of it is pretty good. 6/10.

8.20pm: Laura gets rave reviews from the judges. Eh? Maybe they could actually hear it in the studio. I didn't get it. Eoghan next. His rendition of Ben last week was like sandpaper grating at my eardrum, but then again it's probably the worst song ever written. The build-up says he's doing an up-tempo number this time. I'm glad. This could be good.

8.10pm: Laura's turn and she starts lying down on a white rug. She looks lovely. Hot shade of lipstick. Her vocal is kinda dodgy. I can't tell what she's singing and I don't recognise the song. The band is too loud for her. In the build-up they were talking about the note at the end having to be great and it is. That vocal woman is so annoying though. I didn't like it. 5/10.

My Strictly Scores

Rachel and Vincent - 9/10
Austin and Erin - 8/10
Cherie and James - 8/10
Tom and Camilla - 7/10
Lisa and Brendan - 7/10
Heather and Brian - 7/10
Jodie and Ian - 6/10
John and Kristina - 5/10
Christine and Matthew - 5/10
Andrew and Ola - 5/10
Mark and Hayley - 4/10

Daniel is singing The Lady is a Tramp. I find him so bland. His voice is average. I think old people are voting for him. He has a nice smile at least. This week was always going to suit him more, with it being non-contemporary. Am I being too harsh? 5/10. Jodie and Ian get 26 out of 40.

Scott got a bit of a grilling. Jodie and Ian are doing the Paso Doble. She's in a white sequined dress that rivals Lisa's earlier. They're dancing to Blur's Song 2. It's grungy so I'm not sure why they're wearing white. Too much revolving and a bit ragged. 6/10.

Oh. John got 21 by the way. I think he'll make it through again tomorrow. People love him. Rachel and Vincent's waltz is gorgeous. But not as gorgeous as her prom dress. I can't believe she's 30. It makes me feel so old. 9/10.
Scott is first on The X Factor. He's singing That's Life. Cute suit. He's quite charming but I'm not sure he's got enough confidence for this. Big Band night will suit the boys but I'm not sure it's gonna suit anyone else. I'll give him 6/10 for singing it well. Generally a bit of a damp opener.

The X Factor just started but we've got a couple minutes.
Rachel and Vincent must be doing the waltz. I think they're the final couple. I hope they are. This is getting hectic.

7.46pm: He's stomping around quite a lot. Her dress is fun. I don't think he has the gumption for this dance but it was a decent effort. As usual she did all of the work. 5/10.

7.43pm: Oh god. John and Kristina are doing the Paso Doble. If this is good I'll run naked around the block. It's bound to be excellent comedy value, though.

7.42pm: Camilla is my favourite of the female dancers. I think she's beautiful. I can't believe Brendan dumped her. The fiend. They get 32 altogether and will surely return next week.

7.38pm: Tom and Camilla now! He got married last weekend. I sound like such a horny teenager but he's so dishy. I saw yesterday that they've trained the least amount of hours this week, so I hope they've managed to get this Viennese Waltz somewhere near decent. They're dancing to Elvis. His hair has too much gel. She's wearing cute pink ruffles. His head is bobbing around a bit. He reminds me of Marty Mcfly's dad in Back to the Future. Not a good look. I wasn't blown away. 7/10.

7.34pm: Craig called him a stick insect on acid. Lol! He's also been called a geek and "grotesque". Not a night to remember, I'm afraid. I feel a bit sorry for him. Len says he has body shape. A token comment. You know things are bad when even he hasn't got a good word to say. This is ominous.

He's promising to wear swimming trunks if he gets to the final. Salivate is too mild a term.

They get 16, including a 2 from Craig. I think he could be out this week.

7.30pm: Mark really needs to do well this week. He's on a bad run. He and Hayley are doing the Paso Doble. Woohoo! We might get to see Mark being powerful and aggressive. Bonus points for the pecs being out again! They're dancing to the crazy choice of Kelly Clarkson's Since You Been Gone. He hasn't got the presence or the moves for this. Pretty dreadful, actually. This is what pause buttons were created for. 4/10. For the pecs.

7.27pm: Everyone liked it but Craig. The other judges give him evil looks. Heather isn't Ginger Rogers but she doesn't deserve a 5 for that. They get 27. Her highest score yet. A little Moving On Up reference there. Love that song! She's slightly less sassy than I remember at the time though. Maybe that goes with age.

7.24pm: Heather and Brian now. She was horrendous last week so if this isn't good she might get a bit of a grilling. She's opted for hot pink, which seems both brave and odd since she's dancing the waltz. She's a ragged dancer but I didn't mind the routine. 7/10.

7.19pm: If given the chance to spend a night with any one of these dancers James would be totally the top of my list. He's fiery. Yummy. She says she went all wrong at the beginning of the dance. I didn't have a clue. I suppose that's my judging credentials extinguished. They get 31. Pretty average by Cherie's lofty standards but I'm sure they'll be back next week.

7.16pm: Cherie and James with the Paso Doble. It feels much more authentic than the others. I really like this. 8/10. Cherie looks a bit like a gypsy though.

7.12pm: I do love Len. A bit kind with his scores at times but he's so no-nonsense it's funny. He looks really smart tonight as well. Austin and Erin receive 34 points. Top of the leaderboard but there's a few to go. I'm gonna need some wine soon.

7.08pm: Austin and Erin's turn. They're doing the Viennese Waltz. Erin's wearing a horrendous aquamarine colour. Points for the shoes though. It's lovely and fluid. Unsurprisingly much better than Andrew's effort. Cute. I'll give it 8/10.

7.05pm: Loving Christine's eye shadow and the whole green theme, although they're a long way away from Lisa and Brendan, undoubtedly the best-dressed couple so far. A three from Craig. Ouch! 22 altogether and they're dead last so far.

7.01pm: Christine and Matthew now. They're dancing to Christina Aguilera's Fighter, sung very shakily it has to be said. Calum, behave. It's not The X Factor yet. It's not dramatic enough. Disappointing. Although Christine's dress rivals some of XTina's outfits in that particular video. 5/10. I didn't like it at all.

6.58pm: I already feel guilty about the ice cream. Tess is really pushing the cleavage tonight. Andrew gets 24. Probably enough to get through on all the votes he gets from lusty housewives. He's the wrong side of clean for my liking but I can't deny he's very pretty.

6.55pm: Andrew and Ola next. Ola always picks the worst outfits. She either looks like a prostitute or a Hungarian bride -- depending on whether she's doing latin or ballroom of course. I was bored. 5/10. He stumbled halfway through it as well.

6.51pm: Lisa and Brendan get 29. About right, I'd say. A word on Merlin, which was on before this. Does anyone actually like it? I don't get it at all. But then again I don't get Doctor Who either. Does it pay to be ambitious and fail? It just all looks so cheap and amateurish. Camp and fun but hardly awards-worthy.

6.47pm: Lisa and Brendan were first. Lisa looks stunning. Dare I say "George, eat your heart out"? The dance itself was very 'style over substance'. Am I wrong for fancying Brendan? I give them 7/10. Oh I've just noticed Lisa's earrings. Lush!

6.44pm: Great joke about The Generation Game. The old codger hasn't lost it yet. So The X Factor starts at 7.45pm and Strictly ends at 8, so there'll be a bit of a crossover. Not as bad as last year thank god. I'm armed with bananas, chocolate and baked alaska ice cream. Oh, the guilt! No alcohol as of yet but I'm not ruling it out.

6.40pm: Am I wrong for loving Bruce and Tess' little dance every week? She looks so uncomfortable with him in it but I still don't care. They're discussing reports Bruce was to quit Strictly. It wouldn't be the same without him, would it? Can't wait for his dodgy jokes. Tess rarely gets her outfits right but she's having a good week. Lovely purple colour.

Glutton For Punishment

Point #1

I'm in the middle of watching The Happening when I realise that a) Mark Wahlberg should never be a protagonist, b) Nobody knows how to make characters in action films convincing anymore, and c) M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most over-rated people the world of cinema has ever welcomed into its hearts. It's now paused at 38 minutes and 43 seconds and features Wahlberg's wife (whoever the Actress is she needs shooting) and best friend's daughter, who I suspect is going to be involved in some suspect plot twist in the next ten minutes. On the bright side, it's unintentionally quite hilarious.

Point #2

I'm going to be live-blogging Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor tonight. Yes, I
did this last year and burned my fingers out switching between the remote and keyboard, and almost drunk myself to death on Magners. Looking back though, it was fun.

Coming Soon @ Ultimate Addict:
A Post on Talullah Bankhead
First Oscar Predicts of the year

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mo Ga Mbo

Mogambo (1953)
Directed by John Ford
Starring: Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden
Grade: B -

While Gone With the Wind saw Clark Gable's Rhett Butler enjoy an emphatic sparring of hard-to-get with Southern Belle Scarlett O'Hara, in John Ford's Mogambo his safari leader, Victor Marswell, has to make significantly less effort to hold a woman's gaze. The years may have piled on but Ava Gardner's Eloise Kelly is infatuated with him a mere twenty minutes into the romantic adventure, and it's an infatuation that does not die down. But if ever you found yourself torn between the talons of two women (a frightening thought in itself), you'd be hard pushed to find two better birds than the fiery Gardner and the precious Grace Kelly, who find themselves consigned to the bottom end of a truly memorable love triangle.

Eloise and Victor's early chemistry and brief clinch are halted by the introduction of animal-lovers Donald Nordley and his wife Linda, to whom Gable's familiar insensitive brute takes more than a fancy to. The attraction is mutual, but with Eloise stranded on the wildlife range indefinitely, and increasingly left out in the cold by the besotted Victor, her sharp wit and bold outspokenness threaten to escalate the situation further. Ava Gardner, who I'd only previously seen in Stanley Kramer's drone, apocalyptic On the Beach, is one of the few reasons the film is enjoyable. Her charisma, executed wildly in head-flicks, eye-rolls, and the occasionally cheeky smirk, reveals the dark and daring incisiveness to a dangerous and exciting character. Her brashness is apparent -- humour spearheaded, red lipstick smeared, bosom ablaze -- and so Eloise is the passionate, tarnished harlot to Linda's graceful, wouldn't-say-boo-to-a-goose purity that makes them counterparts in both love and life.

As Mogambo presses on it becomes clear that Eloise is really the only interesting character in the film (or at least Gardner's is the only performance that digs deep enough into her character), but that doesn't stop the love triangle from keeping your attention, or indeed from encouraging you to draw conclusions from it. The confrontation of such an awkward group dynamic feels in itself rather cavalier, and as the plot unravels further Mogambo acknowledges that sex, passion, deception, can manifest itself in the strangest and most unpredictable of eventualities. The limited number of characters in the film, and its compact setting, makes the infidelity all the more lewd, absurd, but dare I say it naturalistic; a flicker of nature within the midst of nature, if you will. But that really is as far as Mogambo endeavours to explore the reasons for its African wilderness, which become ever more isolated as a part of MGM's fanciful, technicolour extravagance. A word of thanks to the Kenyan government precedes the film (a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back if ever there was one) but there's minimal exploration of African culture, showcasing a plethora of wildlife but very little else, and the use of Kenya as a base for Mogambo's action translates as disingenuous theatre.

The entire debacle may come across as a misogynistic venture, and this is an accusation largely warranted. Gable has all the power and authority, stemming from his position as leader of the safari and superior knowledge of this outdoor setting, and so his ease of assertion in the film, particularly in terms of his relationships with the two women, are understandable to a point. It's interesting that both Eloise and Linda (different as they are) emerge as rather daring characters, both willing to spurn their Western world for a holiday romance. Kelly's Linda is bored and repressed, and convincingly swept away by a man and climate relatively alien to her, but Gardner's Eloise is a different proposition altogether. Oozing with confidence, sex appeal, and general worldliness her loose cannon struggles to accept Victor's feelings for Linda, but confusingly ends up sanctioning his predatory behaviour at the end of the film.

Mogambo ultimately feels like a bit of a cop-out. With snippets of culture and bites of common sense, too much of the film feels token and frivolous. And when attempting to make light of its moody, jealous, contemptuous relationships, it just doesn't cut it. But for a story that never needed Kenya the women in it need this elder Rhett Butler like a dog needs a bone, and their cravings make for mighty juicy viewing.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Were the Nineties Really That..... Gay?

Just a few words about BBC's brand new sitcom, Beautiful People, which aired earlier tonight on BBC2 at 9.30. It tells the story of Simon, a thirteen-year-old gay kid living in Britain in the late 1990's, and his dysfunctional Northern working-class family. I'm not sure how it worked on a gay-level. I personally didn't really register with his character (perhaps cause I was a relatively late bloomer in that regard), but I do think that it has such a wonderfully nostalgic feel about it. I'm already loving the soundtrack (Baccara, Katrina & the Waves, Spice Girls, D:Ream and Jolene in just the first episode), and the emergence of Labour and Tony Blair is undoubtedly a part of history that I register with and acknowledge the importance of. The History Boys' Samuel Barnett plays an elder, successful, New York-dwelling Simon, looking back on his British childhood. I'm still unsure as to whether this is a necessary element of the setup but it does crucially add to the retrospective glimpse of the nineties and the liberation that girl power and people power really provided. Things can only get better for Beautiful People.