Sunday, October 22, 2017


Rita Hayworth and Harry Cohn
  The floodgates of sexual harassment accusations opened wide when Ashley Judd told of her experience with Harvey Weinstein. Scores more actresses followed her lead and other executives, such as director James Toback, Weinstein's brother Bob, Amazon boss Ron Price and the late Michael Winner found themselves in the frame as well, with many more names to come.

  Weinstein and other sexual predators of today are following in the footsteps of the old time film moguls who founded and ran the studios. Film historian Neal Gabler describes them as "vulgarians, men without taste or temperance, shouters who ruled by fear, heathens who demanded women trade their sexual favours for the moguls' professional ones."

  Darryl Zanuck, he says, ordered female contract players into his office for afternoon liaisons; Louis B. Mayer pursued starlets; Jack Warner was a compulsive womanizer who would ask directors about prospective actresses: "Would you fuck her?"

  Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn viewed starlets as sexual commodities and according to the Hollywood Reporter no one had to fend off more unwanted advances from him than Rita Hayworth, whom he discovered in 1936 and groomed for Hollywood.
  As she became a major star, in movies such as 1944's Cover Girl and 1946's Gilda while fulfilling G.I. fantasies overseas as a pinup girl, Cohn relentlessly demanded that she sleep with him, bugged her dressing rooms and imposed financial penalties on her for insubordination because she did not comply with his wishes. 
   "In front of people Harry Cohn would say, 'I never put a hand on her,'" Hayworth told the New York Times in 1970. "Of course he hadn't---as if I'd let him!"

  She died in Manhattan in 1987 aged 68 and Cohn succumbed to a heart attack at 66 in 1958. His well-attended funeral led Red Skelton to note: "It proves what Harry always said: 'Give the public want they want and they'll come out for it.'"

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Friday, October 6, 2017


  It was exactly 55 years ago that Ursula Andress memorably emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini as Honeychile Ryder in the first ever James Bond film.
  Now 81, she remarks: "The bikini made me into a success."
 The anniversary of Dr. No coincides with the opening of the London Film Festival which is screening 242 feature films from 67 different countries.  
  The festival is bookended with films from two British directors, opening with a gala screening of Andy Serkis's directorial debut Breathe and closing with Martin McDonough's outrageous Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
  It also coincides with another anniversary---the decriminalisation of homosexuality 50 years ago  which the festival is celebrating with a powerful LGBT lineup including Battle of the Sexes, Call Me By Your Name and A Fantastic Woman. 
Nicole Kidman: at the festival
  A Zambian witch-doctor comedy, a serial-killer thriller set in Jersey and a drama about Jehovah’s Witnesses directed by a former member of the church are among the many British films sharing the spotlight with Hollywood A listers including Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Nicole Kidman and Colin  Farrell.

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Friday, September 15, 2017


    The Toronto International Film Festival, has, as it always does, given the first reliable indication of which films and actors will be in contention for honors at awards time.  

    Its reputation as a showcase for potential winners remains intact but this year several of the highly anticipated and touted movies failed to arouse much interest. 

    George Clooney's Suburbicon, Alexander Payne's Downsizing, Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War all suffered from muddled scripts and unsatisfactory storylines.

  Many performances were better than the movies they were in and 
Emma Stone with Billie Jean King
 it has so far been a year for outstanding acting, particularly from the women. Jennifer Lawrence turns in a remarkable tour de force in Darren Aronofsky's mad house-of-horrors extravaganza; Emma Stone is excellent as former tennis champ Billie Jean King in the delightful Battle of the Sexes; Sally Hawkins deserves a nomination for her role as a deaf mute cleaner in Guillermo del Toro's Beauty and the Beast-style fairy story The Shape of Water and Frances McDormad is terrific as a mother seeking her daughter's killer in Martin McDonagh's outrageously funny, sad, shocking and riveting Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the winner of the People's Choice Award.    

Jennifer Lawrence in mother!
  Then there's Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird.  

 On the male side, Gary Oldman gives a towering performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hours; Liam Neeson overcomes a saggy script as Deep Throat in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House; and Steve Carell is excellent as Bobby Riggs in Battle of the Sexes.

  So expect some wonderful performances although some are in pretty lame movies.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Emma Stone and Billie Jean King
  In 1973 Billie Jean King, 29, was the top women's tennis player in the world and Bobby Riggs, 55, was a former champion, having won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

  While King was campaigning for women's equality Riggs was insisting women's place was in the kitchen and the bedroom.

 Their on-court confrontation in an exhibition match at the Houston Astrodome was dubbed the Battle of the Sexes and became a social debate that rang around the world. It was watched by 90 million television viewers.

Talking Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone
  Now a new film, Battle of the Sexes, recreates that epic match with Oscar winner Emma Stone playing King and Steve Carell as the bombastic Riggs.

 Billie Jean King, now 73, was on hand as a consultant and was with Stone at the Toronto film  festival where the film had its premiere. Riggs died in 1995 aged 77.

Stone, who in the movie looks uncannily like the way King looked back then but in real life is nothing like her, says: "The match was a true historical event and obviously Billie Jean is an icon for
equality and LGBTQ rights and she's effected so much change in the world so it's really wonderful to tell this story about someone  whose shoulders we stand on. 

  "But on the other hand it's really disheartening that a lot of the themes in the film are still an ongoing struggle today. There's still a massive amount of inequality and lack of equal pay across all industries."

For the record, King won the match 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. 

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Sunday, September 3, 2017


​If she didn't have a movie to promote it is highly unlikely Angelina Jolie would be sitting in a hotel suite talking ---albeit reluctantly---about her personal  problems and her life since separating and filing for divorce from Brad Pitt last September.

But she is a show business veteran and the movie she directed, the Cambodian-set drama First They Killed My Father, needs publicity. So she is submitting to a long weekend of interviews and photographs while admitting: "This is the first time I have been doing this for a long time. It’s not easy. I am a little shy at this time, because I am not as strong inside as I have been in the past."

Angelina directing on the set in Cambodia
  The past year, with its emotional and physical problems, has clearly taken its toll on the 44-year-old actress who is looking thin and gaunt.
   "It's been difficult," she acknowledges. "I don't enjoy being single. It's not something I wanted. There's just nothing nice about it. It's just hard.

  "Sometimes maybe it appears I am pulling it all together, but really in fact I am just trying to get through my days.

   "Emotionally it’s been a very difficult year and I have had some other health issues. So my health is something that I have to try to monitor ."
with Angelina at the Four Seasons hotel

    Four  years ago she caused a worldwide stir by announcing she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy after learning she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer. Her mother had breast cancer and died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at the age of 56 while her grandmother had ovarian cancer and died aged 45.

  Two years later she had her ovaries removed and last year, in addition to hypertension, she developed Bell's palsy, causing one side of her face to droop. She recovered from that through acupuncture.

   "So much in life you just focus on how much worse it could be," she says.  "And I am so happy I don’t have cancer, and I am so happy that I have had the surgeries and hopefully that will prevent me from getting cancer. And if I get it, it will be delayed a few years and chemo will be delayed a few years and the exchange for that peace of mind is quite good. I feel sometimes yes, that my body has taken a hit with all of the things that I had to do, but I try to laugh as much as possible .

  "We tend to get so stressed that our children feel our stress and they need to feel our joy and have joy and I think for everything that we go through, just living every day, and while you are healthy and even if you are going through chemo, find the ability to live and love and laugh."

   She paused and smiled. "It may sound like a postcard, but it’s true."
     Her six children clearly feature prominently in her thoughts as well as her conversation and she is applying for sole custody of them while negotiating the terms of her divorce from Pitt.

    All six---Maddox, 16;  Pax, 13;  Zahara, 12; Shiloh, 11; and the nine-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne---were with her in Cambodia for the four-months she spent directing First They Killed My Father, based on  Loung Ung's 2000 memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide, in which Ung's parents and two of her siblings perished along with an estimated two million other Cambodians.  

   She has been a Cambodian citizen for a decade and owns a house in the country near the Thai border, so the time they spent there was of special significance to her and Maddox, who was born there and whom she adopted when he was three months old.  "I had met Loung and I asked her how she would feel, as a Cambodian orphan, if I adopted a Cambodian orphan. She was very supportive and had she not been my life would have been very different.

  "So she has known Mad his whole life and Mad has known of Loung’s story his whole life, and I told him, 'One day son you will be ready and you will tell me when it’s time to go deeply into your country. But I need your help and you have to do it with me and you have to work and you have to be there every day and you can’t say no and that you are tired.'  And one day he said, 'I am ready.'

  "I really wanted Maddox to learn about Cambodian history, so I felt that this movie was a journey that we could take. And he went really deeply into the research, into the daily work and into the edit, and also having somebody younger in there to say, 'you are losing my attention,'  or 'that is too complicated,' was really helpful."

  He is credited as an executive producer, Pax did still photography and the other four were on set every day and were playmates of the child actors.  "Seventy per cent percent of Cambodians are under 30, and so they will be the future of the country. And if they watch this film and they don’t want what happened to repeated and if they want to learn from it and move forward then they will be the ones to take the country forward."

 She talks swiftly and quietly with mainly good humour. The only time she seems to become testy is when I ask her about the controversy which surrounded her casting methods for the movie. (It was reported that her team gave the impoverished youngsters money and then pretended to take it away from them, awarding roles to the children who looked the most upset.) 

  I have explained it and you can look it up," she says sharply. "It was a mischaracterisation and it didn’t happen in any way that wasn’t absolutely with the thought of what is best for the child, the family and the situation."
    First they Killed My Father is the fourth movie she has directed after In The Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken and By the Sea and at the moment she has no plans either for acting, directing or both. 
     She and the children recently moved into an 11,000 square feet mansion once owned by Cecil B de Mille and for now she is concentrating on domesticity.
  "I am actually spending most of my days just taking care of the children.  I will eventually balance more and do more work, but I haven't been able to because of family issues.
   "The children have been amazing," she says. "It’s been so moving to see how much they have helped each other, stood together, the big brothers helping the little kids and all of them helping me.
   "They have really come into their own during this time and they are finding themselves and their voices. I know that they will have each other for life and it gives me great peace to know the day I pass away that they will have each other and they will take care of each other."
   All six are taking flying lessons and their mother is spending time in the kitchen.  "I am going to cooking classes," she says. "I am not sure how good I am at it. Cooking is one of those things that when you are settled in your life and you take the time and you can enjoy food and cooking but somehow I am just very impatient and I am a little bit erratic, so it’s very hard to stand in the kitchen.
 "But I am getting into it now. I am really trying, because I feel like if I cook, the kids all hang out and they just love it but they often take over and tell me that they can do it better and they can all cook really well." She laughs.
  Since finishing the movie she went to London as a guest lecturer at the London School of Economics, talking to the students taking the post-graduate course Women, Peace and Security about her experiences and what motivated her work as a UN special envoy.
   "It's an extraordinary school, the students are so brilliant and part of the reason I wanted to teach was that I wanted to learn, too. I really wanted to hear from the generation coming up what questions they have, what their goals are and what they are finding at their age.
   "I've only taken one big class so far and I'm really looking forward to going back. I'm very excited about the programme because there aren't enough programmes where you can get a Masters in this subject. and there need to be more."
   If and when she returns to filmmaking the chances are it will again be as  a director rather than an actor. "I get quite a lot from directing I don't get from acting," she says. "When you are an actor you emote, you have your character and you want to help the story but you're not able to sculpt the final story and pull all the pieces together so you are not telling the story, you are tell your character's part of the story.
   "But to be able to oversee everything, even from the music that goes into the edit and make sure that all the pieces come together to express the story that really matters to you is something that feels very, very different.   "Of course it takes much more out of you and you commit to something that is going to take a year and a half of your life whereas as an actor you maybe do two months and you think 'I like it, I'll have some fun.' But as a director you have to say, 'I love it, it has to take over my life and has to really matter to me. It has to be something that I am going to be totally immersed in.'"
   In her teens and twenties Angelina Jolie was a wild child who developed a reputation for outrageous off-camera antics. Married twice, to Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton, she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1999 for playing a girl with borderline personality disorder in Girl, Interrupted. She talked freely about having dabbled in heroin and self-mutilation and her love of knives and she and Thornton wore each other's dried blood in pendants around their necks and publicly bragged about their wild sex.   
  She met Brad Pitt in 2004 on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith when he was still married to Jennifer Aniston although she has maintained they didn't become romantically involved until after he and Aniston split up.
  She has devoted the past 15 years of her life to motherhood, 12 of them with Brad Pitt. But her life has changed dramatically during the past year and now she is thinking about changing with it.   
   "I think now I need to rediscover a little bit of the old me," she says. "I think we lose our way a bit and we get quite overwhelmed, and I have had a lot happen in my life, from certain people passing to health issues to raising the children and a lot of things.
  "And it’s been a very good time to absorb a lot and kind of develop and grow. But maybe it’s also now that my kids are growing up that I am starting to realise my own sense of play and my sense of joy have been put on hold for a while. And maybe them hitting their teens is going to bring out a little more fun in mom." She laughs.
  "So maybe I am going back. It may be time."


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Friday, September 1, 2017


Matt Damon will be spending a lot of his time on red carpets in this year's run-up to the awards shows. 
 The unassuming actor is starring in two movies that so far have the best chances of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, Downsizing and his pal George Clooney's Suburbicon.
Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig in Downsizing
   In both he does what he does best---plays the Everyman caught up in unusual situations and dealing with unexpected circumstances.
But because he's good, it doesn't mean the movies are.
  The bizarre Downsizing, co-written and directed by Alexander Payne, imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population,  scientists discover how to shrink humans to 5 inches tall and propose a 200-year global transition from big to small. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life Damon's character abandons his stressed life in Omaha in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.

With Damon for Jason Bourne interview
   "It's such a silly premise but I think that's kind of the fun of the movie," says Matt. "It's this totally ridiculous idea but if you accept that we can shrink ourselves down to 5 inches and just go with it, the movie's this beautiful satire.  
  "It's completely original and the one thing I can say about it is nobody's ever seen anything like it." 
   In the 1950s-set crime comedy-drama Suburbicon, with Clooney directing his first movie since the disastrous Monuments Men,  Matt Damon stars as Gardner Lodge, a buttoned-down suburban dad who gets involved with insurance fraud and murder after a violent home invasion. 
   "But I am just really proud of both of these movies," says Matt. "They are very, very different from one another, but I am really proud of the fact that they both got made in the Hollywood studio system, because they are really challenging movies."
  After Venice Matt is heading for Telluride and then Toronto, where I am due to meet up with him to chat some more about both movies.  
More to come!

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Monday, August 21, 2017


Tributes have been pouring in following the death at 91 of Jerry Lewis.  
 Yes, he was a comic legend whose films were embraced by audiences raised on his manic, over-the-top, rubber-faced routines. And as host of an annual telethon he raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
  But he was also a difficult and egotistical man. I met with him last year and this is what I wrote for the Daily Telegraph: 

 He can be cantankerous and irascible; he is prone to making sexist and misogynistic remarks; and he has endured a litany of health problems, including two heart attacks, pulmonary fibrosis, prostate cancer and type 1 diabetes.

  But at the age of 90 Jerry Lewis is enjoying something of a career comeback.

  Seventy years after he teamed up with Dean Martin in the comedy duo Martin and Lewis, sixty-seven years after his first film role in My Friend Irma, 56 years after making his directorial debut with The Bellboy, and after a break of several years because of ill health, the veteran comic is back working.

  His one-man shows sell out, he teaches a film class near his home in Las Vegas and he has a new movie about to be released---his first starring role in more than two decades.

 "Being 90 is not simple, but it’s interesting, very interesting," he says, talking in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.  "Before I was 90, I could walk, I could see well, I could hear terrific, and now I can’t hear or see or walk. But I am thrilled to be 90."

  Then, in a typically cringe-inducing remark, he adds: "My daughter asked me what it was like in prehistoric days, so I smacked her right in the mouth."

  Age has taken its toll on the hyperkinetic comic and his memory for facts isn't what it was, but he still cracks jokes and contorts his face in the elastic ways he utilised in his persona of a manic man-child that made him one of the most iconic performers in Hollywood history.

with Dean Martin in his heyday
  He arrives in a wheelchair but insists on walking into the suite, leaning heavily on a silver-topped cane. Once he is seated he talks lucidly and lengthily  in a virtual monologue that embraces his memories of long-gone friends, who, he says proudly, included President Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin; his partnership, breakup and eventual reconciliation with Dean Martin; performances at New York's Copacabana in the 1940s; life in old Hollywood; his vehemently strong views on the state of the film industry today and, of course, his new movie.

   It is called Max Rose and he has the title role of a retired jazz musician whose beloved wife of nearly six decades has just passed away. Then, while going through her effects he discovers a love note from another man, a revelation that leads him to believe his marriage and indeed his entire life was built on a lie. He decides to track down and confront the man in the hope that what he learns will provide him with the answers he needs. The supporting cast includes veterans Claire Bloom, Mort Sahl and Dean Stockwell.

   "It was my pleasure financially to do it," Lewis says with a grin
. "Seriously, I got the script and I couldn’t put it down. I fell in love with the material and felt it was a perfect time in my life to do it. And I had a wonderful time."
 Possibly Daniel Noah, the first-time director  who also wrote it, did not have such an enjoyable time.

 "Being a first time director, we watched him tremble every morning---tremble," says Lewis with a laugh, adding: "And it was such fun because he was a big fan of mine and loved the fact that I loved the script.

   "It's a hell of a movie and nice that there aren't anti-tank guns coming from the left and .38 revolvers from the right---none of that. I think the movie industry has to pay attention that we need to make good quality films or we are never going to get the business back. You can't continue to kill people and stab them in the chest and rip their vaginas out.I don't think it makes any sense. If there aren't enough angry people in the business to change it, it's never going to change. And television has caught the disease. I mean, I have got children I won't allow near the set, for Christ's sake. (His six children ----five by his first wife and an adopted daughter with his second---are aged between 24 and 71).

   His favourite films, he says, are The Sting, Dr. Zhivago, Oklahoma! and Lawrence of Arabia.
"There are things I see in the picture business today that upset me and I wish I could say to them, 'don't do that; don't show that to the people, it will set us back 20 years.' But if it's making money they will tell you you're nuts for not liking it. That's okay, I'll stay nuts.

   "But I'm running out of time so I'm stating my feelings about the industry as loud as I can."  

    Jerry Lewis was born Joseph Levitch in New Jersey and spent much of his childhood in the care of relatives while his father, an entertainer who went by the name Danny Lewis and pianist mother Rachel, played the Borscht Belt. Following in their footsteps, he made his stage debut at the age of five and by 15 he had his own fully-fledged comedy routine. He played nightclubs and also held down a succession of dead-end jobs to make ends meet. But his fortunes changed forever in 1945 when he met singer and fellow comic Dean Martin at the Glass Hat Club in New York. The following year they made their debut as a duo, with Martin as the dry-witted straight man and Lewis, bursting with energy and unable to control his mouth or rubbery limbs.

   "We had magic," Lewis recalls. "We were getting two hundred and fifty dollars a night   in March of 1946 and by December we were getting fifty thousand dollars. It happened so fast. In three years we earned four million dollars."

   They appeared regularly on television and made a series of films, becoming one of the top box-office draws of the 1950s. But they began feuding openly, finally splitting in July 1956. Their final days were rancourous ones, neither speaking to the other once the cameras stopped rolling on their last film together, Hollywood or Bust. They did not reunite for nearly two decades.

     But now Lewis becomes mawkishly sentimental when speaking of his ex-partner, who died on Christmas Day 1995.

  "Audiences all over the world knew that we loved one another and cared for one another," he says. "There was nothing make believe with Dean and myself; we loved one another desperately and all of that came through.

   "When we were at the Copacabana we played to more people in 12 weeks than most performers play in a lifetime and the relationship never, ever wavered. We had such fun together and we had so much respect for one another. I would see him walk in the room and my eyes would fill with tears. I'm talking about the love and the affection that was so deep I couldn’t control it, nor could he. I met a young man who helped me become a movie star. How do I not look at him with love and tears in my eyes?"

     But why, then, didn't they talk to each other for almost 20 years?

   "It was stupid," he says. "To this day neither of us could tell you why. There was so much more that I wanted to do and I wanted to take the comedy and give it the life that a director gives to an actor. And Dean had the same thing, but he wanted to sing more;  he wanted to perform and find his audience that loved what he did as an individual and that was fine but when we got to that point we just didn’t talk. Terrible, terrible, it was awful."

   Lewis went his own way and made a string of highly successful solo films, beginning with the Delicate Delinquent and including The Sad Sack, The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella,  The Bellboy, The Ladies Man and The Errand Boy. The Nutty Professor in 1963 was one of his last big hits and his popularity wanted. So after several unsuccessful films he focused his energies on other projects, including a film director class at the University of Southern California, where he mentored, among others, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
   Although he remained popular in Europe, most notably in France, his career was dead in the water in the U.S. so he concentrated on his fund-raising telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association which he began hosting in 1966 and which resulted in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1977.
    He made a well-received film comeback in 1981, playing a late night talk show host kidnapped by an obsessive fan in The King of Comedy, followed by Mr. Saturday Night and Funny Bones, which traded on his long and storied showbusiness career. In 1994 he had a successful run on Broadway as the Devil in a production of Damn Yankees and two years later he served as a producer on a remake of The Nutty Professor which starred Eddie Murphy.
   Health issues and a series of controversial statements and homophobic jokes forced him into semi-retirement during the early part of this century but he has bounced back and as well as Max Rose he has another movie The Trust, in which he appears with Nicolas Cage, awaiting release. He is working on a script for a fellow comic he will not name and still teaches an acting and comedy class.

   He was married to singer Patti Palmer in 1944 and they had six sons (their youngest, Joseph, died of a drug overdose aged 45) before divorcing in 1982, after which, he says in an off-colour remark, "I banged anyone I could meet."  

   He has been married for 33 years to his second wife SanDee Pitnick, a former Las Vegas dancer 25 years his junior who, he says, is "the greatest audience I have ever had."     
   The mention of his wife leads to a lyrical litany on love: "I say to everybody, love is what wakes you up in the morning, love is what makes you walk and love is what makes you hope," he says. "Love is what makes you dream and love is what makes you want to get up in the morning, love is something that you want to be a part of, because it makes you better."
    How would Jerry Lewis, known to the French as "Le Roi du Crazy," like to be remembered?
    "I don't care," he says. "I'm not interested in what people will think after I've gone. I want to hear all the good stuff while I'm here."
   After more than eight decades he must have some regrets?
    "Regrets? You don't think about regrets," he says. "You regret something and then move on. You don't think about them and you don't carry them with you. You have to look at things that are negative and figure out why they happened and make sure they don't happen again. I keep negative out of my life."
    Then he can't resist a last bad joke. "Except for film negative."