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CACHE Proves Low-Key Storytelling Can Be as Disturbing as Gore
Writer/director Michael Haneke's matter-of-fact storytelling makes the French drama CACHÉ (HIDDEN) all the more chilling. Fair Warning: those who don't think a suspense thriller is truly thrilling without tons of inventively gory violence and a high body count may start tapping their feet impatiently. Indeed, some might simply use those feet to walk out on the film, like one bored couple did in the theater where I saw CACHÉ during its 2005 theatrical run. However, those who appreciate intelligent psychological thrillers with a slow fuse (like me) will be riveted by the war of nerves between book critic/TV personality Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil) and whoever is sending him videotapes of his house and his family going through their daily routine, as well as creepy childlike drawings of a young boy bleeding from the mouth. Is it the fallout from some mindless cruelty Georges inflicted on a young Algerian boy during their youth? Is Georges just plain paranoid? Or does the answer lie in something out of the blue? I don't want to give away too much, but I found CACHÉ to be a fascinating study of how past misdeeds and lies -- even lies that were intended to protect the protagonists' loved ones -- can catch up with you no matter how you've turned your life around. Juliette Binoche is sympathetic as Georges' increasingly frightened and angry wife, as is Maurice Bénichou as the now-grown Algerian who may be getting a bum rap (his final scene is as tragic as it is shocking). If this kind of psychological suspense is your cup of hemlock, CACHÉ is well worth seeing! (As of this writing, it's airing on the IFC Channel.)
Satan Met a Lady (1936)
Satan MET A LADY Plays MALTESE FALCON for Laughs This Time
Perhaps because Dashiell Hammett's movie cachet was enhanced by the success of the THIN MAN comedy/mystery movies in the 1930s and '40s, the folks behind Satan MET A LADY (SMaL) reworked Hammett's MALTESE FALCON (TMF) into the 1936 screwball comedy Satan MET A LADY (SMaL). Directed by William Dieterle and scripted by Brown Holmes, SMaL gave director of photography Arthur Edeson practice for his future stint as D.P. of the now-classic 1941 version. For that matter, it turns out SMaL and the early Ricardo Cortez/Bebe Daniels version of TMF have more in common than being inspired (however loosely) by the same novel. Cortez as Sam Spade is replaced in SMaL by Warren William as Ted Shane (or Shaynethe filmmakers can't seem to decide how to spell it), and Cortez and William each played Perry Mason in the movies! But it's a fresh young Bette Davis who gets top billing here as wily Valerie Purvis, who could be Brigid O'Shaughnessy's witty, bantering sister.
William looks and acts like a fun-loving troublemaker and tomcat who's just had one drink too many no matter what time of day it is. William and Davis play off each other most enjoyably as they seek out, not the Maltese Falcon, but an ancient ram's horn rumored to be stuffed with jewels. They're aided and abetted by a rambunctious supporting cast. Joel Cairo has been turned into Travers, a bumbling English gentleman crook played by Arthur Treacher (yes, the one who brought the world Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips, "the meal you cannot make at home"). Casper Gutman has gotten a name change and a sex change in the form of Alison Skipworth as sly Madame Barabbas (love her Biblical name!), who has a friendly adversary relationship with Shane (there's a funny bit where each one proves too clever to let the other one slip them a mickey). Instead of gunsel Wilmer, Mme. Barabbas' sharpshooting right-hand man is her obnoxious, buffoonish, beret-wearing nephew Kenneth (or as Auntie calls him, "Kenny Boy"), played by an unjustly uncredited Maynard Holmes. The ill-fated Miles Archer and his restless wife Iva are now Mr. and Mrs. Ames, played briefly but entertainingly by Porter Hall (best known in our household as Macaulay in THE THIN MAN and Jackson, the "Medford man" from DOUBLE INDEMNITY) and Winifred Shaw. My fave was the pre-MY FRIEND IRMA Marie Wilson redoing trusty secretary/receptionist Effie Perine as cheerful blonde Über-ditz Miss Murgatroyd. Her cute little squeak of surprise/distress cracked me up! Zesty quips abound, like Valerie's "Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?" When Ames is found murdered in a cemetery, Shane remarks, "It's the first time he ever did anything in an appropriate place." My fave was Shane's dialogue with Murgatroyd when she's about to quit on account of Ames being unable to pay her: Shane (cheerfully): "Have you finished packing all your things?...And all the things that weren't yours, but that you thought you could use?" Murgatroyd (flustered): "Yesum, I mean, I'm all packed." SMaL is unfairly maligned and misunderstood for not being a serious TMF adaptation. It was clear to me from the start that this one's played purely for laughs. Just approach SMaL as a wacky parody of TMF, and you'll be able to enjoy the flick as a pleasant, if forgettable, piece of fluff for a lazy afternoon.
In Bruges (2008)
Great Performances and Dialogue Make IN BRUGES a Modern Classic
I first saw the dark comedy-thriller IN BRUGES (IB) in our local multiplex back in April 2008, and I loved it immediately. No wonder writer/director Martin McDonagh's screenplay went on to be nominated for an Oscar, and co-star Colin Farrell won a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical! When McDonagh's short film SIX SHOOTER, starring Brendan Gleeson, won the 2005 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, I was already familiar with his plays (including the 2005 Broadway hit THE PILLOWMAN with our family's household fave Jeff Goldblum), so I looked forward to seeing Gleeson work with McDonagh again in IB. I wasn't disappointed. McDonagh's quirky, funny, soul-searching dialogue is a joy to hear. It's chock full of profanity, but the delivery renders it more comical than offensive. The filmmakers even spoof the "adult language" in one of the DVD's bonus features, a montage of every time the word "F***" is used in IB.
Gleeson and Farrell make a great seriocomic team as Ken and Ray, two Irish hit men who have suspenseful and surreal adventures hiding out in Belgium in the magnificent city of Bruges after their latest job goes horribly, heartbreakingly wrong. They're the ultimate odd-couple tourists as they await further instructions from their boss, with Ken enjoying the sightseeing and the swans as Ray spews forth befuddled, unfavorable, hilariously un-PC opinions of just about everything and everyone he encounters, except a pretty Flemish production assistant (Clemence Poesy of 127 HOURS), who's as full of surprises as our undercover assassins. Farrell gives one of his very best performances, blending laugh-out-loud comedy and guilt-ridden heartache beautifully. My favorite running gag was Ray's childlike fascination with dwarfs, and his oafish but well-meant concern for cokehead dwarf actor Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), who's in the fairytale-like city to appear in a dream sequence in a local indie art-house flick. As Harry, the boys' crime boss, Ralph Fiennes does a terrific job channeling Sir Ben Kingsley as the terrifying Don in SEXY BEAST (I assure you, that's a compliment!). IB mixes suspense, melancholia, and hilarity very well indeed. Along with THE BANK JOB, IB was my favorite crime film of 2008. The DVD's featurettes and deleted scenes are fun, too, including interviews, a captioned boat tour of Bruges, and a deleted scene involving Matt Smith in his pre-DOCTOR WHO days -- and a machete! The many deleted scenes are all quite entertaining; I'm sure they were only cut so IB wouldn't be a 3-hour epic! :-)
Last Embrace (1979)
Last Embrace: When Harry Met Ellie
Although Jonathan Demme's 1992 Oscar-winner THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was his first major suspense thriller, it wasn't the first film he'd ever made in that genre. That honor goes to Demme's 1979 thriller LAST EMBRACE (LE), which I first saw and loved during its original theatrical run. At the time, LE was touted as a romantic Hitchcockian thriller. While LE definitely has strong elements of VERTIGO and other Hitchcock classics, I've always considered it to be more of a paranoia thriller with film noir touches, which I guess makes LE what might be called "film shachor." :-) Cool, craggy yet suave Roy Scheider had long been one of our family's favorite tough-guy actors; to many fans. At first glance, he might not seem vulnerable enough to be convincing as a beleaguered paranoia film hero. However, Scheider proved to be perfect casting as Harry Hannan, a government agent with more baggage than Louis Vuitton. Harry is still heartbroken and guilt-ridden about his beloved wife getting killed while she accompanied him as cover on one of his assignments. After he spends time in a Connecticut sanitarium recovering from his nervous breakdown, Harry has barely had a chance to lose his institutional pallor when he's almost shoved in front of an express train. When he returns to his spy agency in New York City, his slippery spymaster Eckart (Christopher Walken) keeps him at arm's length; maybe Eckart thinks Harry's sharp cream-colored suit makes him too conspicuous for undercover work. Worst of all, Harry discovers he's one of several Jewish men getting death threats written in Biblical Hebrew from an unknown "Avenger of Blood" and so far, he's the only one still alive.
Everyone scoffs at poor Harry's jitters. Who can he trust? Certainly not his brother-in-law (Charles Napier), a fellow spook who blames Harry for his sister's violent death ("You're careless with people, Harry"). Our hero eventually joins forces with Ellie Fabian (Janet Margolin), a pretty New York graduate student who sublet his apartment while he was in the sanitarium. But the vulnerable Ellie seems to have her own issues and secrets. Will that spell doom for both Ellie and Harry? And how does a turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish brothel figure in the sinister fix Harry has found himself in? Scheider and Margolin had fine chemistry together; their characters' sensitivity and wariness made me feel for them, and they even had playful moments along the way. Ms. Margolin was at her loveliest, too. (Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer in 1993 at the age of 50. Janet, we hardly knew ye.) Scheider, Margolin, and Walken are aided and abetted by a rogues' gallery of stellar New York character actors, including John Glover as Ellie's insecure professor boyfriend; Marcia Rodd as Harry's nervous agency contact; David Margulies as a rabbi with connections; Joe Spinell and Jim McBride as thugs; Captain Arthur Haggerty as a bouncer waiting to use the phone; Mandy Patinkin and Max Wright in bit parts as commuters who may or may not have some 'splainin' to do; scene-stealer Sam Levene as the crotchety but likable head of a secret Jewish society; and director Demme himself cameo-ing as a stranger on a train.
Some critics complained that despite Demme's obvious affection for the Hitchcockian material, LE could have used more of The Master of Suspense's zest and verve. I won't deny that the pace slows down at times, but with Roy Scheider at his peak and Janet Margolin's touching, multifaceted performance, I was willing to be patient. Demme and screenwriter David Shaber (adapting Murray Teigh Bloom's novel The 13th Man) make up for the film's flaws with plenty of appealingly quirky Demme-style characterization. Judaism's key role in LE's plot was fresh and intriguing, as well as making excellent use of an elaborate, well-crafted red herring. The settings contribute to the film's Demme-ness; his ace Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto really makes the New York City and Princeton, NJ locations integral to the plot and its Hitchcockian motifs, especially the bell tower sequence and an exciting climax at Niagara Falls (I can hear you making lewd jokes :-)). The film brims with only-in-New-York characters and situations; for instance, the competition for living space in Manhattan provides amusing undertones to Harry's first awkward encounters with Ellie. Miklos Rozsa's swooningly romantic yet foreboding score pulls together the film's emotional undercurrents beautifully. Between LAST EMBRACE and STILL OF THE NIGHT, if I'd been Roy Scheider, I'd have stayed out of Central Park and environs for fear of elusive assailants! LAST EMBRACE is also available on DVD: http://www.mgm.com/view/movie/1084/Last-Embrace/
Something's Gonna Live (2010)
A Buoyant, Moving Portrait of 3 Filmmaking Musketeers and Friends
Daniel Raim's moving, exhilarating documentary SOMETHING'S GONNA LIVE (SGL) sets its tone perfectly with this opening line from Haskell Wexler, one of SGL's many legendary Oscar-winners and nominees responsible for countless classic movies: "If you're gonna spend your time doing the best you can doing s**t, then why do it? If you were to spend your time giving to future generations some of the benefits of your knowledge, maybe that's a way of having a legacy. That's a way of having a kind of morality so that Bob Boyle's never gonna die, and I'm not gonna die, and something's gonna live, and I think that's a pretty valuable thing." Amen to that! With the emphasis so many modern filmmakers place on dazzling moviegoers with CGI and pyrotechnics, it's easy to forget the talented people who've always worked behind the scenes, creating movie magic with techniques predating our current digital age. The film is bursting with absorbing, entertaining anecdotes about the golden age of filmmaking, including appearances by Wexler, director of photography Conrad L. Hall, and storyboard artist Harold Michelson. As if these greats didn't already make SGL a must-see for film lovers, Raim focuses most keenly on three longtime friends and colleagues at the twilight of their lives: Robert F. Boyle, production designer, and art directors Henry Bumstead and Albert Nozaki.
Al had the most crosses to bear, what with retinitis pigmentosa slowly stealing his eyesight, and his incarceration at Manzanar with scores of other Japanese-Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbor for no other reason but the shape of their eyes one of the most outrageous and shameful episodes in U.S. history. I was in awe of Al's incredible grace and fortitude under the circumstances.
Bob matter-of-factly muses, "I think everybody's here by accident. At any moment, anybody could get canceled. Then there are all those things that we do to ourselves. In my case, I overindulged in almost everything. I smoked too much, I drank too much, I lived too long." Nevertheless, on screen the trio's increasing physical frailty doesn't slow down their sharp minds. These men are just as witty, smart, and on the ball as any young hotshots. I especially liked Bummy's quips about film sets that don't look lived-in enough, like one that was supposed to be in a house full of kids: "There isn't a mark on anything. They must be well-disciplined children!" No doubt the love that Bob, Al, and Bummy had for their professions kept them young in mind and spirit over the years -- proof of the importance of spending your life doing what you truly love, if you're lucky! The gents were pretty darn dashing, too, wearing suits and ties on the set of such classic films as THE BIRDS and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. As an Alfred Hitchcock fan, I especially enjoyed these particular anecdotes, including Bob's theory that if Hitchcock was alive and making movies today, he'd happily use the current digital technology as long as it truly served the story's purposes. Bob and Harold's return to Bodega Bay after 37 years was one of the film's highlights. Bob, Bummy, and Al joke about being "three old farts," "three old bastards", and "three tottering people," but Bob got it right when he described them all as "three old soldiers." Raim caught the friends on film just in time. Sadly, 91-year-old Bummy died in 2006; Al died at the same age in 2003; and Bob died this past August at the milestone age of 100. Still, I felt like I'd had a chance to be part of their outfit for 80 minutes; it was a pleasure and a privilege to get a look at these men's exciting, meaningful lives being truly lived to the fullest.
SGL is like a fond, wistful, yet buoyant time machine voyage, deserving a place on the must-see list of anyone who loves movies inside and out. It's a thoroughly entertaining yet heartfelt documentary with much to say about the art, heart, and soul of filmmaking, as well as the duration of friendships, the passage of time, the team effort required in such endeavors, and the legacies that all talented people inevitably leave to enrich generations of creative artists to come. I, for one, am pulling for SGL to achieve the widespread success it deserves!
The Man on Lincoln's Nose (2000)
Penultimate Moments of The Golden Age of Film Through Robert Boyle's Eyes
You know someone's special when the "worst" thing anyone can say about him is that "He has no ego." That's what veteran storyboard artist Harold Michelson affectionately says about his friend and colleague, renowned production designer Robert F. Boyle, subject of Daniel Raim's justifiably Oscar-nominated 2000 short film THE MAN ON LINCOLN'S NOSE (TMoLN). This 40-minute documentary is as fond and upbeat as it is riveting. Boyle and his comrades share their stories and techniques for building on screen intrigue, including "the penultimate moment" versus the endless series of rock 'em-sock 'em action climaxes too many films depend on nowadays. We meet Japanese-American art director Albert Nozaki, who was forced into the Manzanar internment camp for six months by the U.S. Government after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On a more upbeat note, Boyle and friends also treat us viewers to sketches, collages, and footage of their decades of work, including the original THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and anecdotes about classic Hitchcock films such as SABOTEUR, MARNIE, and my own favorite, NORTH BY NORTHWEST. (Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell, who our family has adored since we saw her in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, is listed as an Executive Producer.) Raim and company use storyboards, sketches, and pictures to bring the production designer's work to life for us viewers. TMoLN is now available on DVD through Adama Films, so if you love filmmaking, you owe it to yourself to add this compact gem to your film collection! (http://www.lincolnsnose.com/)
For Our Italian-American Family, Funny Fond FATSO is a Documentary! :-)
Occasionally, the Fox Movie Channel (FMC) airs a letterboxed version of the 1980 comedy FATSO, Anne Bancroft's only big-screen foray into writing and directing. Having grown up watching the films of leads Bancroft, Dom DeLuise, and Ron Carey, I can hardly believe they're no longer with us. Heck, I still remember the movie poster from FATSO's original theatrical release: a mournful DeLuise standing against a long list of foods under the bold heading "Do Not Eat." DeLuise stars as Dominick DiNapoli, an overweight 40-year-old bachelor living in New York City's Little Italy. His happy life revolves around his family: sister Antoinette (Bancroft) and her husband and kids; "baby" brother Junior (Ron Carey, best known and loved in our household from his roles in HIGH ANXIETY and JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY); countless cousins -- and food, glorious food! Having been doted on and well-meaningly overfed by his worried mom (tragically, her two previous baby boys died in infancy), Dom's life has always revolved around eating, drinking, and being merry, usually with his big-hearted and just plain big cousin Sal. When Sal dies of an obesity-related heart attack, however, Antoinette and Junior frantically beseech Dom to tackle his own weight problem before he follows in Sal's footsteps to the graveyard. Dom's misadventures on the road to weight loss include the support group Chubby Checkers (featuring Estelle Reiner, the "I'll have what she's having" scene-stealer in director son Rob's ...WHEN HARRY MET SALLY), as well as good-intentioned but overzealous family haranguing that only makes Dom feel worse about himself. Then Dom meets Lydia (Candice Azzara), a down-to-earth, zaftig, huggably adorable blonde who seems perfect for Dom if only he could work up the courage to ask her out. (Their eventual romance is warm and wonderful to watch. I love watching appealing character actors get to have lots of hot kissing scenes! Why should the usual movie star types have all the fun? But I digress...) Our family's favorite scene is the attempted intervention of two Chubby Checkers when Dom tries to head off a binge, only to erupt into the most spectacular binge of all time for all concerned. It always cracks us up when Dom and his partners-in-weight-management rhapsodize dreamily about the many ways to enjoy a jelly doughnut, turning the innocent phrase "Get the honey, Junior" into a threat/chant. By turns bittersweet, zany, romantic, and warm-hearted, FATSO may be too shrill and sentimental for some tastes, but my family and I absolutely loved it from beginning to end! Born Anna Maria Italiano, Bancroft's Bronx roots show throughout. The volatile yet endearing characters and the loving details about their lives ring true, like Martin Scorsese on laughing gas. While many of the film's ideas about the best approaches to weight loss are dated now, it was surprisingly ahead of its time in portraying emotional eating and its tragicomic aspects -- making it all the more devious that Bancroft and director of photography Brianne Murphy film the tempting, luscious-looking foodstuffs in an inviting, sensual way that brings to mind WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? and JULIE & JULIA.
Having grown up in NYC as part of a boisterous, food-loving Italian-American family (on Dad's side; Mom's side was Irish-American. Never a dull moment in our household! :-)) and having waged my own battle of the bulge during much of my adult life, I totally identify with FATSO. It's like a lively Sunday dinner with my Grandma Josie and/or our other food-loving drama queen relatives and Italian-American friends in our old Bronx neighborhood -- and I mean that as a compliment! :-) As of this writing, FATSO will be on HBO Comedy for the next few weeks. It's not the letterboxed version FMC shows, but it's still worth checking your local TV/cable listings!
For Me, VERTIGO Keeps Getting Better Over Time
(No fooling -- SPOILERS galore here!) It's hard to believe now, but when I was younger, I used to have a love/hate relationship with Alfred Hitchcock's classic romantic psychological thriller VERTIGO. I loved its suspense, moving performances, haunting love story, dreamlike quality, and poignant yet powerful Bernard Herrmann score -- so why did it take me years to embrace VERTIGO as wholeheartedly as our beleaguered hero John "Scottie" Ferguson embraces his beloved Madeleine Elster? James Stewart plays Scottie, a former police detective who finds out the hard way that he has acrophobia (fear of heights, to us laypeople) when he can't save a patrolman from falling to his death during a rooftop chase. Since VERTIGO is a Hitchcock movie, what better place for our hero to live and wrestle with his phobia than San Francisco? While working on a cantilever bra invented by an engineer (nice work if you can get it!), Scottie's gal pal, designer Midge Wood (wry scene-stealer Barbara Bel Geddes) tries to help him overcome his fear gradually with stepladders ("I look up, I look down..."). Too bad the ladders happen to be next to Midge's high-rise apartment's window. Poor guy, it's always something! Scottie's old college chum Gavin Elster (suave Tom Helmore) offers him a private investigator job tailing his lovely but troubled young wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak in her finest and most challenging performance). Seems that Madeleine -- one of the coolest and most elegant of the director's legendary "Hitchcock blondes" -- thinks she's possessed by the spirit of her late great-grandmother Carlotta Valdes, and is behaving accordingly. Scottie tails Madeleine all over San Francisco to the places where the tragic Carlotta lived, loved, and went mad after her sugar daddy "threw her away" and kept their love child. Our detective finally comes face to face with his quarry after saving her when she jumps into the bay in one of her fugue states.
As the song says, the hunter is captured by the game. Soon Scottie and Madeleine are mad for each other -- but it seems poor troubled Madeleine is also mad in a less romantic way. When she confides in Scottie about her recurring morbid dreams about the Mission at San Juan Bautista, Scottie brings her there in hopes of curing her obsession. Bad move, Scottie -- Madeleine bolts to the bell tower. Scottie gives chase, but his vertigo paralyzes him halfway up the stairs (great spatial F/X here). He hears a woman screaming, sees a body fall past the window...and his beloved Madeleine is no more.
Or is she? After he recovers from a grief-induced nervous breakdown, Scottie spies shopgirl Judy Barton (the versatile Novak again). Except for her red hair and somewhat tacky fashion sense, Judy's a dead ringer for Madeleine! As their relationship grows, so does audience apprehension as Scottie obsessively tries to give Judy the ultimate makeover, recreating his lost love. (Where's the WHAT NOT TO WEAR crew when you need them? :-)) Judy's a quick study -- because she's really Madeleine! See, Judy was Elster's mistress, and he coached her to look and act like the real Madeleine Elster as part of a murder plot. 'Twas the real Mrs. Elster who died at the mission that day, and Elster's real purpose for poor Scottie was to witness the "suicide." Since Judy truly loves Scottie, has all the self-esteem of a squashed grape, and doesn't want to spill the murder plot, she's willing to play Eliza Doolittle to Scottie's macabre Henry Higgins. But the jig is up when, post-makeover, Judy wears a necklace Scottie recognizes as part of Madeleine's Carlotta Valdes collection. Furious at being played for a sucker, he takes Judy to the mission tower and forces her to confess. A black shape looms. Guilt-ridden Judy is so spooked by what turns out to be a curious nun (Judy must've gone to one of those tough parochial schools) that she loses her balance and falls...and a shattered Scottie loses his Madeleine a second, final time, looking like he wants to join her.
When I first saw VERTIGO in my college years during its 1980s re-release, I thought it was well worth seeing, but Scottie's necrophilic mania to recreate Judy as Madeleine really upset me. I found myself rooting for, angry at, and sorry for Scottie and Judy all at once. Stewart's portrayal of a man obsessed is tragic and unnerving; Hitchcock really knew how to tap into his leading man's dark side. As if the ghoulishness of Scottie's romantic obsession and the malleable Judy's heartbreaking lack of self-esteem weren't frustrating enough, even the department store salespeople and salon personnel in the film go along with Scottie's demands ("The gentleman certainly seems to know what he wants.") despite Judy's anguished protests. My husband Vinnie aptly noted that everyone on screen acted like Scottie was having a dog groomed.
On my first time around, it seemed to me that Hitchcock gave away the mystery's solution too soon, making the rest of the film anticlimactic. But my appreciation for VERTIGO grew over the years as I matured and learned more about life, people, and emotions. By the time we saw the beautifully restored version of VERTIGO at NYC's Ziegfeld Theatre in 1996, Judy's revelatory letter touched my heart and added to the suspense of waiting for the other shoe to drop for Scottie. There's no question that VERTIGO has long since become one of my favorite Hitchcock films!
Shattered Glass (2003)
The Riveting True Story of a Weasel in Sheep's Clothing
Between STAR WARS movies, Hayden Christensen played master weasel-in-sheep's-clothing Stephen Glass, the young journalist whose star was rising high at THE NEW REPUBLIC (as well as GEORGE and ROLLING STONE, among others) in the 1990s until it was discovered that he'd made up many of the people and events portrayed in his articles. (As others in the film point out, the fact that THE NEW REPUBLIC didn't use photographs in its articles made it easier for Glass to make up characters from whole cloth.) Christensen often comes across as a whiner in his film roles even when he's playing a good guy, so in my opinion he was perfect casting as Glass, a young man so adept at manipulating, lying, and making people feel sorry for him that I felt like smacking him even before his true colors became clear to his increasingly frustrated, outraged editor Chuck Lane, played by Peter Sarsgaard in a justifiably Golden Globe-nominated performance. Sarsgaard's slow burns in his scenes with Christensen are worth the price of admission by themselves, especially in scenes where Glass (and an accomplice) pester Chuck at home when he's trying to have quality time with his wife and baby. My husband Vinnie hated Glass even more than I did, but then Vin just can't stand Christensen on general principle. :-) Kudos all around to writer/director Billy Ray and a great cast, including memorable turns by Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson as the FORBES ONLINE reporters who initially uncover Glass's fabrications; and Chloe Sevigny, Hank Azaria, and our household fave Melanie Lynskey as the NEW REPUBLIC staffers fooled into trusting and sticking up for Glass. If you have fond memories of the ALIEN NATION TV series, don't blink or you'll miss Michele Scarabelli as the mother of a young hacker who also turns out to be a figment of Glass's journalistic imagination. Ironically, after Glass was finally fired from THE NEW REPUBLIC, he later wrote a novel, THE FABULIST, about a young reporter who fabricated his articles. It was met with disdain; critics found the book self-serving. Grade: A+
Les diaboliques (1955)
DIABOLIQUE is Even Darker Than Hitchcock At His Darkest
Like Stanley Donen's 1963 thriller CHARADE, Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE is one of the best Hitchcock films that Hitchcock DIDN'T make! The crucial difference is that CHARADE recalls playful, polished, soignée Hitchcock films such as NORTH BY NORTHWEST, while DIABOLIQUE, based on a novel by Boileau & Narcejac of VERTIGO fame, is more like a precursor of Hitch's darker, more sinister PSYCHO. I understand Clouzot snatched up the film rights to the Boileau/Narcejac novel about half an hour before Hitchcock got a crack at it. It would have been fascinating to see Hitch's approach to the material. Darkly magnificent as PSYCHO is, DIABOLIQUE's gloomy, misogynistic take on the story sinks into your gut and haunts your dreams. Even DIABOLIQUE'S opening credit sequence immediately makes us uneasy with its merciless close-up of the run-down DeLassalle Boarding School's murky, mossy swimming pool, accompanied by children shrilly singing Georges Van Parys's music off-key and off-screen. The film starts out at a leisurely pace, but as it goes along, the tension tightens like a noose, helped by skillful use of shadows and light. Without giving away its twists, I'll only say that DIABOLIQUE gives new meaning to the phrase "cruel to be kind." Vera Clouzot (yes, the director's Mrs., or should I say Mme.?) and Simone Signoret are electrifying as, respectively, the long-suffering wife and mistress of manipulative, sadistic headmaster Paul Meurisse. As the women plot to kill the bastard, Clouzot's delicate loveliness and anxious air (her character has a heart condition that contributes to the suspense -- as if the poor gal doesn't have enough problems!) plays beautifully off Signoret's sexy, smoldering intensity. Which is scarier, the water sports in DIABOLIQUE or in PSYCHO? Watch them and decide for yourselves! :-) Grade: A+