Thursday, October 20, 2016


  Californians pondering whether or not to vote for Proposition 64,  the measure on the November 8 ballot that, if passed, would legalise marijuana in the state, should check out how well Holland has embraced a similar law.
 In Amsterdam marijuana is openly sold and smoked in coffee shops; magic mushrooms are available in many stores and flower shops and stalls sell cannabis starter kits, cannabis lollipops seeds and everything a novice grower could want.
  For the tourists there are museums epitomised by the Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum which claims to hold the “world’s largest collection of cannabis-related artifacts” and features displays on different kinds of dope and the myriad number of ways to use it

   It’s all because the inordinately sensible Dutch drug policy is dictated by the idea that every human being may decide about matters of his or her own health along with a conviction that hiding social negative phenomena does not make them disappear - on the contrary it makes them worse, because when concealed, they become far more difficult to influence and control.

There has been no indication that legalisation has led to an increase in crime, addiction or anything else the opponents of Proposition 64 grimly predict. In fact the Dutch point to the fact that the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S between 1919 and 1933 brought more crime and violence than ever before and virtually no positive social change.

  So hopefully California voters will see sense and follow in the footsteps of the enlightened Dutch lawmakers on November 8. 

Friday, October 7, 2016


Five years ago I talked with Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos in a village outside Cartagena and he told me of his hopes for resolving the half-century-old guerrilla war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC..
 Since then he has continued to attempt to negotiate with FARC rebel commander Timochenko and finally succeeded in hammering out a historic treaty.
  Now his efforts have been rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize despite the fact that the treaty was narrowly defeated in a referendum, raising fears that the conflict could be re-ignited.
   The judging committee praised him for saying he will fight for peace until his last days in office, saying: "The committee hopes that the peace prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task. Further, it is hoped that in the years to come the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the reconciliation process."
  The award to President Santos came as a surprise because Syria's rescue workers, the White Helmets had been tipped as the people's favourites for the prize after pulling 62,000 people alive from smashed buildings in Syria, often with bombing still going on.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Rosamund Pike
 Now the red carpets have been rolled up in Venice, Telluride and Toronto the film festival focus has shifted  back to Europe as the London Film Festival has kicked off with a lineup of more than 240 movies.
 European premieres are plentiful at the festival and include Manchester By The Sea, the controversial--and not very good, in my opinion---Birth of a Nation--and Trolls, which features the voice of Justin Timberlake.
  As well as the red carpet glamour, the awards-season promotions and big name stars, the festival also presents a mix of independent,  experimental and foreign movies.
  But the emphasis is on star power and there was plenty on view on the numerous red carpets throughout the city.
  Amy Adams, fresh from Toronto, was busy promoting two movies having their UK premieres---the alien invasion movie Arrival and Tom Ford's dark, psychological drama Nocturnal Animals. Ford himself is in town too, looking exactly like a Tom Ford model---- immaculate dark suit, white shirt, turquoise cuff-links, tinted glasses and just the right degree of carefully tended stubble.
amy adams
 In the last few weeks the the flamboyant fashion designer has been in New York, where he had launched his new "fall line" following a visit to the Venice Film Festival for the premiere of his new film Nocturnal Animals, and a brief stop at his house in Los Angeles before hitting Toronto and now London.

    Such a peripatetic schedule must surely dictate that he travels with a veritable wardrobe of suits?

     "In fact, I'm travelling with only carry-on luggage," he tells me. "I wear this same suit over and over and over. I have probably quite a lot of them but they're pretty much all the same. I have a uniform; it's easy: I get up in the morning and I put on that uniform."

   One of the first on the Odeon, Leicester Square red carpet this year was former Bond girl Rosamund Pike who stars in United Kingdom,which tells the true story of Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana — played by David Oyelowo — who controversially marries a white woman from London — Ruth Williams, played by Pike — in the late 1940.

  It is the second year running that a British film has opened the festival, following Suffragettes last year.  

   It kicks off a 12-day celebration of cinema in the capital which will also include the European premiere of Free Free starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley.

Also due to be shown as part of the festival is the film Lion, which stars Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara. It tells the true story of a five-year-old Indian boy who is separated from his family after taking the wrong train and ends up being raised by an Australian couple, and then tries to be reunited.

   There are many more to come but actresses who have brought their best and skimpiest dresses for the red carpets are hoping the weather, which has defied sunny forecasts, soon warms up.

Monday, October 3, 2016


Pitt and Cotillard in Allied
Probably nobody outside Hollywood  gives a toss but the hot topic around the studios and agents' hangouts is whether Allied, the soon to be released sexy spy drama starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, can survive the whispers that the two stars' on-set romance  (strongly denied, by the way) led to Pitt's breakup with Angelina Jolie.

  In a town where the take at the box office means everything,  there are two schools of thought: One camp firmly believes there is no such thing as bad publicity and that the rumours and gossip will lead to heightened interest in the film. After all, that's what happened with another sexy spy drama, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, the movie on which Pitt and Jolie got together-- a liaison which torpedoed Pitt's marriage to Jennifer Aniston and helped make the movie a huge hit at the box office.  

 Then there are those who take the opposite view and cite Proof of Life, the 2000 action romance that died at the box office after Meg Ryan's affair with her co-star Russell Crowe  sullied her America's sweetheart image and marked the end of her marriage to Dennis Quaid.

Pitt and Angelina in happier times
  There are millions of dollars at stake for Paramount, whose publicists are hoping against hope that Pitt agrees to help promote the film by red carpet appearances and risking awkward questions on the late night talk shows, something he has always been loathe to do even in the best of circumstances. 

  There is the possibility, of course, that he will only agree to appear if the subject of his marriage breakup is strictly off limits.

  Allied, by the way, is directed by Robert Zemeckis and set in 1942 Africa when two assassins (Pitt and Cotillard) are sent on a mission to kill a German official but fall in love, get married and then discover that one is a double agent that the other must eliminate.

  Sounds a bit like Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Brando with his On The Waterfront Oscar
  It seems there's an Oscar statuette on Leonardo DiCaprio's mantelpiece that shouldn't be there. 
  Although the actor deservedly won a best actor Oscar last year for his role in The Revenant, in 2012 he was given one as a gift by his friends and business associates at the scandal-ridden Red Granite Pictures, who put up most of the money for his The Wolf of Wall Street.
  The big mystery is how the Oscar, which was won by Marlon Brando for 1954's On The Waterfront, disappeared from Brando's house and changed hands several times before ending up with DiCaprio via a memorabilia dealer in New Jersey. 

DiCaprio with his Oscar for The Revenant
  Now the Hollywood Reporter reports that Brando's estate want it returned and a spokesman for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences says: "Oscars shouldn't be items of commerce; it's less than dignified. We have on many occasions prevented the sale of Oscars and enforced the Academy's rights to recover the statuettes."
  Avra Douglas, the Brando estate's executor and archivist (and the star's assistant for 14 years until his death of respiratory failure in 2004 at 80), says the award disappeared while he was alive. "He was trying to track it down and kept hitting dead ends," she said. 
  For years a widely circulated rumour was that, in a fit of anger, Brando tossed the statuette out his window, after which his then-young son Christian took it up to his treehouse and, toying with it like a hammer, broke its base. Douglas calls this "undoubtedly hogwash," saying that the late Christian — who later served time in prison for manslaughter — "never had a treehouse."
  What is certain is that the statuette circulated among private enthusiasts, at one point being sold by an auctioneer out of a storefront just off Hollywood Boulevard for $13,500 on behalf of a collector in Maine.    Its whereabouts were unknown until it was reportedly acquired by Red Granite representatives in 2012 from a New Jersey dealer for $600,000 and was given to Leonardo DiCaprio. 
    Meanwhile, two of Red Granite's executives have become 
central figures in a $3 billion Malaysian embezzlement scandal that has rocked the country, implicated Prime Minister Najib Razak and triggered an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice asset-seizure investigation. The scandal also has drawn attention to DiCaprio's personal and professional ties to the pair, who are alleged to have siphoned money from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund to enrich themselves and advance their own global business interests.

 DiCaprio, who is busy promoting his climate change documentary Before the Flood, has so far not commented on the controversy or said whether he intends to return the Oscar either to Brando's estate or the Academy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Brad and Angelina in happier times
Rumours have been bubbling for the past year that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were on the verge of splitting up but Angelina has always strongly denied them. 
  Now it turns out the rumours were true.
  I have interviewed them both several times, Angelina since 2001when she was married to Billy Bob Thornton and Brad since 2000 when he'd just married Jennifer Aniston. Over the years I have talked with them about not only their movies but also their various crises---Angelina's post-Thornton relationships and Brad's marriage and later divorce after he and Angelina got together while making Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  
  Angelina has always been far more available than Brad and ever since she adopted her first child she has always seemed an exceptionally proud mother. After she and Brad moved in together and the family grew she would talk at length about the children and what a good father Brad was. However there was rarely, if ever, any mention of love for her partner..
  Brad was less talkative and sometimes seemed downright reluctant to discuss his family life. When he did, he would talk about the children rather than about Angelina and there was never any mention of his feelings for her.
  On several occasions they both talked of the strains that filming in various parts of the world put on their family although they continued to travel, Angelina often on her own as part of her duties as a UN ambassador and Brad on charity missions and to foreign film locations.    
  When I talked with Angelina in the Mexican holiday resort of Cancun just before the release of her action movie Salt her children played happily in the pool under the strict supervision of security guards and a nanny. As was often the case, Brad was not there.
  The last time we talked was last year when rumours were rife about an impending break up. She denied them as usual but tellingly she confided: "We have fights and problems like any other couple. We have days when we drive each other absolutely mad and want space. In relationships we sometimes can't see ourselves and we lose touch and we don't know what it is that we have lost."


Sunday, September 18, 2016


  Although he has demonstrated his versatility in some 50 movies, Denzel Washington would seem an unlikely choice to play the gun-slinging Chisholm, the leader of a band of outlaws in the remake of the 1960's classic western The Magnificent Seven. 
  After all, he had never seen a western when he was growing up and had certainly never appeared in one as an adult. 

  "I was into sports, not movies," he tells me when we talk in Toronto. "My father was a minister so we grew up in a church and we didn’t go to the movies. King of Kings and The Ten Commandments--- and that was it. 

 "I didn’t grow up watching Westerns or anything like that and appearing in one wasn’t like some childhood dream. So I didn’t have any romantic ideas but I liked the script and thought, 'This is a good idea, its fun: just to shoot guns and ride horses and I knew that we were going to win," he laughs. 
  "I had never ridden that much before and I liked feeding my horse and washing him down and taking care of him and walking him around and I took care of him and he took care of me. Equine therapy is really good for the soul."

  Although the movie has some parallels with modern day corporate villainy---this time the bad guys represent a gold mining corporation---it is not something that occurs to 61-year-old Washington 

  "I didn’t think that way," he shrugs. "I didn’t read the script and go 'Oh, this is a movie against tyranny.'  It didn't get that deep. I just dug the clothes and getting to ride the horse and going around shooting."

   While the double Oscar-winning Washington is totally believable in the role originally played by Yul Brynner and Chris Pratt shines in the Steve McQueen role, the movie sadly is no match for the original. With explosions, a machine gun and an arsenal of weapons, the body count is sky-high. Although the Seven save the town they were hired to defend, it is unlikely there were many people left alive to live in it.