Hard-edged ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ is a brutal beauty

Kiss Me Deadly/1955/United Artists/105 min.

If you fancy a sci-fi chaser with your classic noir, be sure to check out 1955’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” recently rereleased by Criterion.

Director/producer Robert Aldrich’s evocation of popular pulp writer Mickey Spillane’s apocalyptic novel (with a script from A.I. Bezzerides) has dazzled critics and influenced directors from the French New Wave to Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg. (Aldrich also directed the campy noirs “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” from 1962 and “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” 1964)

The story of ultra-macho Los Angeles gumshoe Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) smiting bad guys and spurning women as he wrestles with a whodunit is a tad misogynistic, but I’ll let that pass because this is a portrayal of a rough and violent, sometimes sadistic, world overall.

Besides, there is much to enjoy – the intense cinematography, for starters, from Ernest Laszlo, also the superb eye of 1950’s “D.O.A.” The film looks great and there are some unforgettable shots, from the arresting opening to the amazing finale. Laszlo creates a harsh, almost merciless, world. “Kiss Me Deadly” also features a fast-paced, hairpin-turn plot, a sexy score, sharp LA location shooting and excellent acting from the entire cast.

Actress Cloris Leachman (who later played the wacky neighbor Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore” show) makes her debut in the film as Christina Bailey, a hitchhiker who snags a late-night ride with Hammer. Christina has just escaped from an insane asylum, in the nude except for a trench coat. She says she was dumped at the asylum and really doesn’t belong there. Oh, that old line.

She gives Hammer vague answers to his questions and tells him to remember her. She’d be a bit hard to forget, actually. The two are run off the road, taken to a house where Christina is tortured and Hammer is punched out, then put back in Hammer’s car and pushed over a cliff. [Read more...]

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Quick hit: ‘Kiss Me Deadly’

Kiss Me Deadly/1955/United Artists/105 min.

An escapee from a mental institution (Cloris Leachman) snags a late-night ride from steely, surly private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), which sets him on the path of a bevy of bad guys and a mysterious leather case. Oh, and the advances of every woman he meets. An intense detective story with a sci-fi twist. From a Mickey Spillane novel; directed and produced by Robert Aldrich.

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Goodbye, powder blush … crème color hits the spot

Laura Mercier's creamy cheek colour is a must-have for your makeup bag.

For a sheer summer glow, I’m loving Crème Cheek Colour in Oleander, $22, by Laura Mercier.

This is a great product because it’s a breeze to apply, blends easily and it’s hard to put on too much – it’s just too lightweight. I don’t wear foundation so instead I daub this on the apples of my cheeks, forehead and neck to enhance whatever color I get from the sun. (I also use Mercier’s Secret Concealer, $22.)

Small and compact, this blush doesn’t require a brush. It won’t take up much space in a makeup bag, making it ideal for travel and handy to pop in a little evening bag. And it comes with a mirror so touch-ups are a snap.

I would definitely recommend trying the colors in person at a department store because, at least for me, Oleander shows up on the Mercier web site as a bright pink when in fact it’s much rosier.

Product Source: From my own collection; I did not receive product or compensation from Mercier.

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Dita Von Teese on costumes, haute couture, Carmen Miranda, ‘CSI’ and more

For nearly 20 years, Dita Von Teese has mesmerized audiences with her brand of burlesque – sexy and sophisticated, provocative and polished. And definitely laced with humor. I saw her perform at the Roxy the last time she was in Los Angeles and wanted to know more about her and how she puts the show together. Here is our chat via email.

Photo by Aaron Settipane/www.ayessemedia.com

FNB: Your show is terrific and your costumes are spectacular. In this current show, do you have a favorite number?
DVT: I was pretty excited to have the new Swarovski crystallized glass because it’s something I always dreamed of, and it makes doing my most-known show exciting for me again. But I also loved doing the powder compact, it’s a show I made over 15 years ago, so it was fun to do it again. The Opium Den is definitely my most extravagant overall, so it could be a favorite. …

It’s difficult to choose a favorite because I created each of these acts, and so there’s a lot of heart-felt effort time, and money put into each act, and so I perform then with great pleasure. It’s much different than an entertainer who steps onto the stage in a show of someone else’s design, choreography, etc. It’s a huge process to build these acts, and so by the time each one comes together, it’s nearly impossible to say I like one more than the other!

FNB: I’ve read that you do your own makeup. Do you design your costumes? If not, can you talk about where they come from?
DVT: I work very closely with the costumers, I have very definite ideas of what I want to wear and the function of the costume. I like to give some creative freedom to the costumer, but in the end I have to be very attentive to how it’s made and how it looks as each piece of clothing come off. …

Each time a piece drops to the floor, it has to be a new, beautiful look worthy of a photo. I have costumes designed by fellow burlesque performer Catherine D’Lish, and it’s great to work with her because she actually puts the costume on and can feel what’s right and really understands the functions of the costume. I have costumes designed by haute couturiers Elie Saab, Christian Dior and Mr. Pearl too, and they’re beautifully made, and each has a very different style.

Photo by Aaron Settipane

It’s a lot of fun to work with these designers because their tailoring and attention to detail is amazing. Elie Saab did three gowns for me, and one is a long sheer gown covered in silver embroidered stars and I remember asking for a piece of the fabric to make a g-string out of and they came out of the atelier in Paris with two things: a piece of fine tulle and a bag of tiny beads. I had no idea that each and every tiny bead on this incredible, sweeping gown had been hands sewn on. THAT is haute couture! I also work with Christian Louboutin for all my shoes for the shows, and we have fun in his atelier coming up with new extravagant ideas for show-shoes … he’s working on something now that is amazing!!

FNB: From what I’ve read, your Mom was a big fan of old movies and got you hooked as well. What are some of your favorite films from the 1940s?
DVT: I’m a big fan of WWII era Technicolor musicals with Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. These are my absolute favorites!

FNB: Any film-noir favorites?
DVT: I like ’40s era film noir, but I admit I am not a film noir expert as much as a Technicolor expert! I would love to have your recommendations!

FNB: I liked your role in the “CSI” episode, “A Kiss Before Frying.” Did you enjoy it and do you have any more plans to act in film noir-inspired projects?
DVT: Well, I have to admit that I did “CSI” because Eric Szmanda (who plays Greg) is a very close friend of mine, and we always jokingly talked about it, but you know, being a burlesque dancer, mainstream American TV seemed very out of reach for me. I was happy to have the experience, and really happy to bring a bit of authentic burlesque to a wider audience, especially in the wake of the commercialization and sanitization of burlesque that we see a lot of lately. …

I insisted that I take my bra off for the burlesque part of the story, because I’m tired of seeing burlesque portrayed as just retro-style dancing and singing, because it’s NOT. Gypsy Rose Lee, the most celebrated burlesque star of all time from the ’30s and ’40s, was a stripper, and wasn’t offended by the term at all. [Read more...]

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My quest for the perfect eyeliner: Part Four

Stiletto by Maybelline is a high-performance product.

Paris was a great chance to test a few products and Maybelline Stiletto Ultimate Precision liquid eyeliner, $7.50, was a fab find.

After lounging too long over coffee and pain au chocolat, I’d often be in a hurry to get ready and Stiletto was quick to apply. The thin felt tip is easy to control so you can create a soft feathery line or a thick dramatic band. The color is sheer, soft and stays put, without flakes or smears, even after a busy day of exploring the city.

Alas, the stilettos shown in this picture didn’t fare as well. Flats were my shoe of choice and the heels stayed parked outside my suitcase.

Product Source: I received a review sample from Maybelline. I did not receive compensation.

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Paris on the run: ‘Zazie dans le Metro’ is an exhilarating, frenetic adventure

Zazie dans le Metro/1960/NEF, Pathé/89 min.

Michael Wilmington

Criterion is rereleasing ‘Zazie’ and while it really isn’t noir I couldn’t resist running this review from critic Michael Wilmington. The heroine is a tough little girl, director Louis Malle was a skilled noir storyteller (“Elevator to the Gallows” from 1958) and I still have Paris on the brain.

An impish little girl named Zazie with pre-Beatle bangs, an unusually profane vocabulary and a seemingly endless sense of adventure travels to Paris on the train with her mother (Odette Piquet). Once they hit Paris, her maman departs with her lover and leaves Zazie – a 12-year-old French gamine (played by the delightfully brash Catherine Demongeot) – to spend the day with her obliging, free-spirited Uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret). Zazie, tiny but indomitable, has a startling lack of reliance on adults, and that’s probably all to the good, since, as a babysitter, Gabriel seems initially a big fat fish out of water.

Oncle Gabriel, in fact, is a drag entertainer at a local restaurant-cabaret, where his size and manner recall that classic description of Oliver Hardy: “elephant on tippy-toe.” And Zazie keeps calling her uncle a “hormosessual,” even though the tart-tongued Gabriel is married to a loving wife named Albertine (Carla Marlier), who has the sweetest of dispositions and the looks of a movie star. But apparently, a “hormosessual” he is.

With or without Gabriel, Zazie has one big wish for her Parisian trip: She wants to ride on the Paris Metro. But the metro is on strike, and the subway gates are locked, so Zazie has to be content, for a while, with zipping around town in a taxicab with Gabriel and an exuberant driver (Antoine Roblot), who cheerfully misidentifies landmarks (The Church of St. Vincent de Paul becomes the Pantheon) and keeps getting caught in the traffic jams that the metro strike has caused.

Soon, however, Zazie breaks away and spends the day racing through the City of Light, picking up all sorts of strange new friends and enemies. In the course of Zazie’s spree, she turns Paris into a huge playground and the Eiffel Tower, in one astonishing scene, into the ultimate jungle gym. At the end, we see what looks like the beginning of a café revolution (Malle was ever the gentleman leftist).

“Zazie dans le Metro” was the movie that made Noiret a star – beginning a brilliant half-century film career and striking a blow for all those great movie actors who don’t look like Alain Delon. The film didn’t make a star of Demongeot. She acted in only three more films, and one of them was a cameo as Zazie, for Jean-Luc Godard‘s “A Woman is a Woman.” But it gave her something more precious: It made her immortal. [Read more...]

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Scenes to share from Paris

Cafes and carousels, romance and rain, gorgeous food and breathtaking architecture, Paris is a city you never want to leave …

The soaring, stunning Eiffel Tower.

 

A church in the Marais.

 

The beauty of a balcony window.

 

Flowers soften the lines of a stone building.

 

We stumbled upon this superb restaurant in the Marais.

 

Heaven on earth: Guerlain's store on the Champs-Élysées.

 

A gallery and bookstore on a leafy side street.

 

Looking through the courtyard at the École des Beaux-arts.

 

So many places to eat!

 

A garden sculpture; everywhere you look, there's something splendid to see.

 

One of the many decorated doorways.

 

A regal resident of the 16th arrondisement.

 

Passing time in a cafe.

 

Stained glass at Notre Dame.

 

A residential building in Montmartre.

 

Anish Kapoor's monumental installation at the Grand Palais.

 

The Latin Quarter's Saint-Michel fountain is a popular meeting place for Parisians.

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Paris, ‘Pulp Fiction,’ the proper way to approach Tarantino

Pulp Fiction/1994/Miramax Films/154 min.

My upcoming trip to Paris (I leave tomorrow) triggered the memory of that great scene in “Pulp Fiction” where two hit men chat about a quarter-pounder with cheese (Royale with cheese) in Paris so I decided to run this review in honor of my trip. For the next two weeks, my posts will slow down a bit as I spend time with a lovely friend and soak in the atmosphere of this ravishingly beautiful city.

Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes film fest in 2008.

Several years ago, at the Cannes Film Fest, I saw Quentin Tarantino rushing down the Croisette but I froze and didn’t approach him to say how much I liked his work. (He was helming the jury that year.) As I stood there, regretting that I’d missed the chance, two English guys walked up and asked me if I was lost. I filled them in; they said I was quite right to have refrained.

But then two Italian men joined us and told me I was crazy not to have said hello. “Maybe he’ll show up at the Ritz,” one of them said, gesturing toward the hotel. “Why don’t we have a glass of champagne there and see if perhaps he arrives?”

As tempting as that sounded, I’d already agreed to meet people at the cheap and cheerful Le Petite Carlton, where the casual, sometimes-raucous crowd spreads out into the street, people bum Marlboros and Gitanes, beer is served in tacky plastic cups and a little kitchen churns out thin-crust pizza well into the early morning hours. Another missed opportunity! ;)

So if by some odd chance, on this trip, I happen to see Tarantino on the Champs Elysee or some charming Italian men invite me to cocktails at the Ritz, I’ll know what to do!

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction."

“Pulp Fiction” is a neo noir of audacious originality, comic brilliance and exquisite craftsmanship. It was one of the most important films of the 1990s. Like his previous film, 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” it’s a crime movie that deals with bad guys doing bad stuff – in “Dogs” it’s a robbery gone wrong. In “Pulp Fiction” we’re immersed in three separate but interwoven stories about two chatty hit men, a corrupt boxer who defies a mob boss, and a grunge version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Tarantino tells us the stories out of order, bookended by the scruffy lover bandits (Tim Roth as Pumpkin and Amanda Plummer as Honey Bunny) who hold up an LA coffee shop. Bruce Willis plays Butch the boxer who pulls a double-cross. John Travolta made a stunning comeback as sexy smart-ass Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson dazzles as Jules Winnfield, an armchair philosopher packing heat.

As Vincent and Jules discuss fast food, foot massages and Fate, Vincent is assigned an extra job from brawny bossman Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames): to take Mrs. Wallace (Uma Thurman) aka Mia out on the town. A headturner with jet-black hair, Louise Brooks bangs, wide blue eyes and long legs, Mia gets what Mia wants. Topping the list are milkshakes, drugs and dancing. Make that dancing with Travolta, mmm.

There is much to love about this film, particularly the highly original characters and crackling dialogue, which includes one-liners, retro slang, debates over points of logic and lengthy tangents of trivia. The dialogue seems to emerge organically from the characters and random chitchat punctuates major dramatic moments.

Actors talk with their back to the camera and sometimes put the imminent action on hold so they can wind up their conversation. Even though Pumpkin and Honey Bunny probably get the least amount of screen time, through their dialogue, we see several layers of their partnership, both tough and tender. [Read more...]

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Quick hit: ‘Pulp Fiction’

Pulp Fiction/1994/Miramax Films/154 min.

One of the great loves of my life is Quentin Tarantino’s imagination and the bizarre people dwelling there. In “Pulp Fiction,” we meet a pair of hit men with a gift for gab, a boxer who refuses to throw a fight, and two adorable armed robbers named Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis star. Tarantino and partner Roger Avary won the Oscar for best original screenplay.

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My quest for the perfect eyeliner: Part Three

I realize I’ve been remiss in my eyeliner updates. There have been so many noir movie events in April and May, I have, alas, fallen behind. But I have squirreling away tubes and sampling them when I can.

L’Oréal’s Voluminous Eyeliner has a slanted applicator.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with Voluminous Eyeliner Mistake-Proof Marker by L’Oréal, $7. The felt tip is slanted so you can choose a thin line (use the pointed tip) or a thick line (use the slanted side).

Once you get it on, it does stay put and wears well; it also removes easily. But mistake proof? Not so much. Though the company says the flow of liquid is controlled and continuous, the tip itself doesn’t give you much juice so, in terms of ease of use, I was a little disappointed.

The key, I found, is a light touch. Because it’s a marker I was tending to hold the tube with the same strong grip that I would hold a Sharpie. That is not the way to apply – instead, easy does it! Voluminous is pretty good for a soft line, especially along lower lashes. Only $7, it’s worth a try, especially if you want to go a bit lighter for summer.

Product Source: From my own collection; I did not receive product or compensation from L’Oréal.

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