Archives for August 2011

Putting on the spritz: Givenchy, Ford, Kurkdjian, Saab

Mariacarla Boscono is the face of Dahlia Noir.

This fall, there’s much to covet at perfume counters.

My No. 1 choice: Givenchy’s Dahlia Noir. The first fragrance developed under creative director Riccardo Tisci, this floral chypre scent, in a decidedly unfussy bottle, is based on rose, iris and mimosa with woody facets such as sandalwood, patchouli and tonka bean. The 1.7 ounce eau de parfum is $90.

Says Givenchy: “Dahlia Noir embodies a mysterious and atypical woman.”

Full-on floral: Tom Ford’s Violet Blonde is “a new scent for a new era of feminine glamour” as represented by model Lara Stone. Compositional elements include violet, of course, along with pink pepper, mandarin, iris, jasmine, musk, cedar and vetiver. VB is $100 for 1.7 ounces of eau de parfum; available exclusively at Saks. Through Sept. 18 or while supplies last, online customers will receive a Violet Blonde eau de parfum mini with any Tom Ford purchase.

Sexy strength: The new fragrance from Francis Kurkdjian, Aqua Universalis forte, combines bergamot, Sicilian citron, white flowers, Egyptian jasmin, Moroccan roses and light wood notes. It’s citrusy and fresh, regal and sophisticated. $155 for 2.4 ounces of eau de toilette.

Elegance inside and out: Kurkdjian was also the creative force behind Elie Saab’s first fragrance, which has notes of orange blossom, jasmine, patchouli, rose and cedar. I love the bottle, designed by Sylvie de France; $90 for 1.6 ounces of eau de parfum. The ad campaign features Anja Rubik.

I did not receive product or compensation for this post.

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On the radar: Books, a blogathon and a bash; Billy Wilder, Bono and Bogart

Must-read material: The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox by Nina Burleigh. Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were convicted of murdering Meredith Kercher, a British student who died on Nov. 1, 2007 in Perugia, Italy. They are appealing their convictions. As Burleigh told Elle magazine: “She was investigated, arrested and convicted as part of a massive multicultural misunderstanding, abetted by her own quirky personality. … Your identity as a young, attractive woman does not belong to you.”

Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland invented the concept of a fashion editor, putting her indelible stamp on Harper’s Bazaar from 1936 to 1962 and Vogue, where she became editor-in-chief, from 1962 to 1971. In the September issue of Harper’s, Lisa Immordino Vreeland conjures a portrait of the famous sartorial icon. When Carmel Snow offered her the Harper’s job, Diana Vreeland replied, “But Miss Snow, except for my little lingerie shop in London, I’ve never worked. I’ve never been in an office in my life. I’ve never dressed until lunch.”

Lauren Bacall

Immordino Vreeland’s book, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel will be published on Oct. 1. (I hope the copy editor for the book was better than the one at Harper’s; there were two glaring errors in that piece.) It was during Vreeland’s tenure at Harper’s that Lauren Bacall’s career was launched after appearing on the cover, shot by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, in March 1943.

Happy birthday, Mr. Ray: In honor of director Nicholas Ray, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 7, Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder is running a Nicholas Ray Blogathon Sept. 5-8. Ray directed many noirs (“They Live By Night,” “Knock on Any Door,” “A Woman’s Secret,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Born to be Bad,” “On Dangerous Ground,” “Bigger Than Life”). I look forward to submitting my piece and reading other contributors’ work.

Go on, it’s good for the economy: FNO returns on Sept. 8! Fashion’s Night Out is a global initiative created in 2009 as a partnership between American Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, NYC & Company, and the City of New York to celebrate fashion, restore consumer confidence, boost the industry’s economy, and put the fun back in shopping. Find out what’s going on in your city and check out the merch.

With love from USPS: Billy Wilder gets his own stamp starting next year. Wilder won Academy Awards for directing “The Lost Weekend” and “The Apartment.”

Other Wilder favorites include: “Some Like It Hot,” “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Irma la Douce,” “Sabrina” and “The Seven Year Itch.” Part of a four-stamp Great Film Directors series, Frank Capra, John Ford and John Huston will also be honored.

Doc takes center stage: The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 8-18. The opening night film is “From the Sky Down,” Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about Irish band U2. It’s the first time in 36 years that the festival will open with a documentary.

Bogey as Spade and Marlowe: The American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica is showing on Sept. 8: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston) and “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Double crossing, dubious motives and dry wit abound.

Diana Vreeland photo by Horst P. Horst

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‘Brighton Rock’ is eye candy with an entertaining cast

Brighton Rock/2010/IFC Films/111 min.

“Brighton Rock” opens with a shot of oil-black ocean waves. Like the moonlit water, the film is beautiful but turgid and at times untamed in the hands of first-time feature film director Rowan Joffe.

Based on a Graham Greene novel, it’s a classic crime story first made into a movie in 1947 with a script by Greene and Terence Rattigan. This time around, Joffe, a scribe whose credits include “The American” and “28 Weeks Later” wrote the screenplay, changing the setting from the 1930s to 1964.

Helen Mirren and John Hurt

Young, ruthless and 100 percent pure psychopath, Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) has risen to the top ranks of a gang in Brighton, a seaside resort town (the title is a reference to the souvenir sticks of hard candy sold there). Avenging a betrayal to his gang, Pinkie sets out to kill a man named Fred Hale (Sean Harris), who happens to be friendly with a working-class grande dame, Ida Arnold (Helen Mirren).

Knowing his life is in danger, Hale parries along the pier, looking for a way to escape, and gloms onto a stranger – a shy, frumpy teenage waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough). But this just delays the inevitable and soon Hale is dead at Pinkie’s hands. The last person to be seen with Hale, however, is Frank Spicer (Philip Davis), a booze-weary senior member of Pinkie’s gang. And, by chance, Hale, Spicer and Rose are captured by a touristy photographer; Rose gets the claim ticket for the photo.

Though Pinkie’s overarching objective is to join forces with a rival gang led by Colleoni (Andy Serkis), his immediate priority is to nab that claim ticket and seduce Rose in order to keep her quiet. While it’s easy to keep Rose under his thumb, keeping the feisty Ida from investigating Hale’s death proves to be a spot of bother. As the moral driver of the story, Ida stands in contrast with the young couple who ironically cling to their identities as Roman Catholics.

Joffe’s film is gorgeous to look at – stunning cinematography by John Mathieson matched with superb art direction by Paul Ghiradani and Kellie Waugh, especially the slightly surreal scenes at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. And for the first two acts, Joffe creates a darkly moody atmosphere and balances the storylines deftly.

But as the plot progresses, Pinkie’s dealings with Colleoni essentially dissolve as the focus shifts entirely to Pinkie, Rose and Ida. The strange couple seems an awkward transplant to the ’60s – how does the time change serve the storytelling? [Read more…]

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In ‘Human Desire,’ Gloria Grahame as a devious temptress gives us raw sexuality, a glimpse of tragedy

Human Desire/1954/Columbia/Sony/91 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame was a film noir doll and movie moll of the first rank – and in Fritz Lang’s 1954 “Human Desire,” she gave one of her most fetchingly sultry, and powerful, performances. As a tricky, trapped, unfaithful but resourceful railroad wife named Vicki, she seduces the camera, the audience and her co-stars (one in real life), in one of the two noir classics she made with Glenn Ford for noir master and reputed on-set tyrant, Fritz Lang.

1952’s “The Big Heat,” that great scalding saga of gangsterism and revenge, is the more famous Lang-Ford-Grahame collaboration, and rightly so. But “Human Desire” is a moody little classic as well, one of Lang’s last American films, and among the most complex and chilling roles ever for Grahame and Ford – who spiced up the movie this time with an offstage affair.

“Human Desire” is one of two Lang American remakes of French film classics directed by Lang‘s great colleague Jean Renoir, a generous-hearted, humanistic Frenchman who seems at first, the temperamental opposite of the icy-eyed Lang. But Lang’s 1945 noir masterpiece “Scarlet Street” was derived from Renoir’s 1931 “La Chienne,” and “Human Desire” is a remake (and a softening) of Renoir’s great dark, violent crime drama/romance “La Bête Humaine” (1938), a noir precursor adapted from the classic 19th century novel by Émile Zola.

Jean Gabin and Simone Simon in “La Bête Humaine”

“La Bete Humaine” and “Human Desire” are both set mostly in grim gray railroad yards, the shadowy surrounding cities and on the trains – and both Renoir and Lang get great mileage out of the hypnotic scenes they both shot of speeding trains, landscapes rushing past and train tracks merging and diverging inexorably below, echoing the characters’ headlong plunge into madness.

Ford, like “La Bete Humaine’s” Jean Gabin, plays an all-too-human train engineer: in Ford’s case, returning Korean War vet Jeff Warren, a good guy tormented by illicit, adulterous desire. (Gabin’s fireman and train sidekick was the ebullient Julien Carette, the imp of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game.” Ford’s is crusty old westerner Edgar Buchanan.)

The desire of course, is for Grahame’s provocative, minx-eyed blonde Vicki, the persecuted wife of brutal, alcoholic, insanely jealous yard boss Carl Buckley, played by Broderick Crawford five years after his “All the King’s Men” best actor Oscar. (Another great French actor, Fernand Ledoux, played the equivalent part for Renoir.) And, as Vicki, Grahame touches many noir bases: tempting cutie-pie, disturbed and abused wife, haunted adulteress, lady in distress, and classic scheming femme fatale (a note she didn’t strike in “The Big Heat,” when she played coffee-scorched Debby, Lee Marvin’s tragic moll.)

Ford was a great brooder, as was “Bete Humaine’s” Gabin. And, when Jeff broods over Vicki, as she pulls him into her sexual web, the whole screen heats up and then darkens and goes cold. The original “Bete Humaine” adulteress was the legendary French sex kitten Simone Simon (in a role that made her an international star and eventually brought her to America for “Cat People”).

Grahame is scarier and deeper and more human (and desirable) than Simon – mostly because, in the beginning, we like Vicki. We sympathize with her, feel sorry for her because of her violent mistreatment by the obviously pathological Carl, whose jealousy drives him to murder and drink, and puts him on a collision course with Ford’s glowering, love-drunk Jeff. [Read more…]

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‘Scarface,’ now almost 30, gears up for Blu-ray release

Al Pacino does his best to rock a Keith Richards vibe at the event.

Stars Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham and producer Martin Bregman celebrated on Tuesday the upcoming Blu-ray release of “Scarface” at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles with a cast reunion, Q&A and party. The 1983 film, directed Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone, releases on Blu-ray on Sept. 6.

The evening also included a special performance by Ludacris, cuisine by Border Grill chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, as well as a special “Scarface”-themed Ciroc lounge.

The limited edition Blu-ray comes with a digital copy of the film and a DVD of the original 1932 “Scarface,” directed by Howard Hawks and starring Paul Muni. There are also many special features including a documentary, deleted scenes and background/making-of info.

You can see footage of Tuesday’s event here. The Q&A is available on Livestream for the next week here. And for details on the fan artwork contest using classic Tony Montana images, visit the Facebook page.

Al Pacino image from GettyImages for Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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‘Recipe For Murder’ tells true story of Australian lethal ladies

From left: Aimee Horne, Anne Looby and Betty Tougher portray the real-life killers.

Sydney, Australia’s inner suburbs in the early 1950s seem an unlikely setting for a slew of cold-blooded murders. But many families were plagued by poverty, poor housing conditions and an epidemic of rats (there are stories of parents sleeping with their children to protect them from being bitten during the night). And, for several women, apparently unhinged or at the end of their ropes, eliminating a tiresome man or two topped their to-do lists, along with cooking, cleaning and killing rats of the rodent variety.

Thallium – the active ingredient in rat poison – was the perfect murder weapon. It had no color, taste or smell and it produced a gradual demise rather than sudden death. Police estimate that hundreds of people died from thallium poisoning in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Banned in the rest of the Australia and most of the developed world, thallium was freely available in Sydney.

Writer/director Sonia Bible

“Recipe For Murder,” a film by first-time writer/director Sonia Bible, tells the true story of three notorious poisoners: Yvonne Fletcher, Caroline Grills and Veronica Monty.

Yvonne Fletcher, 29, a blonde good-time girl, was accused of killing two husbands. Next to be charged was Caroline Grills, 63. She was accused of being a serial killer after four members of her family died in suspicious circumstances.

The most scandalous and sensational case was Veronica Monty. The 45-year-old was charged with attempted murder of her son-in-law, Bobby Lulham, a famous Australian Rugby league player, with whom she had an affair.

“Recipe For Murder” follows the detectives cracking the cases, the media and the women standing trial. The film combines archival footage, film-noir re-enactments, interviews with witnesses, a musical score from “Animal Kingdom” composer Antony Partos and narration by Dan Wyllie. There are no plans for a theatrical release, but you can buy the film here.

I recently chatted with Sonia via email.

Film Noir Blonde: It’s such a fascinating but little-known story. I understand you became aware of it in 2003 at an exhibition in Sydney called “Crimes of Passion.” What was it that drew you to these murders?
Sonia Bible: The story of the thallium murders was a piece of history that I didn’t know about, and it was also a period that I was fascinated with visually. With three real-life femme fatales, film noir was the perfect fit for the stylized re-enactments.

Anne Looby as Veronica Monty and James Anderson as her son-in-law Bobby Lulham, a famous Rugby player.

FNB: At what point did you decide to make a film and profile the three women?
SB: Yvonne Fletcher, Caroline Grills and Veronica Monty were the three most notorious women of all those charged with murder by thallium. Their stories also intersected in interesting ways at different points in time.

FNB: Thallium poison, though it caused a painful death, was a silent, surreptitious killer. Was there something about that approach that you think appealed to women?
SB: The use of poison is traditionally a woman’s crime. It’s been around for a long time and is more often used by women. Men tend to use their fists or weapons to commit violence against others.

FNB: At the same time, thallium’s “advantages” may have held equal appeal for men, correct?
SB: No. Men used thallium in Sydney at the time to poison others or themselves, but women committed the majority of thallium poisoning cases. Women didn’t have any other means to control their circumstances at the time. Also the control of rats was considered a domestic duty to be carried out by women. Women had more understanding of the poison and ready access to it.

Grant Garland and Matthew Dale play the cops.

FNB: Toward the end of the film, we learn that the police investigators working on these cases (Don Fergusson and Fred Krahe) turned out to be corrupt. Do you think they may have targeted women perpetrators as a way of making an example of them or even to advance their own careers?
SB: No. Although Krahe and Fergusson went on to be corrupt, their investigations into the thallium murders were thorough and professional. Yvonne Fletcher was the first person to be charged with murder by thallium and it wasn’t because she was a woman. It was because she murdered two husbands in a very cruel way. Nobody even knew that thallium was dangerous to humans until Krahe and Fergusson cracked that case.

Matthew Dale, Aimee Horne and Grant Garland

FNB: What was your biggest obstacle or challenge in making the film?
SB: The biggest challenge in making the film was the production budget. We were doing period drama on a documentary budget, and always looking for creative solutions and innovative ways of getting around the budget constraints.

FNB: What kind of reception have you had from the film, both at home and elsewhere?
SB: “Recipe For Murder” achieved really high ratings when it screened on TV in Australia. It also got rave reviews in the Australian media leading up to the screening. The film won a Silver Hugo award at Chicago International Film Festival 2011 as well. We were all thrilled with the enthusiastic response.

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Official trailer for ‘Texas Killing Fields’ now on YouTube

Inspired by true events, Texas Killing Fields” follows Detective Souder (Sam Worthington), a homicide detective in a small Texas town, and his partner, transplanted New York City cop Detective Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as they track a sadistic serial killer dumping his victims’ mutilated bodies in a nearby marsh locals call “The Killing Fields.”

Before long, the killer changes the game and begins hunting the detectives, teasing them with possible clues at the crime scenes. When a local girl Anne (Chloë Grace Moretz) goes missing, the detectives find themselves racing against time to catch the killer and save the girl’s life.

Directed by Ami Canaan Mann, produced by Michael Mann and Michael Jaffe, “Texas Killing Fields” also stars Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life,” “The Help”), Jason Clarke (“Public Enemies”) and Stephen Graham (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”).

The movie opens Oct. 14.

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My quest for the perfect eyeliner: Part Six

Dior Style Liner is long lasting.

“Take a cue from the femmes fatales of the red carpet and play the card of pure seduction,” says the ad copy for Dior’s Style Liner Intense Liquid Eyeliner, $33.

OK, I’ll bite. It’s hard-core research for my job, no? Happily I was not disappointed. The product is easy to apply, dries quickly and leaves you with a supple line that lasts for several hours.

As promised, Style Liner is an intense black so use sparingly for daytime – just a bit of liner will likely be enough. (When you pull the brush from the tube, the brush is fully loaded and you probably won’t need all that.) I’m a bit puzzled as to why it doesn’t come in at least one other color. From time to time, I like to spice up my playing cards with a rich cobalt or forest green.

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

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Noir images dominate Los Angeles photo show

“I Love L.A.,” featuring 50 works from 42 photographers, opened Saturday at the Duncan Miller Gallery, 10959 Venice Blvd., in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, there were many captivating noir images. The show runs through Sept. 17. To see more photos online, visit the “I Love L.A.” Photography Exhibition Facebook page.

Santa Monica Pier Parking Lot, 2004, Patricia Williams


Polyamorous Love, 2008, by Michael Grecco


Gallery owner Daniel Miller (far right) mingles on Saturday night.


Guests voted for their top three photos.


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One of Fritz Lang’s finest films, ‘The Big Heat’ is a lean, gripping suspense story

Fritz Lang

The Big Heat/1953/Columbia Pictures/89 min.

“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.

Barflys don’t get much sympathy in the fictional city of Kenport, an upstanding community full of white-picket fences and happy homemakers that also harbors a flourishing criminal empire and rampant police corruption.

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford star in “The Big Heat.”

Wilks is talking to an upright cop, Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (easy on the eyes Glenn Ford), about the torture and murder of Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green). Lucy was the girlfriend of police sergeant Tom Duncan, also dead; his suicide is the film’s opening scene.

Tom’s widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) is not what you’d call crushed at her husband’s demise and she’s martini-dry as she answers questions from Bannion. Bertha claims her husband was ill, hence the suicide. Bannion got a rather different story from Lucy Chapman.

Unlike Tom Duncan, Bannion seems to have a perfect wife, the golden-haired Katie (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon’s sister), and a cute little daughter, named Joyce. As Mr. and Mrs. Bannion share smokes, sips of drinks and steaks, they banter easily and make each other laugh.

In addition to questioning barflies and ungrieving widows, Bannion noses into the business of an oily mobster named Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby), a vicious operator whose right-hand man is the lithe and snarling Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).

The incomparable Gloria Grahame plays Debby Marsh, Stone’s inamorata. Debby spends most of her time shopping, drinking and looking at herself in the mirror. What’s not to like? As she tells Bannion: “I’ve had it rich and I’ve had it poor. Believe me, rich is better.”

(In, 1954, Ford and Grahame starred in another Lang noir, “Human Desire,” a film version of Émile Zola’s novel “La Bête Humaine”/“The Human Beast.”)

Grahame and Ford have sizzling chemistry.

Shortly after the exchange in Lagana’s living room, a car bomb meant for Bannion kills the lovely Katie. Bannion doesn’t take much time to mourn; instead, with eyes glazed, he’s hellbent on proving the link between the police and Lagana’s mob. Suspended from the force, he seeks vengeance on his own, setting the pace for ’70s vigilante cops such as Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry. As Bannion obsesses over hate and revenge, in a chilling transformation of character, he becomes the moral equivalent of the gangsters he despises.

Known for stark, intense visuals, here director Lang contrasts gloomy, barlike shadows that bind the characters to their destiny with shocks of scouring white light suggesting revelation. Lang was also known for being difficult with cast and crew, but Ford for one never saw Lang’s tyrannical side.

In “Glenn Ford: A Life” by Peter Ford, the famed actor describes his experience: “Fritz Lang came out of the old German studio system, where the director was like a dictator, barking commands and making people jump. He had a pretty nasty reputation in some quarters. There were people in Hollywood who had worked with him who hated his guts, especially some of the crew guys down the line. I mean, there were stories of people throwing lights at him and threatening to kill him for the way he treated them.

“So I head into this picture wondering how bad it’s going to be. And then Fritz and I met and had a couple of cocktails, and he couldn’t have been sweeter. He treated me with great respect. A wonderful friend, and I learned so much from him. We’re talking about one of the real geniuses of the movie business.”

Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin: a couple with, um, a problem or two.

“The Big Heat” drew inspiration from real-life events a few years before the film was made. When the U.S. Senate set up the Kefauver Committee to probe organized crime, televised hearings brought the Mafia into the consciousness of the American public. Sydney Boehm wrote the script from a serial by William P. McGivern in the Saturday Evening Post.

And of course, any time crime’s on the rise, you know loose women are involved, which brings me to the pièce de résistance: Grahame as Debby. Though she doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, she’s funny and fresh, and brims over with sexpot charm – striking the perfect balance between waifish, wide-eyed vulnerability and pleasure-seeking sophistication.

Once Debby realizes the depth of Vince’s depravity – burning a young woman’s hand with his cigarette is small potatoes to this guy – she switches her loyalty to the righteous but rigid Bannion. And when Vince learns of her betrayal, she gets burned, literally, with a pot of boiling coffee. We hear, but don’t see, Debby’s wounded reaction in one of the most famous moments in the movies.

With her looks gone, Debby tells Bannion everything she knows and commits the murder that will bring down the syndicate. Oh, and throwing coffee? Two can play at that game. I’d like to see a Starbucks barrista do better.

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