"The Bank Job" is a thoroughly entertaining caper film. In fact, it's a dull title for a juicy, fast-paced movie. It is full of surprises - that I have no intention of spoiling. I'll say this - in 1971, a robbery took place at Lloyds Bank in London that involved a royal sex scandal. A group of stumblebum thieves are hustled into robbing the place by higher-ups who are using them just to get their hands on incriminating photos in a deposit box. The men think that they're after nothing but jewels and cash. In real life, the heist was plotted by the British Intelligence Agency for the pics of a fun-loving royal (yes, Princess Margaret) enjoying a multi-partner romp in bed. "The Bank Job" commendably avoids the violence-soaked episodes of crime yarns. The pace of the movie is just right - always moving, always progressing and always pushing the story forward. The filmmakers made up a beautiful ex-model (Saffron Burrows - what cheek-bones!) who persuades the thieves to tunnel their way into the bank. Actually, they have jauntily mixed together fact, fiction and party gossip. "The Bank Job" is a fun and entertaining time at the movies. Wonder what, in the future, the filmmakers will call the Spitzer saga! The story is, indeed, stranger than fiction. It would be difficult to make it up. Folks would say that it's too hard to believe.
In my jazzy past - and by that I mean when I wrote a column called June on Jazz for "Jersey Jazz" magazine - I had a slight association with Woody Allen. I knew him as a clarinet-tooting musician who played once a week at a now defunct cabaret in Manhattan called Michael's Pub. Every week, there he was onstage - rarely cracking a smile and certainly not joking, not speaking very much, but very seriously involved in playing his clarinet with a fine Dixieland group. That is why, when I learned that there was a new book called "Conversations with Woody Allen: His Films, the Movie, and Moviemaking" by Eric Lax, I wanted to read it. I'm glad I did. Many choice Woodyisms are included: "I'm a firm believer that when you're dead, naming a street after you doesn't help your metabolism." Here's another: "Rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I'd prefer to live on in my apartment." Big ha! "Conversations" is a hefty book. In it, we learn that the favorites of his films are "The Purple Nose of Cairo," "Match Point" and "Husbands and Wives." Well, I've seen all his films and my favorites are "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." "Conversations" doesn't dwell on Allen's breakup with Mia Farrow and his subsequent marriage to Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Well, he's still married to her and it's not by business. I'm more interested in his "oeuvre." The filmmaker still churns out a picture a year - and he still plays his clarinet once a week in a Manhattan club. Allen is quoted as saying, "I'd like to make a great film provided it doesn't conflict with my dinner reservation." In my eyes, Woody Allen is as capable as ever of delivering pleasure - and lots of guffaws. Personally, my hope is that he ever stops writing, whether its movies or print humor for "The New Yorker." And I hope he never stops tootling his clarinet with a Dixieland group. After all, in addition to his writing talent, the man surely has rhythm.
What seems like a zillion years ago, my English professor instructed the class to read John Milton's epic poem, "Paradise Lost." I recall sweating through it - a difficult read - and then I promptly dismissed it from my then-illiterate mind. I didn't know much of the background of John Milton - that would have helped greatly in my youthful appreciation of his masterpiece. Well, recently I was confronted with John Milton again. This time, it was the New York Public Library who has mounted a show about the literary giant: "John Milton at 400." It is now the quadricentennial (never used that word before!) of the English poet's birth in 1608. The library's exhibition is a treasure trove, all in a modest one-room location. It hints at Milton's extraordinary life. Before turning 60, he became blind, had been twice widowed and once imprisoned. The show covers every aspect of his work and legacy. In one of his controversial pamphlets, he upheld the morality of divorce for incompatibility. Another was in favor of the freedom of the press. He also declared that subjects might put to death an unworthy king (don't ask me why I like that one so much). In "Paradise Lost," hope remains palpable. One of the rarities in the show is a 1667 first edition of the epic masterpiece. "John Milton at 400," on view through June 4 at the wonderful New York Public Library, motivated me to lug out the Columbia Encyclopedia to learn more about the English poet. That's no easy task. One could get a hernia from simply lifting the book! Don't worry - I'm ok and better informed, too.