Monday, March 31, 2014

the trouble with gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow announced on her website Goop last Tuesday that she and her husband of ten years, Chris Martin, of the band Coldplay, were splitting up. Her post, "Conscious Uncoupling," got so many hits that it crashed her website. There was the usual public response of sympathy and derision, in equal measure. As soon as the news hit, another recent interview that Gwyneth did with E! Online began to circulate, where the actress spoke about the challenges of being a working mom:

"… I have a rule about one movie a year, so I can't shoot anything for a while, but I'm developing some material and working on the site [Goop] and raising kids. ... I think it's different when you have an office job, because it's routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you're shooting a movie, they're like, 'We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,' and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set."

Paltrow and Martin

Oh, Gwyneth. So out of touch. She opened the door for tons of laceration with that little Mommy and Me nugget, like this recent hilarious take-down in the New York Post. No one dissolves a marriage overnight, and it is likely that Paltrow and Martin have been grappling with their decision for quite some time, especially considering they have two young children, Apple, 9, and Moses, 7. It has been rumored that the recent canceled Vanity Fair cover story on Paltrow was quashed by the star because she and Martin weren't ready to go public with their plans and didn't want the kids to find out too soon. Sounds reasonable. There are also numerous rumors of the marriage being over for quite some tie and them each being with other people. Possible, but who cares. Breaking up, whatever the circumstances, is always hard to do.

I don't follow Paltrow's career too closely. She doesn't make that many movies anymore, and the ones she does I rarely want to see (Contagion, Thanks for Sharing, Country Strong). We did see the Iron Man films, but that was mostly for Robert Downey, Jr. I have had my own love/hate moments with the actress. When she first appeared on the scene I was less than fond of her. She always seemed to have a smug smile. It didn't help that she was dating one of my heartthrobs, Brad Pitt, and they had matching haircuts at the time. I also really disliked that famous pink ball gown she wore to the Oscars. It seemed, like Gwyneth, just a bit too much. And ill-fitting. Later, post-Pitt, I didn't mind her so much. I did like her in The Royal Tenenbaums. I also really liked her cookbook, It's All Good, that came out last year and still use some of the recipes, especially the turkey burgers and meatballs, regularly.

Gwyneth, with her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. But can we just hoist that bodice up a bit? It's doing her no favors.
Paltrow and Martin have reportedly escaped to the Bahamas to avoid more media scrutiny. Le sigh. So America's love-hate relationship with the star continues. Any chance for a purely sympathetic series of magazine covers of the soon-to-be single mom seems to be out of the question now. I don't wish any of them any ill will. But I wouldn't mind not being barraged with more lifestyle quotes and divorce/break-up details, either. Maybe it would be good to take a step back Gwyneth, and go for some quiet time.

Friday, March 28, 2014

favorite song friday: subverting the princess

I have always loved fairy tales, but I'm not a huge fan of the Disney princess, especially in its recent hyper-marketed form. I never prevented my daughter from seeing any of the animated films featuring fairy tale princesses like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc., but was happy that she was just as impressed with Hercules and the Aristocats as she might have been with the Little Mermaid. Not to mention Fiona from Shrek, a more subversive (and secretly Mommy-approved) princess.

Idina Menzel and her alter-ego, Elsa

We both liked the recent Disney riff on The Snow Queen, Frozen, but I don't think I realized until hearing Idina Menzel belt out the ubiquitous "Let It Go" for the umpteenth time that Disney may have finally offered up a truly subversive princess. Pixar's attempt to have a new kind of princess, Merida from Brave, may shoot arrows and resist an arranged marriage, but her future still seems to be rooted in such enterprises. But Elsa walks away from not only her kingdom but her past and her future.

Don't let them in,
don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel,
don't let them know
Well now they know


Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway!

Idina Menzel as Elsa in Frozen

With Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (and classroom instruments)

It is heartening that such a strong female, one yearning to be free, is the focus of the film. Maybe little girls will put aside the pink ball gowns and dreams of princes and instead think about what it means to feel as free as Elsa while she creates her own world upon that mountain top. And Idina Menzel's amazing, soaring vocals help young listeners to aspire to such dreams.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

la-di-da: best movies ever — annie hall

Annie Hall is Woody Allen's masterwork. Released in April, 1977, it won numerous awards, including four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Woody Allen), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Diane Keaton), and Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman). A love letter of sorts to former girlfriend Diane Keaton, Allen also includes some of his famous New York schtick as well as, for the first time in his films, digging a little deeper. Watching it recently I was struck by how effortless and funny it still is.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall

Allen plays comedian Alvy Singer, who has just turned 40 and can't quite understand why none of his relationships with women have ever worked out. Addressing the audience either directly or via voice-over, he traces the course of his most recent romance, with a woman named Annie Hall. The two meet through friends and are immediately attracted to one another, but the course of true love isn't exactly smooth for this pair. It's full of neuroses and watching "important" movies at New York City revival houses and lots and lots of humor. On their first date, Alvy has an idea on how to break the ice:
Alvy, "Hey listen, gimme a kiss."
Annie, "Really?"
Alvy, "Yeah, why not, because we're just gonna go home later, right, and then there's gonna be all that tension, we've never kissed before and I'll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we'll kiss now and get it over with, and then we'll go eat. We'll digest our food better."
As much as Annie Hall centers around the mismatched lovers, it also includes some classic Allen themes that will recur in his subsequent films, such as his obsession with sex, his fear of death, his love of New York, and his love of cabaret music (Keaton sings "It Had to be You" and "Seems Like Old Times." There is also slapstick, most notably featuring some recalcitrant lobsters. And Christopher Walken does a brief and very funny turn as Annie's creepy brother Duane. Here are some of my favorite, and its most classic, moments:
Annie and Alvy, standing in a line waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, discussing their sex life while trying to avoid the pontificating man behind them. Alvy finally gets so frustrated listening to the man blah-blahing to his date about Federico Fellini and Marshall McLuhan that he steps out of the story and drags in McLuhan himself to set the bore straight:

Diane Keaton's fashion sense. Keaton has always favored men's apparel, but her quirky way of combining men's ties, vests, hats, and jackets with feminine elements like scarves and granny dresses is all her own. She reportedly worked on the look with the film costume designer Ruth Morley, but seeing her through the years with her turtlenecks and gloves and tuxedo jackets have confirmed that the "Annie Hall Look" was totally Keaton. 
The lady makes that vest and tie look good
Woody's love for New York and ... lesser estimation of California. "I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light." When Alvy and Annie go visit Los Angeles he can barely contain his distaste. 
Annie, "It's so clean out here." 
Alvy, "That's because they don't throw their garbage away, they turn it into television shows."
As funny as Allen is, and as sharp and as observant as the humor can be, what really makes Annie Hall is Diane Keaton. She is a fully rounded person in the film. Not just the girlfriend. Or a pretty face. Or the butt of jokes. She is witty and zany and beautiful. How many female characters, of beauty, humor, and depth are there in movies these days? Annie Hall appreciates her, teases her, caricatures her. It helped to create her persona as an actress, and maybe even, a little bit, as a person. Our experiences mold us, and Keaton's time with Allen and this cinematic Valentine definitely shaped her and her career. It's wonderful performance, still funny after all these years.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

more beach discoveries

You never know what a walk on the beach will bring. Interesting corals, seaweed, or just a moment of contemplation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

a mirror-lined nursery

While most internet wags are spoofing or critiquing the upcoming April cover of Vogue magazine, featuring Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, another photo, released from the shoot, taken by Annie Leibovitz, has caught my eye. It is a pseudo-candid taken in their baby girl North's nursery, with both mama and papa unable to pry themselves away from digital camera screens.

There is so much to ponder in this photo.

Wall-to-wall white and mirrors for a baby's room?

One tweet that has gone viral posed the question — why isn't Kanye reflected in any of the many floor-to-ceiling mirrors? Is he a vampire? It's impossible to tell from all of the artificial lighting what time of day it really is in the photo.

The baby is cute.

This photo and its screens within screens make me think of these paintings by Diego Velázquez:

Diego Velázquez,  "Rokeby Venus [Venus at her Mirror]," c. 1647–51, National Gallery, London.
Diego Velázquez, "Las Meninas [The Maids of Honour]," 1656, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Vogue (and America) celebrates celebrity and wealth, and this picture is just an illustration, maybe the ultimate representation, of that. What bothers me the most, however, is the complete absence of joy in the photo. Velázquez, in "Las Meninas," may look a little burnt-out, but there is life and action in his depiction of the Spanish royal family. His "Rokeby Venus" may be vain, but Cupid loves her, and she seems comfortable and happy. Why are Kim and Kanye, in their Givenchy fox stole and Balmain tee, so somber and serious? Life at the top seems closed off and not too much fun, with too many screens and other reflective surfaces.

Monday, March 24, 2014

packing in the fun

Spring break is almost over, but I hope we can keep the party atmosphere going for a while ...

Friday, March 21, 2014

smithsonian channel rocks out

The Smithsonian Channel has got its groove on this March with some great music documentaries. This Friday, March 21 (10 p.m. ET/PT) is the premier of "Blondie's New York," featuring the pioneering New Wave band. The program focuses on their breakthrough album, Parallel Lines, and the band's transition from underground punk recording artists to punk/rock/pop superstars. Featuring interviews with all the band members and the influential album producer Mike Chapman, "Blondie's New York" takes each song, track by track, and shows not only how it was created, but the collaborative process behind them.

The band members of Blondie include:

Deborah "Debbie" Harry on vocals
Chris Stein on guitar, 12-string guitar, E-bow
Clem Burke on drums
Jimmy Destri on electronic keyboards
Nigel Harrison on bass guitar
Frank Infante on guitar

Lead singer Debbie Harry was a triple threat — a brilliant lyricist, great singer, and beautiful girl who became a fashion icon. She and partner and Chris Stein were at the height of their romance while making Parallel Lines, which is reflected in songs like "Picture This" and Pretty Baby." Not only do viewers get to hear the stories behind these songs from the creators, but get a tour of the downtown New York punk scene which spawned the group. Clubs like CBGB were a training ground for the group, who were finding some local success, but nothing like what was to come. Chrysalis records executive Terry Ellis, after catching one of Blondie's downtown gigs bought out their their current recording contract and paired them with producer Mike Chapman, whose attention to detail  and relentless perfectionism helped craft Parallel Lines and pushed the band to experiment with new sounds like the disco dance beat that dominates "Heart of Glass." As Harry recalled in The Guardian,
" ... in 1978, we got this producer, Mike Chapman, who asked us to play all the songs we had. At the end, he said: "Have you got anything else?" We sheepishly said: "Well, there is this old one." He liked it – he thought it was very pretty and started to pull it into focus. The boys in the band had got their hands on a new toy: this little Roland drum machine. One day, we were fiddling around with it and Chapman said: "That's a great sound." So we used it.

Back then, it was very unusual for a guitar band to be using computerized sound. ..."
Narrated by Kim Cattrall, "Blondie's New York" features some great music and even greater interviews with Harry, Stein, and the rest of the band. Blondie fans will want to dig out their old CDs and vinyl and listen one again to some great songs from Parallel Lines, like "Hanging on the Telephone" and "One Way or Another."

The Smithsonian Channel also has two other music-themed specials which have already aired. "Amy Winehouse: One Shining Night" follows the late singer on a visit to the Irish fishing village of Dingle, where she performed some of her biggest hits in a small 200 year-old church to the locals. The intimate performance captures Winehouse at the top of her form, shortly after the release of her 2006 awarding-winning album Back to Black. The film features excerpts from an interview with the singer, who talks about her passion for music and her influences, like soul singer Carleen Anderson, Thelonius Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and Sarah Vaughan. Winehouse also was influenced by '60s girl groups like the Ronettes and the Shangri Las.

It is wonderful to hear the singer talking about her work and do what she does best — sing — in "Amy Winehouse: One Shining Night," but it is also bittersweet, as one can't help but wonder what other wonderful work we will miss out on from a woman who died too young, at the age of 27. But fans of her wonderful jazz-inspired vocals will really enjoy these renditions of "Back to Black," "You Know I'm No Good," "Love Is a Losing Game" and other songs. A third music documentary, "Rocking the Opera House: Dr. John" can also be viewed. The Smithsonian Channel is rocking out!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

you're gonna hear me roar ...

And squawk ... and neigh ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

a walk on the beach

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

take a tour with joanna lumley

Isn't that Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous? Yes, it is. Joannna Lumley has calmed down her signature beehive and put aside the endless glasses of bubbly and taken on the role of travel guide for two very watchable documentaries from Athena, Joanna Lumley's Nile and Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey. Both two-disc DVD sets feature four episodes and Lumley's delightful observations on the local sights and history. In Joanna Lumley's Nile the host lays out her plan of attack, to travel the entire length of the north-flowing Nile, considered the longest river in the world, with a length of 4,132 miles (6,650 km). Like most travelers, she intends to take the trip "backwards," starting in Egypt, where the river's mouth spills into the Mediterranean, and ending at its source, at the Rwanda-Tanzania border.

When Lumley finally reaches the source of the Nile she is visibly moved, and viewers may regret that their journey and hers has come to an end. But not to worry, Lumley is on the move again, in Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey. This trip seems a bit more personal, as Lumley has traveled to Greece many times before, since her first visit at the age of 20, and has a real love and rapport with the country. Once again she tours some of the most-visited and familiar sites, like the Acropolis in Athens, the Oracle at Delphi, the almost inaccessible monasteries of Meteora, and even climbs a bit of Mount Olympus, but there are always surprises in store. Some of the more offbeat destinations include the fabled the Gates of Hades, the site of a former leper colony, and a remote village where the remaining inhabitant speak in their own strange language of whistles.

Joanna Lumley, with friend
At the Parthenon

You can read my complete review on Cinema Sentries.

Monday, March 17, 2014

looking for a four-leaf clover

Good luck!

Friday, March 14, 2014

favorite song friday: egyptomania

Katy Perry's latest monster hit, "Dark Horse" has been predictably dominating the pop music charts lately. Is its popularity justified? Yes and no. Perry has delivered her usual cliché-ridden lyrics and even enlisted the help of Memphis-born (Tennessee, not Egypt) Juicy J for one of the worst inserted raps in a long time. But the song does have some atmosphere to it, and if you can ignore the predictable warnings from Perry's siren ...

Here, kitty, kitty ... Apart from the hot pink, they get the colors of Ancient Egypt pretty right
So you wanna play with magic
Boy, you should know what you're falling for
Baby do you dare to do this?
Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
Are you ready for, ready for
A perfect storm, perfect storm

Teen and tween girls will be copying this make-up — you've been warned

... Or Juicy's J's embarrassing rhymes ...

She’s a beast
I call her Karma (come back)
She eats your heart out
Like Jeffrey Dahmer (woo)
Be careful
Try not to lead her on
Shorty’s heart is on steroids
Cause her love is so strong

Love the sculpture queen come to life

... The tune can pull you in.

What "Dark Horse" really has going for it is its music video. Like other pop artists like The Bangles ("Walk like an Egyptian") and Michael Jackson ("Remember the Time")

Perry has realized the eternal appeal of ancient Egypt, and the colorful and creative video, directed by Mathew Cullen, is a lot of fun to watch. It's up to you to decide whether to turn the sound up or not.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

les petits meurtres d'agatha christie

I am writing reviews for the website Cinema Sentries now, too. Here's an excerpt of my latest review of a French-language Agatha Christie mystery series, "Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie, Set 1 DVD Review: Who Needs Poirot?." Please don't be put off by the prospect of subtitles. These shows are really terrific.

... Christie's famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple, have been replaced by two sets of French investigators. In the first six mysteries, set in the 1930s-era France, Superintendent Larosière (Antoine Duléry) and his trusty sidekick, Inspector Lampion (Marius Colucci) solve a variety of murders. Larosière, who loves fine food and has an eye for the ladies, can be both dismissive and gentle with poor Lampion (sometimes at the same time). Lampion seems to have trouble just trying to keep up with his brilliant yet mercurial boss. They are a witty pair, and these renditions definitely have brought a sense of humor to the fore. Although frequently funny, the pair is also deadly serious about crime and catching criminals — they continually remind the contemporary audience that the guillotine awaits their convicted murderers. There is also a dash of romance in these mysteries; they are French, after all. Larosière may find himself attracted to both a lady in peril as well as a possible suspect. Lampion also finds romance — with different men he meets during the course of their cases. ...

Lampion and Larosière

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

out of synch

It's day four of the time change and we are still having problems adjusting. Eff daylight savings. I'm over it.

Aaaarrrggghhh ...


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

bubble girl

One of the more interesting "rides" at the renaissance fair this past weekend was something called "Merlin's Magic Bubbles."

The kid had a a blast trying to navigate her way over the water in the giant bubble. I couldn't help but be reminded of a certain surreal bubble from classic British television ...

Monday, March 10, 2014

fun at the faire

The kid and I checked out a renaissance festival this weekend. We had gone to the Maryland RenFest a few times when we lived in D.C. This one had a more casual air to it in many ways, but it also sported more activities that the kid could enjoy — some really ingenious rides and archery, etc. Less of an emphasis on performance, although there were comedy and magic shows and a really cool falconry demonstration.

There were also the usual busty ladies and pseudo-Shakespearean gents as well as a smattering of fairies, witches, pirates, and other fringe folk. All in all some great people watching and bad-for-you eats. But who can turn down chocolate-covered cheesesteak on a stick? Surely a ye olde middles ages favorite ...

Riding the dragon

A man-powered swing


It was a Game of Thrones-themed weekend

Watch out, Katniss

Friday, March 07, 2014

favorite song friday: pharrell and girl just want to have fun

Yes, I'm still on a Pharrell Williams kick, and you should be too. I just picked up his new CD, Girl, and am enjoying listening to it on repeat in the car. The über-infectious "Happy" is smack-dab in the middle of things. It is still a stand-out tune, but there are other treasures as well.

Pharrell was all over the charts this past year with collaborations with Daft Punk on "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke on "Blurred Lines" — both huge hit records. He has proved himself as a performer and producer, working with everyone from Mariah Carey to Britney Spears to Jay Z. Girl has Pharrell playing to his strengths as both a producer and performer. He pulls in some great talent on a number of tracks, but also showcases his smooth falsetto, great phrasing, and love of all musical genres on many of the tracks.

This one goes out to all the lovers
What can we do? We're helpless romantics
We can not help who we're attracted to
So let's all dance, and elevate each other — "Marilyn Monroe"

Girl has a retro-feel, with Pharrell sharing his love of classic Motown, 70s disco, 80's pop, and just about anything and everything that has a great beat. But the record never seems dated or a pastiche. Pharrell loves beats and knows how to use them. Some of the stand-out tracks include:

"Marilyn Monroe," which starts off the album.

"Brand New," with Pharrell and Justin Timberlake evoking Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5 while they trade verses in this upbeat jam.

Honey, you got me feelin' (brand new)
You got me feelin' (brand new)
Like the tag's still on me
Got the tags still on me
Jumpin' 'round in your bag
Jumpin' 'round in your bag
So good morning, ooh girl
You are the feeling I'm jammin' to (brand new)
You are the feeling I'm jammin' to (brand new)
Like the tag's still on me
Got the tags still on me — "Brand New"

The supremely silly but always fun"Hunter" is definitely a nod towards the '80s as well as an homage to bands like Duran Duran, Blondie, and the B52s. It also comes the closest to evoking last summer's smash, "Blurred Lines."

Miley Cyrus turns up for vocals on a bouncy track called "Come Get It Bae."

And Pharrell apparently can't get enough of Daft Punk (or vice-versa), who join him on the groovy "Gust of Wind".

Other featured artists include Alicia Keys who duets with Pharrell on "I Know Who You Are," Timbaland, and Kelly Osborne.

Although "Happy" is undoubtedly the sunniest song on the record, it is impossible to listen to the rest of Girl and not smile. Celebrating women and music and love, Pharrell and Girl just want to have fun.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

throw-back thursday: best movies ever — rear window

The recent Academy Awards have gotten me thinking about my all-time favorite films and that list inevitably includes more than a few titles by Alfred Hitchcock. It's hard to pick a favorite from so many great movies, but Rear Window has always been at the top of the list. Thinking about Hitchcock and Kim Novak makes me realize that I need to write about Vertigo, soon. But in the meantime, here is a post from 2012, one of Hitch's (and any) best movies ever — Rear Window.

I've always been a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Vertigo is probably the ultimate expression of his recurring themes of mistaken identity and the ultimate unattainable female. The Birds and Psycho are both terrific horror movies, depicting monsters from without and within. But Rear Window is not only a great artistic achievement, but it is also one of his most entertaining films.

Thelma Ritter, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart look out the window, "I'm not much on rear window ethics."

The blatant voyeurism in Rear Window is the perfect metaphor for what it is to go to the movies. Hitchcock's hero, Jimmy Stewart, plays L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries, a photographer who specializes in far-flung travel and exciting assignments — the more remote and dangerous the better. But after deciding to shoot a high-speed auto race from within the track (and being hit by a race car and sidelined with a broken leg), the itinerant photographer is stuck, going stir crazy in his New York City one-bedroom apartment, during a long hot summer with nothing to do. He begins passing his time by spying on his neighbors for entertainment, through the zoom lens on his camera.

His visiting nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter, tells Jeff, "We've become a race of Peeping Toms." She is initially bothered by Jeff's curiosity, but luckily for the audience her own desire to know what's happening across Jeff's courtyard matches ours. She joins Jeff in watching the neighbors and even gives them nicknames, like "Miss Torso" and "Miss Lonelyhearts". Tuned in regularly to everyone's daily routines, Jeff begins to notice that one of the couples, a middle-aged husband and his bedridden wife, may be acting in a peculiar manner. "I've seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, and knives and saws and ropes, and now since last evening, not a sign of the wife. How do you explain that?"

Miss Lonelyhearts is an unhappy single woman who Jeff watches go on unsuccessful dates

Miss Torso

Stella and Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played to the hilt of 1950s allure by Grace Kelly, at first try to persuade Jeff that he is imagining things, but they can't help looking and getting caught up in all of the rear window dramas. It's all fun for Jeff, Lisa and Stella to play a guessing game of unraveling the mysteries of their neighbor's lives — until they realize that they have stumbled upon a murder, and then the game becomes deadly serious.
Middle-aged couple with dog they treat like a child

Middle-aged couple without dog or child - the Thorwalds

Hitchcock captures the close quarters that come with city living - the proximity, the curiosity, and the assumptions we make about our neighbors - the feeling that we "know" people that we have never spoken to simply because we see them every day. He created the entire apartment complex in a single set, complete with action on the street beyond Jeff's camera's line of sight. It's an amazing achievement. As he toldFrançois Truffaut, "It was a possibility of doing a purely cinematic film. You have an immobilized man looking out. That's one part of the film. The second part shows what he sees and the third part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea."

Jeff's summer is spent sweltering while he watches his neighbors in the heat and intimacy of their lives. Lisa gently presses him to heat up their own relationship, while he continues to push her away, afraid of commitment and losing his life of adventure. In Jeff's eyes Lisa and he are completely mis-matched. Anyone looking out their rear window and in at them would see that she is perfect for him. Stewart and Kelly have wonderful chemistry.
The Sculptor

The Composer (with Hitchcock making his cameo, winding a clock)

The movie could be viewed as simply a suspense thriller with a romantic subplot and it would still be top-notch. But I see Rear Window as an elaborate mating ritual between Lisa and Jeff, with the emphasis on their romance and Jeff's fears about their future. I think Hitchcock is most interested in the interplay between all the couples, with the thriller plot a perfect structure to tell their stories of loneliness and search for love. Jeff is not only watching his neighbors from his window but trying on each of their identities as a possible outcome with Lisa.

"Miss Torso" and "Miss Lonelyhearts" are two extremes of the lives led by single women. A male songwriter and a female sculptor are each channeling their romantic energies into their art. There are three couples - the young sex-crazed newlyweds; a couple, not far from the age of Jeff and Lisa, but whose lives are distinctly less glamorous, with a dog they treat as their baby; and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his nagging, bedridden wife - the couple no one would want to become but Jeff fears he and Lisa might.

The Newlyweds
As Jeff tries to decide which of these scenarios best fit his romance with Lisa, she decides to toss out all of Jeff's potential relationship stereotypes, and goes into action. She enters his view by leaving the apartment and their theorizing behind and crossing the courtyard to actually investigate. "Why would Thorwald want to kill a little dog? Because it knew too much?" She proves herself as adventurous and risk-taking (if not more so) than Jeff, by sneaking into Thorwald's apartment and stealing Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring, helping to prove Jeff's theories about the woman's murder and symbolically securing a ring for herself and Jeff.

Jeff becomes so wrapped up in watching the drama being played out, so excited by her audacity, that even when Lisa puts herself in an extremely dangerous situation, he can't keep himself from looking. And neither can we. The only thing that finally breaks his view out the window is when Thorwald himself comes over for a visit ...

Rear Window is just as thrilling to watch today as it must have been when it was initially released in 1954. Hitchcock uses the murder mystery format to tell deeper stories about loneliness, city life, fears of intimacy, and the good and bad places where love might lead. No matter what your views are on "rear window ethics" as Lisa refers to them, the viewer will be immensely grateful that Alfred Hitchcock created this glimpse into others' lives, before the neighbors got wise and pulled the curtains.

François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Helen G. Scott, "Hitchcock", Google Books

This is the another in a series on some of my all-time favorite movies. Feel free to comment or share some of your favorites in the comments.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

kim novak's face

There has been a lot of internet snarking about the appearance of Kim Novak at Sunday's Oscars (as well as many other enhanced Hollywood stars). I have to admit that I was a little taken aback at first (and second and third) glance as well. Kim Novak is one of my style icons. Her beauty is legendary. But the more I looked at 81 year-old Kim the less I felt that her frozen facial appearance could all be put down to misplaced vanity and Botox. Kim has had a rough time over the last few years.

Kim Novak at The Oscars last Sunday

With Jimmy Stewart and "Pyewacket" in Bell, Book, and Candle

In Vertigo

In 2000, her home was partially damaged by fire, and the next year it was burglarized. In 2006, she was badly injured in a horse riding accident, with a punctured lung, broken ribs, and nerve damage. In 2010 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but has since been declared cancer-free. She most definitely has had some work done, but her jaw and face had a puffy look that might also be the result of certain medications. Is it fair to hold her up as a victim of bad plastic surgery, like the unkind Donald Trump did publicly, without all the information? Is it fair or even decent to snark about an 81 year-old actress's looks at all?

It was clear Sunday night that Kim Novak felt a little shaky, and her co-presenter Matthew McConnaughey very kindly and gallantly seemed to buoy her up through their time on stage. It would be nice if fans of Hollywood actors and movies could do the same.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

the bling ring

I finally got a chance to check out The Bling Ring, directed by Sofia Coppola. My first reaction was that it wasn't a good movie. Then, I wondered if the problem wasn't that it wasn't good, but that it wasn't nice. It certainly left a bad taste in the mouth. The move is a dramatization of the real-life escapades (based on a 2010 Vanity Fair article by Nacy Jo Sales, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins") of the eponymous group of high schoolers, who for a almost a year successfully waged a run of burglaries of rich and famous Los Angeles celebrity homes, including those of Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, and other young "It Girl" targets.

The kids strut their stuff - that they stole from the rich and famous (L-R: Taissa Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Katie Chang, and Claire Julien)

The film focuses on the one male member of the group, Mark (Israel Broussard, based on Nick Prugo), a lonely isolated kid who has recently transferred to Indian Hills High School in Calabasas, California, or "Drop Out High" as a girl he meets, Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang, based on Rachel Lee) describes it. Mark and Rebecca quickly become friends, with the celebrity-obssessed Rebecca leading him around town, to various parties and to "check cars" — where they break into unlocked parked luxury cars and steal money, credit cards, and anything else they deem worth taking. What first seems as maybe not standard, but certainly not unknown teenage hijinks quickly escalates when Rebecca asks Mark if he knows anyone who is out of town. He does, and they break into his acquaintance's house where they find and take cash, an expensive handbag (It's a Birkin!") and the family's Porsche and go on a spending spree. Rebecca is soon asking Mark to see if he can tell her where her favorite stars live, and thanks to Google Earth and a little ingenuity they create their own robbery guide, a sort of warped mapping of stars' homes.

Rebecca and her friends Nicki (Emma Watson, based on Alexis Neiers) and her adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga, based on Tess Taylor) and Chloe (Claire Julien, based on Courtney Ames) are not just obsessed with young starlets, but fashion and all the latest accoutrements — the bling. They take endless selfies and party and party and party some more. Watson is especially good as a girl who is itching to shake up her life in any way possible. When prepping for another night out at a nightclub she tells her sister Sam in deadpan seriousness, "Your butt looks awesome!"

You can never take enough selfies

When they break into the homes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, they don't just try on their clothes and jewelry; they try on their lifestyles, hanging out in their bedrooms and closets, and amusingly, at Hilton's house, in her "nightclub room." Hilton let Coppola film at her home in the actual rooms that were burgled, and no set designer could do a better job at depicting Young Hollywood excess if they tried.

In a documentary feature in the extras, "Scene of the Crime with Paris Hilton," Hilton speaks graciously of Coppola as she takes viewers on a tour of her house, lamenting how what the Bling Ring did was "Very wrong" and how many of the items that were stolen from her (the gang broke into her home on multiple occasions) were family items that will never be recovered. While it is impossible to side or sympathize with the Bling Ring and their actions, it is also equally as hard to connect with, or feel too badly for, their victims after viewing the conspicuous excess in their homes. Bloom's Rolex collection. Hilton's room full of shoes. Bags upon bags of never-worn designer duds strewn around Lohan's bedroom. Who needs all of this crap? The kids' values are undoubtedly completely skewed, but so are their victims'.

That's a lot of shoes, Paris

Partying in Paris Hilton's "nightclub room"

And what does Coppola have to say about these aspirational criminals? Not a heck of a lot. She lets her camera observe, with deadpan precision, the vapid lifestyles of the Valley kids and their prey (much as she luxuriated, from a distance, in the pretty surfaces and impending doom of her protagonist Marie Antoinette). The film shows the ease with which they break into homes and then post their loot on Facebook. The kids brag to all of their friends about how they "hung out at Paris Hilton's house" and try to sell some of the stolen goods, while keeping others. They are bored, drug-fueled, and aimless.

The Bling Ring does haunt one a little after viewing, but I suspect that has less to do with Coppola and more to do with the true story, which is aptly summarized in another extra on the disc, "Behind the Real Bling Ring," a 23-minute short documentary that is possibly more interesting than the feature. If anything, the movie makes one wonder about the national obsession with fame and wealth and ponder if it will ever abate. Coppola doesn't have much to say on that count, either. She inserts the obligatory shots of each member and their jail sentences (which she changes up from reality for the film) but doesn't seem too interested in what happened to the kids or where they are today. But viewers may be, and can check out their latest exploits via The Daily Beast.

Monday, March 03, 2014

oscar congrats all around

Some may have found last night's Oscar telecast a little tame or subdued. Or even boring. But I think it was more a reflection of a desire (and need) for Hollywood to lighten up, and that the nominees were all pretty deserving. Honestly, anyone could have won and it wouldn't have been considered an upset.

Ellen Degeneres was the perfect host  for such a laid-back, upbeat vibe. She only made a few real digs, in her opening monologue, at Jonah Hill and Liza Minnelli, and while those might have been a bit more acidic than her usual shtick, they were also understood to be good-natured ribbing. The rest of the time she tried to get a rise out of the usually stiff celebrities, by corralling A-listers in a goofy record-breaking selfie, and ordering pizza for the first two rows of the tuxedo and bejeweled crowd.

The selfie tweeted 'round the world
Favorite moments:

Pharrell Williams's opening number, "Happy." The multi-talented Pharrell got the audience on their feet in the theater, and (at least here) at home, too. Pharrell also helped showcase another of Meryl Streep's hidden talents (around the one-minute mark of the video below).

There were quite  few more-entertaining-than-usual acceptance speeches, from Best Actress Winner Cate Blanchett, Best Supporting Actor Winner Jared Leto, Best Supporting Actress Winner Lupita N'yongo, and Best Actor Winner Matthew McConnaughey.

There has to be one completely weird and inexplicable moment, and John Travolta obliged, with his strange introduction of "Adele Dazeem" singing "Let It Go" from Frozen. The crowd watched in confusion as Broadway veteran Idina Menzel, who performed the song in the movie as well took the stage. Travolta introduced himself as a big fan of musicals, which made the gaffe even more bizarre. The song was the Oscar winner, too.

Bill Murray's sly, slipped-in tribute to the fabulous Harold Ramis was also a high point. Ellen's celebrity-pack selfie was fun (and it's already generated a web page where one can insert oneslef into the mob), but this image from the red carpet is my favorite of the night.
Cumberbatch photobomb — say that three times quickly
Congratulations to all.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

oscar fashion

This cute graphic created by London agency Mediarun Digital of every dress worn by the Best Actress Academy Award winners throughout the years has been all over the internets.

I especially like 1930 (Mary Pickford), 1938 (Luise Rainer),  and 1940 (Vivien Leigh).

As far as tonight's award show goes, I have to admit that I'm a lot less interested in the potential fashions to be worn by this years crop of nominees. What I have been wondering (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) is what hat will Pharrell Williams wear?

Look out fashion gods, here he comes ...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

backlit family fun

A great weekend visit with some relatives from California today — love you and miss you guys already!