Olive Kitteridge is the story of a misanthropic, strict, but well-meaning, retired schoolteacher who lives in the fictional seaside town of Crosby, Maine. She is married to Henry Kitteridge, a kind, considerate man who runs a pharmacy downtown, and has a troubled son named Christopher, who grows up to be a podiatrist. For 25 years, Olive has experienced problems of depression, bereavement, jealousy, and friction with family members and friends. This four hour, two part mini series based on Elizabeth Strout's novel is a melancholic, elegiac tale of lives half lived and strained relations with underlying issues and feelings that dare not be spoken whilst the theme of death, especially suicide, permeates throughout the narrative and its duration. The drama is languorous and muted which means you need to have a degree of patience to see where it is going and what it has to offer, but if you invest in it the characters and their perfect playing, combined with a distinctive take on small town somewhat repressed life, pay off most satisfyingly. It's also surprisingly funny in places.
Frances McDormand is - as ever - sublime in the titular role, managing to tease out some surprising, strong compassion and empathy for such a starchy character, but it was Richard Jenkins and Zoe Kazan who really impressed me initially in the first half; The gentle good naturedness of Jenkins' character Henry Kitteridge was palpably at odds with the prickliness of his wife played by McDormand, whilst Kazan was suitably ditzy and sweetly loveable as Henry's co-worker, the tragic Denise. There's also strong support from John Gallagher Jr of The Newsroom as Henry and Olive's son, Christopher and, in minor but important roles, Peter Mullan and Bill Murray.
Today I found myself watching two films from the director Andrew V McLaglen who died in September of this year (read the obit I posted at the time here) No rhyme or reason to it, it was just that both films had been on Film 4.
On its release in 1968, Hellfighters was billed as John Wayne's most exciting action picture. Of course, it's anything but. This thinly fictionalised account of real life oil well firefighter Red Adair is far too talky, cliched and stultifying to be the most exciting action picture of anyone's career, let alone The Duke's. It's pure potboiler which wastes it's rather distinctive backdrop terribly.
It's a real shame a greater insight into the lives and technicalities of the men whose occupation it is to put out huge fires couldn't have been explored in any depth because that would have been a far more interesting story to have watched than the torpid tale of 'firefighter's widows' that Hellfighters actually is. Too much of the film concerns the oft spoken notion of 'this ain't no life for a lady', detaling as it does Wayne's own failed marriage to Vera Miles and the possibility of history repeating itself as his daughter Katherine Ross falls for his junior partner, the charisma free Jim Hutton.
Watch only for the very beautiful Katherine Ross who, under contract with Universal at the time, must have felt like she'd stepped into a different and out of touch world going from The Graduate to this.
I've got to say I've never really been that big a fan of John Wayne. I understand why for many he's an icon, I do so the appeal, but it has always been rather lost on me. However, my late grandfather had two heroes; Bing Crosby and John Wayne. As such I always feel a little bittersweet when I watch something featuring either of them, especially around Christmas time. It makes me feel close to him, but also makes me realise he's no longer around. He loved a good western too, which brings me neatly to the second part of this double bill.
As I recently blogged here, I've always been a sucker for the American folk classic 'Oh Shenandoah'. My second McLaglen directed film of the day shares its name with that classic, Shenandoah, and it is also another film which features a performance by Katherine Ross, albeit it is a smaller role here than the one in Hellfighters, ironically playing the wife of a character played by John Wayne's son, Patrick.
Shenandoah is an impressive and respectable civil war drama concerning a firm but fair patriarch (the brilliant James Stewart) who is determined to keep his family out of the encroaching warfare but ultimately find themselves caught up in the Confederates last stand through sheer bad luck and misfortune.
A strong Vietnam allegory, McLaglen's film from a screenplay by James Lee Barrett, doesn't shirk from its responsibility in addressing the futility of war and how, in their opinion, good fathers should keep their families at home and close. It's just a shame then that as the film progresses, McLaglen - never the subtlest of directors - feels the need to spell out everything to the viewer in an increasingly in your face manner; be it the merciless bloodshed (and suggested raping) the wild scavengers AWOL from their platoon undertake - which gives us a flavour of the fondness for grim tones he would later adopt for his 70s features - or the reunion between a Confederate boy and his childhood friend (a black youth now in a Yankee uniform) on the battlefield - which is clearly meant to be touching but he hits us over the head with such sentimental close ups of both actors you can't help but laugh and wonder if there was more than just friendship going on!
Shenandoah is definitely the strongest of the pair and one I'd recommend to anyone. It doesn't matter if you're not that big a fan of westerns, as the film works well enough as a timeless family saga and the desires we have to keep those we love protected and safe from harm. James Stewart gives an exemplary performance although some of his family aren't the best depicted or indeed fully dimensional characters. That said, the striking Rosemary Forsyth as his only daughter is especially captivating and gives Ross a run for her money.
It's a shame Christmas songs are out of fashion in the charts these days and that we still play the same old perennial faves because this has been one of the very best new Christmas songs of recent years. If there's any justice this will find its moment sooner rather than later, but for now I play it every Christmas regardless. It's Thea Gilmore and That'll Be Christmas
Dancing In The Dark is a short Channel 4 film from 1990 that seems almost completely forgotten, which is a shame as it stars a very young Douglas Henshall adopting a 'Cor Blimey' cockney accent. An intriguing though not especially successful little drama, Dancing in the Dark deals with the contemporary issue of AIDS/HIV as well as racial tension. A young upwardly mobile Asian woman (Tania Rodrigues) should be meeting up with friends to watch Bruce Springsteen in concert, but car troubles sees her stranded in a pub where she meets an initially lairy and mouthy former skinhead (Henshall). Gradually over the night the pair share their stories with one another, specifically the seemingly loutish male who turns out to be HIV positive. However neither this nor his former Bovver Boy behaviour deters the girl who begins to find him attractive and, at the short's close, exchanges phone numbers with the words "You best call me before I call you"
The shadow of My Beautiful Laundrette hangs over this offering somewhat, specifically in its notion of appearances being deceiving and the plot of former skinhead meets Asian, they fall in love... But it's achingly earnest, with clanging dialogue somewhat stiffly delivered making it feel like some kind of Public Information Film; HIV isn't necessarily a death sentence upon your love life seeming to be the film's message. Good intentions yes, but good intentions don't always make for good entertainment. Seek it out on YouTube. It's only eleven minutes long, so don't be put off by the 30 minute running time - the user has just uploaded it three times for some reason!
I'm too old now to tolerate the nonsensical Hoxton hipsterish toss on the BBC's premier radio station (in fact, I think I've always been too old for Radio 1; only ever enjoying John Peel and Mark and Lard) but I must admit to having a soft spot for Alice Levine, the pretty vintage clothing wearing poppet who recently appeared on the Children in Need charity single orchestrated by Gareth Malone. I've never heard a single moment of her show, but damn she is gorgeous!
Yup, Christmas is now upon us so it's time for Out On Blue Six to get a wee bit festive. Starting with this fun 1998 song Naughty Christmas (Goblin in the Office) from Keith Allen, Alex James, Lisa Moorish and Damien Hirst aka Fat Les.
See if you can spot the many famous faces at this crazy office Christmas party (including a back in the day Zoe Ball, phwoar!, Sara Stockbridge and Joe Strummer!)