Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kim Novak in Vertigo

There's a lot of competition for most lovingly filmed Hitchcock heroine, but I don't think anything trumps the unique and beautiful compositions devised by Hitchcock for Kim Novak in Vertigo. Here are eight of the best, four of Madeleine and four of Judy, just to be fair.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ten Favorite Books of 2010

My ten best reads of 2010, heavy on Mr. MacDonald.

10. From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell (1964)
Her first book, and it's as good as anything she's written.

9. A Man of Affairs by John D. MacDonald (1965)

Is it as good as this cover suggests? Pretty much.

8. Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis (2010)

Is it a detective story? A veiled autobiography? Moral satire? A horror story? I'm not exactly sure but it's pretty close to all of the above. Not for the faint of heart.

7. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie (1961)

Outlandish, then clever. I have a particular fondness for the Christie novels that initially seem to be about something supernatural but then turn out to have a perfectly logical solution. The prototype for every Scooby Doo mystery by the way.

6. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis (2010)

He almost lost me in the muck of his self-conscious prose but the epilogue pulled me back in. Some of the finest writing Martin Amis has ever done.

5. The Deceivers by John D. MacDonald (1968)

A story of suburban infidelity that's as suspenseful as a murder mystery. John D. Macdonald is all about those truthful little details that make the world come alive, and this book is no exception. He really makes you feel both the thrill and the devastation of adultery.

4. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)

A ghost story for a cold winter night. Well, several cold winter nights. It's a long book but with a huge payoff.

3. The Soft Touch by John D. MacDonald (1953)

Long before Travis McGee breathed fictional air John D. was writing perfect pulp novels.

2. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

A perfect introduction to Holmes and Watson, and even though the Mormon sequence is historically inaccurate it makes for great pulp fiction.

1. Condominium by John D. MacDonald (1977)

Maybe his greatest achievement.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Easy A

Some nice acting in this, from Emma Stone as the would-be Hester Prynn (or Olive) who really carries the entire film, and from a wildly inappropriate Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive's clearly-improvising parents. There are some zippy scenes but they are few and far between and the movie starts to collapse under its premise. Sometimes it feels as though the filmmakers were interested in making something mean-spirited along the lines of Election but then held back, and it's not quite sweet and funny enough to go in the other direction. Still, a must for Emma Stone fans. Maybe someone, some day, will write a great comedy for her.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Experiment in Terror (1962)

A masterpiece of black-and-white art from Blake Edwards and cinematographer Philip Lathrop. Lee Remick is blackmailed by a psychotic killer played by Ross Martin, who threatens to kill her and her younger sister (a teen-aged Stefanie Powers) if she doesn't steal a hundred grand from the San Francisco bank she works at. Glenn Ford is the FBI agent she secretly contacts. It really has some of the best-looking black-and-white I've ever seen, all scored by Henry Mancini. Lee Remick is gorgeous and Ross Martin is genuinely terrifying as the asthmatic killer. So why is it so slow moving? I think it's the characters--they never really rise above, or alter from, their archetypes. Lee Remick is an innocent bank-teller, Glenn Ford is a devoted G-man, and Ross Martin is a bad guy through and through. Some of the minor characters--Anita Loo as the Japanese girlfriend of the killer, and Ned Glass as a wily snitch--are the saving graces.

One note: This film is a must for David Lynch fans. It clearly influenced Lynch a lot, and there are multiple references. Lee Remick lives in Twin Peaks. The opening sequence directly influenced the scene with Willem Dafoe in Wild at Heart. Just the surreal kitschy flavor of the whole thing, plus deadpan FBI agents, innocent schoolgirls meeting deranged perverts, driving through cities at night. And the killer's name is Lynch. Coincidence, or kismet?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Film Frames Friday

A special Thursday edition. Hint below.

Hint (highlight to see): You are what your wear.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From Doon With Death (1964)

Ruth Rendell's first published mystery, and also the first Inspector Wexford. It's excellent, and really goes to show that sometimes a good mystery novel only needs one good idea. In this case, the key to the murder of a local dowdy woman seems to be a trunkful of books, all inscribed to her by the mysterious Doon. The ending is relatively surprising now but must have been downright shocking in 1964.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Poetry Monday

"It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It."

by Anthony Hecht

Tonight my children hunch
Toward their Western, and are glad
As, with a Sunday punch,
The Good casts out the Bad.

And in their fairy tales
The warty giant and witch
Get sealed in doorless jails
And the match-girl strikes it rich.

I've made myself a drink.
The giant and witch are set
To bust out of the clink
When my children have gone to bed.

All frequencies are loud
With signals of despair;
In flash and morse they crowd
The rondure of the air.

For the wicked have grown strong.
Their numbers mock at death,
Their cow brings forth its young,
Their bull engendereth.

Their very fund of strength,
Satan, bestrides the globe;
He stalks its breadth and length
And finds out even Job.

Yet by quite other laws
My children make their case;
Half God, half Santa Claus,
But with my voice and face,

A hero comes to save
The poorman, beggarman, thief
And make the world behave
And put an end to grief.

And that their sleep be sound
I say this childermas
Who could not, at one time,
Have saved them from the gas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How Do You Know

A big broad comedy that doesn't work, at least not for me. (Charlene was swayed slightly by Paul Rudd's adorableness but she's been working really hard lately and I think her defenses were down). James L. Brooks has been making pretty mediocre movies for a while now but the man does have a good track record. I love Broadcast News and Taxi might be my all time favorite sitcom. But this one didn't cut it. Not real enough, not funny enough, and with strangely clunky dialogue. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson all worked extra hard to make it work, and they were decent, but the script wasn't. Hey Jack Nicholson, if you're not going to make an effort then don't accept the job. That's all I'm saying.