Long-awaited Curtiz book hits Hollywood; Egyptian Theatre hosts signing and screening

Alan K. Rode

Film noir expert Alan K. Rode has released “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. To mark the book’s launch, the American Cinematheque is hosting a book signing and screening of two Curtiz gems on Thursday night in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.

The Sea Wolf” (1941) stars Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Gene Lockhart and Barry Fitzgerald in a tense and moody adaption of Jack London’s anti-fascist adventure novel. Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) wrote the screenplay.

The Breaking Point” (1950) takes Ernest Hemingway’s tragic novel “To Have and Have Not” as its source material. Though the setting is changed from Key West to Newport Beach, Calif., Curtiz delivers a more faithful version of the book than the famous Howard Hawks vehicle starring Bogart and Bacall.

Here, John Garfield expertly plays Skipper Harry Morgan. Gravel-voiced Patricia Neal is the alluring vamp; Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford and Juano Hernandez round out the cast.

Rode set himself quite the task when he decided to write about this master director. Uncommonly prolific across many genres (including Westerns, swashbucklers and musicals), Hungarian-born Curtiz made more than 60 movies in Europe and more than 100 in Hollywood, arriving in 1926 at the behest of Warner Bros. Studio.

He won the Best Director Oscar for 1942’s noir-tinged “Casablanca” and for a short called “Sons of Liberty” from 1939. He was nominated for Oscars five times and directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations. James Cagney and Joan Crawford received their only Academy Awards under Curtiz’s direction.

Crawford won for her comeback role, “Mildred Pierce,” a domestic film noir from 1945. With a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, the movie improves and heightens the drama of James M. Cain’s novel.

Co-starring Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden and Bruce Bennett, “Mildred Pierce” ranks as one of our all-time favorite films.

For tonight, however, we’ll just have to swoon over John Garfield. Life’s rough.

Rode will sign his book in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. He will also introduce the films, slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

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As AFI turns 50, this year’s fest looks set to be one of the best

We are very excited that AFI FEST presented by Audi starts in Hollywood on Thursday, Nov. 9, and ends Thursday, Nov. 16. This great fest is open to the public so check it out.

Load the app and pack some snacks – there are more than 100 movies showing!

Opening the festival on Thursday night is Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” a drama set in post-World War II Mississippi, starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the American Film Institute, several 1967 titles will screen, such as: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Blow-Up,” and “Red Desert.”

On Saturday, Nov. 11, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris will be honored with a tribute following a 3 p.m. screening of “Wormwood,” about one man’s 60-year quest to illuminate the circumstances of his father’s mysterious death. Peter Sarsgaard stars. Morris’ credits include the Oscar®-winning “The Fog of War” (2003) as well as “Gates of Heaven” (1978), “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), “Tabloid” (2010) and “The Unknown Known” (2013).

The world premiere of Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” was scheduled to close the festival. On Monday, however, Sony pulled the film from the fest because of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey. In this thriller based on real events, Spacey initially played billionaire J. Paul Getty in 1973, as he refuses to give in to kidnappers who demand $17 million in ransom for the release of Getty’s grandson. The movie is still scheduled for theatrical release later this year but has been reshot, cutting Spacey and replacing him with Christopher Plummer.

Here at FNB, of course, we are super stoked about the neo-noir slate of programming, in particular:

Writer/director Aaron Katz’s “Gemini,” a thriller set in Hollywood starring Lola Kirke and Zoë Kravitz.

Have a Nice Day,” a Chinese animated noir about greed and ruthlessness amid China’s new economy, is generating buzz. Jian Liu writes and directs.

Gloria Grahame

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” is Paul McGuigan’s film based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his relationship with actress Gloria Grahame, near the end of her life. Annette Bening plays Grahame, an icon of film noir. Jamie Bell plays her young lover, Peter. Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave round out the cast.

In “Molly’s Game,” Jessica Chastain is Molly Bloom, a former athlete targeted by the FBI after she gets involved in running high-stakes poker games. Based on a true story; directed by writing giant Aaron Sorkin.

In the Fade” is Germany’s contender this year for Best Foreign Film Oscar. Diane Kruger plays a wife and mother who turns vigilante after violence rips her life apart. Fatih Akin directs and co-writes. This is one of 14 Foreign Language Oscar entries in the fest lineup.

An athlete with an unscrupulous agenda – figure skater Tonya Harding – is the subject of “I, Tonya,” from director Craig Gillespie. Margot Robbie stars. Our friend Bob Strauss of the LA Daily News describes this as “hilarious and hard-hitting.”

Spoor” is a new crime thriller by the great Agnieszka Holland and is Poland’s Best Foreign Film Oscar entry.

In Laurent Cantet’s “The Workshop,” set in a declining town near Marseille, the vibe of a writers’ group goes from soothing to sinister.

An estranged couple must join forces to find their missing son in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless,” which is Russia’s Best Foreign Film Oscar hopeful.

Other highlights include:

The 12-film Robert Altman retrospective will screen “M*A*S*H” (1970), “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), “The Long Goodbye” (1972), “California Split” (1973), “Nashville” (1975), “3 Women” (1977), “Vincent & Theo” (1990), “The Player” (1992), “Short Cuts” (1993), “Kansas City” (1996), “Gosford Park” (2001) and “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006). Talent in attendance at screenings will be announced closer to the festival.

Call Me By Your Name” is a coming-of-age bisexual love story set in Italy in 1983, directed by Luca Guadagnino, based on André Aciman’s novel and starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Hostiles,” a highly anticipated Western by Scott Cooper, starring Christian Bale.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” a sci-fi love story set during the Cold War.

Let the Sun Shine In” a comedy/romance with the always-wonderful Juliette Binoche; directed by Claire Denis.

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert fans, take note. The inimitable actress stars in two dramas: Michael Haneke’s “Happy End” and “Claire’s Camera” by Hong Sang-soo. (“Happy End” is Austria’s Best Foreign Film Oscar contender.)

Another coveted ticket: “The Other Side of Hope” by Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki, a critics’ darling.

Talent scheduled to appear at AFI FEST presented by Audi includes: Christopher Nolan, Angelina Jolie, Sofia Coppola, Martin McDonagh, Agnes Varda and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”).

Enjoy!

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Romero honored at special screening of ‘Creepshow’

An indie director before the term was widely used, George Romero carved his own niche in the horror genre by brilliantly marrying over-the-top blood and guts with sharp social satire.

He broke new ground with his first effort, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Dismissed by critics, his low-budget film was a huge hit with audiences and grossed more than $50 million. Romero went on to direct these sequels: 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” 2007’s “Diary of the Dead” and 2009’s “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.”

The Bronx-born maverick moviemaker died on July 16, 2017; he was 77.

Comic book fans will no doubt appreciate Romero’s “Creepshow,” a 1982 black comedy shot in Pittsburgh, as were many of his other flicks. (Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960.)

Starring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and E.G. Marshall, the film was Stephen King’s first script. King also plays a part in one of the five stories, which are inspired by the EC and DC comics of the 1950s.

You can see “Creepshow” on the big screen on Wednesday, October 25, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The Alex is hosting a tribute to Romero with a preshow reception and Q&A.

Happy Halloween, zombie people!

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Highly anticipated ‘Snowman’ turns out to be mostly slush

Looking at the billboard posters for “The Snowman” (2017, Tomas Alfredson), I had the feeling that if I paid close attention while watching the movie, I might see a red flag or perhaps spot a clue that the police miss in a complex and carefully constructed story of a serial killer on the loose.

And since it’s set in Norway (haunting snowscapes, frozen lakes and austere mountains abound), I figured this tipoff to patient viewers would likely be a visual one – the Scandinavians being a tight-lipped crowd for the most part.

But about 45 minutes into this film, in which Michael Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole, I realized that hanging in there was not going to pay off – that this was a complex and sloppily constructed story that was probably going to leave me feeling disappointed and frustrated.

Despite Alfredson’s success in 2011 with the multilayered “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” he seems out of his depth and overwhelmed with “The Snowman.” The narrative is confusing, the flashbacks don’t connect well with the present, the characterizations are haphazard. A case in point: Early on, we see Harry lying on a park bench shivering. There’s no explanation and the rest of the time he seems calm, measured, decisive and compassionate. Eventually, we learn he is an alcoholic. Oh, OK.

Similarly, his colleague Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), despite showing ingenuity and fierce determination, in the end, must resort to time-worn feminine wiles to land her suspect. Good thing she’s gorgeous!

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character doesn’t have a last name but at least she’s elegantly dressed. Whatever.

Most vacant of all: Chloë Sevigny’s two characters (she plays twins) – one of whom is a dour-faced chicken slaughterer. ’Nuff said.

Considering, too, that the film was based on Jo Nesbø’s best-selling series of novels, there was reason to hope for a well made, intelligent, engrossing movie. Maybe there were too many screenwriters? (Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini lead the list.)

Or maybe this would have been better off as a TV series, where the serpentine storylines could play out and the characters could have more time to develop. Unfortunately, “The Snowman” we ended up with is mostly slush.

“The Snowman” opened Oct. 19 in Los Angeles and is now on general release.

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Basinger and Pearce delight a sold-out audience at anniversary screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’

Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger spoke with critic Stephen Farber after the screening.

Kim Basinger’s initial answer to playing the voluptuous call girl Lynn Bracken in “L.A. Confidential” was a resounding “no.”

“I’m not going to play a whore! I’m a Mom now,” she recalled saying. (Basinger gave birth to daughter Ireland Baldwin in October of 1995.)

Basinger was speaking at Tuesday night’s screening of the movie, marking its 20th anniversary, held at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills. Co-star Guy Pearce (squeaky clean Det. Ed Exley) joined her for the Q&A, which was moderated by critic Stephen Farber.

But the film’s director Curtis Hanson was determined and invited Basinger to meet him at the Formosa Café to discuss the idea. (The famous bar/restaurant would later feature in the film – it’s there that Kevin Spacey as cop Jack Vincennes gives his perfectly timed line: “It is Lana Turner.”)

At the Formosa, Basinger said she experienced “the seduction of Curtis Hanson,” referring to his eloquence and deadpanning that he was “very manipulative.”

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce share a scene in “L.A. Confidential.”

Hanson’s persistence paid off: Basinger won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal. “He believed in me much more than I believed in myself,” she said. “He had a magical connection with actors and with people in general.”

(Hanson and Basinger worked together again in 2002’s “8 Mile,” with Hanson remarking, while she was deciding whether to take the part, “I know if she fears it, she’s going to do it.” Sadly, Hanson died on Sept. 20, 2016.)

Fans wait in line late Tuesday afternoon at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Playing Ed Exley was a much easier choice for Pearce, who was unknown in America at that time, though he remembered being a little overwhelmed by the plot’s twists and turns. “I read the script and I was really confused,” he laughed.

(Hanson and Brian Helgeland earned an Oscar for their screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel.)

Once Pearce heard that fellow Aussie Russell Crowe had been cast as muscle-bound cop Bud White, he was eager to be a part of the production, adding that he went through extensive screen tests at Warner Bros. before it was a done deal.

“L.A. Confidential” turned out to be Pearce’s break-through role. As he put it: “It’s the greatest film I’ve ever been a part of. It sticks with me like nothing else.”

(Pearce went on to make many more films, including “Memento” in 2000, “The Hurt Locker” in 2008, and “Iron Man 3” in 2013.)

Basinger said director Curtis Hanson was a calming influence.

Pearce and Basinger both credit Hanson with being a calming presence and encouraging them to bring stillness to the screen. A true cinephile who had the cast watch a “film noir retrospective” to get in an old-school mood, Hanson pushed back when he was nudged by execs to speed up the production, telling them: “You can hurry me along all you want but I’m not going to go any faster.”

Veronica Lake was famous for her hair. Basinger was as well – as a Breck Shampoo girl. In the film, Basinger plays a call girl who is Lake’s doppelgänger.

Hanson’s treatment of his actors was often gentle but also spare. Basinger remembered being rattled after doing a scene repeatedly, noting that she had trouble walking gracefully in long gowns and clunky 1940s shoes, à la Veronica Lake.

She asked Hanson for help. His answer: “Do it again.”

“He was utterly inspiring, really,” said Pearce. “He was a mentor, a father figure and we stayed close friends.”

Pearce also shared Crowe’s advice before a close-up. He told Pearce: “Don’t blink.”

Basinger took the opportunity on Tuesday night to thank Pearce and Crowe for their support in her Oscar win, explaining that she’d been too flustered to do so at the time. With “Titanic” sweeping the awards that year, she was sure the trophy would go to Gloria Stuart. “When you hear your name, you freeze! You lose your hands. You lose your feet. You can’t think. I just sat there until Curtis, who was sitting behind me, nudged me. Jack Nicholson had to help me to the stage.”

At 63, and still every inch a beautiful blonde, Basinger looked sleek and slim in a black blazer and blouse, cuffed jeans, white socks and black Oxfords.

When an audience member asked if they had considered making Lynn a brunette for the film’s final scene (in which she leaves Los Angeles, with Bud, for Arizona), Basinger paused a moment, then replied:  “I don’t think there was any thought of that,” she said. “I think she was really happy being a blonde.”

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‘L.A. Confidential,’ a neo-noir classic, turns 20

Tonight at the Laemmle Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills: Oscar winner Kim Basinger and co-star Guy Pearce will participate in a Q&A after a screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’!

Upon the film’s release, critic Michael Wilmington, writing for the Chicago Tribune, described it as: “A movie bull’s-eye: noir with an attitude, a thriller packing punches. It gives up its evil secrets with a smile.”

In honor of the anniversary, we are rerunning our review from 2010.

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Life is good (and glitzy) in 1953 Los Angeles, if you don’t mind smoke and mirrors, hidden crime, rampant racism and more than a few dodgy cops. Corruption in the police force, long an undercurrent in classic noir, takes center stage in “L.A. Confidential,” a wry, stylish and devastating police drama directed by Curtis Hanson.

Hanson sets the tone of glib optimism masking darker secrets by opening the movie with shots of bright and cheerful ’50s postcards, the song “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative)” and a Danny DeVito voiceover filling us in on some of the trouble that lurks in paradise.

The sophisticated script, by Hanson and Brian Helgeland, is based on the 1990 novel by James Ellroy, which cleverly weaves in actual Hollywood history while telling the see-speak-and-hear-all-evil story of three cops:

From left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey

*The jaded and jazzy Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey with a nod to Dean Martin) who pads his bank account by consulting for a TV police show (“Badge of Honor”) and feeding juicy info to “Hush Hush” tabloid columnist Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). Sid meets looming deadlines with set-ups, celebrity exposés and the odd blackmail scheme. (“Hush Hush” magazine is based on the ’50s scandal mag “Confidential” and “Badge of Honor” is based on TV’s “Dragnet.”)

*Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious newbie with a gift for finessing police politics. Exley wants to make his Dad proud, follows a strict moral code and doesn’t care about being one of the guys. And he won’t be, given that he testifies against his fellow cops and their part in “Bloody Christmas,” a true incident of LA cops beating up Mexican prisoners.

*Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), a thuggish beefcake who likes to take justice into his own hands, especially when it comes to violence against women. “His blood’s always up,” Exley says of White.

Presiding over the entire force and clashing with Exley in particular is Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), arrogant but understated until his latent psychopath rears his head.

“Bloody Christmas” is a mere prelude to a detailed catalog of vice and sin, as the story deepens and stretches to accommodate layer after layer of lies, double-dealing, betrayal and cover-up. Funny what can happen when mob leader and “honest haberdasher” Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) — a real-life criminal — is getting a time-out in jail.

Central to the tangle is the Nite Owl case, involving kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder, which of course is not what it looks like. White’s ex-partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) was among the bodies found in a dumpy diner, and, in pretty short order, three African-American guys with records end up taking the fall.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Additionally, the three cops find out about an upscale call-girl service, run by the suave, slick and urbane Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Patchett’s gimmick: All the girls resemble popular actresses — or they do after a few trips to a plastic surgeon. For instance, there’s a Veronica Lake look-alike named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Sure enough, such a business did apparently exist in ’50s Tinseltown, as recounted in Garson Kanin’s memoir “Hollywood.”

Bud White proves to be both smart and strong as he asks the tough questions and finds their well-guarded answers, one in the form of a rotten, rat-infested corpse who turns out to be a fellow cop. Shocker!

More storylines surface, such as the romance between Bud and good-hearted golden-girl Lynn, not to be confused with Veronica Lake. (Btw, the Lana Turner mixup scene is a hoot!) And as is the case in noir, it’s not long before Exley meets Lynn and creates a triangle of treachery. As the threads of the story unravel, and we see more darkness and deceit, deadly shoot-outs and bloody dust-ups, it’s clear that all strands lead back to a central source of evil. Hanson and Helgeland, courtesy of Ellroy, tell a tense, crisply paced, funny and chilling story nestled in a near-perfectly rendered world of sun-drenched, sleazy LA.

A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, “L.A. Confidential” also ranked on most major critics Top Ten lists for 1997. The film received Oscar noms for best movie, director, editing, art direction, cinematography, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, sound and music/original dramatic score. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also scored “Chinatown” from 1974 and 1992’s “Basic Instinct.” “L.A. Confidential” won two: Basinger for supporting actress; Hanson and Helgeland for the screenplay.

Hanson’s film stands up beautifully and certainly holds its own among the great neo-noir movies, in the tradition of “Chinatown” and “Body Heat.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times sums up the appeal this way: “Its intricate plot is so nihilistic and cold around the heart, its nominal heroes so amoral, so willing to sell out anyone and everyone, that the film is as initially unnerving as it is finally irresistible.”

That said, there are several snags on the accuracy front. We are introduced to Johnny Stompanato (Paolo Seganti) as Lana Turner’s boyfriend, but in reality, the pair didn’t meet until 1957. (The following year, Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane fatally stabbed Stompanato; it was found to be justifiable homicide.)

And while Mickey Cohen was certainly a major player in the LA underworld, the bigger, though less famous, boss was Jack Dragna, who took over mob business after the murder of Bugsy Siegel in 1947.

Veronica Lake shot by George Hurrell; copyright George Hurrell

Also, Veronica Lake was a 1940s star and, by 1953, her power had faded considerably; the clip that’s shown from “This Gun for Hire” would have been 11 years old. At least Hanson let a 43-year-old actress play the part.

My favorite aspect of “L.A. Confidential” is the stellar performances. (There are 80 speaking parts.) Australians Pearce and Crowe, largely unknown in the U.S. at the time, and Spacey are terrific to watch as their loyalties to each other ebb and flow. Crowe electrifies every scene he’s in and Pearce makes an ideal foil. Spacey coasts through his part with an equal measure of glitz and wit; his brief answer to why he became a cop is stunning. DeVito must have modeled Sid after a mangy dog.

As I mentioned earlier, Basinger won an Oscar for her role as the femme fatale. “She’s one of the few contemporary actresses that you imagine in a George Hurrell photograph—as glamorous as any star in the old studio system,” Hanson said in an AP story from 1997. In the same story, Basinger said of Veronica Lake: “I think she’s more interesting than every character she ever played.”

So do I.

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City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival is in full swing in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild

The 21st annual City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) French Film Festival opened Monday night in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild of America with a grand party and the North American premiere of “Everyone’s Life” (Chacun sa vie), directed and co-written by the great Claude Lelouch. The comedy-drama stars pop legend Johnny Hallyday, Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, Christopher Lambert, Elsa Zylberstein and many other French stars.

As we sipped champagne and noshed on fare from local French restaurants and food stores, we spotted the stunning and gracious Jacqueline Bisset and shared a hug with her. That made our night!

The festival will screen about 80 films, including classics, shorts, dramas, comedies, documentaries, NeWave 2.0 and a special slate of film noir. The fest also features a considerable offering of acclaimed TV programs and will hold a virtual reality live demo. No matter which movie you select, you will more than likely see a work that is extremely well made with top-notch acting.

Additionally, COLCOA will honor writer-director Stéphane Brizé with a special presentation of “Not Here To Be Loved” (2005) and the festival will host the West Coast premiere of Brizé’s new film “A Womans Life,” (Une Vie), based on the Guy de Maupassant novel and starring Judith Chemla.

To mark the 100th anniversary of iconic filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville’s birth is a special presentation of “Le Cercle Rouge,” starring Alain Delon, Bourvil and Yves Montand.

“Le Cercle Rouge,”  will essentially kick off the film noir lineup on Friday and will be followed by “The Eavesdropper,” an espionage thriller directed and co-written by Thomas Kruithof. It stars François Cluzet as a man with few career options who accepts a mysterious job transcribing tapes of intercepted phone calls.

The second film noir is “Corporate,” directed and co-written by Nicolas Sihol, with Céline Sallette playing an ambitious career woman whose cut-throat “innovation” plan seriously backfires. The last film of the series is “Ares” a dark fantasy set in 2035 Paris, starring Ola Rapace and Micha Lescot. Jean-Patrick Benes directed and co-wrote “Ares.”

Additionally, COLCOA will show an international premiere of “Farewell Bonaparte,” a restoration of Youssef Chahine’s 1985 film. “Playtime,” Jacques Tati’s inventive and ambitious 1967 film, will have a special presentation at the festival as will “The Lovers on the Bridge” (1991, Leos Carax).

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TCM Classic Film Festival honors Robert Osborne’s legacy

The TCM Classic Film Festival is dedicated to famed host and historian Robert Osborne. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

This year’s edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will be bittersweet. Our excitement about four days filled with gorgeous movies and great guests is tempered with sadness because of a very sad loss: TCM host and historian Robert Osborne passed away on March 6 at his home in New York City. He was 84.

The fest, which runs in Hollywood from Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9, is dedicated to Osborne’s memory and we hope that this year’s theme – Comedy in the Movies – will help to chase the blues away.

At Wednesday’s press conference, held at the TCL Chinese Multiplex Theatre, TCM representatives noted that Robert Osborne was the festival. As to how Osborne’s legacy and contributions (specifically his intros to the films) will be remembered going forward, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz said: “We would like to bring Bob back, sure, but there’s the question of doing it the right way. Maybe it’s a matter of having an introduction to his introduction.”

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” screens poolside Friday night. Do we need to watch Bette and Joan for the 5,000th time? Maybe …

Some of the titles for a comedy-focused fest have obvious appeal, for example: “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “The Jerk,” “High Anxiety” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Others have a dark slant … which is right up our alley, of course: “Some Like It Hot,” “Beat the Devil,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “Lured,” “Twentieth Century,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Harold and Maude,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Front Page.”

And the campy noir treat “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” will screen Friday night poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Additionally, there are tearjerkers, such as “Postcards from the Edge,” perhaps the greatest musical of them all, “Singin in the Rain,” and other feel-good fare, such as  “The Princess Bride,” “Casablanca,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

There are, in fact, nine themes for the fest: Discoveries; Essentials; Festival Tributes; Dark Comedies; Divorce Remorse; Movies Spoofs; Hey, That’s Not Funny; Special Presentations; and Nitrate.

As for Nitrate, the TCM program guide points out that films produced before the early 1940s were released on nitrate stock, which has a luminous quality and higher contrast than the cellulose acetate film that superseded it. (Nitrate was replaced because of its volatile nature.) The film noir classic “Laura” is part of this roster.

TCM programming director Charlie Tabesh explained at the press conference: “We try to get everyone interested in classic film, young and old. When we book, we try to put very different films against each other … so that people have a choice.”

That is an understatement! There are about 90 films at the fest.

Plus, there is a full slate of special guests and events – Mankiewicz will interview veteran actor Michael Douglas; director Peter Bogdanovich will discuss his career as will blacklisted actress Lee Grant; comedy greats Carl and Rob Reiner will be honored at a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX – as well as panels, parties, presentations, book signings and more.

Mr. Osborne would be proud.

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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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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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