Archives for January 2011

Banish dull skin with a gentle, fragrant scrub

Laura Mercier Fresh Fig Body Scrub has a fragrance that may inspire you.

I just realized that I haven’t talked about cosmetics or beautifying since Jan. 12; how very unlike me!

This has been a bad winter for dry skin and so I’m searching for products to help my parched hide. One of the first things I turn to is a good exfoliator to remove flaky skin. (Shaving your legs will also aid the cause.)

Laura Mercier Fresh Fig Body Scrub is a mousselike concoction with a rich, slightly sweet scent, which somehow conjures thoughts of sunshine and summer vacations.

Perhaps it will inspire you to plan a trip to Southern France. But the scrub does more than smell good. It buffs skin gently, has a light, airy texture and rinses away easily.

According to the company’s web site, this pampering body polish is made from natural fig seeds, jojoba, shea butter and honey. The fragrance blends essence of fresh Celeste figs, apricot nectar and ylang ylang.

Right out of the shower, I applied lotion to lock in the moisture and my skin has been baby soft all day long.

The scrub is $46 for 12 ounces (shown here is a 2-ounce sample size); you can buy it at department stores or online.

I received a sample of this product from the company. I tried it, liked it and decided to review. I did not receive compensation.

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Exquisite suspense, anguished obsession and sleek blonde style in ‘Vertigo’

Vertigo/ 1958/Paramount Pictures /127 min.

Since I still have San Francisco on the brain, my next few reviews will highlight Fog City.

Kim Novak plays two parts, elegant Madeleine and brassy Judy.

On a cold morning several years ago, my colleague Joe bumped into me at Starbucks and said: “You look like Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’ in that suit,” referring to my fitted gray jacket and skirt. I’d twisted my hair into the best chignon I could manage pre-coffee using the three hairpins I was able to find on my cluttered bathroom shelf.

I was relieved to put off a shampoo for another day, but never thought my impromptu bun had the added effect of contributing to a Hitchcock-blonde vibe.

Alfred Hitchcock was always extremely fastidious about his leading ladies’ wardrobes and for 1958’s “Vertigo” he and costume designer Edith Head agreed that a gray suit would lend a particularly eerie air to Novak’s character, Madeleine Elster. Though stylish, sophisticated and perfectly appointed, Madeleine seems to be struggling to hold onto her sanity.

Her worried husband Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) taps an old acquaintance and former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) to keep an eye on her. Gavin tells Scottie that Madeleine is tormented by family ghosts and that he’s afraid she’ll commit suicide.

Like Madeline, Scottie is a little delicate too, having recently been treated for his fear of heights, brought on by a nasty bout of vertigo. So, he’s taking it easy and hanging out with his upbeat buddy Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Reluctant at first, Scottie accepts Gavin’s assignment and, over time, becomes obsessed with saving Madeline, then falls in love with her.

But alas, Scottie can’t provide foolproof protection against her demons because he hasn’t completely conquered his vertigo. After Madeleine takes a fatal tumble, Scottie is inconsolable, until he encounters a shop clerk named Judy Barton (also played by Novak).

Judy bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love, even if she’s less refined and has the wrong hair color. Scottie decides that’s where hair dye and haute couture come in and he sets his sights on transforming this new object of his affection into the spitting image of Madeleine. “It can’t mean that much to you,” Scottie growls at Judy when she balks at bleaching her hair. But the déjà vu does not go according to plan.

“Vertigo”’s surreal, sometimes unsettling exploration of two troubled minds bears Hitchcock’s distinctive stamps: intense but masked emotion, exquisite suspense, altered identity and disguises, and technical innovation – in this case, the use of forward zoom and reverse tracking to depict Scottie’s vertigo. Intense color and meticulous composition heighten our sense of Scottie’s anguish and frustration. Robert Burks, a longtime Hitchcock collaborator, was director of photography.

Though reviews were mixed upon its initial release (critics complained that the plot was far-fetched), “Vertigo” has since been acknowledged as a crowning cinematic achievement. In 2002, “Vertigo” landed the No. 2 spot on the Sight and Sound critics’ top 10 poll, second only to “Citizen Kane.”  Leonard Maltin calls it: “A genuinely great motion picture that demands multiple viewings.” [Read more…]

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‘Vertigo’ quick hit

Vertigo/ 1958/Paramount Pictures /127 min.

James Stewart as Scottie and Kim Novak as Madeleine/Judy are unforgettable in this Hitchcock classic, one of the all-time great noirs. Stewart is an ex-detective with a fear of heights and Novak plays two women – one, a damsel in distress and another who receives the ultimate makeover. Best of all for femmes fatales: Novak’s timeless, elegant wardrobe.

“Vertigo” bears Hitchcock’s distinctive stamps: intense but masked emotion, exquisite suspense, altered identity and disguises, and technical innovation. Intense color and meticulous composition heighten our sense of Scottie’s anguish and frustration. Robert Burks, a longtime Hitchcock collaborator, was director of photography.

Tremendous performances from Stewart, Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes as Scottie’s pal Midge.

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SF noir fest: Who’s driving whom nuts?

Hallucinations, imaginary family members, gold diggers and good girls, cheating spouses, murder, fake death certificates, freaks, fiends and assorted psychopaths … there was much to love over the weekend at Noir City 9, the ninth annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival. This year’s theme is “Who’s Crazy Now?” and the madness continues at the Castro Theatre through Jan. 30.

Addressing the sold-out crowd on Saturday night, fest founder and czar of noir Eddie Muller commented on the fact that this year’s lineup of films, all of which touch on insanity, featured more female protagonists than ever before.

“But there’s no hidden message there,” he said. “Men are driving them crazy. And the idea that noir is a man’s world? This festival disproves that.”

Good answer, Eddie. 😉

I spent a whirlwind weekend in SF, watching movies, eating, shopping and enjoying this pretty city. Here are some highlights from the trip.

The view from a balcony overlooking Union Square.


The Castro Theatre hosts Noir City 9.


The poster shows Marilyn in a red bustier, great to wear when baby-sitting, of course.


The festival crowd at the Castro on Saturday night.


Lobster cappuccino at Chez Spencer.


Christian Louboutin's retro red gingham in the window at Neiman Marcus.

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‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ a showcase for Monroe’s talent

Don’t Bother to Knock”/1952/Twentieth Century Fox/76 min.

Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe

For any fool who still questions Marilyn Monroe’s depth as an actress, “Don’t Bother To Knock” should be required viewing. In this 1952 film directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Daniel Taradash, Monroe stars with film noir icons Richard Widmark and Elisha Cook, Jr. and entirely holds her own.

She plays Nell Forbes, a vulnerable and mysterious young woman who might be dangerous. Well, if you look at the movie poster, she’s definitely dangerous, though the image (Marilyn wears a shiny bright-red bustier) is a bit misleading — Nell doesn’t wear anything quite that daring. Of course, no matter what she wears, she’s still uber sexy.

Anyway, Nell has recently moved to NYC, from Washington state, to make a fresh start after a long recovery from a broken heart (a pilot who died in World War Two). Her sole contact in the big city is her ever-nervous and slightly creepy uncle (Cook Jr.), an elevator operator at the McKinley Hotel. When a couple staying at the hotel needs a baby-sitter, Uncle Eddie taps Nell for the job. Lurene Tuttle and Jim Backus play the parents; Donna Corcoran is their daughter Bunny.

Once the little girl goes to bed, Nell kills time by trying on Mrs. Jones’ jewelry, perfume and a negligee. She also notices Jed Towers (Widmark) in a room across the courtyard. He’s a pilot in from Chicago trying to patch things up with ex-girlfriend Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft), a sultry and svelte singer who performs at the hotel lounge.

Nell and Jed flirt from afar and he eventually joins her in the Jones’ room, bearing a wicked smile and a bottle of rye. It slowly becomes clear that Nell needs more tonic than a handsome cocky stranger with hard liquor can provide. (Rats!) By leading Nell toward help, Jed reveals a side of himself that changes his relationship with Lyn.

Mirrors (and their suggestion of fractured reality) pop up frequently in film noir.

Though the plot’s quite simple, the film’s strong direction and writing as well as resonant performances from some of the finest actors of the era infuse it with tension that fairly crackles. Luminous, fragile, restless and alluring, Monroe brings an undercurrent of torment and confusion to this memorable role.

Widmark appeals as the insolent yet sympathetic suitor. And the supporting cast is marvelous; in addition to Backus and Tuttle, there’s Verna Felton and Don Beddoe (nosy hotel residents), Willis Bouchey (the hotel bartender), Corcoran as the cute kid, and of course Cook Jr. and Bancroft.

The story is based on the novel “Mischief” by best-selling suspense author Charlotte Armstrong; Taradash wrote the script a year before he won the Oscar for adapting “From Here to Eternity.” “Don’t Bother to Knock” also offers moments of wry humor, such as when Jed asks the bartender if he fights and argues with his wife. The bartender’s deadpan reply: “Some of the time she sleeps.”

If you are a Marilyn fan, you’ll love her even more after seeing this movie and you’ll have definitive proof of her sensitivity and subtlety as an artist from early in career, just in case you ever happen to be chatting with someone who is dismissive of her talent. In 1952, given the way she was marketed and managed, you could forgive an assessment based purely on her physical assets. Nearly 60 years later, however, so much has changed. 😉

Btw, I found a wonderful blog called Blonde & Red. Author Rosanna “loves vintage fashion, red lipstick and Marilyn Monroe” and each week runs Marilyn Mondays. Enjoy!

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‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ quick hit

Don’t Bother to Knock/1952/Twentieth Century Fox/76 min.

Great writing and a strong cast (Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Elisha Cook, Jr., Anne Bancroft) make 1952’s “Don’t Bother To Knock” by Roy Ward Baker a cinematic treasure, but one that is, sadly, often overlooked. Monroe plays a deranged baby-sitter who likes diamonds, perfume and negligees (ok, she’s clearly not completely bonkers) but can’t seem to put her past behind her.

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FNB is crazy for Noir City 9

Monroe and Widmark in "Don't Bother to Knock."

Happy Saturday and hello from San Francisco! It’s beautiful weather here and there’s much to see at Noir City 9, the terrific film festival put on by the Film Noir Foundation.

This year’s theme is “Who’s Crazy Now?” described by festival organizers as a lineup of 24 tales of madness, ranging from Oscar-winning performances by Ingrid Bergman (“Gaslight”) and Ronald Colman (“A Double Life”) to obscure rarities, all presented as originally intended, in glorious 35mm. The fest runs through Jan. 30.

Just returned from “Strangers in the Night” by Anthony Mann at the Castro Theatre and will be returning for tonight’s double feature, the little-known “They Won’t Believe Me” and “Don’t Bother to Knock,” the sexy thriller starring Marilyn Monroe.
Between movies, there are so many divine restaurants, I’m afraid I might lose my mind. 😉
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Christian Bale dazzles in the mesmerizing, surreal world of ‘The Machinist’

The Machinist/ 2004/ Paramount Classics, Filmax Entertainment/102 min.

Bale dropped 60 pounds for this part.

In honor of Christian Bale’s Golden Globe award for best supporting actor in “The Fighter” I thought it would be fun to run a review of a neo noir he starred in several years ago: Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” (“El Maquinista”) from 2004.

I first saw this film at the Chicago Film Festival. When my date left to grab some popcorn, an earnest, chatty guy sat on the empty chair on my left, and cheerfully announced: “I was just in the lobby and it was hotter than Hades in there.”

Hades? Really? Before I had a chance to answer he continued, “Would you like anything from the concession stand?” So basically he was asking me if I wanted anything from hell. Hmmm, very tempting. There were bound to be people I’d want him to say hello to. I thanked him but declined. Just then my date returned, the lights went dim and, as the chatty guy craned forward, his popcorn flew to the floor. “I’ll be right back,” he mumbled, the cheer drained from his voice. Guess he was destined to make that second trip to Hades.

The exchange was an apt intro to “The Machinist,” which is essentially a waking dream set in hell. As the movie’s tagline asks: “How do you wake up from a nightmare if you’re not asleep?”

Bale gives an amazing performance as machinist Trevor Reznik whose life is mysteriously falling apart. He lives in a spare, gloomy apartment, he hasn’t slept in a year, he rarely eats and, distracted and disoriented, can barely stumble through his daily routine.

Jennifer Jason Leigh

Trevor alienates his co-workers and has few friends, other than Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an earthy, matter-of fact prostitute. Stevie would like to toss her other clients and have a real relationship with Trevor but it’s easier said than done, given his delicate mental state.

Not sleeping means he has plenty of time on his hands and, to pass the nighttime hours, he often hangs out at an airport diner. When strange and skeletal Trevor breaks down and eats a slice of pie, it’s served to him by Maria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), a pretty waitress with a warm laugh who seems to enjoy chatting with him as he noshes. “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist,” says Maria. Stevie told him the exact same thing.

Then there’s an accident at the plant. A co-worker named Miller (Michael Ironside) loses his arm in a machine and the rest of the guys rightly blame Trevor for the mishap — he failed to keep his eyes on the machine’s controls. Trevor claims his attention was diverted by a stranger at the factory, a malevolently jolly giant named Ivan (John Sharian). Trevor assumes Ivan is a new worker; no one else saw him or knows anything about him.

But Ivan likes Trevor and continues to make special appearances just for him. As memories of his former normal life mingle with twisted visions of reality, other things in Trevor’s life also go awry. He finds a photo that proves one of his co-workers knew Ivan. Sticky notes with partially completed games of Hangman appear on Trevor’s refrigerator. On a date with Maria and her son Nicholas, the boy suffers from a seizure after Trevor takes him on a funhouse ride.

Trevor eventually loses his job, which leaves him even more time to figure out what started his spiral into confusion and fear, perhaps madness. He’s sure someone, ie Ivan, has hatched an evil plot to drive him over the edge. Desperately trying to catch Ivan and get to the bottom of the weirdness, Trevor jumps in front of a car; when he later finds out that the car is actually his own, it pushes him into a full-on state of paranoia, which leads him to turn on Stevie.

It is Ivan whom Trevor must confront, however, and his relentless pursuit ultimately leads him to a dark chapter of his own past that he has unsuccessfully tried to banish. By confronting Ivan, he is in fact confronting himself. Turns out, Trevor did something very bad that got the ball rolling. [Read more…]

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‘The Machinist’ quick hit

The Machinist/ 2004/ Paramount Classics, Filmax Entertainment/102 min.

The first thing you might notice about Christian Bale in this movie is that he’s a tad skinny. Well, more than a tad. That’s just the beginning of the weirdness by director Brad Anderson, but it’s brilliant weirdness in a story of a factory worker who seems to be terrorized by hellish nightmares, except that he’s an insomniac. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón and John Sharian keep him company through the long, creepy nights.

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Almost time to tweet about the Golden Globes

Setting up for the Golden Globes ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hilton on Wilshire Boulevard.

It’s a gorgeous day in LA, but for me a cozy spot on the sofa is the best vantage point for taking in the Golden Globes. Join me on Twitter as I scour the red carpet for nods to noir and retro charm. I think “Social Network” is a shoo-in for best pic, but I’m not so sure about other categories.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association presents the awards; the first ceremony was held in January 1944 at Twentieth Century Fox in LA.

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