"There's got to be a morning after" went the strains of the Oscar-winning song from the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure" and that somber warning always pertains to coverage of the Oscar events show itself. After last year's abysmal event that saw awful comedy bits, offensive omissions of major stars from the memorial tribute and the historic snafu in which the wrong film was initially announced for Best Picture, there was no where to go but up. Much of the success or failure of these shows rests on the back of the host. I thought it was going to be a mistake to bring back Jimmy Kimmel, as I was generally unimpressed with his performance last year. However, the second time was the charm- or almost. (More on that later). In general, this year's telecast was more tightly structured and moved at a faster clip even though it still ran about three-and-a-half hours. Helping matters was the fact that there was an exciting and highly diverse selection of films competing in the key categories and they boasted some brilliant performances by an eclectic array of actors. Gone are the days when viewers had to suffer through the mandatory opening musical production number, which was generally measured in terms of how misguided it proved to be. Kimmel started off with a witty dialogue that was surprisingly and refreshingly light on the political barbs in spite of the fact that the White House had just gone through a couple of miserable weeks that had brought out a surrealistic number of self-imposed scandals and crises.I had thought there would be so many quips about this that I expected to see President Trump's name listed among the key contributors to the show. (There were, however, some deep digs at Harvey Weinstein, who does not have a political base that can be offended.) However, I was relieved that Kimmel kept himself in check because I'm among those that think major awards shows should try to stick with the subject at hand: the work and the personalities involved in creating it. With Kimmel having decided to follow the old adage and "Leave the messages to Western Union", it fell upon others to promote diversity and equality. Great efforts were made in both areas with Best Actress winner Frances McDormand movingly calling for all female nominees to stand up. It was a moment that illustrated how fast and furiously Hollywood is moving to finally provide opportunities to females in the industry. Similarly, there were many minority artists on stage as presenters, performers and winners. I was glad to see triple-threat Jordan Peele, the director, writer and producer of the ingeniously quirky "Get Out", become the first African American to win the Best Original Screenplay award.
The awards dispensed during the show all went to worthy winners, though I would have liked to have seen "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" take home the Best Picture prize. Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand were popular, if predictable, winners based on their superb performances. "The Shape of Water" took Best Picture, as did its director Guillermo del Toro. The elaborate presentations for Best Song just emphasized the strengths and weaknesses of each of the nominees in this category, as the songs themselves ranged from pleasant to dreadful, which is often the norm. The show was moving along swimmingly until Jimmy Kimmel took viewers and participants on a major, ill-advised detour just as he had last year by introducing an elaborate gag in which people in an adjoining movie theater were used as unknowing props when Kimmel brought an array of celebrities from the Oscars ceremony next door to surprise them. Incredibly, it was a variation of the same awful shtick he pulled off the previous year. There's something rather condescending about bringing in a boatload of rich people to dispense candy and hot dogs to the grateful masses. It's like watching benevolent nobles toss some trinkets to their loyal serfs. Worse, the gag ate up valuable air time that could have been used for more appropriate purposes. Earlier in the show Kimmel made a snide remark about showing some of those honored with Oscars being dismissed with "blink-and-you-miss-them" clips from a ceremony that had been held previously. He correctly needled the Academy for pointing out that these artists and technicians, who would have once been allowed on stage at the "real" event, were now excluded. But his hypocrisy was revealed when he launched his dopey sight gag later. If you think I'm being a grump then ask yourself if it was more appropriate to spend time showing Kimmel and company tossing food to audience members or have the opportunity to see and hear Donald Sutherland accepting the Governor's Award for lifetime achievement.
The segment that honors artists who passed away in the last year should also be retired. Although sensitively presented and well-edited, the number of inexcusable exclusions is now almost downright offensive. Yes, it's great to honor those who make the cut (I counted three personal friends in the montage of artists who have left us in the last year), but if you can't extend the segment for even another few minutes in order to include other worthy honorees, then let's just eliminate it altogether. (The Academy does provide a more comprehensive tribute on their web site. Click here to view).
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.