A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (William Richert, 1988)


Jimmy Reardon (River Phoenix) is a dreamer. All he wants to do is write poetry, fly to Hawaii with his girlfriend and get his best friend Fred (a pre-Chandler, yet Chadler-esque, Matthew Perry) laid. It is a premise done countless times by so many coming-of age films (especially set in the eighties). Jimmy’s dilemma is also familiar: what should you do – and who do you want to be – after high-school?

There are two paths: either attend his father’s old business school (paid for by his parents) or to leave Chicago and make it on his own financially. Jimmy’s parents want him to have stability. He wants to leave and forge his own way on his terms with the money he has saved. However, when Jimmy is he is conned out of his savings by an ex-girlfriend the evening takes becomes a series of argument, sex, reconcilliations, sex and the realisation that life is not all idle dreaming and poetic fantasies.

Jimmy Reardon is a relatively overlooked film that never quite reached the success of John Hughes’ coming of age tales. Director William Richert, who wrote and directed the film, based his screenplay on his book Aren’t You Even Gonna Kiss Me Goodbye? Not having read the book myself, I cannot say which angle of the material Richert chose to focus on or even if anything was reworked for film audiences.

While this is not the greatest coming of age film there is no denying how engaging and immensely talented Phoenix was an an actor and you cannot help wondering where this talent would have taken him if he was still around.





Arabella (Mauro Bolognini, 1967)


It starts as it means to go on: a party of beautiful people ecstatically dancing the Charleston to a frivolous Ennio Morricone score. This is Arabella (1967), a fun, farcical film with whose flimsy plotline is compensated by glamorous costumes, beautiful scenery and humorously exaggerated cultural stereotypes.

Part of its appeal is due to Virna Lisi. As the eponymous socialite, she is on a mission to pay back the obscene amount of back-taxes that her Grandmother (Margaret Rutherford) owes. Despite a business engagement to the wealthy Filiberto (Antonio Casagrande) – a casual arrangement preceding an open marriage – she attempts to raise the money by seducing and conning various men (Terry-Thomas in multiple roles) out of the money.

What the film lacks in plot it makes up for in details. Lisi parades around in a collection of costumes where each is more beautiful than the last. Her gowns (orange, purple, black, sheer, feathered) and her accessories (a collection of wigs, long cigarette holders, turbans, diamond brooches and smoky cats eyes) are part of the film’s charm. She seduces with her clothes as much as her sex appeal.

However, the film’s scene stealing moment comes in the form Giancarlo Giannini as Saverio, the camp son of Thomas’ English duke. Here the cultural stereotypes come to the fore, with the flouncing, effeminate Roman waving a rose around – his arms filled with gold bracelets – and recoiling in horror at the sight of the maid’s exposed cleavage. Riffing on the Valentino-Latin lover stereotype is by no means the most original idea, yet it is extremely entertaining.

Arabella it is not a meaty film by any means but the intricate details make it irresistible.



Book Review: ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ by Alan Light



Nina Simone was a fascinating woman whose life and music continues to intrigue and captivate. I have always loved her voice, marvelled at her piano skills, and admired how she used lyrics to seduce in one song and damn in the next. Yet, appallingly, my knowledge of Simone’s life and character remained appallingly limited.

I unsurprisingly lapped up Liz Garbus’ Oscar-nominated, Netflix produced What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) on its release. The warts-and-all film shows Simone’s undeniable talent – a musical genius whose audiences would be spellbound in her presence – yet whose personal life was extremely troubled and unsettled (loneliness, physical and chemical abuse, illness). She made mistakes. She was a difficult character. Yet she was a transcendental performer whose talent shines brightly on the screen. Would a written biography be able to capture her musical talent in quite the same way?

Nina Simone, born Eunice Waymon and raised in Tryon, North Carolina, was a musical prodigy who dreamed of becoming the world’s first black classical pianist. Playing the piano at her preacher mother’s sermons brought her to the attention of congregation member Muriel Mazzanovich – aka “Miss Mazzy” – her first piano teacher who co-founded a fund for Eunice’s musical education. This fund supported her move to New York to attend New York’s Juilliard School. As the fund dwindled she tried, and was rejected, for a scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Although she never fully recovered from this unfortunate incident, we can pinpoint this event as changing the course of the young woman’s life, initiating her evolution from Eunice Waymon to Nina Simone.

Alan Light’s biography of the singer, also titled ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?,” is an engrossing companion piece. Due to Simone’s electrifying performances, some individuals may find themselves preferring the faster paced, snappier, musically charged film to the written version. However, the book is richer in detail and includes periods of Simone’s life which Garbus, due to time restraints, naturally omitted. Light utilises additional first hand accounts by those closest to Simone – her musicians, ex-husband Andy Stroud, and her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly – providing a full yet stark account of this flawed but extraordinary artist whose life included numerous love affairs, struggle with sexuality, activism in the fight for civil rights, and career highs and lows. Fundamentally, Light paints Simone as a woman who never recovered from the lack of attention and affection her mother showed her in childhood, setting a precedent that would greatly influence Simone’s relationships with lovers, with her musicians, with her audience, and most significantly, with her daughter.

‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ is a richly personal biography and a fitting companion to an enthralling film. Simone was a tormented genius – a mass of contradictions – who, underneath all of the drama and problems remained Eunice Waymon: the little girl from South Carolina whose biggest regret was that she never became the world’s first black classical pianist.

* ‘What Happened, Miss Simone’ by Alan Light is published by Cannongate Books
ISBN: 9781782118732