'Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies' are go
No, not this one, though that would be the biggest trill of my life:
This one -- Roger Ebert's newest incarnation of "At the Movies," called "Roger Ebert Presents: At the Movies" hosted by Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com. I'll be on hand from time to time to discuss classic films and hopefully, other rarities. I'd love for even more to discover the wonders of Jack Garfein's "Something Wild" starring Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker or "Big House U.S.A." with ... Meeker. I'm a bit obsessed with Ralph Meeker. But "Big House U.S.A." also stars Broderick Crawford, Lon Chaney Jr., William Talman and a young Charles Bronson. And Bronson gets his face blow-torched off. Sorry, I guess that's what people in these parts call "spoilers."
But enough about Meeker ... here's more about the show:
"Christy Lemire of The Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com will be the co-hosts of "Ebert Presents at the Movies." The two experienced and respected critics will also introduce special segments featuring other contributors and the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert.
Think 'Blue Valentine' is sexy? Here's some seedy, sexy, dirty drum boogie
American cinema isn’t really that dangerously sexy anymore. Not in any mysterious way. It lacks the edge and thrill of say, Peggy Cummins shooting between her legs in "Gun Crazy." Or "Decoy's" Jean Gille laughing with maniac, orgasmic glee after she’s offed her duped boyfriend who’s just dug up the only thing that turns her on -- money. Or Cloris Leachman’s hard panting, hyper-ventilating co-mingling with Nat King Cole’s silky singing over the credits to "Kiss Me Deadly. Or, dear God, Lana and that lipstick in "The Postman Always Rings Twice."
American films can pretend they're sexy, and some are. And yes, some stars will put it out there (in nude scenes, in magazine spreads, or the sublime Pedro and Penelope, who don't count because they're not American ...) But in my mind (and with some exceptions obviously), the look John Garfield gives Lana Turner when that tube of red rolls across the floor is worth one thousand contemporary sex scenes. Or Richard Egan getting an eyeful of "Wicked Woman" Beverly Michaels. Or Tierney tossing and turning over Trevor, wanting to rape, murder, kiss, kill...and she wanting it to.
But, clearly I’m showing a bias. Based on my examples, it’s not surprising that film noir is the place (or rather, my place) for screwy sexy made all the more erotic because even as sex, often toxic sex, motivates many of its character’s actions, the genre’s aim isn’t merely to steam your glasses. So when it does hits an arousing bulls-eye, well, as the lady says, put your lips together and blow.
Which led me to a film I hadn’t seen in years -- Robert Siodmack’s "Phatom Lady" -- a picture that features a performance by Ella Raines that’s so sizzling and yet so alluringly poignant, you’re a little overwhelmed by it.
Adapted from the Cornell Woolrich novel, "Phantom Lady" was Siodmak’s first American screen success and he would later craft some sublime noirs including "Criss Cross," "Cry of the City," "The Dark Mirror, "The File on Thelma on Thelma Jordan" and "The Killers" (among others). I’ll run down the story: Ella Raines (her character’s nicknamed “Kansas” -- which seems like a "Wizard of Oz" reference given the subterranean world she will find herself in) works as Alan Curtis’s secretary. When he’s framed for the murder of his wife, she sets out to help him because she doesn’t believe he did it. She's also besotted with him (lucky fella). Sexing up her image as cub private dick, she’s off to find this “Phantom Lady” with the help of Curtis’s friend (Franchot Tone) and an off duty police detective (Thomas Gomez, so wonderful in Force of Evil). OK, so that's the story, but what I really want to discuss is Raines's interaction with the hep cat, hopped up jazz drummer, played by noir staple, the great sap/sleaze Elisha Cook, Jr.
I am absolutely gob-smack over their famed moments together. Ella’s seduction of Elisha -- an overwhelming sexy, conflicted, crazily drugged sequence (you can practically smell the booze, marijuana, heroin and dexies permeating the joint) in which Raines plays hot-to-trot, seems to be eating up her vampy method of getting to the straight dirt and yet, is repulsed by both Cook (that kiss!) and herself for having to go this far. Showcasing Siodmak’s (and cinematographer Woody Bredell’s) evocative, angled compositions (used gorgeously throughout the movie), the style brilliantly underscores the mounting hysteria and varied state of Raines’s psychology. This is an extreme example, but what Raines reveals is something many women feel when finding themselves in the belly of the sleazy beast. It's a little fun and a little horrifying and you're definitely not in Kansas anymore.
'Black Swan' is my number one movie
If torture, perfectionism, masochism and emaciated, ethereal sprites pirouetting themselves into delicate music box coffins, can become an exalted, grandiloquent mixture of horror and beauty, then "Black Swan" is a glorious rhapsody, a movie in which women suffer (and suffer) not only for their art, but for their gender, and all the proud, yet vulnerable complexities that frequently come with it.
At the center of this ecstatic agony is Natalie Portman’s Nina, a New York ballerina chosen to play the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake," a role that is indeed an honor, but also a real life method-acting nightmare. Extracting every self mutilating, starving, smothered mother psychodrama this young woman’s been living with all her life, Nina’s world turns into a kind of dementia that Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg, Jacqueline Susann and, for that matter, William Castle, would cook up: Black Swan Sardonicus.
But this is a Darren Aronofsky movie -- "The Wrestler" goes "The Red Shoes" -- and if one finds it hyperbolic, they should: Grandiosity literally, bleeding into a dingy subway car. There are many who find this movie preposterous, insulting even (and not at all representative of ballet), and I can understand the intense dislike. This could easily be viewed as an obvious movie, and subtly is not one of Aronofsky's strong points (nor should it have to be). But it moves so far beyond potentially trite tropes and wraps itself around its perfectionism-to-death center with such visceral ferociousness and with such poignant lyricism that it twists into a different lifeform altogether -- almost as if Aronofsky lost control of the "Shock Corridor" and those nymphos started running the asylum.
His (and especially Portman’s) deep understanding of often, dysmorphic female fear is so potently portrayed, that it can’t be viewed as a movie in which women simply lose. In its own bizarre way, watching Nina’s fear of failure, of success, sexuality, beauty, aging and her own hysteria, is both deeply sad and strangely noble. I felt terrible for her (as I did the “aged” Winona Ryder, so distraught about retirement from dance that she throws herself in front of a car, a potentially graceful act that ends without the dignity she probably sought. Instead, she lives in a broken body) -- and yet I wanted Nina to complete her final dance, valiantly. I wanted her to achieve the ultimate: Perfection and passion, White Swan, Black Swan, Madonna and Whore.
She and her creepy, controlling mother (a pinched faced Barbara Hershey who paints portraits only of herself) trudge through their beauty and talent with such little joy in life (Mila Kunis is the only exception of a free spirit), so when Nina gets her spotlight, the movie’s dementia had managed to worm into my blood stream. I was catching Nina’s sickness. And, perversely, enjoying it too.
Yes, they are still on TV
Well, I don't feel terrible. I just don't remember watching one since ... I have no idea. I think Scott Baio may have been in there circa "Charles in Charge."
But in case you remember, here's more from Wonderwall:
"The People's Choice Awards show is right around the corner (airing on Jan. 5, 2011), so make sure you get your votes in ASAP! To help refresh your memory of the nominees, let's take a look at what Beyonce, Johnny Depp and the rest of the noms have been up to over the past few months."
The past few months? Well, take a look ... And tune in soon.
First Oscar violation is 'stupid mistake'
In a grand understatement, I bet he really, really wishes he hadn't written a letter extolling the virtues of his film, "Buried."
He is a writer after all, and they get such little attention, so I actually feel for the guy:
"The first public campaign violation of the 2010 Oscar season is the result of 'an honest, stupid mistake,' according to the P.R. company whose client sent Oscar voters a letter violating Academy rules.
"Chris Sparling, the screenwriter for the low-budget film 'Buried,' was apparently so emboldened by his surprise win at the National Board of Review that he sent a letter to all members of the Academy's writers branch, in which he extolled the merits of his screenplay, quoted from reviews of his film, mentioned the NBR win and begged voters to 'please consider ['Buried'] for fourth or fifth [place on the nominating ballot].'
"Praising the screenplay, quoting from reviews and mentioning the NBR are clear violations of AMPAS campaign regulations, which prohibit anything but brief cover letters devoid of pitching.
"As for the suggestion that voters put his film fourth or fifth on their ballots, that's just plain dumb: if every member of the branch listed 'Buried' in one of those spots it still wouldn’t be enough for a nomination, which requires first- and second-place votes."
Anne Francis in full swing
The Oscar-nominated actor passes away
Oscar-nominated British actor Pete Postlethwaite, so powerful in "In the Name of the Father," has lost his bout with cancer at the age of 64.
"Pete Postlethwaite, described by director Steven Spielberg as 'the best actor in the world,' has died at age 64 after a long battle with cancer.
"Longtime friend and journalist Andrew Richardson said Monday that Postlethwaite died in a hospital Sunday.
"A gritty and powerful actor, Postlethwaite was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the 1993 film 'In the Name of the Father.'
The 'Forbidden Planet,' 'Honey West' actress dies at 80
This is so sad. Anne Francis has passed away.
Most remember the beautiful blonde actress for the classic "Forbidden Planet," but if you haven't watched any of Ms. Francis in the "Honey West" series on DVD, you need to drop everything and get to it -- now.
"Actress Anne Francis, who was the love interest in the 1950s science-fiction classic 'Forbidden Planet' and later was sexy private eye in 'Honey West' on TV, has died at age 80.
"Francis, who had surgery and chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007, died of complications of pancreatic cancer, her daughter, Jane Uemura, told the Los Angeles Times.
"Francis, a stunningly beautiful blonde with a prominent beauty mark, appeared opposite such stars as Spencer Tracy, Paul Newman, Robert Taylor and Glenn Ford in some of the most popular films of the 1950s. But 'Forbidden Planet' and 'Honey West' made her reputation.
"'Forbidden Planet' was hailed in Leonard Maltin's '2006 Movie Guide' as 'one of the most ambitious and intelligent films of its genre.'"