Archives for March 2017

With ‘Prevenge,’ Alice Lowe pops out a classic

Prevenge/2016/88 min.

I don’t know filmmaker and mother Alice Lowe but I’d be willing to bet that if she was given a baby shower, she banned boring guessing games and gluten-free, sugarless cupcakes. Instead, she might have shown “The Shining” and served hefty slabs of juicy red meat.

A bit of a random speculation, perhaps, but not after you see her sly, subversive black comedy, “Prevenge,” which she wrote, directed and starred in, well into her first pregnancy.

Lowe (whose credits include “Hot Fuzz,” “Sightseers” and “Locke”) plays Ruth, a single, soon-to-be mother who’s also a serial murderer with a talent for disguises and a penchant for gore. Why does Ruth kill? Because the demanding little fetus that has taken over her body is telling her to, natch. And because she feels betrayed by the loss of the baby’s father.

Lowe tells a smart, taut and funny yarn, with shades of Stanley Kubrick and Monty Python, raising provocative questions about women, motherhood and the way society tends to pigeonhole women who choose to have kids. She’s joined by a strong cast: Gemma Whelan and Kate Dickie (from “Game of Thrones”), Tom Davis and Kayvan Novak.

Admirably, Lowe takes a few risks with the script. For example, she doesn’t beg the audience to sympathize with the demented Ruth. “Though you might come to like her towards the end, I didn’t want it to be too easy at the start,” said Lowe at a recent screening and reception at Cinefamily in Los Angeles.

Easy, no. But entertaining? Very much so.

“Prevenge” opens on Shudder on Friday, March 24.

The film also screened at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi.

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Restored ‘Jamaica Inn’ highlights top acting talent

In Hollywood’s Golden Age, no one held court quite like Charles Laughton. Pompous and puffed-up, charming and shrewd, he often played characters brimming with confidence, or, some might say, entitlement. A case in point is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn,” from 1939, in which Laughton plays Sir Humphrey Pengallan, an aristocrat lording it about in Cornwall, England, in the early 1800s, amid shipwrecks and pirates and a butler named Chadwick (Horace Hodges). Of course.

Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and made a year before Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning movie of Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” the film introduces Maureen O’Hara as Mary, a headstrong young Irish woman (is there any other kind?) who travels to Cornwall to find her Aunt Patience, her last surviving relative. Mary finds Patience as well as much crafty scheming and seaside battles.

“Jamaica Inn” was the last film Hitchcock made in England before embarking on his stellar Hollywood career. Hitchcock’s wife and creative partner Alma Reville Hitchcock also worked on the movie. Laughton co-produced. (Laughton and O’Hara reunited for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” also 1939, directed by William Dieterle. Lest anyone think Laughton was typecast as a British bigwig, this famous and poignant part let him show his acting chops.)

From left: Cohen Media Group Chairman and CEO Charles S. Cohen, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba, Hitchcock leading actor Norman Lloyd, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Katie Fiala and KCETLink Media Group President and CEO Michael Riley at Tuesday’s screening of “Jamaica Inn.” Photo courtesy of Lisa Rose.

“Jamaica Inn” was recently restored and shown Tuesday night on the big screen at the Pacific Design Center’s SilverScreen Theater in Los Angeles, hosted by KCETLink Media Group, BAFTA Los Angeles and Cohen Media Group. The “Jamaica Inn” screening was held in advance of the movie’s KCET broadcast premiere, part of KCETLink’s Cohen Film Classics lineup.

Cohen Film Classics’ telecast of “Jamaica Inn” will air on Friday, March 24, on KCET in Southern California at 10:20 p.m. PT and on Link TV nationwide (DirecTV 375 and DISH network 9410) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The restoration looks great and is well worth seeing.

Special guests at Tuesday’s event included Charles S. Cohen, KCET’s host of Cohen Film Classics, KCETLink Media Group’s Michael Riley, two of Hitchcock’s three granddaughters – Katie Fiala and Tere Carrubba – and legendary actor-producer Norman Lloyd, who played in “Saboteur” (1942) and “Spellbound” (1945) and produced many episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Lloyd, 102, had the audience in the palm of his hand as he shared memories and anecdotes about working with the Master and Mistress of Suspense. “Alma Hitchcock knew as much about film as anyone who ever lived and Hitch knew it,” said Lloyd.

As for his famous leap from the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur,” Lloyd said Hitch asked him: “Norm, can you do a back flip over the railing?” Lloyd agreed and it was shot in one take. “Hitch got it. I gave it. And forever after we were great friends. It was the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever done!”

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Lake and Ladd pack heat in ‘This Gun for Hire’

This Gun for Hire/ 1942/ Paramount Pictures/ 80 min.

Veronica Lake in “This Gun for Hire” from 1942 is an angel-food cake kind of femme fatale. Alan Ladd’s stone-faced, yet complex, hitman is a devil, but damn he’s debonair. He also likes cats and kids so it’s hard not to want to cut him some slack.

Veronica Lake

Lake plays a smart, svelte and stunning nightclub singer/magician named Ellen Graham who’s essentially engaged to amiable and solid cop Michael Crane (Robert Preston). Essentially but not officially engaged because there’s no ring or dress shopping, just some affectionate banter about getting domestic, which means darning his socks and cooking corned beef and cabbage.

But those scenes aren’t exactly sizzling with passion. That’s because of Ladd. It was his first major film and once he was aboard, director Frank Tuttle realized the actor was A-list material and changed the script to give Ladd more prominence. Even though you know Lake and Ladd aren’t going to end up together, there’s a mighty sexy undercurrent between them.

Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Laird Cregar star in “This Gun for Hire.”

As Ephraim Katz of “The Film Encyclopedia” puts it: “She clicked best at the box office as the screen partner of Alan Ladd in a matchup of cool, determined personalities.” They went on to make six more flicks together, including noir fare “The Glass Key” (1942) and “The Blue Dahlia” (1946).

In this one, Ladd’s character, Philip Raven is on the trail of Los Angeles-based Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) a blubbery, unctuous exec at a chemical company who hires Raven to bump off his colleague, a blackmailing paymaster named Baker (Frank Ferguson). Gates then pays Raven off in stolen cash, a ploy to put him in the hands of the police.

But chemical formulas aren’t really Gates’ thing – on the side, he likes to chomp on peppermints, hang out in nightclubs in LA and San Francisco, and indulge his “vice,” as he calls it, as a part-time impresario. When he sees the head-turning Ellen perform in San Francisco, he’s hooked and invites her to perform at the Neptune Club in LA.

Ellen’s trying to get close to Gates, too, but not just because she craves the spotlight. She’s been recruited by a senator (Roger Imhof) who wants hard evidence that Gates is the Benedict Arnold of 1942, i.e., he’s suspected of selling chemical formulas to the Japanese. It is war time, after all.

So, as Raven tracks down his prey and eludes the police, Ellen juggles her high-minded snooping with sequin-drenched dress rehearsals. Before long, their paths are bound to cross, especially when they board the same train to LA …

Known primarily for musicals and crime dramas, and for naming names to HUAC during Sen. Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror, director Tuttle wasn’t what you’d call an artist or a poet, but he managed to make a top-notch thriller, based on one of Graham Greene’s best crime novels. True, the movie doesn’t do the book justice, but for every one of its 80 minutes, the film is engaging and entertaining.

Tuttle easily balances moody suspense, wholesome romance, patriotic duty and the not-quite-jaded vibe of young performers trying to earn a living at a nightclub. Cinematographer John Seitz (of “Double Indemnity”) lends his elegant eye to the lighting; the scenes of Ladd and Lake on the train and on the run are especially beautiful. Crisp dialogue comes from writers Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) and W.R. Burnett, a Midwesterner whose stint as a night clerk in a Chicago hotel inspired the 1929 crime novel (and the 1931 film) “Little Caesar” as well as many other novels and screenplays.

Unrepentant and casual about killing for a living, Ladd’s performance is classic noir; it influenced Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” from 1967. Unlike most femme fatales, Ellen Graham isn’t motivated by money or revenge but by doing her part for the war effort. Still, Lake gives us bemused detachment and a glimmer of tenderness; she also helps humanize Raven. And how could you not love her musical numbers and surprisingly modern costumes, especially the sleek black “fishing” garb with thigh-high boots? [Read more…]

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‘This Gun for Hire’ opens Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre

The Veronica LakeAlan Ladd quintessential film noir “This Gun for Hire,” co-starring Laird Cregar, opens the Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre. Directed by Frank Tuttle from a Graham Greene novel, the 1942 film helped shape many archetypes of the genre. Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) and W.R. Burnett wrote the script, with an uncredited contribution from Tuttle. John F. Seitz shot it and Edith Head designed the costumes.

Noir City: Hollywood, the longest-running film noir festival in Los Angeles, is now in its 19th year. For 2017, the Film Noir Foundation and the American Cinematheque will present a program “replicating the movie-going experience of that time – 10 double bills, each featuring a major studio A picture paired with a shorter B movie … showcased exactly as it was back in the day.”

In Friday’s B-movie slot is the well regarded “Quiet Please, Murder” (1942, John Larkin), which stars the inimitable George Sanders as a con artist.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller will introduce the lineup. There’s a cocktail hour between films for all ticket buyers, sponsored by Clarendelle inspired by Haut-Brion and Teeling Irish Whiskey.

Compiled by Muller, Alan K. Rode and Gwen Deglise, the festival runs through April 2.

In honor of the film and the fest, we are re-running an earlier review of “This Gun for Hire.”

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