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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‘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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Highly anticipated ‘The Girl on the Train’ ultimately derails

By Mike Wilmington

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a chic romantic crime thriller in the “GONE GIRL” mode — but not as engrossing or gripping, nor as packed with interesting characters and wicked plot twists. Mainstream audiences should like it, but most of them probably won’t love it (as they did with the book) or become obsessed with it, the way they might with, say, Hitchcock‘s train-riding masterpiece, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Unlike the Gillian Flynn-penned bestseller TRAIN tends to resemble, or the David Fincher-directed suspenser based on Flynn’s book, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN tends to be more ordinary and less icily compelling.

Writer Paula Hawkins’ bestseller is about a woman whose life falls apart and who becomes a hard-drinking, train-riding voyeur, spying on what she imagines to be the perfect lives lived by the two couples she regularly watches from her commuter train windows. Rachel Watson (played by the eye-catchingly beautiful Britisher Emily Blunt), has lost her husband Tom (played by the disturbing Justin Theroux) to a pretty little blonde, Anna (played by Swedish stunner Rebecca Ferguson).

Macho man Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) sees his world fall apart when his wife Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing.

Macho man Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) sees his world fall apart when his wife Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing.

Rachel, besides drinking herself silly, also spies on another couple, just a few houses down from Tom and Anna, two others she imagines are leading lives of golden joy: macho man Scott Hipwell (Welshman Luke Evans) and another pretty little blonde, Megan (Haley Bennett).

Also involved in this peeping Tom’s delight of a tale is Megan’s sexy shrink, Dr. Kamal Abdic (played by Edgar Ramirez) – and Rachel’s friend Kathy (Laura Prepon), who’s putting her pal up and forgives all her rotten behavior. Soon Rachel has plunged into what might be a nightmare of infidelity and possible murder.

GONE GIRL was an incredibly clever thriller with an incredibly tricky plot. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is not too clever, not too tricky. Director Tate Taylor (who made the humanistic Southern family drama THE HELP) and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (SECRETARY), have changed the background from London (in the book), to New York and the Westchester suburbs, and maybe they’ve lost something in the switch.

Emily Blunt is a real camera-stealer, but her character has been written (at first) as such a pain-in-the-ass, that it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her. The surprise ending isn’t very surprising. Only Danny Elfman’s Bernard Herrmanneque score (justly praised by Hollywood reporter’s Todd McCarthy), achieves excellence in the style department. And only Allison Janney, in a fine sardonic “Law and Order-ish” turn (she’d be a good match for the late Jerry Orbach’s Lenny Brisco) has crafted much of an engaging character.

The screenplay is just about what you’d expect and Taylor’s direction doesn’t rise above the ordinary either. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN may have been a great read on the airplane (or on the train), but the movie made me want to watch something else, out the window.

Unfortunately, I was in a theater at the time.

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Start summer with a chilling classic …

Chinatown/1974/Paramount/130 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Noah Cross (John Huston) tells J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) what’s what.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Those are the last words, chilling, evocative, cynical, of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown – that great dark tale of politics, murder and family secrets in ’30s Los Angeles. No matter what you think of Polanski and his arrest and extradition problems, the director’s 1974 private-eye classic “Chinatown” is still a masterpiece of neo-noir. The movie, one of the big commercial-critical hits of its era, was a career peak for director Polanski, the matchless screenwriter Towne and the superb star team of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.

It’s a picture that seems close to perfect of its kind and one of the ’70s films I love best. Gorgeous and terrifying and sometimes funny as hell, “Chinatown” tells a romantic/tragic/murder mystery tale of official crimes and personal depravity raging around the real-life Los Angeles water scandal, with private sin and public swindles steadily stripped bare by J. J. Gittes (one of Nicholson’s signature roles), a cynical, natty, smart-ass shamus, with a nose for corruption and a hot-trigger temper.

Gittes is an anti-Philip Marlowe detective. He’s proud of taking divorce cases (Marlowe disdained them), and he’s not too queasy about selling out. He’s also much less sexually reticent than Raymond Chandler’s knight of the mean streets, though he cracks just as wise. Fundamentally, Gittes is a survivor.

He likes his nose, he likes breathing through it. But he finds it increasingly hard to keep it unbloodied and out of rich L. A. people’s business as he keeps digging deeper into what starts as a simple infidelity investigation and then broadens to include a vast conspiracy, intertwined with the deadly history of immaculately evil nabob Noah Cross (played by the devilishly genial Huston) and his desperate, wounded daughter Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway). It’s a nasty web that includes Polanski himself as the cocky little fedora-topped thug (with a Polish accent) who calls Gittes “Kitty-Kat” and slices up his proboscis for a memento mori.

“Chinatown”– with splendid Richard Sylbert production design, gleaming John Alonso cinematography and a haunting Jerry Goldsmith score – wafts us back to LA’s downtown and Silverlake in the ’30s: the era of the Depression. It was also the heyday, of course, of the hard-boiled, high-style thrillers of Dashiell Hammett and Chandler, fiction that Towne, at his absolute best, pastiches to a fine turn and that Polanski, at his best makes shatteringly alive.

Gittes puts in some extra time with client Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).

The movie has great dialogue, great acting, great direction and an unmatchable blend of wised-up savvy and yearning romanticism. The bleak ending (Polanski’s idea) cuts you to the heart. Temper-tantrum virtuoso Nicholson has some of his best blowups.

And the supporting cast members – Polanski, Burt Young, Diane Ladd, Perry Lopez, Dick Bakalyan, Roy Jenson, James Hong, Bruce Glover, Joe Mantell and John Hillerman (at his smarmiest) – are wonderful too.

In fact, this is a movie that – not counting Gittes’ slit nose – has no perceptible flaws: a classic you can’t and won’t forget. “Chinatown” reminds you of how Nicholson almost single-handedly, shifted the ground of the movies, and changed our conception of what a movie star was. It reminds you of how vulnerable Dunaway could be, of what a sly old movie fox Huston was.

It reminds you how great films can be when they have really wonderful, beautifully crafted, verbally agile scripts (like Towne’s here). And it reminds you that Polanski is a filmmaker who’s maybe faced such terror, darkness and despair in his own life – from the Holocaust to personal tragedy – that he can, brilliantly and memorably, turn fear into art.

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Happy birthday, Tippi Hedren! ‘Marnie’ is a marvelous yarn

By Film Noir Blonde

Marnie/1964/Universal Pictures/130 min.

In honor of Tippi Hedren’s 86th birthday on Jan. 19, we are running a review of “Marnie.” In 1983, Hedren, a Minnesota native of Scandinavian descent, founded the Roar Foundation to support abandoned exotic felines at the Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif.

Most cynics have romantic souls and if there’s one Hitchcock film that works on this premise it’s “Marnie.” Though the legendary auteur frequently featured redemptive, romantic endings, here a pair of feuding lovers must work through many an issue before they hit happily ever after. It’s also a portrait of a wayward woman struggling with a tortured psyche, stemming from an unresolved childhood trauma.

Marnie (Tippi Hedren) and Mark (Sean Connery) must work through many an issue.

In the opening scene we meet impeccably dressed, raven-haired career girl Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) carrying a citron-colored handbag that’s as covetable today as it was in 1964. (Hedren starred in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” one year earlier.)

Marnie has just finished doing what she does best: stealing from her employer, then donning a new disguise so she can pull the same scam at another company.

Besides her sizable clothing and hair-color budget, Marnie wants money to give to her poor frumpy Mama (Louise Latham), telling her: “That’s what money’s for. To spend.” (Especially when it’s someone else’s cash.) But despite these handouts, which Marnie personally delivers, Mama’s uptight and hard to please, preferring to lavish her attention on a little girl from the neighborhood (Kimberly Beck) instead of on her daughter.

At her next job, Marnie sports auburn up-do’s and sensible shoes. It’s here that she meets devastatingly handsome businessman Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Intense and domineering, Mark is quickly smitten but ice-queen Marnie has no interest in him or in any man, though she does weaken long enough to kiss him.

Diane Baker plays sassy Lil.

Not so impressed with Marnie is the sharp and sassy Lil (Diane Baker). Packed with interesting women, the cast also includes Mariette Hartley as Marnie’s office colleague and Melody Thomas Scott as young Marnie.

Marnie’s coldness just makes Mark more determined – he is used to getting what he wants – and once he finds out about her criminal past, he uses this info to hasten their marriage.

The fact that Marnie can’t stand his touch doesn’t make for the most romantic honeymoon. Perhaps if he were a tad less controlling …

Will Mark help Marnie confront her past before her spate of Dior-collar crime catches up with her? That’s the movie’s source of suspense. It’s loosely based on a novel by Winston Graham but Hitchcock typically used the literary source material as merely a starting point to create a tension-filled, sometimes terrifying, reality and render his unique vision. The script came from Jay Presson Allen, a former actress and writer, who also worked with Sidney Lumet.

Hitchcock enjoyed exploring psychosexual theory in his films, sometimes with a smirk, sometimes not. In this case, Dr. Hitch diagnoses frigidity, rescue fantasies, control issues bordering on obsession, repressed memories and of course a major power struggle.

The movie was trashed upon its release. Critics called Hitchcock sloppy and unfairly pounced on Hedren’s acting. The editing is occasionally choppy, some of the backdrops look fake, the screen goes red when Marnie sees the color red, there are thunderstorms aplenty. Though they might seem flawed or slightly old-hat, these noirish devices reflect Marnie’s off-kilter world, her confused and anguished psychological state.

And Hitchcock’s personality was too controlling and perfectionistic to have coasted through this movie. Conscious of every detail of every frame, he sometimes shopped for and selected accessories like hats and handbags because even these seemingly minor visual elements affected the color palette of each shot. He also wanted classic lines for the clothes so that in years to come they wouldn’t look dated.

Always engaging, sometimes thrilling, “Marnie” is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story.

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Paris Photo Los Angeles starts Friday at Paramount Studios

Stefania Fersini

Stefania Fersini

Jane O’Neal On Location in LA (To Live and Die in LA), 1984

Jane O’Neal
On Location in LA (To Live and Die in LA), 1984

William Mebane

William Mebane

This weekend you can stroll around a storied studio and see work from some of the world’s finest photographers. The third edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles runs Friday, May 1, to Sunday, May 3, at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood.

Featuring exhibitors from 17 countries, Paris Photo Los Angeles shows work from nearly 80 art galleries and specialized art book dealers. In addition to still photos, moving images will be displayed.

New this year is the INTRODUCING! Young California Photographer Award, in partnership with J.P. Morgan. After the success of last year’s UNEDITED! Archives of the LAPD exhibition, the program returns with CALIFORNIA UNEDITED!: a collection of 19th Century photographs from the R.J. Arnold Archive.

The exhibition also includes a conversation series called SOUND & VISION.

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‘A Perfect Man’ is an ideal start to COLCOA film festival

Last night, the COLCOA French Film Festival kicked off with a lovely reception and a screening of “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan.

A Perfect Man posterIn the movie, Pierre Niney plays Mathieu Vasseur, a sensitive smart loner and struggling fiction writer. When he happens to find an unpublished manuscript written by a French soldier in the Algerian War (who is now deceased), Mathieu takes a gamble and sends it to a publisher. It’s an instant success and Mathieu’s once-dismal existence is transformed, bringing him money, acclaim and the love of Alice Fursac (Ana Girardot), a beautiful and brainy literature professor who hails from a prominent family.

But three years later, Mathieu’s lies catch up with him: he’s spent all his money and he’s made zero progress on a second book. Also bothering him: a blackmailer and a nosy friend of the Fursac family. As Mathieu gets more desperate to cover his tracks (à la Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley), he turns to increasingly dire methods to hang onto his pretty illusion.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

Granted, there are several times where “A Perfect Man” might inspire head-shaking incredulity. But I found that easy to forgive because there is so much that’s highly entertaining about the film – Niney and Girardot are just right for their parts, not to mention the luscious cinematography, shocking twists, taut pacing and gorgeous locations.

Alfred Hitchcock had a name for viewers who quibbled with the likelihood of a suspense movie’s plot points occurring in real life: The Plausibles. In his view, these nitpickers were missing the point, which was to enjoy the story’s thrills, both narratively and visually.

Of course, there needs to be some semblance of reality as well as sophistication in terms of storytelling in order to gloss over pesky points of fact. And it’s a difficult balance to maintain – some films are so compelling that it’s easy to forgive even major errors, others we dismiss completely because we just can’t buy into the film’s reality.

In the case of “A Perfect Man,” ditch your Plausibles checklist and just have a good time.

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COLCOA French fest opens and Noir City Hollywood closes

It’s a busy time for film buffs in Los Angeles.

The COLCOA French Film Festival opens tonight, Monday, April 20, with an elegant reception and the opening night film, a thriller called “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan and starring Pierre Niney and Ana Girardot.

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in  “A Perfect Man.”

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in “A Perfect Man.”

It’s a story of shifting identities as a struggling author stumbles upon a wildly unethical way to make the best-seller list.

With echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley, “A Perfect Man” strikes us as a divinely decadent way to kick off this wonderful festival, now in its 19th year.

There is much to see this year (check the COLCOA site for info on free screenings and cool events) and we are counting the days until Friday’s Film Noir Series.

The fest takes place at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

Sunday was the closing day of an essential film fest, for noiristas and others: Noir City Hollywood, presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation. The foundation’s urbane noirphiles Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode were on hand throughout the fest to introduce the movies. This year, they brought another excellent selection (heavy on adaptations of the great master of pulp suspense Cornell Woolrich).

The lineup included a real find: the American debut of three almost unknown but brilliantly done and stunningly visualized film noirs from Argentina: “The Black Vampire” (Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1953), a remake of Fritz Lang’s “M,” and superb adaptations of Woolrich stories in “Never Open That Door” (Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952) and “If I Should Die Before I Wake” (Christensen, 1952).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

The fest wrapped up with a four-movie proto-noir marathon:

The Ninth Guest” (1934, Roy William Neill) a mystery with a generous dollop of Deco glam.

Let Us Live” (1939, John Brahm) featuring the great Henry Fonda as a wrongly identified killer and a riveting performance from Maureen O’Sullivan as his girlfriend.

Heat Lightning” (1934, Mervyn LeRoy) a pre-Code delight about two sisters (Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak) running a garage and car-repair shop in the desert and ridding the place of rats, such as fleeing criminal and old flame (Preston Foster).

Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman) Dorothy MacKaill is unforgettable as a sparkling blonde siren who spends the entire movie fighting off men as she waits in vain on a Caribbean island to be with the guy she truly loves (Donald Cook).

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

My attendance was spotty this year because I had to leave town unexpectedly (such is life for a femme fatale) but my colleague Mike Wilmington caught quite a few.

Other highlights from this year’s fest were: “Woman on the Run,” “The Underworld Story,” “Abandoned,” “Circle of Danger,” “Berlin Express,” “Ride the Pink Horse,” “The Fallen Sparrow,” and “The Guilty” as well as that triple bill of Argentinian film noir.

The closing-weekend party was loads of fun, especially since I won a nifty raffle prize! I definitely needed my drink tickets that night. Why? By the small but mighty curveball in “The Guilty” when the lead character (Don Castle) reveals that he is studying “commercial geography” to land a good job.

What??? Education and hard work to get ahead? Was the movie going to start preaching about the virtues of a work ethic? Aaargh! Thankfully, this was, in fact, a temporary glitch and the character turned out to be crazy-bad.

Phew! I was freaked out there for a moment but everything was just as it should be in Noirville.

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