Archives for February 2012

Leap into spring with London Blooms from Jo Malone

Jo Malone White Lilac & Rhubarb cologne

Need a fresh fragrance for spring? Jo Malone recently launched London Blooms, three new colognes, inspired by the British garden: Iris & Lady Moore, White Lilac & Rhubarb, and Peony & Moss.

I’ve always loved the wild beauty of gardens across the pond and these scents capture that sense of daring and disdain for convention. Each one is an interesting pairing, but my favorite is White Lilac & Rhubarb, which also features rose and heliotrope. Iris & Lady Moore is spicy and powdery. Peony & Moss contrasts the “dainty and the dirty.”

London Blooms cologne is $110 for 100 ml.

Note: I did not receive product or compensation from Jo Malone for this post.

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Dita dazzles; France celebrates Oscar wins for ‘The Artist’

Dita Von Teese wore a Jenny Packham gown on Sunday.

So it looks like I lied re: my fave Oscars dress. My No. 1 is now the vintage-inspired gown by Jenny Packham that Dita Von Teese wore to the Elton John AIDS Foundation viewing party.

Also my treasured friend Veronique in Paris wrote me this cute and over-the-moon email about France’s five Oscar wins: “Cocorico! On est les champions, On est les champions … Sorry! I’m sounding like a bragging football supporter full of beer.

“But well 5 Oscars … I just can’t help some chauvinistic boasting tonight! A special mention to the handsome Jean Dujardin who is one of the most suave and entertaining French actor at the moment.”

Read more about France’s wins for “The Artist” from Reuters and the New York Times.

AP photo of Dita Von Teese

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On the radar: ‘The Artist’ and inspiration; ‘Chinatown’ kicks off series; long gone Hollywood; Crawford goes a little crazy

Gwyneth Paltrow looked super chic at the Oscars.

Now that “The Artist” won the Oscar for Best Picture, I’m hoping more people will feel inspired to explore black and white movies, especially Billy Wilder b&w flicks. (“The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius thanked Wilder three times last night!) Overall, I enjoyed the show, though there were few surprises. Billy Crystal is always good and my favorite look of the night was Gwyneth Paltrow in the Tom Ford cape gown.

Meanwhile, this looks set to be a busy week for cinephiles. Starting tonight: Unique LA presents a monthly movie series at the Echoplex. First up is “Chinatown.” Doors open at 7 p.m. Movies start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 pre-sale online only.
At 7 p.m. this Wednesday (Feb. 29) at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood, author Gregory Paul Williams will sign the paperback edition of his book “The Story of Hollywood.” He’ll also present a program on long gone Hollywood, featuring favorite haunts and spots of legend and lore.
At 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday (Feb. 29), the Million Dollar Theater and the UCLA Film & Television Archive co-present a double feature from director William Castle: 1964’s “Strait-Jacket,” starring Joan Crawford as a hatchet-wielding maniac released from prison after serving time for killing her husband, and “Homicidal” (1961) about a small-town killing and its effects on members of a family vying for an inheritance.
Gwyneth Paltrow photo: Heather Ikei / © A.M.P.A.S.
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A quintessential ’40s woman who may have dubbed Oscar

Starting as the Academy’s librarian, Margaret Herrick served as executive director at the Academy for 26 years.

On Oscars eve (or just before), I thought it would be fun to point out that the Academy’s own Margaret Herrick (Sept. 27, 1902-June 20, 1976) perfectly exemplified the rise of the ’40s woman.

Herrick served as executive director of the Academy from 1945 to 1971. It was she who negotiated the Academy’s first TV broadcast (1953) and transformed the Oscars ceremony into a major televised event.

How did she do it? By acquiring expertise (a University of Washington library degree and experience as a head librarian) and following her heart – literally. She married Donald Gledhill, who eventually became executive secretary of the Academy, and moved to Hollywood to join him. Starting as a volunteer, she became the Academy’s librarian in 1936.

She took on her husband’s duties when he left for military service in World War II. After the couple divorced in 1945, the Academy Board of Governors offered her the executive position. (In 1946, she married Philip A. Herrick. They divorced in 1951, but she continued to use his name professionally.)

Margaret Herrick laid the foundation for what is now considered to be one of the world’s finest film-related libraries. Following her retirement in 1971, the Academy library was renamed in her honor. She died on June 20, 1976.

And, of the several stories about how the name Oscar came into being, a leading contender is that in the early 1930s Herrick saw the statuette and said it looked like her Uncle Oscar. Whether Herrick or someone else (Bette Davis perhaps?) thought of the name, the Academy officially adopted the moniker in 1939.

See you Sunday night on Twitter!

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Warning: ‘Thin Ice’ has more than a few cracks

Thin Ice/2012/ATO Pictures/93 min.

Small towns where not much happens, 20-below weather, dive bars and cheese curds. It’s all good fodder for quirky, memorable Midwestern noir. Or it could be. But unfortunately “Thin Ice” lets its promise and potential melt away.

There are some things to like – a few funny moments, it looks good and it’s quite well cast. Greg Kinnear plays a sleazy, smiling insurance salesman named Mickey V. Prohaska. His license plate is MVP2 because someone already had MVP. And he’s desperate for cash. He sees a chance to secure some money after he discovers that a new client (Alan Arkin) has a valuable violin tucked away in his farmhouse, amid the knick-knacks and fading wallpaper.

But when Mickey tries to grab the violin, his plan goes disastrously awry thanks to a local psycho (Billy Crudup). Instead of a clean swipe, there’s a dead body to dispose of and complications ensue. David Harbour shines as Mickey’s earnest employee. So does Lea Thompson as Mickey’s estranged wife and Bob Balaban as the violin appraiser.

“Thin Ice” is watchable, parts are enjoyable, but the story limps, then stumbles to a ridiculous ending. There’s no command of the material as it stands. I say as it stands because writer/director Jill Sprecher, a Wisconsin native who wrote the script with her sister Karen Sprecher, reportedly tried to remove her name from the film after the distributor recut it without their involvement.

I wish I could see Sprecher’s original movie and, as for “Thin Ice,” I wish I’d stayed home and watched “Fargo” by the Coen brothers one more time instead.

“Thin Ice” opened in limited release last Friday.

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‘Notorious’: noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

The Production Code stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946.

The Production Code (ie, censors) stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds. Hitchcock obeyed, but followed Bergman and Grant’s first swift kiss with another and another and another. Most importantly, she kisses him, noting that he hasn’t said, “I love you.”

The demands of their work (spying and info gathering) create pressure. Alicia must charm Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy, suave and impeccably dressed Nazi. Even though Alex is a high-ranking fascist, we never see him hatching his evil plans, so it’s a bit easier for the audience to put his heinousness on the back burner. Alex dotes on Alicia and is far more emotionally available than the shut-down Dev.

Claude Rains

Leopoldine Konstantin

Before long, Alex proposes to Alicia and gives her quite the rock to seal the deal. Alicia accepts after getting the OK from her unsympathetic and cold boss, Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern).

Living with Alex will let Alicia poke around his stately home, where Prescott reckons trouble is literally brewing, and bring her into frequent contact with baddies like ringleader Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault), scientific mastermind “Dr. Anderson” (Reinhold Schünzel) and weak link, Emil Hupka (Eberhard Krumschmidt).

Living with Alex also means dealing with the other Mrs. Sebastian, Alex’s mother. Czech-born actress Leopoldine Konstantin, in her only American film, plays the hard and imperious Mrs. Anna Sebastian. When Alex asks Anna to be friendly to Alicia, the battle-ax tartly replies: “Wouldn’t it be a bit much for both of us to be grinning at her like idiots?”

Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and Dev (Cary Grant) are secret agents assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South America after WW2.

Declaring a shortage of closet space (that’s our girl!), Alicia explores the nooks and crannies of the Sebastian mansion, but finds the wine cellar is off-limits. So, she decides to throw a champagne reception and steal the cellar key from her husband.

She invites Devlin, natch, and the two discover that wine is not the only thing stored in the cellar. (Hitchcock makes his cameo at the shindig, swigging some bubbly.)

Alex realizes the key has been stolen and that his secret is no longer safe, at which point he seeks maternal support. Anna’s fresh out of that, telling him: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

The uranium angle is merely a MacGuffin, Hitchcock argot for a narrative device to advance the plot. The real story is whether Devlin and Alicia can work through their issues, such as his hypocrisy and lack of emotion, her drinking and their mutual game playing, which gets downright cruel. “Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of ‘Notorious,’ ” writes film scholar William Rothman in his liner notes for the Criterion DVD edition. “And yet, in ‘Notorious,’ the possibility remains alive that the miracle of love can save us from our own perversity.”

This is one of the most beautiful films Hitch ever made, from his gorgeous leads to ravishing cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff – the closeups of Dev and Alicia at the racetrack and the famous crane shot at the mansion before Alicia’s champagne reception are standouts. I also like the imposing silhouettes of Alex and his mother after Alicia susses that they’ve been spiking her coffee. The lighting is magnificent throughout. Using rear-projection, Hitchcock combined footage of the principals filmed on a set with background shots taken in Rio.

The movie clocks in at 102 minutes but it glides by so gracefully that it feels half an hour. Ben Hecht’s sparkling script went through revisions and rewrites with input from Clifford Odets and Hitchcock. (David O. Selznick, on board as producer until he sold his rights to RKO in order to raise cash for another flick, likely tossed ideas around as well. Selznick had eyed Vivien Leigh for the Alicia role.) A few elements of “Notorious” came from a short story by John Taintor Foote called “The Song of the Dragon.”

“Ingrid was very fond of my parents,” recalls Pat Hitchcock O’Connell in her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.”

The entire cast dazzles and delights; the subtlety of the performances rewards multiple viewings. Hitch even accepted an idea from Bergman on shooting the dinner party scene.

In her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” the daughter of Alma and Alfred, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls that: “Ingrid was very fond of my parents. I remember, she’d finish one film with Daddy and she’d come over, sit on the couch, and say, ‘When do we start the next one?’ ” (Hitchcock O’Connell’s tribute to her mother makes a fun, chatty read and includes some of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus for home entertaining.)

In 1945, Bergman and Hitchcock made “Spellbound” co-starring Gregory Peck and in 1949 Hitch directed her in “Under Capricorn” opposite Joseph Cotten. Also in ’49, Bergman went to Italy to film “Stromboli” with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Director and star fell in love, and Bergman left her husband Petter Lindstrom for Rossellini. Because of the scandal, Bergman’s reputation in the U.S. suffered, then rebounded; over the course of her career, she earned three Oscars (two for best actress and one for best supporting actress).

One of the most enjoyable and sophisticated films of the black and white era, “Notorious” strikes me as the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers!

MGM recently released “Notorious” along with “Rebecca” (1940) and “Spellbound” (1945) on Blu-ray.

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‘Notorious’ quick hit

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and one of Ingrid Bergman’s best roles. Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, a secret agent working to break up a Nazi enclave in South America. She and fellow spy T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) fall into a “strange affair” made even stranger when, as part of her spying, she marries Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a Nazi masquerading as a playboy.

Excellent support from Leopoldine Konstantin as Alex’s bossy mom and Louis Calhern as Alicia and Dev’s cynical boss. An exquisitely beautiful Hitchcock gem.

“Notorious” is the prize in this month’s reader giveaway. To enter the random draw, just make a comment on any post.

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‘Briefcase’ reminds us that, in film noir, fate is never far away

Los Angeles filmmaker and actor Nate Golon this week released a neo-noir short called “Briefcase.” By chance, a clean-cut guy named Carter sees a briefcase one lonely night at a gas station and picks it up. Bad idea, Carter. But the idea of a mysterious briefcase has been an intriguing trope for noir storytellers, from Robert Aldrich (“Kiss Me Deadly” 1955) to Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction” 1994).

Golon brings an assured eye to his material, and I hope to see more of his work soon.

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Raymond Chandler on the big screen: ‘Brasher Doubloon’ and ‘Murder, My Sweet’ to play this Thursday at the Aero

I’ve never seen “The Brasher Doubloon” but I love the name! This 1947 film, directed by John Brahm and starring George Montgomery as Philip Marlowe, is based on a Raymond Chandler novel (“The High Window”). “The Brasher Doubloon,” on a double bill with “Murder, My Sweet,” starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, 1328 Montana Ave.

Also, three excellent neo noirs are coming up in Los Angeles. Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) in a double bill with “Blood Simple” (1984) by the Coen brothers plays at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Aero. Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976) will show at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Murder, My Sweet/1944/RKO/95 min.

Dick Powell as Marlowe tells the story, in flashback, to police.

One of these days, I’ll get around to compiling my list of the Top 10 classic film noir movies. When I do, “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, RKO) will be on the roster because it’s a superb flick and a defining work of the genre, thanks to Edward Dmytryk’s directorial flair, top-notch acting and a terrific script (based on Raymond Chandler’s novel “Farewell My Lovely”) full of choice one-liners.

“Murder, My Sweet” stars Dick Powell as private eye Philip Marlowe, perhaps Chandler’s most famous character and one of the best-known screen detectives. The movie opens with Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki) showing up at Marlowe’s office, wanting him to find his old girlfriend, Velma. Marlowe looks for clues at Florian’s, a dive bar, and at the home of widow Jessie Florian (Esther Howard). How to describe Mrs. Florian? Well, it’s hard to beat Marlowe’s take: “She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.”

Meanwhile, Marlowe agrees to act as a sort of bodyguard for another client, fussy and effete Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton) who must deliver a ransom for stolen jewels. The exchange doesn’t go well – Marriott is murdered and Marlowe takes a crack on the head. Once back at the office, Marlowe is visited by a reporter asking questions about a stolen jade necklace. The “reporter” turns out be Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), a cute, feisty Girl-Scout type from a wealthy family. Pretty quickly, Marlowe meets Ann’s cootish Daddy (Miles Mander) and her femme fatale stepmother Helen (Claire Trevor).

The introduction of Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) and Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) is one of film noir's great meetings.

And a great meeting it is, a bit like Stanwyck and MacMurray in “Double Indemnity,” but here Trevor, dressed to the nines and sporting ankle-strap chunky heels, can’t really be bothered with coy flirtation. World-weary and blasé, she gives Marlowe the once-over without a word, just a great look of “another day, another guy.” A few minutes later she does fight the ennui enough to say pointedly, “Let’s dispense with the polite drinking, shall we?”

Besides drinking and shopping, Helen likes to dance and has no shortage of partners – guys who take her out on the town because Mr. G isn’t quite up to it. Turns out, Marriott was one of Helen’s companions and had been trying to help her buy back a stolen jade necklace. Now she thinks Marlowe might be up to the task.

But Marlowe isn’t easily seduced, even though he pretends to be if he thinks it will yield a clue or two. As he figures out who’s guilty of what, we meet Marriott’s suave, sinister chum Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger) and the nefarious Dr. Sonderborg (Ralf Harolde).

Dick Powell and Anne Shirley

With its constantly twisting plot, original music by Roy Webb and high-contrast, shadow-heavy visuals from cinematographer Harry J. Wild, “Murder, My Sweet” is awfully good fun to watch.

John Paxton’s sharp screenplay honors Chandler’s wit and many lines still seem fresh today. Ann rails against “big league blondes: beautiful, expensive babes who know what they’ve got – all bubble bath and dewy morning and moonlight. And inside: blue steel, cold – cold like that, only not that clean.” Helen’s retort is simple: “Your slip shows, dear.”

The movie fared well with critics and audiences – the popular appeal was at least in part because leading man Powell was a matinée idol and musical comedy star. Financially strapped RKO signed him to a contract hoping he could pull in much-needed cash at the box office; Powell signed with the condition that he could first play a straight dramatic role. The studio changed the movie’s name from “Farewell, My Lovely” so that viewers wouldn’t mistake it for a musical.

Mike Mazurki

Edward Dmytryk

Though Dmytryk wasn’t thrilled with this casting decision, Powell did a near-flawless job, earning approval from both the director and Chandler. Trevor and Shirley match his fine work as do Howard, Walton, Mander and Kruger. And Mazurki was perfectly cast. Trevor was quite the celluloid bad girl; most notably as the cold-blooded temptress in “Born to Kill” (1947, Robert Wise). She won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role as gangster Edward G. Robinson’s moll in the classic “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

Dmytryk deftly balances cynicism and anxiety with acerbic humor and lighthearted romance. Gifted at creating suspense and edgy moods, he is an undisputed master of film noir. After “Murder, My Sweet,” he helmed “Cornered” (1945), “Crossfire” (1947), “The Hidden Room” (1949), “The Sniper” (1952) and “Mirage” (1965).

His career was sidetracked, however, by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and its unconstitutional efforts to eradicate a perceived Communist influence in Hollywood. Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC. But, after spending time in prison, Dmytryk changed his mind, testified before the committee and named names of supposed Communists.

Despite his decision to testify and the enmity it earned him, Dmytryk remains one of noir’s best directors.

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‘Murder, My Sweet’ quick hit

Murder, My Sweet/1944/RKO/95 min.

“Murder, My Sweet” is a superb flick and a defining work of the film noir genre, thanks to Edward Dmytryk’s directorial flair, top-notch acting and a terrific John Paxton script (based on Raymond Chandler’s novel “Farewell, My Lovely”). Musical star Dick Powell took a gamble by playing private eye Philip Marlowe and the risk paid off.

Tracking down a showgirl for an ex-con ignites the action in a complicated plot; Chandlerian weirdos, well dressed hustlers and eloquent thieves abound. Also starring Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Esther Howard and Otto Kruger.


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