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Entries in Patricia Highsmith (9)


Shine On, Beautiful Murder

Team Experience is at the Tribeca Film Festival. Here's Jason on "A Kind of Murder" and "Always Shine"

I know it's blasphemy in these parts to speak ill of Mad Men (cue 90% of you automatically clicking away in disgust) but I could never really get into it because it felt too slavishly obsessed with 60s posturing - I love Mid-Century Design as much as the next Eero Saarinen disciple but I couldn't ever see the forest for the tulip chairs. That said, the new Patricia Highsmith adaptation A Kind of Murder (from the 1954 book The Blunderer, kind of a suburban copycat criss-cross of Strangers on a Train) makes Mad Men seem positively restrained in its period affectations - how you manage to turn a walking talking charm like Patrick Wilson into a walking talking turtleneck I'll never figure.

The turtlenecks! The martini glasses! The heavy salmon drapes and stone fireplaces! There were moments of such monumental airlessness, as if a plastic sofa cover was wrapped over every scene, where I felt it might be purposeful - where I thought of Todd Haynes' [safe] and the way that movie was built to make the audience hyperventilate while watching it... but A Kind of Murder is no [safe]. What it is is is an occasionally jazzy low-key thriller, with Eddie Marsan skulking about effectively making his case as our modern day Peter Lorre or Raymond Burr. But it ends up more of a put on, a face of perfectly applied make-up cast halfway in noirish shadow, than any sort of artful smear. Grade: C

Part of me wishes I had seen Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald in Sophia Takal's Always Shine before having seen Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth last year, because while I'm more inclined towards Takal's smoky and sinister edged film... that's a whole lot of Persona riffing in the space of twelve months.

Always Shine tells the tale of two actresses in one of those friendships so fraught with complications it would have doctors reaching for the defibrillation paddles - the pendulums of success and resentment, professional jealousy and personal affection, flinging through space so close that something's bound to rub off and muck up everything. 

And inevitably, muck. In this case the the muck under the misty cliff-faces and mossy canyons of Big Sur, California, an L.A. getaway close enough that when the sun sets the shadows from the Hollywood sign are yet still the first harbingers of nightfall. Here these ladies make their escape, a weekend coffee klatsch under the guise of nursing emotional distance, their carry-on's stacked with comedy and tragedy masks, plus sundresses. Inevitably, tragically, the two women end up flashing their SAG cards in each other's faces instead of laying bare their hearts, a battle of wiles not wills.

You know, actresses. And who doesn't love a movie about actresses? I think I'm preaching to the choir here. The performative commingling of these two still fresh talents is a blast - Davis I've already fallen head over for on Halt and Catch Fire (please tell me you're all watching that show) and FitzGerald is always fine despite a frustratingly written role on Masters of Sex; here these two fold into and under each other in smart - and, in this movie's true blessing, in unexpectedly funny - ways. Grade: B+


Cast This: Highsmith's Ripley TV Series

Manuel here. Patricia Highsmith is definitely back in vogue. We'll obviously credit Carol (based on her Price of Salt novel) but the ample filmography her books have begat should remind us that she's been the type of author whose works seem ready-made for the screen. While there's still no new word on whether that Gillian Flynn/David Fincher Strangers on a Train remake is still in the works, we now have another Highsmith property to get excited about.

Well, perhaps "new" is too strong a word. [More...]

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Interview: Ed Lachman on the Exquisite "Carol" and Dancing with Todd Haynes

It's our last Carol interview, he announced with a catch in his throat, attempting to let the best film of 2015 go for awhile. Our subject today is one of the great cinematographers, Edward Lachman. His filmography is loaded with essential mavericks of independent cinema like Sofia Coppola, Robert Altman, Steve Soderbergh, Todd Solondz and European auteurs, too. But his most fruitful collaboration has been with Todd Haynes. Carol marks their fourth and arguably best collaboration and brough him his long overdue second Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.   

The New Jersey native started in Studio Arts like painting and art history and viewed them as more creative outlet than profession. Eventually he found he could earn a living as a cinematographer and a rich succession of images have flooded out of him ever since -- think of the golden ragged warmth of Erin Brockovich, the supremely stylized Sirkian homage of Far From Heaven, and the hazy mystery of The Virgin Suicides. And that's just three titles.

I was eager to get on the phone with the man behind so many beautiful films and share a personal way his work affected me at the beginning of my cinephilia. But first I had to gush over Carol and how much it rewards repeat viewings. He joked that Carol obsessives have seen the movie more times than he has... and he shot it!


NATHANIEL: I began all my Carol interviews this season with "Why are you such a genius?

ED LACHMAN: Someone once wrote that I'm a 'near genius'. I feel like more of a near genius.

NATHANIEL: [Laughs] Stop qualifying. The movie is exquisitely beautiful

LACHMAN: Thank you. A lot of it has to do with our director Todd Haynes. I'm a conduit to his vision. I interpret it through the images but what's so beautiful about Todd is how he references his stories through conceptual ideas. For me, images aren't just about the aesthetics but the gravity of the content and what the images represent.

More after the jump

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Interview: Phyllis Nagy on Patricia Highsmith, Sunset Blvd, and "Carol" 

Phyllis Nagy in Palm Springs with Cate BlanchettMonday night through Tuesday evening was a special 24 hours in the lives of Team Experience. At the NYFCC awards gala, Alec Baldwin, presenting the Best Director prize to Todd Haynes (Carol), quoted a Film Comment piece by our dear friend and podcast mate Nick Davis. That same night Phyllis Nagy was honored for Best Screenplay by the Pulitzer winning playwright/screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America, Lincoln) himself. Though I was not in attendance for the Carol-heavy NYFCC gala on Monday night where the film also took Best Cinematography and Best Film), I had the opportunity to congratulate Nagy the next evening on her fine work adapting the year's best film from the original 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel "The Price of Salt." The occassion was a cocktail event for the movie hosted by former and future Todd Haynes muse Julianne Moore (here are a few photos of that reunion.)

It was our second chat with the sharp and talented Phyllis Nagy, who up until Carol had been best known for her stage plays and the HBO film Mrs Harris (2006) which she wrote and directed.

Here's our original conversation which we hope you'll enjoy...

NATHANIEL: So Phyllis I started this  as kind of a joke to myself but then decided to commit to it and have literally asked every person I interviewed from Carol ... How come you're such a genius? 

PHYLLIS NAGY: Well, practice. [Laughs] In this case, yeah, practice, many years of it. Which ultimately aided it, it didn’t hurt it, it may have felt like that from time to time...

NATHANIEL: You mean the long gestation period?

PHYLLIS NAGY: Yeah, when no one wants to [make a film], it gives you the opportunity to obsessively go over it again and again on your own time, at least make it a document that you’re proud of. So, luckily...

[Patricia Highsmith's interiority, great actors, and tough rewrites after the jump...]

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Cannes Review: Carol

Our friend Diana Drumm is in Cannes and will be sending a few reviews our way. First up, Todd Haynes hotly anticipated Carol... (note: this review contains a couple of spoilers for those who haven't read the book)

Within a year of publication, Patricia Highsmith’s first novel “Strangers on a Train” became a seminal Hitchcock thriller. After half a century, her second novel “The Price of Salt” (published under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan) is now a Todd Haynes romantic drama (under the succinct title Carol). Whereas the former concerns two male strangers duplicitous in murder, the latter is about two women finding love in constrictive 1952 New York City. Turning the pulp novel into a palpable parable, Carol is a master stroke in Haynes’s 21st century oeuvre (Far from Heaven, Mildred Pierce, et al.), and harkens back to the pressurized strength of Safe and the sexual fluidity of Velvet Goldmine - both capturing and throwing off the starched restrictiveness of postwar America, and deftly upgrading the melodrama with social relevance.

Inspired by Highsmith’s own stint at Macy’s (and her affair with Philadelphia socialite Virginia Kent Catherwood), 20-something shopgirl Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) waits on and is struck by elegant “blondish woman in a fur coat” Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). A friendship builds between the two, to the jealousy of Therese’s huffy square boyfriend (Jake Lacy), who dismisses it as schoolgirl crush, and the consternation of Carol’s matinee-handsome, soon-to-be ex-husband (Kyle Chandler), who uses it as ammunition in their ongoing divorce negotiations. [More]

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Review: The Two Faces of January

Michael Cusumano here to review the latest stylistic throwback based on the writing of Patricia Highsmith.

When people gripe “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” films like Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January are the kind of movie they mean. It’s adapted from the work of an acclaimed novelist whose books were the source of such beloved films as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. It features big stars in sumptuous foreign locales. It is made with a careful attention to detail. It doesn’t dumb things down or clutter the plot up with needless action. It is fair to say I was primed to love this movie, yet it never quite jolts to life. At some point my investment in the story passed from suspense to impatience. It never went so far as indifference, but I was pretty far from the edge of my seat. Rather, I was leaned back in my chair, head in my hand, thinking what a classy job everyone involved was doing and admiring the sumptuous visuals and thinking how this was going to end up being one of those reviews that used the word “sumptuous” a lot.

The key problem is that foreign intrigue of the Hitchcock variety requires storytelling that stays a few steps ahead of the audience, and it's easy to keep leaping ahead of January’s characters. Far too much time is spent with characters sitting in cafés, smoking, drinking, and eyeing each other suspiciously, when they should be trying to have sex with or murder one another, preferably both. [More...]

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Cast This: Can We Get a Patricia Highsmith Biopic Up in Here?

We're getting three starry Patricia Highsmith adaptations in the next year or so at the cinemas. First up is The Two Faces of January (Viggo, Kiki & Oscar Isaac) and then Carol (Cate, Rooney & Sarah Paulson). 

 The latest to ready itself for the cameras is The Blunderer. The cast will include Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel, Imogene Poots and Toby Jones. 

Highsmith adaptations are nothing new for the cinema and soon there will be little left to adapt.

Walter Stackhouse (Wilson) is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara (Biel) and leading a charmed and perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer (Jones) and an over-ambitious detective. Walter's obsession, his lies and his lust for another woman (Poots) will collide in a crush of guilt, innocence and, ultimately, fate.

Highsmith adaptations are nothing new for the cinema and soon there will be little left to adapt.

But why hasn't anyone made a biopic yet?

She was a complicated character in her looks, her art, and her temperament: famously misanthropic (and racist, too), an alcoholic, complicated lifelong relationship with her mother (who once confessed to trying to abort her) who lived to be 95, bisexual with volatile affairs, and a crazy cat lady to boot.

Who should play her in a biopic?  Two names came immediately to my mind but I want to know your thoughts before I reveal them. A few more pictures after the jump [one NSFW] and a few more notes about Hollywood's interest in her work. 

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