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last update 21.May.13
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Billy Liar  
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir John Schlesinger
prd Joseph Janni
scr Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall
with Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Helen Fraser, Gwendolyn Watts, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne, Leonard Rossiter, Rodney Bewes, George Innes, Finlay Currie, Leslie Randall, Ethel Griffies
christie and courtenay release UK Jun.63,
US 16.Dec.63
reissue UK 6.May.13
63/UK 1h38

Billy Liar This classic British comedy has been pristinely restored for its 50th anniversary, showing off a finely written, directed and performed film that feels fresh and resonant even now. Not only does it offer a superb look at life in 1960s Britain, but it features marvellously indelible characters.

Billy Fisher (Courtenay) indulges in his lively imagination to escape his grim life in Yorkshire with his annoyed parents (Pickles and Washbourne). He longs to quit his job with the local mortician (Rossiter) for what he's sure will be success as a comedy writer in London. He's also keen to escape his two fiancees: nice girl Barbara (Fraser) and blowsy waitress Rita (Watts). With all the pressure on him, he starts to snap. And the woman he really has his eye on is the free-thinking Liz (Christie), who can see right through him.

Snappy and hilariously pointed, the film sharply captures Billy's lively dreamworld along with darker thoughts as conveyed through his internal monologue. Every scene is a bundle of wit and invention, playing with movie genres and character details that are all expertly played by the actors. And Schlesinger skilfully shoots every scene with amusing visual flourishes that keep us laughing as Billy's schemes continually catch up with him.

Courtenay is simply perfect in this iconic role as a young slacker who hasn't quite realised that the world isn't actually his oyster. Courtenay makes him likeable even though virtually nothing he says is remotely true. And the characters around him are all wonderfully played with high spirits by a superb cast, with Christie particularly radiant as perhaps the only person who can put Billy's feet on the ground. And as his work colleagues, Bewes and Innes add their own spark.

The film feels strikingly contemporary all these years later, approaching its timeless themes with a jolt of raw energy. Running all the way through, there's an underlying emotional resonance that helps us identify with the messy predicament Billy has wormed his way into. And in its bracingly honest final sequence, the film hints that maybe growing up is over-rated. But you've got to be honest with yourself at the very least.

PG themes, language, some violence
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The King of Marvin Gardens
4/5   MUST must see SEE  
dir-prd Bob Rafelson
scr Jacob Brackman
with Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julia Anne Robinson, Benjamin 'Scatman' Crothers, Charles LaVine, Arnold Williams, John Ryan, Sully Boyar, Josh Mostel, William Pabst, Imogene Bliss
dern and nicholson
release US 12.Oct.72
reissue UK 24.May.13
72/US Columbia 1h44

The King of Marvin Gardens An unpredictable comical tone gives what's essentially a rather dark drama a kick of life. With fine actors playing indelible characters, the film really gets under the skin. And as it builds to its explosive conclusion, it becomes a haunting comment on the fragility of the American dream.

Philadelphia radio presenter David (Nicholson) lives with his wheezy grandfather (LaVine) and is annoyed by how his con-artist brother Jason (Dern) continually disrupts his ordered life, dragging him into various scams. Now Jason has summoned David to Atlantic City to help with another get-rich-quick scheme, this time involving a tiny Hawaiian island. And it's clear that everything that can go wrong will. Including the relationships between David and Jason, Jason's blowsy girlfriend Sally (Burstyn) and her stepdaughter Jessica (Robinson).

Rafelson establishes the film's moody vibe with its opening close-up in which a nerdy, soft-spoken Nicholson delivers a extended monologue in one long take, recounting a detailed story from his childhood that sounds like a passage from a novel. But even here the film surprises us, derailing the scene when real life breaks through. And the title is one of several knowing references to the Atlantic City locations in the original version of Monopoly.

The excellent cast members are all playing effectively against type. Nicholson has never been so square on screen, and perfectly catches David's uptight bluster while keeping him grounded and likeable. Dern is charming as the fast-talking rogue, while Burstyn adds brassy colour as a former beauty queen who refuses to admit that she's losing her youth. Meanwhile, Robinson isn't nearly as naive as she pretends to be. The connections between them are electric - funny, volatile and often startlingly moving.

As the film meanders through a series of vivid set-pieces, Rafelson stirs in several surreal touches, providing clever collisions between the four central contrasting characters. He also makes the most of the Atlantic City settings, with deserted beaches and grand casinos that echo with their own fading history. But from the start we're aware that this is heading into some very dark areas, so it's likely to be a difficult journey rather than building to a Sting-like caper. Indeed, the chilling final act is sometimes hard to watch because it's so impeccably played.

15 themes, language, violence
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A Place in the Sun
5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-prd George Stevens
scr Michael Wilson, Harry Brown
with Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters, Herbert Heyes, Anne Revere, Shepperd Strudwick, Frieda Inescort, Keefe Brasselle, Fred Clark, Raymond Burr, Kathryn Givney, Walter Sande
clift and taylor release US 15.Aug.51
reissue UK 1.Feb.13
51/US Paramount 2h02
A Place in the Sun Based on Theodore Dreiser's iconic novel An American Tragedy, this is one of the boldest, most pungent dramas in US cinematic history. It also boasts provocative performances by Clift, Taylor and Winters at the peak of their considerable powers.

In an attempt to make something of his life, George (Clift) gets in touch with his uncle Charles (Heyes) and takes a job in his factory, where he starts dating working girl Alice (Winters). But while visiting Charles' family, George also meets glamorous society teen Angela (Taylor). So when Alice announces that she's pregnant and intends to marry him, George starts looking for a way out. And on an autumn holiday at Loon Lake, he hatches a grim plan to get rid of Alice so he can marry Angela and continue his career in style.

Some of the best talent ever to work in Hollywood contributed to this film both on screen and behind the scenes. William Mellor's black and white cinematography is luxuriantly cool,sharply capturing the beauty of the settings and actors as well as the shadows that lurk in the corners. William Hornbeck's editing is packed with insinuation and wit. And Stevens' direction brings it together to focus on the emotional resonance in all three central characters as well as the bigger issues at stake.

George's relativistic morality feels eerily resonant today, not nearly as villainous as it must have seemed in 1951. Although the film puts us so firmly in his shoes that even original audiences must have seen the innocent, victimised Alice as a threat to his success. It's a strikingly complex approach for a Code-era Hollywood movie, especially since the plot doesn't take the easy way out, constantly playing with our sympathies.

The film's strong kick is brought home through the evocative performances. Clift is both desirable and needy; like everyone else, we want to come to his rescue. Taylor is radiant and sharp, never remotely naive about what's going on, and Winters is both heartbreakingly lost and relentlessly annoying. And how can you help but adore a film that includes darkly suggestive lines like: "I love you. I've loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I've even loved you before I saw you."

PG themes, violence
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5/5   MUST must see SEE   Teorema
dir-scr Pier Paolo Pasolini
prd Manolo Bolognini, Franco Rossellini
with Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano, Massimo Girotti, Anne Wiazemsky, Laura Betti, Andres Jose Cruz Soublette, Ninetto Davoli, Carlo De Mejo, Adele Cambria, Luigi Barbini, Ivan Scratuglia, Alfonso Gatto
stamp release It 7.Sep.68,
US 21.Apr.69
reissue UK 27.May.13
68/Italy 1h48

theorem A playful parable about middle-class repression, this beautifully made film is a bundle of suggestion and innuendo, challenging us with profound ideas and astonishing character twists. This is more art than cinema, and Pasolini skilfully uses a variety of techniques to cut to the core of what holds a society together.

A handsome visitor (Stamp) arrives at the Milan home of wealthy couple Lucia and Paolo (Mangano and Girotti). He immediately catches everyone's attention, awakening their buried lusts with his piercing blue eyes and brazenly diffident sexuality. One by one they all make a move on him, starting with the maid Emilia (Betti), then the son Pietro (Cruz Soublette) and daughter Odetta (Wiazemsky). He also seduces Lucia and sparks amorous moves in the aloof Paolo. But then he departs, and their lives can't go back to normal.

At the peak of his physical powers, Stamp believably makes this household wild with desire (he has the same effect on the cinema audience!). Pasolini plays with suggestive camera angles, echoing character sight-lines that ramp up the sexual tension. And each physical encounter is portrayed with an eerie coolness, as if no one is really enjoying it. But there's more going on here, and the film turns into a provocative exploration of what holds families together. And what sex actually means.

The film openly questions the purpose of the bourgeoisie: lives that are essentially empty, filled with false values and shallow passions. So in awakening their deeper desires, this stranger makes them even more miserable when he abruptly leaves. Each has a specific reaction that's fascinating and oddly moving to watch. And Emilia's singular journey is breathtakingly surreal.

Visually, the film is stunning, with its elegant cinematography making the most of the the stylishly inventive settings and characters. And the sound mix is extremely clever, weaving in ambient noise with a pungent score. Pasolini constantly finds contrasts between farms and factories, rich and poor, and scenes are packed with books, art, music and sport, which of course like family and sex mean nothing if you're only using them to achieve some sort of status in society. It's rare to find a film that so effectively gets under the skin. And this one will never let you go.

15 strong themes, some nudity
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