Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

michelle, ma belle

She's so stunning! Vote below for your favorite Michelle Williams look from Cannes.

in Chanel Haute Couture

in Suno with Stella McCartney cork wedges

in Sonia Rykiel

What is your favorite Michelle Williams Cannes look?
Chanel Haute Couture
Sonia Rykiel
pollcode.com free polls

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"i'm swimming home."

The Swimmer begins oddly, deep in the woods, with a heavy, melodramatic score (Marvin Hamlisch's debut). Ned Merrill (a very physically fit and believable Burt Lancaster) appears, clad only in a navy swimsuit, running through the forest and into the backyard of a large house. He has some stilted conversations with the people who are there, mingling around a swimming pool on a beautiful summer day. There is something off about Ned. He hasn't seen these people in years. They are excited to see him, but he doesn't seem necessarily engaged with them. He is too busy plotting. Here begins Merrill's journey: swimming through the backyard pools of his neighbors to get back to his house ("pool by pool, they form a river all the way"). He meets strangers and past acquaintances like the babysitter of his two daughters and his unsettled old flame. Based on the famous New Yorker story by John Cheever, The Swimmer is a moving, if not quite entirely successful, indictment of the American Dream.

The filming location of Westport, Connecticut is perfect. The houses are large, with well-manicured backyards and gleaming pools, situated on expanses of forests. The dwellers are quite distant from one other, lazing about on lawn chairs, drinking cocktails, or throwing parties, rarely swimming in the pools themselves. The pools are more of a status symbol. One of them is drained because the young boy there is afraid of water. That particular boy is a sad lot. Alone (his parents off, the maid inside the house) selling lemonade, he is quite fond of Ned's charisma. Ned tells him to be his own man, not to worry about being athletic or "part of a team." There is something true about this but also ironic since Ned is his own man but one deep in delusion. By his final swim (in a crowded public pool, where he is confronted by two couples over his debts), Ned is cold and sore, his zest greatly diminished. The ending is inevitably sad (in a good way) but a bit portentous in its delivery. Hamlisch's pounding score does no favors here. With no music and no booming thunder, just the sound of rain, would it have been more effective?

Any director that can make such an involving film out of a ten page story should definitely be commended, even if the source material is rich. Director Frank Perry sets the tone well. The script by his wife Eleanor Perry is often perceptive and quietly cutting. There is a lot of embellishing but much of Cheever's odd symbols remain (a barren tree that Ned thinks should be "blighted"). Frank Perry left the film in mid-production due to creative differences with Columbia. Sydney Pollack stepped in to direct Lancaster's scene with Rule. It certainly is a dark picture, a fable and biting social satire of sorts (one of the neighbors brag about their pool filter that blocks out 99.99.99% of waste), the kind of film that audiences in the late 60s were embracing. It's frustrating though that the film often eschews subtlety (always tricky to do with suburban satires). But the story itself, Lancaster's savvy and real performance and the bright, hauntingly vivid late 1960s feel make The Swimmer a memorable experience. ***1/2

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

beautiful cate

Cate Blanchett in a design by the late Alexander McQueen. What a beautiful dress. More about it here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

bad girls

Donna Summer is well-known for her overplayed hits on her epic album Bad Girls (the title track and "Dim All the Lights"). The modern audience may be a bit tired of her. We've seen and heard it enough. We watched her in a black pantsuit on a well-performed but calculated VH1 performance that lacked any of the gloss or excess of the Studio 54 era. "Hot Stuff" conjures the image of Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza. And too, disco still gets a bad rap from some music snobs. This excellent article by Simon Price points out how disco has inspired many acclaimed indie and alternative music acts.

Yet, Donna Summer's Bad Girls still sounds great and relevant today, especially in an era of a lot mindless pop, and the album's influence is everywhere. New Order's "Blue Monday" riffs off of the stuttering beat of "Our Love." It's a long record for the period (over 70 minutes and 2 LP's) and a varied one to boot. Aided by the skilled production and songwriting of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the songs blend seamlessly into each other. Besides the singles, which were played on many radio formats including rock, the album is a bit sparser on orchestrations than one would expect of a disco record. Harold Faltermeyer provides some memorable tunes including the country ballad "On My Honor." And then there's Summer's voice, which has remarkable moments of height and some quiet restraint. On one of her own penned songs, "My Baby Understands," she seems to blur the line between assurance and fear. It's a late night album (the streetgirl image, which inspired the title song, of the album art is quite appropriate). My favorites are the final trilogy of songs: "Our Love," the shimmering "Lucky," and the rhythmic finale of "Sunset People" which makes me think of a bygone era.

Friday, May 7, 2010

the ice storm

Ang Lee's drama centers on two families in 1973 Connecticut suburbia. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is the father of bitter teen Wendy (Christina Ricci) and awkward prep schooler Paul (Tobey Maguire). Ben is cheating on his wife Elena (Joan Allen) with the droll and sultry next door neighbor Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Janey and her husband George are distant from each other and from their two sons introspective Mikey (Elijah Wood) and gawky Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).

Released in 1997, a year before the Lewinsky scandal would shake up American ideas of morality and infidelity, and on the heels of the warm and supple Sense and Sensibility, the dark, acidic Ice Storm was regarded as an oddity. It was shut out at the Oscars for a sweeping disaster picture that audiences identified much more with. In subsequent years, The Ice Storm has gathered much more acclaim and was recently entered in the exclusive Criterion library. Looking back on it today and keeping in mind Lee's other great, near-flawless efforts (Crouching Tiger and Brokeback Mountain among them), his versatility with subject matter and tone is rather astonishing. The Ice Storm vividly re-creates an era on the edge of Nixon's resignation. There are some light touches in the self-awareness of the material. The early 1970s remains one of the most awkward eras in the American twentieth century. Some call the 1960s sexual revolution finally filtering into the suburbs a "trickle down effect." A student in Taiwan in the early 70s, Lee gives the film the feel of an outsider's point of view. Unlike the novel, the movie is less wrapped up in nostalgia or self-awareness. Before filming, Lee gave his cast cutouts of the time period. Unlike other films portraying the 70s, the film isn't bright and kitschy. The soft, moody lighting and the wry but straightforward performances make it a gloomy affair. There is also a cold distance to it (Lee is sometimes criticized for this, I think it only heightens the drama of his films even more).

The offbeat and vastly underrated score by Mychael Danna has a surprisingly ancient feel. Sparse and percussive, it would later influence other suburban dramas such as Thomas Newman's scoring of American Beauty. Danna has remarked that he "liked the irony of suggesting music endemic to Native Americans, to remind us that as the characters walk through the woods to their mod houses, the ground beneath their feet used to belong to civilizations that are long gone. Ang and I wanted to remind people of the power of Nature—that Nature was there before anyone else, and that Nature will be there when we’ve gone.”

With fondness for the era, costume designer Carol Oditz searched for a "visual grace," wanting to create "a surface tension, that was right for the characters in the story." There's a tenderness and awkwardness to the clothing and a slight cartoonishness (the the film begins with Tobey Maguire shifting through a comic book). But none of it goes into farce. Joan Allen's long dress looks particularly taxing on an icy driveway; Christina dons a poncho Red Riding hood coat; professionals lined up at the train stop decked out in khaki trenches. The garishness of costumes and the lack of morality is on full display in the drunken "key party" climax where the suburbanites swap carkeys (to their behemoth vehicles) and sexual partners.

There are many references: toe socks, Nixon masks, dated pop tunes (including a school band version of "The Morning After" appropriate for a film like this, since it is, in some regard, a disaster picture) are put to good use. All of this is tempered a bit by the performances of a fabulous cast. As one of the ineffectual parents, the usually broad, Shakespearean actor Kevin Kline delivers a quiet performance that ranges from comic to intensely somber. The usually wonderful Joan Allen delivers another bravura turn. In a winning moment, she mimics her daughter by riding a bike and then, unsuccessfully trying to steal lipstick from a drugstore. And Sigourney Weaver, who is often flat, is given a really wonderful role here. A bitter, relentlessly serious wannabe vixen, she goes through much of the film without a flicker of happiness. Her ridiculous waterbed (her husband hates it) captures her susceptibility to trends and her own marital and emotional unease. Her bored, cutting reaction ("I have a husband. I don't have a need for another one.") to a blabbering Kline is particularly priceless. And the younger cast members, notably Maguire and Ricci, are well-suited to their roles.

The production design was based on Cubism (a la ice cubes). The cold modern houses (though the Hood's is a touch warmer in tone) of the two families are deep in the woods, unlike the stately Colonial homes in Moody's novel. In concurrence with the image of ice, the visuals are full of glass and geometry (in the clothes, the furnishings, the wall art). Filmed in spring, the "ice" itself was sculpted and cast in resin--trees dipped in silicone, hair gel on windows. It still looks beautiful, haunting and real in an era of CGI. The effectiveness of the effects lends to the emotional wallop of the film's final tragedy: the death of a child on ice. ****