Archives for March 2013

Poetic ‘Blancanieves’ is stunning in design, daring in vision

Blancanieves/2012/Arcadia Motion Pictures, et al/104 min.

Luminously beautiful, compelling and surprisingly moving, “Blancanieves” is a fairytale noir that’s a must-see for lovers of black and white and silent film. Writer/director Pablo Berger’s exquisite rendering of “Snow White” takes place in 1920s Seville and tells the passionate story of Carmen (Macarena García), the daughter of a famous bullfighter (Daniel Giménez Cacho), and her struggle to escape from under the thumb of her evil stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú).

Carmen has inherited her father’s talent in the ring and, after a near brush with death at the hands of Encarna’s henchman, Carmen, as Blancanieves (Snow White), is rescued and becomes the star of a troupe of seven bullfighting dwarves. But, like any cruel and conniving femme fatale worth her salt, Encarna isn’t that easy to vanquish and she reappears to cause murderous trouble for Carmen.

“The film is true to the dark spirit of the popular tale from the Brothers Grimm,” says Berger. “I use melodrama as a way of pushing the limits of characters in extreme situations.” Visually, Berger’s film is a celebration of the work of the masters of silent cinema, such as F.W. Murnau, Jacques Feyder and Victor Sjostrom. Superb music from Alfonso de Vilallonga heightens the mood of edgy enchantment.

Whereas the much acclaimed, Oscar-winning and gorgeously shot French b&w silent “The Artist” sometimes seemed slightly pat and overly commercial, Berger’s willingness in “Biancanieves” to take risks results in a poetic, personal work that’s rich in texture, stunning in design and daring in vision.

“Blancanieves” opens today in New York and LA with a national roll out to follow.

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New York Film Academy’s favorite film noir classics

This is a paid post, written by the New York Film Academy.

The New York Film Academy is a purveyor of great cinematography of any genre, but faculty staff at the filmmaking school particularly enjoy a good film noir, especially when using it to teach students the nuances of expressionism.

Here we unveil seven of the Academy’s favorite film noir flicks. Where possible, we’ve provided links to the full movies.

White Heat” (1949, Raoul Walsh)
Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien

James Cagney gives a matchless performance in “White Heat.”

Heist films don’t get any better than this. “White Heat” is a precursor to many of the great gangster and prison movies of the ’50s, albeit a lot grittier and a lot darker than the films it went on to inspire.

Virginia Mayo is a divine femme fatale, and James Cagney’s performance as psychotic mobster Cody Jarrett is electrifying.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghapUv2Tp2I

Sudden Fear” (1952, David Miller)
Starring: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame

After a string of marvelous hard-boiled flicks with Warner Bros., Joan Crawford left the studio and went on to star in the psychological masterpiece “Sudden Fear.” It’s a great movie and one of the best of Crawford’s ’50s output; it also earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress. Palance received a nod for Best Actor in a supporting role. The film itself rightfully received nominations for best costume design and best cinematography.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ttC8gPoAMA [Read more…]

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COL•COA fest to open with a Danièle Thompson comedy

One of my favorite film festivals starts in a few weeks. The City of Lights, City of Angels (COL•COA) film festival, a week of premieres in Hollywood, runs April 15-22. Last night, at the French Consulate, the Franco-American Cultural Fund announced the program for the fest, now in its 17th year.

“We are proud to offer the biggest and most exclusive program ever, including, for the first time, a new series that highlights the French film industry’s support of world cinema,” said François Truffart, COL•COA executive producer and artistic director.

COL•COA will feature 38 features and 19 shorts. It opens on Monday, April 15, with the North American premiere of “It Happened in Saint-Tropez,” a Danièle Thompson comedy, starring Kad Merad and Monica Bellucci. The film will be released in France on April 10.

Closing the fest on Sunday, April 22, is the recent French box-office success, “Jappeloup,” directed by Christian Duguay.

Of course, I am most looking forward to the film noir series, which will include “Armed Hands,” co-written and directed by Pierre Jolivet.

More on the fest later; meanwhile be sure to check the COL•COA site and snag your tickets – they will sell quickly!

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The Noir File: A plan to swap murders in Alfred Hitchcock’s great thriller ‘Strangers on a Train’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Farley Granger and Robert Walker chat over lunch in “Strangers on a Train.”

Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Tuesday, April 2, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Tuesday, March 26

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Crime Wave” (1954, Andre De Toth). One of De Toth’s best noirs. In this grim L.A.-shot cops-and-robbers thriller, Gene Nelson plays an ex-con trying to go straight, but stymied by a brutal cop (Sterling Hayden), who wants to nail him for a stick-up and murder committed not by Nelson but by his old prison mates. (The gang, a top-notch crock of crooks, includes Ted De Corsia, Charles Bronson and Timothy Carey). As for Hayden, this is one of his great “heavy” roles. As a cop who won’t give up, while confidently ruining the life of an innocent man, he’s maniacal, terrifying.

Thursday, March 28

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Dead Ringer” (1964, Paul Henreid). Two twin sisters, one obscenely rich, and one financially strapped, have been off each other’s radar for years, ever since bitchy rich Margaret stole bitter not-rich Edith’s wealthy fiancé. Then they meet up at the hubby’s L. A. funeral. Since both sisters are played by Bette Davis, we can expect the same kind of elegant switcheroo (one twin playing another) she pulled in the superior “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt), which plays at 11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.). Expect to have some fun, despite the fact, or maybe because of it, that the whole story is so implausible, even William Castle might have ducked it.

Bette manages the double role with skill, style and sizzle – though her “Now Voyager” co-star/chum Paul Henreid directs the whole thing without much inspiration, or even inspired silliness. But then again, why ask for the moon, when you have the stars? [Read more…]

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Despite having the perfect ingredients for a cinematic soufflé, French-Canadian comedy ‘Starbuck’ falls flat

Starbuck/2011/Caramel Films, Les Films Christal, Entertainment One/109 min.

Every once in a while, I need a break from the double-dealing dark side and so I indulge in lighter fare. The premise of “Starbuck,” a French-Canadian comedy co-written and directed by Ken Scott, promises an offbeat angle for its humor.

Based on real events, it’s the story of a 42-year-old man-boy named David Wosniak (Patrick Huard) who, on the brink of having a child with his girlfriend (Julie Le Breton), discovers that in fact he already has 533 children, thanks to his frequent sperm donations (under the name Starbuck) at a fertility clinic near his home. His offspring are now adults and 142 of them file a class-action lawsuit to determine the identity of their biological father.

Huard is an extremely appealing actor and is ideally cast as the good-hearted bumbler; Le Breton and the rest of the cast offer solid support. The problem is that “Starbuck” – primarily due to its clumsy, sometimes forced, script – doesn’t live up to its potential. As the stuff-happens plot unfolds, David’s life becomes slightly more chaotic. But it wasn’t particularly orderly to begin with and, since he’s open to meeting these strangers/children and involving himself in their lives, there’s not a whole lot at stake.

Again and again, we see that despite being a little reckless and a lot feckless, he’s a decent guy with a big heart. Nice. And now he’s going to make that 534 kids. Also nice, except that there’s so little dramatic tension, it’s very hard to get swept up in what should be a crazy adventure (but isn’t) and even harder to play the laughs.

Despite having the perfect ingredients for a cinematic soufflé, “Starbuck” falls flat. There is a U.S. version in the works called “The Delivery Man,” slated for a fall release, which just might be that rare instance in which a Hollywood remake of a foreign film yields a classic confection.

“Starbuck” opens today in New York and LA, with a national rollout to follow. (In French with subtitles.)

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The Noir File: Welles burns up the courtroom in ‘Compulsion’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Compulsion” (1959, Richard Fleischer). Thursday, March 21, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). Based on the Loeb-Leopold “thrill kill” murders and adapted from Meyer Levin’s best-selling novel on the grisly case, here is a true-crime drama to make your blood run cold, directed by a master of the form, Richard Fleischer (“The Boston Strangler,” “10 Rillington Place”). Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman admirably play two brilliant but immoral Chicago collegiate rich boys who take Nietzsche’s “superman” theories too seriously and decide to commit the perfect murder, simply to prove they can.

Shot in realistic yet eerie black-and-white, this movie is one of the screen’s most convincing portraits of pure evil. And it also contains one of the movies’ very best trial scenes: an astonishing tour de force by that sometimes amazing actor, Orson Welles.

The lead actors (Orson Welles is shown above) won honors at Cannes.

With only one big scene, Welles burns up the screen as defense attorney Clarence Darrow, delivering (in one take) Darrow’s legendary “plea for life” speech, and making every word and sentiment echo and re-echo through his magnificent voice, his grand hamming and his deep theatrical soul. All three of these actors shared the Best Actor prize for “Compulsion” at the Cannes Film Festival. And they deserved it.

Thursday, March 21

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Port of Shadows” (French. Marcel Carne, 1939). A moody French army deserter (Jean Gabin, in one of his prototypical roles) hides out in Le Havre – port city of shadows, sin and impending danger – and falls in love with a beautiful victim (Michèle Morgan), who is also pursued by a poseur (Michel Simon) and a crook (Pierre Brasseur). A dark destiny awaits them all. One of the godfathers of film noir was the ’30s French sub-genre called “poetic realism,” and “Port of Shadows” is a classic example. Directed and written by the great poetic realist stylists Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert, who went on to make together the immortal (and noirish) films “Le jour se lève” and “Children of Paradise.” (In French, subtitled.) [Read more…]

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Clout’s what it’s all about in ‘The Power Trip’ by Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins

Reform school or Hollywood? Millions of fans around the globe are grateful that author Jackie Collins – a self-described wild child once upon a time – chose the latter.

“I was always obsessed with Hollywood and America, even as a kid,” said Collins at a media party for her latest book, “The Power Trip,” an event held last month at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in West Hollywood. “I used to pretend to be American and tell people my father was in the CIA.”

She immersed herself in the machinations and mysteries of Tinseltown at age 15. It was 1952 and she bunked with her older sister, actress Joan Collins, in an apartment complex occupied by movers and shakers in the making. Says Jackie Collins: “I learned how to drive and I was very streetwise. It was a fantastic place and time. I fell in love with LA and I knew it was where I belonged.”

Living à la “Melrose Place” meant there was no shortage of steamy inspiration. Her first novel, “The World is Full of Married Men,” published in 1968, was banned in Australia and South Africa. Her 29 best-selling novels have sold more than 500 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages. Eight of her novels were adapted for the screen, as films or TV mini-series. Vanity Fair dubbed her the Marcel Proust of Hollywood.

In “The Power Trip,” a Russian billionaire and his supermodel girlfriend invite five high-profile couples to accompany them as they embark on the maiden voyage of their luxury yacht – off the coast of Cabo San Lucas in the Sea of Cortez. Luckily for readers, it’s not all smooth sailing.

Said the ever-glam Collins at the event, her emeralds and diamonds shimmering in the soft light: “I had more fun writing “The Power Trip” than I did with any other book. I want you to feel that you’re there, seeing the white beach and turquoise ocean, sipping champagne in pure luxury.”

She also talked about her organic process – writing in longhand and not using an outline. “I start with a title and the main characters, and I figure it out as I go like a jigsaw puzzle or a tapestry. The piece always knits together. I guess I was a-born storyteller because everything falls into place even though I don’t know what’s going to happen. My characters take me on a trip.”

She writes during the day, records a lot of TV shows (faves include “Revenge,” “Scandal,” “Shameless” and “Dexter,”) and, if she has a spare moment, pins guys on Pinterest. Some of her favorite slices of beefcake are: Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Paul Newman, Taylor Kinney, George Clooney and Ryan Gosling. (She also admires Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney as well as Angelina Jolie, Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence.)

Speaking of pinable men, she says, “I have a man for every occasion. I was married for a long time [to Oscar Lerman from 1966 until his death in 1992]. Now I live my life like an affluent bachelor.” Her evenings are typically spent meeting friends for dinner or going to parties or screenings. No matter where she goes, she’s carefully observing the scene. “I’m an anthropologist crawling through the jungles of Hollywood. If anything, my characters are toned down – the truth is much more bizarre.

“I always have so many ideas, there are five books I could sit down and write tomorrow. That’s why, I think, I never sleep.” In fact, she’s developing a play, a cookbook, a book of candid photos she shot over the years and an autobiography.

And she reads. “I love tough male fiction,” she says, noting that she’s particularly drawn to authors Joseph Wambaugh and. Elmore Leonard. Every year she rereads “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo.

That machismo-infused grit often rubs off on her literary creations. One reason Collins connects with so many readers is because she tells stories about tough women. As she says: “My women characters kick ass, they don’t get their asses kicked.”

So does she have advice for a contemporary femme fatale? Of course. “Don’t give up too much on a first date. Don’t wear clothes that are too revealing. Always leave him wanting more.”

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The Noir File: TCM highlights include Henry Hathaway and the divine Ms. Davis

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Thursday, March 14

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “13 Rue Madeleine” (1947, Henry Hathaway). One of Hathaway’s signature true-crime thrillers. (See “House on 92nd Street” below.) Stark and tense, set in wartime France, with O.S.S. spy guy James Cagney trying to uncover a Nazi infiltrator. With Annabella, Richard Conte and Red Buttons.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “The House on 92nd Street” (1945, Henry Hathaway). New York FBI Agents try to crack a WWII Nazi spy ring, which is bent on stealing A-bomb secrets. This is the first of director Hathaway’s innovative docu-dramas, based on fact and often filmed on the actual locations.

These excellent true-crime noirs (including “Call Northside 777,” “13 Rue Madeleine,” and “Kiss of Death” ) were Hathaway’s personal favorites of his entire career. Along with post-war Italian neo-realism, they blazed a trail for greater cinematic realism. Starring Lloyd Nolan, William Eythe, Signe Hasso, and Leo G. Carroll.

Bette Davis

Friday, March 15

OK, so maybe an old maid isn’t quite the vibe a femme fatale wants to channel. But so many delightful Bette Davis moments in one day surely warrant a mention. Start your weekend with a bang and check out the lineup for the day.

Our faves are: “Front Page Woman” (1935, Michael Curtiz), “Jezebel” (1938, William Wyler), “Dark Victory” (1939, Edmund Goulding), “The Old Maid” (1939, Edmund Goulding), “In This Our Life” (1942, John Huston).

There is also a 1984 doc: “Bette Davis: The Benevolent Volcano.”

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‘Bates Motel’ prequel series starts next week on A&E

I’m looking forward to watching “Bates Motel,” A&E’s prequel series inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore star; the series starts March 18.

“I got into this wanting to defend who that woman was,” says Farmiga, as quoted in Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. “[In the show] she was just such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity to me … [it’s] a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son, and that’s that’s how I perceive the character. There’s an Edvard Munch painting of the Madonna. It’s really warped and it kind of exudes the sacred and the profane and it’s just psychologically gripping, and that’s what I was so drawn to with Norma. She’s a playground for an actress.”

You can see a preview of the series here. And for now I’m putting roadtrips on the back burner.

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Friday fashion inspiration from Dita Von Teese

Dita Von Teese wears a 3D printed dress based on the Fibonacci sequence. Read more here.

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