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Wednesday
May062015

Mad Men @ the Movies: "Lost Horizon"

Lynn Lee, back again with Mad Men at the Movies.

With just two episodes left, “Mad Men” still has too much business to wrap up to spend much time on or at the movies.  But it’s surely no accident that the title of this week’s episode was “Lost Horizon” – a reference that’s popped up before on this show, but never with such direct resonance.

Lost Horizon, a bestselling novel written by James Hilton (who also penned Goodbye, Mr. Chips) between the two world wars, was made into a successful 1937 movie starring Ronald Colman and is most famous for introducing Shangri-La, fabled utopia of blissful ease and tranquility.  But while Shangri-La may be a haven, it’s also a prison—and, even within the narrative of Lost Horizon, possibly an illusion.  The entire plot is driven by a plan to deceive and kidnap a small group of random strangers and bring them by force to Shangri-La, where they each react very differently to what it offers them.

The parallels are obvious as our Sterling Cooper survivors gingerly transition to their new roles at McCann Erickson.  More...

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Wednesday
May062015

"A bright guilty world." - On The Lady From Shanghai

Hit Me With Your Best Shot S6.10
Mid Season Finale (See all the pics tonight at 11!)
The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
Directed by Orson Welles. Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.


Though we're usually tasked to watch the same film for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, today for the Orson Welles Centennial, participants had their choice of three films. I chose The Lady From Shanghai (1948) largely because the only image I ever see for it online is Orson Welles seizing Rita Hayworth, both of them reflected by mirrors in the über famous "Crazy House" finale. It's one of those movie sequences you learn by osmosis just watching other movies (remember Woody Allen's take on it in Manhattan Murder Mystery?) even before you get around to this 1948 noir (Technicall IMDb says 1947 but it was released practically everywhere in 1948). Though the hall of mirrors contains roughly 50 shots that could justifiably be called "Best" it's their proximity and their dizzying accumulation of lies (all about to shatter) that really does it for me so I looked elsewhere.

The Lady From Shanghai is gorgeously uncluttered. It's as if only the basic tropes have room to exist: the femme fatale, the narrating dupe, the shadows, and the crimes. It's so self aware it even toasts its own genre halfway through...

Here's to crime!"

You might even call it minimalist despite the famously baroque visual finale. It was the fourth Orson Welles picture and the first to be ignored entirely by the Academy when it opened in the summer of 1948 but it won the important battle: standing the test of time.

The movie plays its hand immediately, informing you that Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) will be Michael O'Hara's (Orson Welles) undoing. But every time you look at her, which is often since Welles and Lawton Jr give Hayworth star vehicle closeups throughout, you hope it won't be true.  One very smart recurring visual motif is that Mrs Bannister is bathed in light more often than she's in shadow. She so clearly has her own key light that at the tail end of the movie's first sequence, when Welles jumps in a horse drawn carriage with her, their images seem artificially conjoined since he's so shadowy and she's so bright.

But this lighting motif is a lie, one you catch if you a) believe the narration and b) listen to the dialogue of the film's oiliest and most repulsive character who refers to the paradise around these rich sharks as a  "bright guilty world." One notable exception, the one I'd select as Best Shot if I could have two conjoined images to illustrate a point, is when Elsa and O'Hara meet in an quarium. This time they're both bathed in shadows though something is very different about the shots: when O'Hara stands next to the glass they're like harmless magnified fishies; when Elsa picks a spot to stand the marine life is far more disturbing, gasping for air. 

But for Best Shot I'm going minimal, and brightly lit, conveying the intoxication of Rita Hayworth. The shot below is breathtaking in its sensuality; Elsa gets the full glamour treatment, the glistening eyes and slightly parted mouth, the soft but ample lighting. But Welles doesn't rest on his co-star and lover's beauty alone. There's an impressive array of choreographed movement that keeps whiplashing the camera back to her, reclined, through lots of business with her three men and one cigarette. You're constantly aware of the relationships between the four principles. This is is not a typical triangulated affair or evil quartet but a circle with Elsa Bannister always at its center.

best shot

And since we're speaking of juxtapositions, if you pair this hypnotic sequence -- your eyes are getting heavier... You will do whatever Rita breathily implores! -- with an even more brightly lit but far less serene shot of her face in the climax, this star turn reveals itself as quite a bifurcated triumph; it's half fawning iconography (until the mask of her glamour finally drops) and half shifty performance. 

By all means if you haven't seen this movie -- or any of Orson Welles's masterpieces, do. 

Wednesday
May062015

Critics Choice TV Nominations 2015

The BFCA's sibling, the BTJA (Broadcast Television Journalist Association) has released their nominations for the 2014/2015 television season. Let it serve as your annual reminder that for as much as the world likes to complain about official industry-insider nominations each year, sometimes critics don't improve it a whole lot. I mean this is a whole separate organization and they still can't bother to nomination RuPaul for reality television categories? The Shade of It All. They're still nominating Jessica Lange for American Horror Story even though she looked fairly bored to be there this year doing the same ole thing (faded has been beauty desperate to hold on to her glory) in a show that's meant to give its actors new characters to play each year. They also skipped on Mad Men's final season which is pretty unforgiveable if you ask me given how excellent it's been. But perhaps with the nominations hitting this early, they voted before they had seen much of it. 

The best thing I can say for them is that they don't seem to be trying to predict the Emmys at all (witness the low showing for Game of Thrones and Modern Family for example) which we can only hope will happen one of these years with the BFCAs in relation to the Oscars. Their nominations, which you've already guessed horrify me beyond a surprise nod for horrified Eva Green are after the jump...

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Wednesday
May062015

Smackdown May 31st - Pass It On !

UPDATE / MAKE NOTE: Date Changed to Sunday June 7th. 

It's decided. After listening to your comments and perusing the lists again we've narrowed down which years we'll be doing this summer. The next Supporting Actress Smackdown will be 1979... So get to watching out there for maximum enjoyment when it arrives. And your enjoyment comes before that if you do because, BONUS, this is a good batch of films even beyond these talented ladies. 

  • Jane Alexander - Kramer Vs. Kramer
  • Barbara Barrie - Breaking Away
  • Candice Bergen - Starting Over
  • Mariel Hemingway - Manhattan
  • Meryl Streep - Kramer Vs. Kramer

PANELISTS TBA

P.S. This also means that 1979 will be our unofficial 'year of the month' so we'll have other '79 related bits and bobs for you at the end of May. Please to enjoy. Any requests?

Wednesday
May062015

10th Anniversary of 'Mysterious Skin' and Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Actor

Glenn here. Look, we all know Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a child actor, and a pretty good one, too (that scene where he got skate in the face in Halloween: H20 is very memorable). But let's not kid around here. It wasn't until the release of Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin in 2005 that most really started to take him seriously. One year later he starred in Brick and he's only continued to rise up the ranks as a popular and critically respected actor. Looking back, I can't recall if his presence was as exciting to me in this film as Michelle Trachtenburg from Buffy, but looking back now he's certainly one of the reasons the film holds up.

It's actually rather appropriate that the 10th anniversary of Mysterious Skin should occur now at around the same time as New York Magazine's article entitled “Why You Should Go to the Movies (and Do Other Stuff) Alone” has been getting shared around on social media. You see, Araki's film was the first film I ever went to see at the cinema by myself. I travelled to Melbourne all on my lonesome, without friends or family who I usually convinced to join me for a day at the arthouse, and caught a screening of the movie that had amassed so much controversy in the local media. There were threats of it being banned after a 'family organization' (code for fundamentalist "won't somebody think of the children" noddies) demanded a review of its already very restrictive R18+ rating which is the Australian equivalent of an NC-17. Given the history of sexually graphic films being banned after similar action - titles like Romance and Baise-Moi - I knew I had to see this film. And fast!

MORE...

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Wednesday
May062015

Curio: A Peek Inside the Orson Welles Centennial in Woodstock, IL

Happy Orson Welles Centennial! - Don't Miss Best Shot tonight

Alexa here. I was honored recently when one of my collage pieces was chosen to be a part of the Orson Welles Centennial celebrations in Woodstock, IL.  For those that don't know their Welles history, here are some facts: Welles attended the progressive Todd School in Woodstock from 1926 to 1931, after his parents' divorce and his mother's death.  It was there where Welles met his lifelong mentor Roger Hill, the headmaster of the school; Hill essentially developed a curriculum to nurture Welles' interests in art and theater. It was in Woodstock that Welles directed his first play and made his first film.  In interviews later in his life, he said that Woodstock was the closest place he had to a real home.

Welles, circled, during his time in Woodstock

Located about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, Woodstock is holding 3 weekends of centennial celebrations to honor Welles' 100th birthday. Of course there will be screenings: of Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, a new documentary directed by Chuck Workman.  There will also be stagings of "Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles," a one-man play by Erik Van Beuzekom, and a staging of "War of the Worlds." Oja Kodar, Welles' former girlfriend, is also set to speak, along with many others.  

Coinciding with these events will be an exhibit that will include original art and a private collection of memorabilia. I was lucky enough to have festival co-chairman Greg Gantner give me a peek at a few of the items that will be on exhibit before the show opens on the 8th.  The Welles nerd in me was very excited and snapped some pictures...  

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