Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dial M for Milland

I love movies with creepy leading characters. From The Talented Mr. Ripley to Night of the Hunter to M that sort of thing never ceases to thrill me. The more I can empathize with the creepster, the better. A baddy with little motivation is pointless and not really worth watching (think Spielberg’s atrocious War of the Worlds – there was no reason why the aliens were attacking Earth, thus they were ineffective antagonists. And yeah, this is only the tip of the iceberg as to why this film was bad, but this is not the time or the place to discuss the film's multitude of flaws). No, you need to be able to get inside your villain’s head in order to craft a truly eerie, bloodcurdling film. I recently rewatched Dial M for Murder, a Hitchcock that I had virtually forgotten about altogether and am happy to report that I was totally creeped out by the brilliance of Hitch’s leading man.

The villain in question is former tennis star Tony (Ray Milland), who discovers that his wealthy wife Margot (Grace Kelly) has been having an affair with sleazy writer Mark (Robert Cummings) and – out of boredom, annoyance and lack of funds – decides to plot her murder. It’s a pretty straightforward story that could have dragged and lost its momentum with a less adept director, but Hitchcock – the self proclaimed “master of suspense” – keeps the ball rolling at an irritatingly gripping pace. I literally couldn’t stop watching.

While the bulk of the film’s dramatic tension and general success should be attributed to Hitchcock, I was no less than bowled over by the subtlety and nuance of Milland’s performance. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I have only seen four of Milland’s other works, but in all these films he played sympathetic, charming and affable leading men. Even in The Lost Weekend – in which Milland delivers a heartbreaking performance as a deeply troubled alcoholic – he still portrayed a sweetheart for whom you couldn’t help but feel deeply sorry. In Murder, however, his character is cold blooded, calculated and passionless. His hatred for his wife is far from the sort of emotional fury you might expect from a jilted husband; it’s a smooth, detached, quiet sort of hatred that makes him all the more deadly. Seemingly emotionless, he is motivated to carry out her murder as much because of her infidelity and wealth as from a general boredom with his situation in life and a fascination with seeing if he can pull off a perfect crime. He’s a chilling, terrifying character that Milland plays with so much skill that I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for him every excruciating step along the way.

His cool villainous persona is all the more effective in contrast with Kelly’s and Cummings’ characters who exemplify the sort of watered down, irksome blandness it is near impossible not to loathe. I’ve never been a big Grace Kelly fan; I find her beautiful but drearily insipid. Long before she was the princess of Monaco, she was still an ice princess of the first degree and her frigid demeanor distances her from viewers. Also, her wooden, affected speech is grating, pretentious and distracting. No thank you. Cummings’ character is little better; he proficiently plays a hack but the role has little merit to begin with, and is thus not improved with his somewhat limited acting chops. However, the pair's shortcomings only serve to heighten the brilliance of Milland’s performance and further build audience complicity with his nefarious pursuits.

Shot virtually only in one room, it is a wonder that this film doesn’t feel constrained. It is a testament to Hitchcock’s innovative direction and camera choices (fun fact: the film was shot in 3D!), the fascinating plot developments and of course Milland’s phenomenal performance that the film not only doesn't feel fenced in, but rather soars. This is easily one of Hitchcock’s top films and one of his best villains. If you like creepy characters as much as me, or even if you just like suspense, or are merely fond of looking at Grace Kelly, I would highly recommend this film.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

California Dreamin'

Awash in the homesickness that goes hand in hand with enduring a frostbitten New York winter, I have been yearning for a hiatus from the snow, a vacay from the oppressive winds constantly blowing my hair in my mouth, an escape from my dark little bug infested basement apartment where I don’t even get cell reception. The inimitable Tom Robbins says: “weather should be either celebrated or ignored,” and I couldn’t agree more, but truth be told I’m better at celebrating than ignoring and thus, it is hard to cope with the entirely uncelebratory weather. However, in an attempt to ignore the cold, I decided to flee to the comparatively balmy homeland of Northern California at least on a mental plane by watching Humbolt County.

The film follows Peter, a neurotic and sheltered UCLA medical student (portrayed by the oddly wooden Jeremy Strong) who – after studying for three days – fails his final exam, which is proctored by his father (Peter Bogdanovich) and winds up having a one-night-stand with a free spirited singer Bogart (Fairuza Balk) who drives up the coast to her home of Humboldt county while Peter is passed out from exhaustion in the passenger’s seat. Upon awakening he finds himself in an entirely mystical, secluded realm of redwood trees, pot groves and stunning headlands. The beautiful familiarity of the locale was almost too much for me!

After a few days of trying to leave Humboldt to return to his formative life, Peter decides to stay for a while as he grows closer to Bogart’s far out surrogate family, including her iconoclast adoptive father Jack (skillfully played by Brad Douriff), perma-stoned adoptive mother Rosie (Frances Conroy) and their son Max (played by the handsome Chris Messina), a cynical, flawed but deeply human pot grower and single father who becomes Peter’s close friend. From here, the story follows a fairly conventional route as uptight Peter – who previously never thought life had anything to offer beyond becoming a doctor – learns to appreciate a new way of life and lets go of his preconceived notions.

This all sounds pretty trite and clich├ęd, I’ll admit. But what redeems this movie is the strong character development. Apart from Peter himself (who I found the weakest of the bunch), each role is well written and skillfully acted and resultantly the film is full of nuanced, relatable dialogue and characters. Also, while writer/director team Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs certainly depict these Northern Californians in a positive light, they avoid idealizing them or their lifestyle. Instead, each of the oddballs Peter encounters is mired and lost in their own personal disconnect from reality just as much as Peter is himself. Additionally, Bogdanovich’s role as Peter’s hardened father is humanized rather than condemned for being straight and narrow. Ultimately the film does not suggest that one way of life is better than another, but instead urges its viewers to follow their own path, rather than feeling confined to a predetermined one.

My least favorite part of the film (without giving too much away) comes at the end when we learn that Max suffers from an as-yet-unmentioned drinking problem. For the sake of tying up all the lose ends, this development fit neatly into the film but seemed out of place in terms of Max’s already well established character. Thus, this alcoholic add-on and its subsequent repercussions on the overall plot seemed tacked on and forced. In short, this isn’t a brilliant film – it’s not going to blow your mind or change the way you live your life – but it’s well done and entirely enjoyable. In particular, Messina’s performance really shines. I'd recommend Humboldt County to all, but highly recommend it to Northern Californians, especially those who are currently stuck on the bloody East Coast dreaming of their beloved homeland.

I'm Back...

I feel like all I do is apologize to you for my near criminally negligent lack of posting. I won't even bother to explain this time; those of you who know me know that I've been inescapably detained and those of you who don't will have to live in the titillated darkness wondering to what I could possibly be referring.

Instead of excuses (though trust me, were I to elaborate, the excuses would be good ones), I'll propose a conciliatory gift of laughter through my old friend Bruno. Behold the sassy fashionista extract some deep observations from one Miami club owner. It's not just humorous, it's informative: you'll learn amazing new facts about how such catastrophes as WWII and Apartheid could have been avoided (who knew it could be so simple!), and you'll also hear a mind blowing story about Matt Damon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Officially Famous Now

Granted I was already unofficially famous, but today I became officially a really big deal. That's right, I'm on IMDB now. Click here to see the page in all its glory.

This whole thing is very random to me as I have been in countless short films and this one (in which is have a tiny, negligible part) is the one that finally cements my status as rising star, it girl of the 2010s, witty and ingenious comedienne, etc. You get the drift. Anyways, three cheers for me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Apologies, Teasers, Rewards and MORE!

This is my "I'm so sorry" face.

So basically this week has just slipped away from me. I'd love to blame my lack of posts on some legit excuse, but that would mean lying to your face, and I think you know that I have too much respect for you to do that. So I'll fess up. I've basically just been partying too much. When you don't have a job it's hard to convince yourself to stay in and sleep when you could be ripping it up and painting the town red, blue, yellow and every shade in between. And given my predilections for rash, spontaneous behavior the latter option is evermore lustrous than the gimpy former.

But as a result of my debaucheries, I have little entertainment opinions, critiques or even rant seshes to unfold onto your computer screens. Apologies. I do instead have many scintillating stories from some of my more rowdy activities this week, but I figure for the sake of preserving the posterity of this blog, I will save these rampantly hedonistic tales of glory for my close personal acquaintances, not for the prying eyes of every Tom and Judy that frequents this blog with their prying eyes.

What I do hope to accomplish in writing this woefully unstructured post is to let you know that, audience, I have not forgotten thee. Here are some teasers of posts that will very shortly be up on Film Noix:
  • Deconstructing Nevan - A op-ed piece in which I tear apart and ultimately exalt the man, the myth, the legend that is The City's Nevan Donahue. This will be full of juicy behind the scenes tidbits and is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
  • Humboldt County - Yes, that's right, I actually saw a film. Surprising, I know. I have already written the bulk of it before I got distracted and never finished it. But it will be up soon, promise.
  • I've also seen some other flicks if you can believe it, many of which coincidentally (?) star Seth Rogin so maybe I'll review one or all of these, and I also watched How To Lose Friends and Alienate People which is the "true story" about none other than our relentless little Top Chef troll, Toby Young, so I'll probably write that up.
And finally, as promised, some rewards for bothering to read this again ill-structured and self-aggrandizing post. You deserve it, you've been such good, good loyal readers:

First, I offer you my sacred photo with Chef Harold, the winner of Top Chef season 1. This photo serves to remind all you Top Chef fans of the laud, respect and glory that once accompanied the show's winners before the entire Top Chef empire fell from grace by crowning Hosea Top Chef and putting poor Padma in those horrid get ups! Behold: bask in the wonder of Chef Harold:

Next up, I give you my recipe for Hot Buttered Rum, a drink so magnificent, so delightfully dreamy and warm it almost makes you forget you're still six inches deep in an apparently unending winter. After repeated trips to Little Branch - an underground speakeasy in Tribeca - with Nora or Jonathan, I finally realized a) that Hot Buttered Rum is incredible, and b) that I couldn't justify paying or having someone else pay $13 for it. I had to look elsewhere. So I assembled many ingredients in my apartment and became experimenting. And now, presto, the product of my hard work is finished and has earned high praise like: "Better than Little Branch" - Nora Schaffer.

  • 2 shots of spiced rum
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 ounce butter (preferably salted)
  • nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
  • hot water
  • (You could also add cinnamon, which the above photo which I did not take imples)
Put your water on to boil. Now just throw the rum, brown sugar and butter into a large mug while you wait for the water to heat. When the water boils, pour it in. Stir the contents together while adding your nutmeg. Sip, enjoy, bliss out.

And lastly, I was going to post a Fleetwood Mac video, but though I love the music, the videos were whack, so instead I'm going with the old tried and true. Here's an amazing excerpt from 30 Rock. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Crossing the Line

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the turmoil, tantrums and general exploitation of human emotions that run ramped in reality TV as much as (well, more than) the next person, but even I have my limit. I thoroughly enjoyed when weirdo Billy from Survivor misinterpreted hottie Candace’s words of consolation for “love at first sight” and publicly proclaimed their love as his prize for playing the game; this was one of the best moments of reality TV ever, and its genius was due in large part to the fabulous effect of using others’ misfortunes for entertainment purposes. But tonight, The Bachelor – one of my longstanding favorite shows – crossed a line between what is morally acceptable to exploit for the sake of good TV and what is just plain cruel.

If you missed it, I’ll fill you in quickly. In tonight's finale, Jason – our bachelor who we trust and love implicitly – must choose between Melissa and Molly, who – for the sake of keeping this relatively brief – are both beautiful and sweet and whatnot. After two hours of unnecessary screentime, Jason rejects Molly, cries (as if he’s the one in anguish), and then tells Melissa he loves her and proposes to her. The excitement is not over yet though; as the third hour of the seemingly endless finale is ushered in, thankless host Chris Harrison promises us that this final segment will bring the “most shocking ending in Bachelor history,” so our attention is piqued and we are rapt and excited little viewers.

Guess what happens. Jason tells Chris that – unbeknownst to Melissa – he has had problems with the engagement and is still in love with Molly! Melissa is brought out thinking that the two are merely going to talk about their relationship when – surprise! – Jason publicly dumps her and she is given about seven minutes to vent before being shooed off to allow enough screentime for Jason and Molly’s tearful reunion. Disgusting. The whole thing went beyond being unnecessarily painful to downright inhumane and vicious.

I understand that the entire premise of shows like The Bachelor derives from milking human emotions – mainly pain – for the sake of attracting viewers, but this finale went beyond the limit of what is morally tolerable. The agony that Melissa had to endure went so far past what she bargained for (in which the worse case scenario is going to the final two only to not be picked) that if I were her, I would sue ABC for undue stress and emotional trauma. The fact is that if anyone on the production team cared a bean about the wellbeing of its contestants, they would have spared Melissa the devastation of what happened tonight by having Jason break up with her offscreen (which would still have been just as “shocking”). Deciding to televise the scandal shows that producers for shows like this one have become completely disconnected from what is morally acceptable in favor of treating people like objects who they can freely exploit to achieve the most emotional output for profit.

I’d never thought the day would come when I would throw up my hands and say “enough,” but that day has come. I cannot sit by and watch – thereby validating and tolerating – this sort of abuse. I’m giving up watching future seasons of The Bachelor in hopes that people like me will cause producers to reevaluate their treatment of others and perhaps regain a piece of their long lost morality.