Archives for December 2011

Greet 2012 with a glass from the past

Looking to add retro flair to your New Year’s Eve entertaining? Here are a few ideas to keep your bartender busy.

The LA Fizzy Blonde has a nice kick, sans alcohol.

The LA Fizzy Blonde
8 ounces ginger ale (don’t use diet)
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Mix soda and juice. Add ice and lime slice to garnish.
From FNB’s own fridge


The Biltmore’s Black Dahlia cocktail is $14.

The Biltmore’s Black Dahlia
This concoction is named after the mysterious Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia, who was allegedly seen at the Biltmore Hotel on the evening of Jan. 9, 1947. She disappeared that night and her mutilated body was found several days later.
3 ½ ounces Grey Goose Le Citron vodka
¾ ounce Chambord black raspberry liqueur
¾ ounce Kahlua
Shake ingredients in a shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest.
From the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and

The Hummingbird: perfection in a glass.

The St.-Germain Hummingbird
2 parts brut champagne or dry sparkling wine
1 ½ parts St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
2 parts club soda
Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely. Think of Paris circa 1947. Garnish with a lemon twist.
From St.-Germain

The classic Pink Lady cocktail has a mere three ingredients.

The Pink Lady
1 ½ ounces gin
2-4 dashes of grenadine
White of one egg
Shake well with cracked ice; strain into cocktail glass
From various sources; variations call for the addition of the juice of half a lemon, ½ ounce cream, ¾ ounce applejack and Maraschino cherry as garnish. Photo from

This retro manual is available at LA’s Dragon Books.

The Ward 8
Juice of one lemon
½ jigger of grenadine
1 jigger of Fleischmann’s Preferred gin
Shake well with cracked ice. Strain into 8 ounce glass. Decorate with slice of orange and Maraschino cherry
From Fleischmann’s Mixer’s Manual, 1948

The French Breeze is from 1961.

The French Breeze
2 ounces Calvados
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 dashes orange-flower water
¼ teaspoon fine granulated sugar
Chilled Champagne
Pour Calvados and juice into a cocktail shaker one-third full of cracked ice. Add orange-flower water and sugar. Shake the drink well and pour it into a chilled 12-ounce highball glass. Fill the glass with chilled Champagne and stir lightly to blend.
From Gourmet July 1961; posted this month by Brie Schwartz for Gourmet Live

Eureka Lake poster

The Manhattan
2 ounces rye or Canadian whisky
½ ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry to garnish
Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, stir well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add cherry.

Choose your Fireman’s Brew by hair color.

If you’d rather keep the drinks list simple, try a pretty pale, such as Fireman’s Brew Blonde Beer, a Pilsner lager brewed and bottled in Southern California. The guys also make Fireman’s Brewnette and Redhead Ale.

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Does ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ need Noomi Rapace to survive?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/2011/Columbia Pictures/158 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Noomi Rapace

When it comes to playing dark heroines with burning eyes, black jackets, multiple piercings and deadly temperaments, Rooney Mara is alas no Noomi Rapace. But the American actress (Rooney), who put down Jesse Eisenberg so effectively in “The Social Network,” proves surprisingly adept at putting down (and messing up) chauvinists and uncovering serial killers in Noomi’s old role of hacker/heroine Lisbeth Salander, in David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish sensation, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

It’s a very effective Hollywood movie as well, even if it’s one that, at least for “Dragon Tattoo” veterans, has few surprises. That’s because director Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Zodiac,” “Se7en”) and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) stay remarkably faithful to the original novels and the three hit Swedish movies made from the books.

Lisbeth of course is the astonishingly anti-social but utterly compelling heroine of the late Swedish journalist/novelist Stieg Larsson’s worldwide best-sellers: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

Those novels, all published posthumously, follow the investigations of fictional journalist Mikael Blomkvist (a character many feel was modeled on Larsson) into the mysterious disappearance, 40 years earlier, of Harriet Vanger, beloved great-niece of Mikael’s employer, Henrik Vanger. The elite Vanger clan has many skeletons rattling around in their mansion closets.

In turn, Mikael (played in the original Swedish films by Michael Nyqvist and by Daniel Craig in Fincher’s film) hires the unorthodox Lisbeth as his researcher because of her incredible Internet skills. Soon the two are swimming in a whirlpool of family secrets, scandal and dread – a multi-plotted terror trap that Larsson kept up though all three of the novels.

Some critics have complained that Fincher and Zaillian haven’t changed the story enough. But it should be obvious by now that the vast audience for these stories doesn’t want them changed.

Hewing to the original as much as possible: That was super-producer David O. Selznick’s rule on adapting beloved best-sellers and classics to the screen, from “David Copperfield” to “Gone with the Wind” to “Rebecca.” And Selznick was usually right.

The more important things about the new “Dragon Tattoo” are that it’s been smartly and deftly adapted, extremely well cast, and beautifully and excitingly filmed. The movie has serious themes, a strong social/political dimension and engaging characters as well as an intricately assembled and finely crafted story that’s also pulpily lurid. Overall, it’s the sort of intelligent entertainment we don’t usually get from blockbusters.

Adding greatly to that intelligence, and to the entertainment value, is the new film’s excellent cast. In addition to Mara and Craig, there’s Robin Wright as Mikael’s editor-lover Erika (the original’s Lena Endre role), Christopher Plummer as Mikael’s employer, Henrik Vanger; the always-superb Stellan Skarsgard as genial Martin Vanger; Joely Richardson and Geraldine James as Vanger family members Anita and Cecilia; Steven Berkoff as the dour family attorney Dirch Frode; and Yorick Van Wageningen as Bjurman, Lisbeth’s amoral nemesis and subject of the trilogy’s most shocking and notorious scenes: the rape and anti-rape.

Why do murder mysteries and detective yarns, film noirs and neo noirs, still captivate audiences, usually the smarter audiences, so intensely? Perhaps it’s because the best of these stories imply that the world, in all its mysterious tangles, can be fathomed – that justice, in all its vagaries, is not as fragile as it sometimes seems, that life’s chaos and horrors can be straightened out or at least understood.

That’s the appeal of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in all its forms: as addictive novels, as arty foreign films and now as a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a movie that doesn’t really need Noomi to survive, though it’s nice to know that she’s still around. And that Lisbeth still has her tattoo.

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Film noir feline stars: The cat in ‘Bell, Book and Candle’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “Bell, Book and Candle” 1958

Name: Cy A. Meese

Character Name: Pyewacket

Kim Novak catches James Stewart with help from her cherished pet.

Bio: Kim Novak and James Stewart starred in two movies together in 1958. One was the classic Hitchcock neo noir “Vertigo.” The other, now lesser known, was the lighter-toned “Bell, Book and Candle” by director Richard Quine, based on the hit Broadway romantic comedy by John Van Druten. In the film, Novak plays Gillian Holroyd, a stylish New Yorker and successful store owner with a knack for witchcraft.

But, despite her busy schedule and relentlessly chic wardrobe, Gillian is tired of spending her nights, especially Christmas Eve, talking shop at the campy Zodiac nightclub in the Village with her fellow sorcerers (witch Elsa Lanchester and warlock Jack Lemmon). You know, eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog. Blah, blah, blah.

Gillian much prefers the company of her lovely cat Pyewacket (Cy A. Meese) and flirting with her tall, gray and handsome neighbor Shepherd Henderson (Stewart). After Gillian learns that Shep is engaged to her rival (Janice Rule), she calls on her blue-eyed, gray-furred companion for help in turning the romantic tables.

As the witch’s “familiar,” the role of Pyewacket is pivotal to the film and surely one of the most significant feline roles in Hollywood history. Not only is Gillian’s beloved Pye the agent for casting a spell on Shep, this stunning and eminently self-assured kitty manages to reunite the lovers after they hit a few bumps on the road to bewitchment.

The real-life puss who played Pyewacket later became a Manhattan legend. A life-long New Yorker from a prominent family, Cy was a classically trained actor and had worked steadily in theater before trying his paw at movies. Still, despite his success on stage and screen, Cy’s first love was reading and in 1960 he left acting to open a shop on Greenwich Avenue named “Book, Bell and Candle.”

Besides his excellent taste in titles, he was known for his uncommonly cushy sofas and for encouraging customers to nap in between browsing the aisles. (Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and John Cheever were regular snoozers.) In 1968, Cy opened a second location on London’s Cheshire Street and divided his time between the cities until he died peacefully in his sleep in 1982.

Need a bigger Jimmy Stewart fix? Don’t forget the Christmas Eve classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which offers a healthy dose of noir amid the heartwarming joy.

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My quest for the perfect eyeliner: Part Eight

Make an entrance with Lasting Drama eyeliner.

OK, I’ll just say it. I like a little drama, especially around my eyes, especially for holiday parties. Maybelline Lasting Drama by EyeStudio gel eyeliner, $10 for a pot of bold color and a brush, is a fun way to amplify your look without spending a lot. Billed as waterproof and smudgeproof, I do admire its staying power. The liner comes off easily with eye makeup remover.

Though called a gel, the color seems to me more of a thick cream. Use the color sparingly, a little at a time. It’s a snap to apply to the lower lash line; on top takes a bit more practice.

Lasting Drama comes in four colors (black, brown, charcoal and eggplant) in case you’re planning to play a few different characters between now and New Year’s.

Product Source: I received a review sample of this product; I did not receive compensation.

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Roman Polanski, master of anxiety, is the perfect director for tense ‘Carnage’

Carnage/2011/Sony Pictures Classics/80 min.

By Michael Wilmington

“Carnage” shows us once again what a master Roman Polanski is of the claustrophobia of anxiety – even though this time the fear he paints is more comic and light-hearted than the sheer grinding terror of say, “Repulsion” or “Rosemary’s Baby.” In his new movie, which was adopted by the Iranian-French writer Yasmina Reza from her hit play “God of Carnage,” director Polanski traps us, once again, in close quarters and, once again also, in a tense game and battle of social intercourse that is going to degenerate into absurdity and cruelty.

We are in the well-appointed Brooklyn apartment of the Longstreets: genial, rough-looking Michael (John C. Reilly), a salesman, and high-strung Penelope (Jodie Foster), a writer. Michael and Penelope have invited over a couple they don’t know – Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet), a corporate lawyer and an investment broker – to discuss the playground fracas between their respective sons, Ethan and Zachary (played by Eliot Berger and Polanski’s own son Elvis). The Cowan boy attacked the Longstreet kid and broke some teeth.

Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz.

There’s tension right from the start, despite the atmosphere of good-natured civility and manners, and writer Reza and Polanski nurse it along expertly. Michael, whose eyes glower while his mouth grins, is a bit too friendly, and too loudly obliging. We sense that, though he’s talking the talk, he’s no liberal. Penelope, the real bleeding heart of the two, is wired tight, more and more uneasy and nervous.

Alan, slick, conniving and full of lightly veiled disdain for his social inferiors (almost everybody, but especially the Longstreets), keeps rudely interrupting the confab to bark orders over his cell phone. As for Nancy, she keeps her feelings tightly reined in, until the memorable moment when she suddenly projectile-vomits all over the Longstreet’s coffee table and Penelope’s treasured book of Kokoschka reproductions. From there it gets worse, and uglier, and funnier.

I’ve never seen the play, but I’m not surprised it’s an international critical and audience hit. The model, of course, is Edward Albee’s venom-laced, acidly funny chamber drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and the play that probably influenced Albee: Eugene O’Neill’s great tragic family drama “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

As in those two 20th century theater classics, “God of Carnage” (I prefer that title) gives us a small group of people, all hiding something, all gradually losing their inhibitions and their secrets, as they consume more and more booze.

So, one could use “Carnage” as a springboard for little essays on class warfare or the discreet charmlessness of the bourgeoisie or the beast that lies beneath all our skins or even on cell-phone etiquette. (What’s Alan like when he’s driving?) Or one could delve into the symbolism of the Longstreets’ lost hamster, a hapless creature who may be the equivalent for George and Martha’s “lost” child in “Virginia Woolf.” But, after 15 minutes of watching this filmed play, I knew why it had gotten all its awards, why Polanski wanted to do it and why he was the ideal director for the piece. [Read more…]

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‘Cook County’ revels in atmosphere, skimps on story

Cook County/2009/Hannover House/93 min.

First-time writer/director David Pomes says he filmed “Cook County” in a way that would take the audience into the dismal world of crystal meth users in the woods of East Texas. True to his aim, the film does seem to live and breathe a sweaty, strung-out realness.

Ryan Donowho

Bump (Anson Mount) heads the household, which means he uses heavily, holds parties and snarls orders. His brother Sonny (Xander Berkeley), newly released from prison, struggles to stay clean and to reconnect with his 17-year-old son, wary and watchful Abe (Ryan Donowho). Bump and Sonny’s ghostlike father (Tommy Townsend) listlessly awaits his next hit.

It falls to Abe to take care of Bump’s little girl Deandra (Makenna Fitzsimmons) and protect her from her father, who’s not above bragging that he could put a bullet in her head if he wanted to. As Bump grows increasingly paranoid and unhinged, Abe must commit a fearsome act in order to keep Deandra safe.

Pomes skillfully evokes not just the “party” atmosphere but the bleak day-to-day existence of these desperate, seemingly doomed men. (Director of photography Brad Rushing used Super 16mm handheld for much the movie.) The writing is good and Pomes elicits authentic performances from his cast.

Mount nearly glows with menace as he becomes increasingly disconnected from reality. Berkeley brings scruffy amiability and lambent hopefulness to his part. Sonny wants something better but sees few ways out. Donowho is expressive and interesting to watch.

Unfortunately, once at the party, there’s not much to do. Yes, we see tension simmer between the brothers. We witness father/son confrontations. Beyond that, however, the plot is fairly thin. If you’ve never seen “Breaking Bad” or read about the problem of crystal-meth addiction, “Cook County” will open your eyes. But eye-opening realism and banjo music does not a story make.

“Cook County” opens today in LA and New York; it will play elsewhere starting Jan. 27.

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Film noir gifts for the holidays: Books

Last week, I was beauty-product happy. This week, it’s all about pages.

Here are my book-buying suggestions and descriptions from their sellers/review highlights.

Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark” by Brian Kellow, $27.95
Says fellow film critic Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter: “Kellow … writes beautifully and dexterously interweaves the story of a career long-thwarted with a sensitive reading of his subject’s youthful enthusiasm and intellectual growth. … Kellow admirably brings Pauline’s wit, insight and passion to life on the page and has made at least one critic nostalgic for the days when heavyweight critical battles raged and at least one of us lived a life worthy of a biography.”

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories” by Dame Daphne du Maurier, $15
Writing in ElleKate Christensen says of du Maurier (who wrote “Rebecca,” “My Cousin Rachel” and “Jamaica Inn”): “It’s all here: her fascination with the interplay between ingénue and femme fatale, her caddish male characters and the clinging females they devastate, and the inevitable disillusionment of innocence. … The stories are not all equally well realized – a few of them feel more like sketches – but the best ones are astonishingly good.”

Maigret at the Gai-Moulin,” a novel by Georges Simenon, $8
Belgian writer Simenon (1903-89) published his first novel at 17 and wrote more than 200 novels, many featuring a detective named Commissaire Maigret. Says People magazine: “Maigret … ranks with Holmes and Poiret in the pantheon of fictional detective immortals.”

Marilyn: Intimate Exposures” by Susan Bernard/Bruno Bernard, $35
Hollywood photographer Bruno Bernard’s iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate in a billowing white dress is synonymous with Hollywood glamour. Many of the images in this volume have never before been published.

Gary Cooper

Also includes forewords from Jane Russell, Marilyn’s co-star in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and Lindsay Lohan as well as excerpts from Bruno’s journal and a frameable print. (Next year is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death.)

Gary Cooper: An Enduring Style” by Maria Cooper Janis and G. Bruce Boyer, $60
The first monograph focused on the timeless fashion and allure of this leading man who was a fashion inspiration to his Hollywood peers, clothing designers and generations of stylish men. Unpublished, never-before-seen personal photographs, shot primarily by his wife Rocky.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, $55
From Town & Country: “Before there was Daphne Guinness, before there was Lady Gaga, there was the original style setter. A new book takes a look at the career and influence of the woman who made fashion modern.”

Lisa Immordino Vreeland runs her own fashion design and production consulting business. She is the producer of a documentary film about Diana Vreeland, and is married to Vreeland’s grandson Alexander.

Christian Louboutin,” $150
Red rules in more than 300 pages of the legendary designer’s work. Read more about him and his career here.

Works on Paper” by David Lynch, $195
A collection of more than 500 drawings, dating from the 1960s by the renowned American film director, offers a unique glimpse into the artist’s creative process.

If you are in the LA area, treat yourself to a trip to Dragon Books, 2954 Beverly Glen Circle, 310-441-8545. There, you’ll find an inscribed first edition of 1984’s “Things I Did … and Things I Think I Did” by director Jean Negulesco (“The Mask of Dimitrios,” “Humoresque,” “Johnny Belinda” and “How to Marry a Millionaire,” along with many others); $150.

Also: a first edition of Don Allen’s “François Truffaut” from 1974, signed by Truffaut; $1,500.

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Suspenseful, subversive ‘Blue Velvet’ continues to beguile

Blue Velvet/1986/MGM/120 min.

David Lynch

In “Blue Velvet,” writer/director David Lynch dazzles and disturbs us as he probes the evil beneath the surface of sunny small-town Americana. Twenty-five years later, its trippy shimmer has not dimmed, reminding us of Lynch’s auteur power. (The film was released last month on Blu-ray.)

Setting the action in Lumberton, N.C., a real-life city with a retro vibe, Lynch introduces us to Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student with an Eagle scout vibe. Jeffrey stumbles into a sordid mystery when he discovers a human ear lying in a field.

As he investigates, he’s aided by cute, cheerful Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), who is also the police chief’s daughter, always a plus when you’re short on clues. Jeffrey quickly finds that the bloody trail of badness traces back to Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychotic abuser you’ll never forget.

Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern

Top on Frank’s list of victims is a sad and broken nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who sees death as her salvation. As Jeffery is pulled into Frank’s world, he finds himself falling for both Dorothy and Sandy, slowly spiraling until he meets the ugliest side of his soul.

The nightmarish world of “Blue Velvet” is a perfect melding of sly, suspenseful tone, subversive storytelling and marvelous, beguiling images that only painter-turned-filmmaker Lynch could concoct. There is baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. There are also curtains, stages, disguises, halting juxtapositions.

Jeffrey finds the rank, insect-infested ear just seconds after a beautiful shot of brilliant color – red roses, a white fence, pure blue sky. Savage violence co-exists with moments of buoyant charm. (Compare the slow-motion shots of friendly firemen waving at us with Dorothy’s unrelenting degradation.) Lynch ferrets out the good guys’ guilty secrets and furnishes warped humor – such as the camp comic relief from Frank’s bisexual friends, including a twisted impresario played by Dean Stockwell.

The performances are particularly haunting. Fresh out of rehab, Hopper shrewdly saw that the role could launch a comeback for him. In the DVD extras, Rossellini recalls being moved by Hopper’s talent as he let tears fall down his face.

Rossellini brings uncommon depth and richness to her breakthrough American role. (Lynch originally wanted Helen Mirren). Ideally cast, MacLachlan and Dern nail their parts as well – soft-spoken and gentle straight-shooters who spend much energy suppressing their turbulent, darker desires.

Now 25 years old, “Blue Velvet” remains weird, wild, risky and wonderful.

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‘Blue Velvet’ quick hit

Blue Velvet/1986/MGM/120 min.

Baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. Gangsters, stray body parts and sadism. Writer/director David Lynch takes us on a journey to the seedy side of small-town America. Laura Dern is a sweet and sheltered high-school student. Her wholesome boyfriend Kyle MacLachlan can’t resist prying into the secrets of mysterious chanteuse Isabella Rossellini and her malevolent boyfriend Dennis Hopper. Disturbing, surreal, thoroughly mesmerizing.

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Noir City Xmas conjurs holiday spirit with a dash of darkness

The Film Noir Foundation is hosting its second NOIR CITY XMAS on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. Before the show, the foundation will unveil the full schedule for the NOIR CITY X film noir festival, January 20-29, 2012, at the Castro.

Here are foundation’s descriptions of the flicks:

First on the bill, at 7:30 p.m., is Charles David’s “Lady on a Train” (1945). Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin) witnesses a murder while waiting for a train, but can’t get the police to believe her when no body is discovered. She enlists the help of a mystery writer to sleuth out the culprits on her own. This wildly entertaining mix of comedy, music and suspense features a superb cast of sinister and suspicious supporting players.

Robert Siodmak’s soul-crushing “Christmas Holiday” (1944) follows at 9:20 p.m. A young soldier gets more than he bargained for on a holiday stop-over in New Orleans when he is introduced to a young “singer” (prostitute) and a local “nightclub” (brothel) and he learns the tale of her descent into degradation. Deanna Durbin is memorable in her first adult role, and Gene Kelly is unforgettable as the murderous cad with whom she tragically falls in love.

Tickets available at the door the day of show, $10 for both screenings.

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