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Happy Birthday Daniel July 24, 2008

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Daniel Radcliffe turns 19 on July 23. Happy Birthday Daniel!

Charlton Heston, one of the last film legends, died April 6, 2008

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Charlton Heston, who won the 1959 best actor Oscar as the chariot-racing “Ben-Hur” and portrayed Moses, Michelangelo, El Cid and other heroic figures in movie epics of the ’50s and ’60s, has died. He was 84.

The actor died Saturday night at his home in Beverly Hills with his wife Lydia at his side, family spokesman Bill Powers said. Powers declined to comment on the cause of death or provide further details. “Charlton Heston was seen by the world as larger than life. He was known for his chiseled jaw, broad shoulders and resonating voice, and, of course, for the roles he played,” Heston’s family said in a statement. “No one could ask for a fuller life than his. No man could have given more to his family, to his profession, and to his country.”

Heston revealed in 2002 that he had symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s disease, saying, “I must reconcile courage and surrender in equal measure.” With his large, muscular build, well-boned face and sonorous voice, Heston proved the ideal star during the period when Hollywood was filling movie screens with panoramas depicting the religious and historical past. “I have a face that belongs in another century,” he often remarked.

Publicist Michael Levine, who represented Heston for about 20 years, said the actor’s passing represented the end of an iconic era for cinema. “If Hollywood had a Mt. Rushmore, Heston’s face would be on it,” Levine said. “He was a heroic figure that I don’t think exists to the same degree in Hollywood today.”

The actor assumed the role of leader offscreen as well. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild and chairman of the American Film Institute and marched in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. With age, he grew more conservative and campaigned for conservative candidates. In June 1998, Heston was elected president of the National Rifle Association, for which he had posed for ads holding a rifle. He delivered a jab at then-President Clinton, saying, “America doesn’t trust you with our 21-year-old daughters, and we sure, Lord, don’t trust you with our guns.” Heston stepped down as NRA president in April 2003, telling members his five years in office were “quite a ride. … I loved every minute of it.”

Later that year, Heston was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. “The largeness of character that comes across the screen has also been seen throughout his life,” President Bush said at the time. He engaged in a lengthy feud with liberal Ed Asner during the latter’s tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild. His latter-day activism almost overshadowed his achievements as an actor, which were considerable.

Heston lent his strong presence to some of the most acclaimed and successful films of the midcentury. “Ben-Hur” won 11 Academy Awards, tying it for the record with the more recent “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003). Heston’s other hits include: “The Ten Commandments,” “El Cid,” “55 Days at Peking,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Earthquake.” He liked to the cite the number of historical figures he had portrayed:

Andrew Jackson (“The President’s Lady,” “The Buccaneer”), Moses (“The Ten Commandments”), title role of “El Cid,” John the Baptist (“The Greatest Story Ever Told”), Michelangelo (“The Agony and the Ecstasy”), General Gordon (“Khartoum”), Marc Antony (“Julius Caesar,” “Antony and Cleopatra”), Cardinal Richelieu (“The Three Musketeers”), Henry VIII (“The Prince and the Pauper”).

Heston made his movie debut in the 1940s in two independent films by a college classmate, David Bradley, who later became a noted film archivist. He had the title role in “Peer Gynt” in 1942 and was Marc Antony in Bradley’s 1949 version of “Julius Caesar,” for which Heston was paid $50 a week. Film producer Hal B. Wallis (“Casablanca”) spotted Heston in a 1950 television production of “Wuthering Heights” and offered him a contract. When his wife reminded him that they had decided to pursue theater and television, he replied, “Well, maybe just for one film to see what it’s like.”

Heston earned star billing from his first Hollywood movie, “Dark City,” a 1950 film noir. Cecil B. DeMille next cast him as the circus manager in the all-star “The Greatest Show On Earth,” named by the Motion Picture Academy as the best picture of 1952. More movies followed: “The Savage,” “Ruby Gentry,” “The President’s Lady,” “Pony Express” (as Buffalo Bill Cody), “Arrowhead,” “Bad for Each Other,” “The Naked Jungle,” “Secret of the Incas,” “The Far Horizons” (as Clark of the Lewis and Clark trek), “The Private War of Major Benson,” “Lucy Gallant.” Most were forgettable low-budget films, and Heston seemed destined to remain an undistinguished action star. His old boss DeMille rescued him.

The director had long planned a new version of “The Ten Commandments,” which he had made as a silent in 1923 with a radically different approach that combined biblical and modern stories. He was struck by Heston’s facial resemblance to Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses, especially the similar broken nose, and put the actor through a long series of tests before giving him the role. The Hestons’ newborn, Fraser Clarke Heston, played the role of the infant Moses in the film. More films followed: the eccentric thriller “Touch of Evil,” directed by Orson Welles; William Wyler’s “The Big Country,” costarring with Gregory Peck; a sea saga, “The Wreck of the Mary Deare” with Gary Cooper. Then his greatest role: “Ben-Hur.”

Heston wasn’t the first to be considered for the remake of 1925 biblical epic. Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Rock Hudson had declined the film. Heston plunged into the role, rehearsing two months for the furious chariot race. He railed at suggestions the race had been shot with a double: “I couldn’t drive it well, but that wasn’t necessary. All I had to do was stay on board so they could shoot me there. I didn’t have to worry; MGM guaranteed I would win the race.” The huge success of “Ben-Hur” and Heston’s Oscar made him one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood. He combined big-screen epics like “El Cid” and “55 Days at Peking” with lesser ones such as “Diamond Head,” “Will Penny” and “Airport 1975.” In his later years he played cameos in such films as “Wayne’s World 2” and “Tombstone.”

He often returned to the theater, appearing in such plays as “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” and “A Man for All Seasons.” He starred as a tycoon in the prime-time soap opera, “The Colbys,” a two-season spinoff of “Dynasty.” At his birth in a Chicago suburb on Oct. 4, 1923, his name was Charles Carter. His parents moved to St. Helen, Mich., where his father, Russell Carter, operated a lumber mill. Growing up in the Michigan woods with almost no playmates, young Charles read books of adventure and devised his own games while wandering the countryside with his rifle.

Charles’s parents divorced, and she married Chester Heston, a factory plant superintendent in Wilmette, Ill., an upscale north Chicago suburb. Shy and feeling displaced in the big city, the boy had trouble adjusting to the new high school. He took refuge in the drama department. “What acting offered me was the chance to be many other people,” he said in a 1986 interview. “In those days I wasn’t satisfied with being me.”

Calling himself Charlton Heston from his mother’s maiden name and his stepfather’s last name, he won an acting scholarship to Northwestern University in 1941. He excelled in campus plays and appeared on Chicago radio. In 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and served as a radio-gunner in the Aleutians. In 1944 he married another Northwestern drama student, Lydia Clarke, and after his army discharge in 1947, they moved to New York to seek acting jobs. Finding none, they hired on as codirectors and principal actors at a summer theater in Asheville, N.C.

Back in New York, both Hestons began finding work. With his strong 6-feet-2 build and craggily handsome face, Heston won roles in TV soap operas, plays (“Antony and Cleopatra” with Katherine Cornell) and live TV dramas such as “Julius Caesar,” “Macbeth,” “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Of Human Bondage.” Heston wrote several books: “The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976,” published in 1978; “Beijing Diary: 1990,” concerning his direction of the play “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial” in Chinese; “In the Arena: An Autobiography,” 1995; and “Charlton Heston’s Hollywood: 50 Years of American Filmmaking,” 1998.

Besides Fraser, who directed his father in an adventure film, “Mother Lode,” the Hestons had a daughter, Holly Ann, born Aug. 2, 1961. The couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1994 at a party with Hollywood and political friends. They had been married 64 years when he died. In late years, Heston drew as much publicity for his crusades as for his performances. In addition to his NRA work, he campaigned for Republican presidential and congressional candidates and against affirmative action.

He resigned from Actors Equity, claiming the union’s refusal to allow a white actor to play a Eurasian role in “Miss Saigon” was “obscenely racist.” He attacked CNN’s telecasts from Baghdad as “sowing doubts” about the allied effort in the 1990-91 Gulf War. At a Time Warner stockholders meeting, he castigated the company for releasing an Ice-T album that purportedly encouraged cop killing.

Heston wrote in “In the Arena” that he was proud of what he did “though now I’ll surely never be offered another film by Warners, nor get a good review in Time. On the other hand, I doubt I’ll get a traffic ticket very soon.”

Rolling Stones unveil details of new live album March 19, 2008

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The Rolling Stones have unveiled the details of their next album, ‘Shine A Light’, to be released by Universal Music/Polydor. The album is from the Martin Scorsese-directed concert film ‘Shine A Light’ and will be released simultaneously with the movie.

From the unmistakeable opening riff of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ to the classic sounds of Tumbling Dice, Sympathy For The Devil, All Down The Line and Start Me Up plus some unusual gems from the Stones catalogue – ‘You Got The Silver’ and ‘Faraway Eyes’ – ‘Shine A Light’ will be released on 7 April 2008. Included are three stunning collaborations – with blues legend Buddy Guy on ‘Champagne and Reefer’, Jack White from White Stripes on ‘Loving Cup’ while Christina Aguilera duets with Mick Jagger on ‘Live With Me’.

‘Shine A Light’ will be released on double CD worldwide with a single disc version available in the US. ‘Shine a Light’ is a 22 track Rolling Stones live double album recorded during two memorable nights at New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2006. Produced by The Glimmer Twins and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood are supported by their long-standing backline including bassist Darryl Jones, Chuck Leavell keyboards, Bobby Keys on saxophone, backing vocals Lisa Fischer, Blondie Chaplin and Bernard Fowler, and the horn section – Tim Ries, Michael Davies and Kent Smith.

Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light film recently kick-started the Berlin Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim and receives its New York premiere on March 30 and European premiere in London on 2 April. UK Cinemagoers will have the chance to experience a Stones concert as never before, as the fifth member of the band, from the front row and from behind the scenes.

No stranger to rock concert films, Scorsese filmed the Stones over a two-day period at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. With performances from Buddy Guy, Jack White of the White Stripes and Christina Aguilera, and integrated with rarely seen archival footage, Shine A Light is a unique cinema experience. Twentieth Century Fox will take the ultimate Rolling Stones concert film from Oscar- winning director Martin Scorsese to over 100 cinemas nationwide on 2 April via satellite link for simultaneous premieres alongside the London Leicester Square opening.

For more details visit www.Shinealightmovie.co.uk. Tickets on sale from 7 March.

The feature film Shine a Light, directed by Martin Scorsese, is on UK national cinema release from 11 April 2008.

‘Shine A Light’ the album is released on Polydor/Universal Music on 7 April 2008.

Album track listing >
CD 1 >
Jumping Jack Flash, Shattered ,She Was Hot, All Down the Line, Loving Cup (with Jack White), As Tears Go By, Some Girls, Just My Imagination, Faraway Eyes, Champagne and Reefer (with Buddy Guy), Tumbling Dice, You Got The Silver, Connection.

CD2 > Sympathy For The Devil, Live with Me (with Christina Aguilera), Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Paint It Black, Little T&A, I’m Free, Shine A Light.

New Releases > dvd, movies March 10, 2008

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Here’s our look at the more interesting titles released on DVD in the US and UK over the past few months. Some may be available to rent from local video clubs, or you can always order over the Internet: dozens of suppliers, but http://www.amazon.com (for US) and http://www.play.com (for UK) are among the most reliable, if not necessarily the cheapest. Prices quoted don’t include shipping. Note that US discs are ‘Region 1’, and require a multi-region player.


MR. BROOKS: Quirkiest thriller of 2007, with a cast of veterans including Kevin Costner, Demi Moore and William Hurt; extras include the usual featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary. [US]

THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK: Powerful, uncompromising documentary on Darfur, extras including a ‘How You Can Help’ feature. [US]

NO END IN SIGHT: Another must-see documentary, this one on the Bush Administration’s incompetence in Iraq in the months following the invasion. Sounds dull but it’s actually fascinating, bringing out the tale of a golden opportunity stupidly missed. [US]


MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) (The Immaculate Edition): Not the first time on DVD for hilarious religious satire, but probably the best edition: 2-disc package includes one-hour documentary ‘The Story of Brian’ with contributions from all surviving Pythons, 13 minutes of deleted scenes, and funny radio ads for the film. “He’s NOT the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” [UK]

ZULU (1966): Another crowd-pleasing classic, another lavish 2-disc package: features include film-historian commentary and featurettes with titles like ‘Zulu: Remembering an Epic’. [UK]

LEADING LADIES COLLECTION, VOL. 2: Slightly random collection of 5 good movies, ‘linked’ by having famous leading ladies. Films range from Diane Keaton in the coruscating divorce drama ‘Shoot the Moon’ (1982) to Susan Hayward in weepie ‘I’ll Cry Tomorrow’ (1955) and Jacqueline Bisset with Candice Bergen in ‘Rich and Famous’ (1981). Also high-school drama ‘Up the Down Staircase’ (1967) and poker-related Western ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ (1966). All excellent, though they don’t really fit together. [US]

UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984): Malcolm Lowry’s magnificent novel in brave (if inadequate) film version, starring Albert Finney as the alcoholic Consul. Excellent package from the Criterion Collection includes various commentaries plus a 99-minute documentary on Lowry’s colourful (and tragic) life. [US]

OUR HITLER: A FILM FROM GERMANY (1977): A huge highbrow fave, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s unique, experimental, 7-hour fantasia on the Fuhrer – divided into 22 tableaux – is the kind of famous rarity DVD was invented for. $80 from Amazon, plus shipping. [US]

BURT LANCASTER – THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION: We’d never complain about Lancaster, but this 5-film collection is mostly second-division: highlights include athletic swashbuckler ‘The Flame and the Arrow’ (1950) and surprisingly sharp conspiracy thriller ‘Executive Action’ (1973). [US]

BARBARA STANWYCK – THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION: Another great star, another so-so collection (to be fair, most of Stanwyck’s top films are already on DVD). Pleasant surprises include light-hearted Western ‘Annie Oakley’ (1935) and superb B-thriller ‘Jeopardy’ (1953). Lots of cool extras, including vintage shorts and cartoons. [US]

THE TWO RONNIES: THE CHRISTMAS SPECIALS: Remember this? Four Christmas shows from the comedy duo, made between 1973 and 1987. [UK]

ROOTS (1977) (30th Anniversary Edition): Kunta Kinte! [UK]

No Country for Good Men March 10, 2008

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The first time I watched No Country for Old Men I found it remarkably tense but also problematic, almost obscene, in its nihilistic worldview. Second viewing made it seem much less offensive – though also, surprisingly, much less exciting. It’s still a bleak, haunting film with a powerful and unusual texture; it’s also perhaps the artiest film to win the Best Picture Oscar in a decade, probably since The English Patient back in ’97, which I’m not suggesting is a bad thing. I’m just throwin’ it out there, as one of its drawling Texan tough guys might say.

There are three such tough guys. Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a smouldering small-timer who works as a welder, at least till he finds a briefcase full of cash at the scene of a drug-deal gone wrong. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a psycho assassin hired by the owners of the briefcase to track Moss down. These two play cat-and-mouse across the sere, unforgiving Texas landscape for most of the first half. The third cog is Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) an elderly small-town sheriff who follows the case, usually one step behind, and finally retires from law enforcement, declaring himself “overmatched” in today’s violent world. He’s presumably one of the “Old Men” for whom America is No Country.

The film opens with a voice-over by Ed Tom, marvelling at the old-time sheriffs who didn’t even carry guns; how would they fare today, he wonders, implying that such disregard for firepower might be suicidal. A man could “put his soul at hazard” by involving himself in today’s world – though in fact the film is set in 1980, the point being perhaps that today becomes yesterday, and old-timers always reckon things were better in the old days. Though the early 80s were also the apex of gun-crime in America, so maybe the point is a lot more straightforward.

The original book, by Cormac McCarthy, keeps coming back to Ed Tom, breaking up the plot with his musings at regular intervals. The film doesn’t, which is probably a mistake – putting way too much emphasis on Moss, who turns out to be a red herring. Moss is our hero, and he acts like a hero, using his wits to avoid his pursuers, refusing to buckle even after being shot, remaining defiant even though he’s “just a guy” against professional killers. But the film, it turns out, isn’t really about him – and, since the gloomy old sheriff doesn’t take centre-stage, except at the beginning and the end, that just leaves one possible hero: Chigurh.

Bardem won an Oscar, and Chigurh – the cold-blooded killer with the naff Prince Valiant haircut – is an iconic presence. But the Coen Brothers, who scripted and directed, have always been prone to a giggly, fetishistic love of violence, and the film’s take on this Spanish-accented psycho is disturbing, to put it mildly. It’s clear from the first time we see him kill, his face distended in a kind of frenzied ecstasy, that Chigurh likes to murder people; as the film progresses, though, he becomes more than just a murderer. He becomes “a ghost”, ubiquitous, indestructible. He’s shown to have a code of honour in a crazy way, allowing some victims to live if they win a coin-toss. We even see him calmly self-medicate when he gets hurt, the Coens make a point of showing his competence, which isn’t what villains are supposed to do. The classic movie template is that monsters are cowards, breaking down when their own self-preservation is threatened – think of Preacher in the classic Night of the Hunter (1955) or Stuntman Mike in last year’s Death Proof, howling like a beast at the sight of his own blood. Chigurh is different. He behaves like … well, a hero.

‘So what?’ you might say. Killer-heroes have been part of movies since the gangsters of the 1930s. But it’s the way No Country sets up its universe that’s objectionable.

Again and again, simple rural types are shown being trusting or polite with this serpent-like stranger, even stopping to help when his car breaks down, only to be murdered for their kindness. Even Moss is undone by a good deed – going back to the scene of the crime to take water to a dying man, thus revealing himself to the gangsters. Add the theme of obsolescence, and Ed Tom’s elegiac musings on The Way Things Used to Be, and you end on the cheaply cynical conclusion that kindness is dangerous, and the only way to survive in this world is to be suspicious and paranoid. ‘Never trust a stranger!’ is the closest thing to a Message; ‘Especially one with a foreign accent!’. It’s the same isolationist message the Coens brought to Fargo (1996) – where the only oasis of humanity was the cosy cocoon of Frances McDormand’s bedroom – and a message that clearly strikes a chord in today’s America, with its culture of fear and siege mentality. It’s no accident that Best Picture winners have been ‘dark’ in recent years, see also Crash and The Departed.

On first viewing, I thought Chigurh was meant to be the Devil, based on his indestructibility and the way his encounters with mere humans turn out to be non-events. The second time, a better reading occurred to me: that he’s simply Death, hence the repeated admonition that “You can’t stop what’s coming” – making the whole film a mournful metaphor for growing old. It’s not the world that changes, it’s one’s ability to keep up with it, that’s what being “overmatched” is all about. No Country works best if you pretend the whole thing is a dream Tommy Lee’s character is having – a dream about his fear of growing old, in which he tormentedly tries, but of course fails, to stave off the inevitable.

Second viewing also revealed something else: namely, how alien its slow, spare style must appear to a multiplex audience, first viewing was at a festival, where such things are par for the course. Sitting in a theatre, dialogue is sparse, music almost non-existent. Daringly, the Coens weave a spell by enveloping their film in a hush of withheld information – showing almost nothing, saying almost nothing, building the feel of a barren, blighted world as pitiless and empty as the rocky Texas vistas.

There were walkouts at the screening I attended; then again, for every walkout there may be a viewer who finds the film revelatory, their eyes opened to a new way of storytelling. It’s hard to begrudge the Coens their laconic mood-building – though knowledge of red herrings and general misdirection also makes that mood less compelling; second time around, I admired No Country without quite getting into it. There’s too much wrong with the film – its unearned nihilism and queasily ‘cool’ killer – and even the reticent, bone-dry tone seems a little self-conscious. One starts to long for a burst of energy, maybe for Juno MacGuff from fellow Best Picture nominee Juno to hijack the movie and start firing snarky one-liners at the gnomic old Texans: “Silencio, old man!”.

DIRECTED BY Joel & Ethan Coen
STARRING Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
US 2007 122 mins.