Wednesday, June 27, 2012


This is one of my favourite films, it’s hard to write about something you love so much without being...well...annoying...I’ll try not to be annoying! It’s also hard to write about something, when the person responsible for its being has just died.

I first saw When Harry Met Sally as a double feature with The War of the Roses. They were new and the popular film was The War of the Roses, but When Harry Met Sally was without a doubt the better film. I adored it. As soon as I could my hands on the video, I bought a copy, that needed to be replaced by another over the years and of course eventually a DVD. I have seen it more times than I care to think and will always stop and watch it when it is on television, as I did only a few weeks ago.

I love old movies, romantic comedies or as they were called Screwball Comedies. It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, The Awful Truth, The Thin Man, The Palm Beach Story...the list goes on. Good romantic comedies today are few and far between. But When Harry Met Sally was the first to get it perfectly right in a long time.

Be warned spoilers ahead...

And really, if you haven’t seen this movie by now, shame on you!!!

It’s the classic story of boy meets girl, girl irritated by boy. Mostly, in this case, because of his belief that boys and girls cannot be friends as sex always gets in the way. They keep bumping into each other at various stages of their lives until they are friends, but then sex gets in the way, and they are no longer friends...until they realise they love each other...sigh...

This sounds clichéd and it is, but it can be done so dreadfully wrong or made sickly sweet...When Harry Met Sally is neither. This works because of Nora Ephron and her clever and witty screenplay.

The boy is Harry, played by Billy Crystal – an odd yet perfect choice. He was not really known for his acting and wasn’t really leading man material. But he was funny, and sweet, and trust me – every person that watches this movie wants Harry! There is something about him...that’s great writing, and maybe the way he says Pecan Pie!!

The girl is Sally, played by Meg Ryan. At the time she was also relatively unknown. She was just right as Miss Just Right. She was a little sickly, a little perfect, a little waspy...possibly even annoying, but somehow, she just kept it on the right side of annoying and became this endearing character ...again great writing.

Their path to love had just enough turns and twists to keep it believable. The reality of the more ‘dramatic’ scenes, anyone who has fallen in and out of love will relate to. Add in the humour – and there is so much good, quality humour – which stops the story from being a soap opera, and the right mix starts to form.

Carrie Fisher (Marie) and Bruno Kirby (Jess) play the best friends of Harry and Sally, and probably have all the sharpest one liners, especially Carrie Fisher in one of her best roles.

Of course, one can’t write about When Harry Met Sally without talking about THAT scene! It was original for sure, and very funny the 1st, 2nd or even 3rd time you see it. But once you have seen the movie as many times as I have, it is a bit passé!

The things I find funny are the little touches, the things you may not notice the first time, or are undershadowed by “I'll have what she’s having”.

I love it when Harry spits grape seeds out of the window in the car towards the beginning of the film, only to roll the window down afterwards. I love the Days of the Week Underpants dialogue... ‘they don’t make Sunday...because of god.’ I love Harry thoughts on Hieroglyphics. I love the wagon wheel coffee table argument.  I love Marie’s line, ‘Thin, pretty, big tits, your basic nightmare’, I use that line a lot in real life...not many people get it, but it makes me smile. I love the scene where they are arranging the mat in Sally’s apartment.  I love Harry’s answering machine messages to Sally.

I could go on...

There are some clever scenes, like when Marie and Jess are in bed and Harry and Sally ring them both at the same time – perfect timing, well shot, and the line Marie says to Jess, ‘tell me I'll never have to be out there again’.

My favourite scene is when they are singing Surrey with a fringe on top karaoke – it makes me laugh everytime.

Then there is beauty – New York, especially that Autumn scene in Central Park. The vignettes of ‘real life’ couples talking about how they met throughout the film – something that on paper sounds so wrong, but, in fact, is so incredibly beautiful. Added to the wonderful visuals, is the soundtrack – mostly Harry Connick Jnr singing standards; Gershwin, Ellington, Goodman, Kahn, Hart and Rodgers. It Had To Be You defines the movie and borrows from a movie mentioned within the movie, Cascablanca.

There is so much variety within this film, and sewn together seamlessly too. There is not a wrong note about it. The ending has become a classic scene. Just when you think it may get a little too sacharine, a joke works its way in. It always reminds me of the ending to Manhattan - both Woody and Billy running the streets of Manhattan towards their love, looking a little nerdy, getting a little puffed, not knowing the outcome, but giving it their best shot.

Nora Ephron gave it more than her best shot writing and directing When Harry Met Sally - she made a modern classic, a film that still stands the test of time and will be enjoyed and loved by many for years to come.


Today begun with confusion, could it be real that Nora Ephron had actually died. I was on Twitter and heard the first rumbling, but no confirmation; in fact it was quite the opposite. So I left for work with a bad feeling, after a long meeting I returned to the office and checked Twitter.

It was true, the brilliant and witty Nora Ephron was gone...but to get clichéd about it all, her legacy lives on in her writing.

I loved her style and substance, she was real through to the core, as often Jewish women of that era are. I also love Susan Sontag, Fran Lebovitz and Lily Brett, and connect with their writing in a way even I cannot understand. Maybe I was Jewish in another life!

How could she not be a writer? Her parents were screenwriters. Some of their films were Desk Set, There’s No Business Like Show Business, and Take Her, She’s Mine, which was actually based on College letter’s of Nora’s. All four Ephron daughters were writers, and two of Nora’s husbands were Carl Bernstein and Nicholas Pileggi.

As a journalist in her younger years, she covered politics (interning for the Kennedy Administration) but moved quickly to satire and essays. She focused on Women, Sex, Food and her beloved New York.  She got into writing screenplays by assisting her then husband with the script for All The President’s Men. Her work there was not used, but noticed by the studios. But it was when she turned her novel, Heartburn into a screenplay that her film writing career took off. Heartburn was based on her painful breakup with Bernstein.

Nora wrote the scripts for some classic films: Silkwood, Heartburn, When Harry Met Sally, My Blue Heaven, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail , and Julie and Julia.

It’s her Essays and When Harry Met Sally that I love the best.

Her Essays are sharp, honest, hilarious and at times painfully real. She got real women – their foibles, their hopes, their struggles. She loved food, and often wrote how food and image were a struggle, keeping the balance...something every woman understands.

I did not know her at all of course, but felt I did through all I have read over the years.

I was deeply upset today when I found out she was gone. I was thrilled for her legacy and the writing she has left behind, but mostly sad to know there would be no more. Someone wrote on twitter, if you had only left us When Harry Met Sally that would have been enough...this is true.

My love for that film needs a whole post of its own...stay tuned...

And least you don’t have to worry about your hair anymore...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Where Do We Go Now? is the much anticipated follow up to writer/director, Nadine Labaki's Caramel.

Much like Caramel before it, Where Do We Go Now? is about a group of diverse Lebanese women, bonding together as only women can - through laughter, love, food and music. The setting is an isolated Middle Eastern village with a healthy mix of Muslims and Catholics. Unlike surrounding areas the village get on well together, despite their religious differences.

But as the unseen battle outside of their village takes its toll, religion begins to get in the way of their harmonious village. Small misunderstandings have the men beginning to fight with each other. The women, desperate to continue peacefully, begin to look for ways to keep their village safe, happy and without further loss. Watching these wonderful women work together towards peace is hilarious and heart breaking. One of the more amusing ideas they have is to hire a Russian belly dancing group to stay in the village, entertain, and hopefully stop the men thinking about fighting. But as the stakes get high, the women need to extend their ideas far beyond their already vivid imaginations.

Visually this is a beautiful film that will grab you from the very first scene. After a montage of dusty images of the isolated village, a large group of women, all dressed in black, shuffle in a dance-like formation across the desert to the graves of their fallen sons and husbands. Hypnotising, exquisite, and unique, you know you are about to see a remarkable film. The beauty and colour of the characters against the desolate backdrop of The Middle East adds to the visual feast of this film.

There is also wonderful, uplifting music, and includes a few well placed musical scenes for the characters to sing and move to. The acting is superb, with an established cast of Lebanese actors and a great supporting cast of locals and amateurs. As always, Nadine Labaki plays the female lead, Amal, a strong, independent woman, who has lost her husband, but is starting to warm to the idea of love again.
There is something for everyone in this film - it is warm and loving, filled with plenty of humour and drama. It is real, you feel along with the characters, through their twists and turns. The backdrop - devastating as it may be - is a great anchor for their custom and beliefs. But mostly, it is the women and their joy against this backdrop, the joy for their village, family, friends and each other. You can see why this has been a film festival favourite, winning audience awards in the Olso, San Sebastian and Toronto FIlm Festivals since premiering as part of Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year.
Where Do We Go Now? will make you laugh out loud and bring a tear to your eye, it is a must see foriegn film showing now at the Tower Cinemas in Newcastle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


The Tower Cinemas in Newcastle continue to impress in their dedication and excellence towards Arthouse programming. Not only are they hosting wonderful film festivals and specialised Opera, but they are consistent in bringing quality, independent films to Novocastrians.

Last night's advanced screening of Anton Chekhov's The Duel was no exception.

Set in the late 1800s in Cascasus, but filmed so very beautifully in Croatia, the drama surrounds the idle Laevsky and his live-in mistress, Nadya.

Early on a bored Laevsky confides in his older friend, Samoylenko, that after two years he is no longer attracted to Nadya, in fact he is unsure he ever was. However he has word that her husband has passed, and is concerned he will never be rid of her. Overwrought he keeps the news from her and is unsure how to proceed.

Whilst Nadya is unaware of this news, she is also bored, trapped, and seemingly exiled by those around her. Unhappy with these arrangements, and their lack of money, she is attracting many admirers in the small village with her flirtatious ways.

Von Koren, like many in the village, is observing this drama play out. He is a Zoologist, and annoyed at the useless and lazy Laevsky, and in a convoluted part of the plot that also includes money lending, and favours amongst villagers, he challenges Laevsky to a duel!

Is this his Darwinian ideal of survival of the fittest, or playing his part in the drama of the village, or simply a way to snap Laevsky into being?

I'll leave that for you to decide when you see the film for yourself!

Anton Chekhov's The Duel is a classic period drama and whilst the director, Dover Koshashvili is relatively unknown, the pedigree behind him is unmistakable. The superb cinematography by Paul Sarossy (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Affliction), gives the film a sensuous and serene atmosphere. One of the producers was Donald Rosenfeld, who has been behind films such as Howards End, The Remains of the Day and Surviving Picasso, and many Arts Documentaries.

The ensemble cast suits, with Andrew Scott - best known for playing Moriarty in the TV series of Sherlock - in the lead, playing Laevsky. His lackadaisical approach and overwrought hysteria to his 'drama' are equally striking and farcical. Fiona Glascott was luminous as the forlorn Nadya.

The Croatian setting is breathtaking, in particular some impressive caves. The costumes exquisitely detailed, especially the glorious array of millinery.

Anton Chekhov's The Duel is not for everyone, it's serene pace matches the time and beauty of the piece, and it's obsessive nature may bewilder some, but then there is The Duel at the end for a little bit of action. Lovers of Chekhov and period drama will not be disappointed. It is beautiful to watch, has a lovely sense humour with drama added for impact and a solid ensemble cast. You could enjoy it for this beauty or even take the time to ponder the deeper meaning of the film - was 'The Duel' really between Laevsky and Von Koren or indeed between Laevsky and Nadya?