Thursday, 5 December 2013

Critical week: More than movies

I've only seen one film since Sunday's report from L.A., but it was a doozy: David O Russell's American Hustle not only features an enticing ensemble cast in full-on 1970s regalia, but it's also based on the real events surrounding Abscam, when the FBI used low-life con-men to entrap big-time mobsters and politicians. Everything is unmissable - cast, script, direction, music, costumes and especially hair. It's hardly surprising that it won the New York film critics' best of the year award.

Now back in London, I have a few screenings beginning to pop up, filling in the final candidates before I vote in both the online and London film critics' awards. These include The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, Spike Jonze's Her and Will Ferrell's triumphant return for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

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And here are some comments on film tie-ins that have crossed my desk this month, just in time for Christmas...

Now That's What I Call Movies is a three-disc set of 58 film songs with an emphasis on 1980s power ballads like I Will Always Love You, (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, Take My Breath Away, Up Where We Belong, Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now and, of course, My Heart Will Go On. Newer songs come from Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Lana Del Rey (The Great Gatsby) and Maroon 5 (Love Actually). And there are also classics like Nat King Cole's Stardust and Tony Bennett's The Way You Look Tonight, plus Brown-eyed Girl, Unchained Melody, Stuck in the Middle With You, You Sexy Thing and even White Wedding. Alas, there are no Bond themes, but all the big title songs of the 1980s are present: Fame, Flashdance, Ghostbusters, Footloose, 9 to 5, Against All Odds, even The Never Ending Story. It's a strong hit-to-dud ratio, and most of these songs are pretty essential.

Series aficionados may also want to take a look at the all new 2013 Now That's What I Call Christmas compilation, another three-disc set containing 62 holiday classics. All the expected songs are present, from Dean Martin to Coldplay, White Christmas to Blue Christmas, and both the original and 20-years-later versions of Do They Know It's Christmas. And there are lots of surprises too.

To tie in with the release of Saving Mr Banks, those savvy Disney folk have released a 50th Anniversary edition of the Mary Poppins soundtrack. This includes the 26 tracks from the film, as well as a second disc with four never-heard demos and early recordings performed by composers Richard and Robert Sherman, plus 21 snippets from the story meetings depicted in Saving Mr Banks - yes, conversations between the real PL Travers, the Sherman brothers and screenwriter Don DaGradi. Finally, there's a 16-minute track in which the Shermans reminisce about their work on the movie. All pretty indispensable for any Mary Poppins fan.

We also occasionally receive books! Cher: Strong Enough is a biography by Josiah Howard, tracing the Oscar/Grammy/Emmy-winner's career through five decades with a special emphasis on her 1975 TV variety series. It's packed with telling anecdotes and accounts of her various career reinventions over the years. There are even a few photos, but not nearly enough. By contrast, Joanna Benecke's 100 Reasons to Love Ryan Gosling is completely centred around photos of the outrageously photogenic actor. Most of these reasons relate to his way with the ladies - and the men. Many of them are dreamy hero-worship: he's a dog whisperer (58), he likes knitting (72), he makes deaf kids happy (79). Others are hilariously breathless: public displays of torso (10), he has tiny cute little ears (39), even super-cool actresses get star-struck when kissing Ryan (83). And you don't have to agree with reason number 9 (The Notebook) to find this book entertaining.

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