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Our Blog | Diamond Rings and Other Things

 

Lights, Camera, Actors

Anyone who knows me knows that outside of diamonds, gemstones and jewellery, some of my other interests include fashion, mid-century and modern architecture, travel, art, Hollywood and other films, preferably vintage classics and foreign films of all sorts. After sitting together for the ten thousandth time to watch another film classic, we decided that we had stumbled onto a new blog.

We've been watching these beautiful films and these actors for years. They just don't make em' like this anymore! If you haven't seen them yet, you might want to catch them on tv sometime. They're classics that need to be rediscovered by a new generation.

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23 August 2016

Casual sex on your mind, you might want to think it over … Before Fatal Attraction, Misery and Swimfan, there was 1971’s vastly underrated yet clearly memorable and well-crafted classic …it’s a gripping, psychological suspense-thriller Play Misty for Me. For every action there is a subsequent reaction …. Perhaps we all should consider showing this to our children when the right time comes. One night stands never work, we can all thank Clint for showing us the terrifying consequences that could result in a seemingly harmless fling going pear shape. This is 100 minutes of pure movie magic! In addition, it was quite influential, creating a whole new stalker/love obsession film genre. Play Misty for Me is the original and still far superior to the others. Don’t forget to turn the lights off …

 

This was Clint Eastwood’s first foray on the director’s chair, it is top-notch and what an impressive directorial debut it was! It gives his fans a glimpse into the true brilliance of a man who would enjoy a long and distinguished career on both sides of the camera. It was ahead of its time and one of the best suspense films of the 1970’s, certainly one of the best ever, and is definitely in my Top 10.

Who doesn't like to chill with Clint Eastwood? He was the epitome of coolness, from A Fistful of Dollars, to Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes, Dirty Harry and The Eiger Sanction, Clint was at the top of his game, his films box office gold.

After years of learning from master directors Don Siegel and Sergio Leone, it was not surprising that this initial effort went as well as it did! What was surprising was that he was interested in working from the other side of the camera and even made the bold decision to cast himself in the lead role.

 

Groovin' with Clint and Donna

Forty-three years later, the clothes and hairstyles might seem dated but it has stood the test of time and current film-goers who might be more familiar with today’s current crop of horror films with all their gore, are in for a ride. In this day and age this film is too frighteningly real with the online information just about any person can access about anything or anyone.

Wonderful character actor James McEachin in Play Misty for Me.

Clint loves jazz, often featuring performances by musicians he enjoys in his films. The musical interlude at the Monterey Jazz Festival is a treat for jazz fans, listen for The Johnny Otis Show, Cannonball Adderley Quintet, and Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul. The sensual score by Roberta Flack of her song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face that Clint chose for the montage is a gem though others might disagree. It may seem a little out of place, it’s there to lull us into relaxing, don’t be fooled and hold on tight.

Clint Eastwood as radio DJ Dave Garver in Play Misty for Me

In the city of Carmel, CA, we see a regular (Is it possible Clint can be just like the rest of us?) and more human, albeit mysogenistic Clint who is utterly convincing as David Garver, a dashing and womanising, popular jazz and R&B radio disc-jockey who takes all-night requests and has himself an obsessive female fan.

The lovers Dave and Tobie in a scene from the film.

I find it not so much a gore-horror film as much as it is a character study of the two lead characters. Here is a man who wants to turn over a new leaf with his girlfriend only to find himself having committed the terrible act of sleeping with the wrong person. Of course no one deserves to be terrorized in this manner but one might wonder if his life of promiscuity might have lead him down this path. His lack of sensitivity toward women does not make him the most sympathetic character either though of course I side with him when the other choice is a creepy psycho.

DJ Dave with his new fan Evelyn.

The premise is alarmingly realistic, ask any man who’s ever seen the more widely known Fatal Attraction. My brother I'm sure made a mental note of the film and its lessons after we saw the film on one of those late night showings ;)

Jessica gives us a powerhouse performance as the unhinged Evelyn.

You never know who’s watching or listening out there. This film proves another thumbs down for the judicial system that would release a troubled individual like this to an unsuspecting public. Evelyn is a tragic lonely figure, the avid fan turned multi-personality psycho-female headcase and every man’s nightmare.

This character was played with such gusto by wonderfully talented scene-stealer, actress Jessica Walter. I love great acting and great actors, they’re not easy to come by, Ms. Walters is simply divine. She had by then starred in a few big screen flicks but none with the richness as this character. She did one heck of a job!

Her spot-on powerhouse performance is absolutely superb and she is unforgettable in the role. I can’t use enough adjectives for her work in this film. The range of emotions she exhibits with this character is incredible. It is chilling how a beautiful, nice enough looking woman like this can be so sweet one moment and crazy scary the next!

This character started it all, followed by the likes of Alex Forrest and Annie Wilkes (Fatal Attraction’s and Misery’s date and fan from hell). Although I have huge respect for the works of Glenn Close and Kathy Bates, Jessica Walters’ performance is still heads and shoulders above the others. Evelyn almost makes Alex and Annie look like they’re just suffering a bad week with PMS, almost. This was Oscar-worthy to say the least, she was however not even nominated, though she was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress.

Don, Jessica and Clint in a wonderful scene from the film.

There is a wonderfully amusing cameo of Don Siegel in a dear role as the friendly local bartender. Director Don Siegel was one of Clint’s closest friends and also his mentor who had a huge influence on the actor’s career as a director. Siegel directed five of his films, all commercially and critically successful. Just in case you’re interested, the five films were Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, Two Mules for Sister Sara and Escape from Alcatraz. I can only imagine Siegel watching and advising his young protégé. Don Siegel is excellent in the film too, by the way! Oh, before I forget, the game Cry Bastion, they played in the bar in one of the scenes, it was made up, there is no such game. Brilliant!

Donna Mills plays Clint's lady-love in this gem Play Misty for Me.

Donna Mills is excellent and clearly beautiful and so lovable as Clint’s girlfriend. I wish there had been more for her to do in the role. My brother “dug” her in the film and still does! This is the same actress who played Abby Ewing in Knots Landing! Clint does use Donna’s gorgeous eyes to great effectiveness, but I won’t tell you where in the film, don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Some of the members of the superb cast of actors in Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me.

Amazing character actors John Larch, Clarice Taylor, Jack Ging, Irene Hervey and the wonderful James McEachin round out this superbly talented cast.

Clint in the director's role in this superb film.

Clint Eastwood was interested in directing a film of his own, the opportunity came along with Play Misty for Me. This role was a huge departure from the action man roles we were used to seeing him in. This was apparently a deliberate attempt to avoid being type-casted. Play Misty for Me proved once and for all that Clint had more in him than the spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry. He did it for free by the way.

It was made with a small budget of about $900,000.00. Does it take away from the quality of the film, definitely not. In my humble opinion, it only adds to its authenticity.

No need for expensive sets or today’s computer generated special effects. Frighteningly realistic in every way, these are real homes and could be real people, like your new next-door neighbour or the stranger you invited to your home for dinner the other evening. I have to question why this film wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award.

Clint as the dashing womanising Dave Barber in Play Misty for Me.

With a solid script, by Joe Heims and Dean Reisner and the brilliant direction of the Clint himself, Play Misty for Me gives as much as any Hitchcock film I’ve seen and I’ve seen them all. It’s obvious even at this primary stage that Clint’s work demonstrates a thorough understanding of the importance of the camera and mise-en-scene in creating suspense, pulling the viewer in ever so slowly. The power of the darkened light and the inspired handheld camerawork of Bruce Surtees really puts us where the action is, not to mention the inspiring photography of the Northern California coastline

It took Clint Eastwood 21 days to film, he finished it ahead of schedule and under budget. It’s no wonder Clint chose Carmel over L.A. where it was originally supposed to be filmed on location. Clint had other plans. Quaint and charming Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA with its wind-tossed beaches, quiet coves and sea and spray beauty is a dreamy location. For those who don’t remember, Clint was Mayor of Carmel from 1986-1988.


 

 

 

 


 

12 May 2016

We went shopping for some of these classic dvds recently, I was desperate to see a great film, and specifically one of my favourites … I recall vividly the first time I saw Casablanca on screen. I was 10 years old, there was nothing else that interested me on tv and no one to play with outside. I saw this black and white film about to start, it looked like it was going to be boring and the picture quality was terrible … It actually didn’t take me long to get hooked, less than 2 minutes.

Casablanca was my introduction to Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, S. Z. Sakall and the wonderful actors who make up the rest of the talented cast of this very special film. This film is so perfectly cast!!

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It was also my introduction to filmmaking and what could result with just the right ingredients, great writing, superb direction, awe-inspiring acting, a haunting theme song … cinema magic, who needed special effects.

From some of the greatest lines ever spoken on film, to the best acting and scene-stealing actors, Casablanca has it all.

Over the years I have come to be so familiar with the film that I can quote most of the actors word per word. I think I can do a pretty mean Peter Lorre ;)

I recall the La Marseillaise scene which still stirs something in me whenever I hear it. After all those years with my French teacher, I had to know the French lyrics by hard. Thank you, Mlle. M.

I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has actually never seen this film and there are a few out there, so no spoilers here. Can a film actually be perfect in every way? I think Casablanca pretty much succeeds here. We’ve had to sit through some pretty bad films recently, I couldn’t believe people paid to make some of this junk and that we actually paid to see it. Someone told us that the last film we saw which shall remain nameless, was great. Like Bogie’s Rick, we were misinformed.

 

Casablanca is one of Hollywood’s greatest romances, if not its greatest. It’s difficult to even use a specific genre for this film, it’s a romance and yet it’s a drama, it’s a murder-mystery/suspense. Think of all the funny lines that came out of this film. There’s so much to this film that it just has to be seen to be believed. It’s hard to believe that despite the many writers involved in its conception, the tension between the director and at least one of the writers, the numerous rewrites involved, the callbacks some of the actors had to make even after finishing the film, what came out was a wonderfully unified and consistent script, according to Roger Ebert. Michael Curtiz’s direction of Casablanca is perfection. Just like one of the lines in the film, “You will not find a treasure like this in all of Morocco.” Casablanca won Best Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Writing/Screenplay and Best Director in 1942.

 

20 March 2016

Three Came Home - Claudette Colbert, Sessue Hayakawa,  Patric Knowles, Mark Keuning

 

Whenever I see this film, I’m reminded of the stories my parents tell me about their experiences as children during World War II. Both my parents who were children at the time were POWs along with their families during World War 2.

My grandfather on my father’s side was an intelligence officer for the United States Army who disappeared during the war, never to be seen again, their family captive for years while my grandfather was held for ransom. My grandfather on my mother’s side was punished by the enemy for holding a position in government, their family home taken over for the duration of the war to serve as an office and prison for the other side. While I heard many stories about the brutality and horrors of life and death during the Japanese occupation, my mother’s family was fortunate that the commandant who took charge of their home was a kind man who did nothing to hurt her or her family and who made certain his soldiers didn’t either during the three years they lived there.

Three Came Home tells the story of a woman interred in a camp in Borneo with her young son and the relationship she shared with the Japanese Commandant who was in charge of the camp.

Claudette Colbert and Sessue Hayakawa who gave superb performances in their roles co-star with Patric Knowles and Mark Keuning.

Child actor Mark Keuning who made only one other film made quite an impression in his role as Ms. Colbert’s young son.

This film gave me a rare look at what my parents might have experienced during those years. My mother tells me that twenty-five years after the occupation, American soldiers who liberated their town came back to the house to see my grandmother and the rest of our family. They never forgot, neither have we.

 


10 February 2016

James Cagney Loves his Mommie!

You know the saying, they sure don’t make them like this anymore .... they could well have been referring to White Heat, the king of gangster films, and the last to come from Warner Brothers. What a film!! White Heat was made in 1949, nearly 70 years ago, and I can honestly say that as crime capers go, every other gangster film I’ve seen to date pales in comparison. I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino films, but this film only proves that there’s no need for the graphic scenes to make a great film.
The brilliant actors make you forget they’re acting. Can you believe that this is the same actor who danced in Yankee Doodle Dandy! There will never be another like him. James Cagney lights up the screen in what may well be the greatest performance of his career as Cody Jarrett. Coupled together with the perfect script, he’s a crazed monster with a mother fixation. There’s not a dull moment in this film, all thanks to a tight script, superlative performances from the whole cast and brilliant direction by Raoul Walsh. We’re in for a bumpy ride!

James Cagney played this role as only he could at that time. Cagney was still at the top of his game despite having done his share of gangster films for twenty years. Imagine that The Public Enemy was made 18 years before this film.  

This is one of the greatest scripts of all time! His close relationship with his mother is pretty creepy. Watch for the scenes with his “Ma”, who else can perform those scenes and still look like a tough guy. Brilliant!! Ma Jarrett was superbly played by English stage and film actress Margaret Wycherly. Wycherly who is best remembered for this role of Ma Jarrett was nominated for a previous role in Sergeant York, the role of a God-fearing woman, the complete polar opposite of Ma Jarrett. Jarrett and his mom are the mother and son version of Bonnie and Clyde. Ma Jarrett’s was indeed based on the infamous Ma Barker.

The tough guys and the molls in this film were spot on. Virginia Mayo got rave reviews for her performance as Jarrett’s two-timing wife. She was quite adept at doing both comedies and dramas through her career and was definitely an underrated actress. Edmond O’Brien played Jarrett’s cop/friend and Steve Cochran was another lowlife at Virginia Mayo’s side. Edmond O’Brien played his role brilliantly, in his role we see the hero, the good guy who can stand toe to toe against Jarrett.  

Don’t be fooled by the dated scenes and equipment, this is better than any of the special effects you see on the screens today! I should add that Cagney told the director Walsh to keep the cameras rolling at the end of the film because he was going to throw himself headlong into that climax. What we are looking at is nothing less than a masterpiece. Think of any gangster film you’ve seen to date and it’s guaranteed they borrowed something from White Heat.  

Director Raoul Walsh had a long and distinguished career but was clearly underrated as a film director. He started out as an actor, and went on to direct actors like Kirk Douglas, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable Errol Flynn, Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, James Cagney, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum among others. He has directed westerns, silent films, films noirs, comedies, dramas. This is his best film!

Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts worked together with screenwriter Virginia Kellogg to write this script Goff and Roberts who usually collaborated together also wrote Serenade, Man of a Thousand Faces and the original Charlie’s Angels, yes, the tv show from the 70’s!! Kellogg also wrote screenplays for such films as Caged starring Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorehead. The amazing film score was composed by Max Steiner who did the score for Gone with the Wind.

White Heat is breathtaking and mesmerizing, director Raoul Walsh is always in step with Jarrett’s maniacal mind and so will we .... Don’t miss it next time it’s on tv.

 


28 January 2016

Barbara Stanwyck and Sterling Hayden star in Crime of Passion, a noir crime film from 1957. Stanwyck plays Kathy, a strong, intelligent, independent career woman who has foregone romance and marriage for a job as an advice columnist for the lovelorn with a San Francisco newspaper. Stanwyck falls in love with Hayden who plays Lieutenant Bill Doyle, a veteran police detective. They embark on a whirlwind romance, she gives up her career, they get married and she relocates to Los Angeles where he works.


Not surprisingly, determined and self assured career-woman Kathy is bored out of her skull. She hates suburban domesticity so much that we can almost see her suffocating. Bill is a gentle, loving husband who wants nothing more than to stay in his job and enjoy his new wife. His new bride unfortunately does not share his dreams. In Kathy’s eyes, he lacks ambition, this infuriates her. This is not a great start for these newlyweds.

With frequent dinner parties, easy-going Bill enjoys a warm relationship with his colleagues and their wives. Having worked around men in the newspaper it’s obvious that Kathy prefers the men’s company. After attending several of these cocktail parties, Kathy quickly decides that she is too ambitious and intelligent for these simple-minded “Ladies Who Lunch” types and resents being stuck in the kitchen with these silly women and their gossip.


It doesn’t take long for her to realize that she made a mistake giving up her job. Rather than pursuing another position and getting back to her own career ambitions, Kathy decides on a new plan. With no job, time on her hands, and with no scruples to speak of, ambitious and manipulative Kathy focuses all of her attention on making in her opinion, some much-needed changes in their lives to raise his profile in the department. She does this by manipulating certain “coincidences” to get close to his superior thereby getting him the promotion she wants for him.

Sterling Hayden is excellent as the not-too ambitious, but nevertheless level-headed, good-hearted police lieutenant. Actor and author Hayden who specialized in film-noirs and westerns was also famous for his defining role in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and as the corrupt Irish-American New York Police Captain in The Godfather.

Raymond Burr plays Hayden’s hard-nosed superior Police Inspector and eventual illicit lover of Kathy. I enjoy watching Raymond Burr’s films. He was an amazing character actor who played different roles in numerous film in the 1940’s and 50’s and then later in his two tv series Perry Mason and Ironside. Playing heavies was his forte. Burr was an amazing villain! Remember him as the wife killer Lars Thorwald that James Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character was after in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Crime of Passion came just before he took on his most famous role as Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason. Fay Wray, who played King-Kong’s heroine played the small role of Burr’s wife.

Gender stereotypes was often treated comically in other films of the time, but in this film there was quite an interesting social message. Director Gerd Oswald’s film credits include his directorial debut and cult classic A Kiss Before Dying, Brainwashed, a German film as well as numerous tv credits including Perry Mason, Bonanza, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Star Trek, Gentle Ben, It Takes a Thief and The Twilight Zone.

The cinematography was deftly handled by Joseph Lashelle who had a reputation as one of Hollywood’s foremost stylists. He had the amazing ability to create a particularly dark ambience in his films, chiefly film noirs of the era by utilizing certain techniques in lighting, decor, close-ups and specific camera angles. This is never more obvious than in those claustrophobic scenes heightening Kathy’s slow domestic suffocation.

Film and television writer Jo Eisinger who penned the screenplay for Crime of Passion had a career that began in the 1940’s and lasted until his death in 1991. He was the writer of famous film noirs such as Gilda (1946) starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford and British film noir Night and the City (1950) starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney.

 

19 Jan 2016

THE END OF THE ROAD FOR A FIGHTER - REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT 

Requiem for a Heavyweight is a powerful film, a searing masterpiece that takes a heartbreaking look at the seamy, corrupt world of professional low level boxing. This is a feature film version superbly realized by master writer Rod Serling from his remarkable 1956 Playhouse 90 teleplay. Rod Serling is best known for the Twilight Zone and for writing the screenplay for such film gems as Patterns (1956) and Planet of the Apes (1968). Serling wrote for numerous television productions during the Golden Age of Television. This is a first-rate script, Rod Serling was a brilliant writer. This is how it's done.

There are different versions of this play starring such notable leads as Jack Palance and Sean Connery in the lead role. Knowing what we know now about these violent contact sports, this film further shows how little is achieved by many and the destruction resulting after too many blows to the head. In a haunting, sad twist, a young Cassius Clay  (later Muhammad Ali) appears in the first scenes as one of Mountain’s ringside opponents.

This film ponders the future of a boxer when he reaches the end of his career.  It is an outstanding character study revolving around four characters and how they each cope with their grim existence. Boxing is merely a backdrop, the story is really about friendship, our  priorities and the choices we make in life. This film pulls no punches, each actor is superb in his role.

Anthony Quinn who in my opinion has always been an underrated actor, gives a knockout performance and absolutely nails it in his touching portrayal of Mountain Rivera, a boxer who has been in the fight too long with his battle-worn face, broken body and shattered spirit. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest characterizations in cinematic history. I consider this to be the most moving role of Quinn’s career as the once ranked heavyweight at the end of his road. The film runs one hour and twenty-seven minutes, Quinn plays it to the hilt and it is his finest 87 minutes on film. He is left with few choices, with no money and no hope for a future, he must look for another line of work but with little more than his skills from years in the ring and an elementary education to his name. Quinn’s manner of delivering the lines while in character will make it very difficult to understand the dialogue. Unable to even speak coherently after the years of beating, his speech is slurred and he is facing the loss of his vision should he continue to fight. Quinn’s performance is unbearable to watch. Rivera looks like an imposing, frightful beast with his mental outbursts and punch-drunk behaviour but played with such sensitivity by Quinn, he is tender, sensitive, naive, slow and bewildered in this world that chose him. Torn between the belief of a woman who offers him and us a glimmer of hope and his hauntingly childlike devotion to his corrupt manager, Quinn engaged me fully and really made me feel his suffering and despair.

Jackie Gleason in his best performance yet, is magnificent as Rivera’s shifty and cynical manager-trainer-promoter Maish Rennick. Mountain is Rennick’s paycheck and he is a tortured, desperate man with gambling debts. He is prepared to do anything and sell out anyone. This is not the Ralph Kramden we know from The Honeymooners and an even more demanding role for Gleason than his Oscar-nominated Minnesota Fats in The Hustler from the year before. This role further demonstrates what a truly outstanding actor Gleason was.

Mickey Rooney says goodbye to his teen idol persona in what might well be his finest performance as the devoted but world-weary sidekick/cutman, Army. Working in the only game he knows, Army is Mountain’s loyal handler, his protector and everybody’s conscience. An old fighter himself, Army also sports the battle scars on his face. He has only Mountain’s best interests at heart … Is it possible that he might have been some unscrupulous manager’s meal ticket in the past, Maish’s perhaps?

Julie Harris who is considered to be one of the finest actresses on the American stage is brilliant in her tender portrayal of prim and lonesome New York Social Worker-Employment Counsellor. She sees the gentle giant in Mountain. As Miss Miller she is an idealist who goes above and beyond the call of duty as she tries to help him get a job at a summer camp for children in an athletic instructor’s capacity.

It is impossible to single out any one performance, all are brilliant.

Requiem for a Heavyweight is Emmy Award winner and Oscar-nominated director Ralph Nelson’s debut film. Nelson triumphantly re-imagines the equally stunning teleplay and befittingly earns a win from the Directors’ Guild of America. He won the Oscar for Lilies of the Field, directing actor Sidney Poitier to his Best Actor win. He also directed Cliff Robertson in his Oscar winning role in the film Charly. Nelson was a Broadway actor who successfully transitioned to prolific director who was responsible for over 1,000 tv presentations in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

With superb direction and stunning cinematography by Arthur J. Ornitz (son of American screenwriter and novelist Samuel Ornitz and one of the notable Hollywood Ten who was famously blacklisted after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee),  Nelson transitions from the television medium to the big screen and amazingly is still able to maintain the intimacy.  He keeps things tight and low lit as if to assert the harsh and cramped existence of these individuals. Shot in black and white, the moody film-noir lighting with its shadows and light are remarkably well-suited for the film. There are few outdoor scenes adding to the sense of foreboding, the scenes are haunting in the dark, seedy rooms, deserted and derelict streets, this is the world they cannot escape. The excellent music score by Laurence Rosenthal is raw befitting the individuals who inhabit this urban wasteland.

There is not one thing about this film that is less than first-rate. A warning, there is also not a light moment in the film, it is depressing, but it is riveting and memorable, the superb acting and skillful production makes it worth sitting through the one and half hours.

 

 


2 Dec 2015

Yasujiro Ozu, Saluting a Master of Japanese Cinema.  

Today is the anniversary of the birth of one of my favourite filmmakers. Yasujiro Ozu is one Japan's greatest and most influential directors.

His films examined the basic struggles that we all face in life: the cycles of birth and death, the passage from childhood to adulthood, and the rhythms and tensions of a country trying to reconcile modern and traditional values. The titles of his films often emphasize the changing of the seasons, a symbolic backdrop for the journeys of the human experience. His films are some of the most enlightened visions of family life in the history of cinema. Although the Western world discovered Ozu relatively late, his trademark style – static shots, often from the viewpoint of someone sitting low as on a tatami mat, the gentle composed pacing, moments of such poetry and purity often represented in the quiet beauty of everyday objects has been vastly influential among filmmakers.

Oh-So Sumptuous Figure-Hugging Cheongsams from Linva Tailor

Linva Tailor was founded in 1965. It is Hong Kong’s most prominent purveyor of Cheongsams, the famous and oh-so sumptuous figure-hugging traditional Chinese dresses. Sifu Ching-Wah Leung, founder with his wife, he is the master tailor who heads up this establishment.

He has kept up the traditions of this vanishing craft alive as he is surrounded by old wooden closets stuffed with fine, often resplendently patterned silk dresses. The shop window is overflowing with finished and nearly finished garments encrusted with beads, sequins, embroidered dragons and vibrantly coloured cut velvets. This is where actress Maggie Cheung‘s dresses were so lovingly crafted for the film In the Mood for Love and where Ms. Cheung herself comes for her cheongsams.

If you’re in the mood for a cheongsam and you have a week to spare, just call Mr. Leung to make an appointment for a measurement and fitting and you will be carrying home with you one of these beautiful dresses.

38 Cochrane Street, Central +852 2544 2456

11 Dec 2015

Poetic Film, In the Mood for Love is Unforgettable

The graceful silhouette of a woman comes into view. Away from the darkness, she is revealed in a figure-hugging, beautifully crafted cheongsam or qípáo dress. Poised and graceful, with her hair always meticulously coiffed, she looks exquisite as she glides through the interior surroundings, whether a winding alleyway, a cramped restaurant or narrow stairwell.

It is 1960’s Hong Kong, a man and a woman move into adjacent apartments with their respective spouses only to discover that their ever-absent spouses are involved in an affair. Tied to their traditions, a complex bond emerges as they cope with their sadness.

The film is called In the Mood for Love (2000) and stars Maggie Cheung and Tony Chiu Wai Leung. It is director Wong Kar Wai’s biggest hit, garnering him multiple Best Foreign Film Awards. It is a beautiful film, a visual treat for the eyes. The director paints us a journey with this enchanting exploration of unrequited love, silent passion and loss to the haunting, recurring refrain of Mike Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi’s Yumeji's Theme.

The director has made it clear that the film is not so much about an affair between two neighbours, saying that it is far more interested in social etiquette and tendencies than such obtuse topics as cheating.

The stunning art direction in this film was remarkably managed by Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer and William Chang Suk-Ping who is credited with the production and costume design, and make-up.  The remarkable shots in this film are grand master strokes, beautiful paintings created by the director himself, in rich, sumptuous colours and tangible textures.

Wong Kar Wai creates for us an atmosphere with the use of light, music, colour and space. There is a melancholic, dream-like quality that creates a nostalgic atmosphere about the film and it is pure enchantment to watch. Waves of emotion are suggested without the use of words. Such a sensitive film with understated qualities is rare. I am reminded old Hollywood in scenes throughout, an evocative yet restrained sensuality as the two share nothing more than furtive glances, coy smiles and quiet conversations, with only the use of facial expressions to imply changes in mood or communication.

The costumes are exquisite, I am enchanted by the beautiful qípáo dresses Ms. Cheung wears. There were 46 dresses made in all, not all made the final cut. Ms. Cheung wears a total of 20-25 dresses for the whole film. The dresses play a very important role in the film. The dresses are beautiful and elegant and throughout the film they appear to be undaunted by the emotional strife beneath the impeccable façade. They also work as visual companions to the painstakingly and beautifully assembled sets and interiors.

 

 

9 Dec 2015

 

The World of Suzie Wong is set in 1960 Hong Kong and stars William Holden and newcomer actress Nancy Kwan and directed by Richard Quine.

I’m a fan of Richard Quine’s films. He directed many fine actors like Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Natalie Wood, Merle Oberon and Kim Novak, to whom he was engaged back in the 1960’s.

This film tells the story of the interracial romance between the two main characters. The character of William Holden is new to Hong Kong, a former architect who has decided to start a second career as a painter and Nancy Kwan is a “good-time” girl from the notorious Wan Chai district.

Holden was at the peak of his career when he made Suzie Wong, with an impressive list of films already under his belt, films like Sunset Boulevard, Born Yesterday, Stalag 17, Sabrina, Bridges at Toko-Ri, Love is a Many Splendoured Thing, Picnic and The Bridge on the River Kwai among them. He was an amazing dramatic actor and rugged leading man who could transition very easily to romantic and comedic lead roles.

The World of Suzie Wong was a best-selling novel written by Richard Mason which was adapted into a stage production in 1958 starring William Shatner and France Nguyen in the lead roles. Bond girl Tsai Chin starred in the West End production in 1959. The book was then adapted for the big screen in 1960.

No doubt the subject matter was considered controversial for the time and is still today. "The World of Suzie Wong" has largely been criticised for allegedly perpetuating the stereotypical portrayals of the meek, submissive Oriental woman. I found there was something beyond the stereotype we might have expected to see on the screen. This film does not hide the poverty and the slums, nor does it shy away from some very blunt racist discussions. It offers some important points on colonialism and exploitation.  I hate to put spoilers on these posts so you’ll have to see it if you want to know more.

Director Richard Quine did an excellent job, the acting is superb. The other star of the film is this vibrant, bustling city. Watching it is like looking into a time capsule tour of 1960 Hong Kong. Along with the brilliant film score by George Duning (Moonglow, Love Theme), the brilliant cinematography and camera of courtesy of Geoffrey Unsworth who is considered one of the greatest cinematographers of the 20th Century, you will enjoy a feast for your eyes. Mr. Unsworth is the recipient of two Oscars, five Bafta Awards, and three awards from the British Society of Cinematographers. I’ve never seen anyone else capture Hong Kong of that era like Mr. Unsworth did with this film. It was amazing how he so superbly captured the city’s beauty while showing the gloomy depths some of its inhabitants lived.

27 Nov 2015

Brutally Realistic, The Set-Up is an Honest Look at a Boxer's Life. 

I’m a fan of the Rocky film franchise, so with the release of Rocky spinoff, Creed, I have decided to look at one of Hollywood’s best boxing contenders.

Robert Wise was an incredibly versatile director and one of Hollywood’s most accomplished. He helmed a long list of films in a variety of genres that have become indisputable screen classics, from westerns, war (Run Silent, Run Deep and The Desert Rats) and crime films to spectacular musicals (The Sound of Music and West Side Story), horror (The Haunting), science fiction (the still unrivalled The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain) and classic underdog boxing films (The Set-Up and Somebody Up There Likes Me). He tackled such subjects as capital punishment (I Want to Live) and racism (Odds Against Tomorrow). His filmography is well-established and it is not surprising that he is well known throughout the world from the critical and commercial successes of these films.

In the midst of all the classic films Robert Wise directed, The Set-Up to me stood alone. It is an overlooked classic. If you’re a film buff, this is a must on your list. Wise himself listed it as his personal favourite from his RKO films and one of his top ten from his entire career. This film brought humanity to the film noir and is rightly regarded as the best boxing film ever made.

This is not an easy movie to watch, not even for someone like me who grew up watching championship boxing matches on tv with my dad and brother. I’d been hearing about it for a few years before I actually took the time to sit down and watch it.

The Set-Up is a dark exposé on the world of the professional boxer. The film like High Noon, plays out in real time which as a result lends an air of urgency to the film. It is second by second of a boxer’s brutal life, packed into a lean 72 minutes and there is not one second of excess. According to publicity written for the film incidents were filmed exactly as they happened, and in accurate chronological order.

The real-time compression is amazingly effective. It’s gritty, seedy and brutal. Watching it is like getting a hard right and then an immediate left to the jaw.

Robert Ryan delivers a superb performance and is clearly one of the most underrated actors in American cinema. Ryan is quietly magnificent as the aging boxer Stoker Thompson. Bruised and battered, Ryan’s performance is fearless and pitch-perfect. He is a desperate man out to prove himself, he is way out of his depth. A lost soul, we see our hero in the opening scenes in the corner, a stark contrast from the young hopefuls. It’s fight night and he is alone, one fighter clinging with heartbreaking desperation to his dreams. It is agonizing as we watch him try to salvage his battered aspirations and dignity.

Thompson is over the hill but he is a man of character, he’s tough, sensitive, honest and realistic. Yet despite his harsh realities he still possesses a measure of optimism, just enough of the dreamer in him to keep him from drowning. These important qualities at a different time and age might have made him a hero, but to live in such a time and a place as this they go unnoticed by all but his long-suffering wife. Audrey Trotter delivers a performance to match that of Ryan’s. The only touch of kindness in this brutal film comes from the hero’s wife Julie. It is a cruel irony that she, too in her profound sensibility also works against him. The anguish drawn by the director from Robert Ryan and Audrey Trotter’s performances is remarkable. They are surrounded by an amazing supporting cast. seemingly one-dimensional characters but this is deliberate, surely to focus our attention on the hero’s story.

The Set-Up was filmed at night on a studio lot. The boxing scenes are real and clearly effective. Robert Ryan held his national collegiate heavyweight championship boxing title for four years at Dartmouth Collage. He retired undefeated in his senior year.

The film's settings are brilliantly accomplished ... a backwater town, the fleabag flophouse, shadowy nightmarish streets. The arena is brilliantly filmed, the scenes interspersed with focused and repeated shots of specific spectators which not only captures the excitement of the late evening but also the mob brutality, the crowd looking for bloody mayhem as the fighters struggle. These little things add up to a lot as they seem to comment on the character’s shattered emotions.

Wise’s brilliant direction won him the International Federation of Film Critics Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1949.

Some of the scenes will make even the hardest of hearts melt, no spoilers here, you have to watch it if you want to know more.

18 Nov 2015

Take a wistful glimpse at the early postwar years with filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. This beautiful film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 1990.

There was a time when the local movie house was “the” gathering place of small towns. This is a sentimental film about the special relationship between a film-obsessed little boy and the movie house projectionist played by wonderful French actor Philippe Noiret. M. Noiret’s Alfredo looks like the surly type but of course, he has a heart of gold. Salvatore Cascio's portrayal of the little boy was so touching, its never quite left me since I saw it when it first came out. 

The Cinema Paradiso is the community centre, much like the kind of theatre where my parents might have gone to as children in their hometowns. This was the place to see your friends and discover worlds outside of their small towns.

Don Adelfio, the local priest is the one who decides what is permitted on the screen and what is not permitted, every kiss that might send their young blood racing, is removed from the final cut.

On a side note, this does bring memories back for me. I recall that when we were kids, our dad used to ask us to leave the theatre,  he did this at home too, a few times during some rather risqué scenes of some film or tv show we were watching. This was back in the 1980’s. We laugh about it now with our parents, but at the time, I recall being embarrassed and speaking with the concession person during our 5-10 minute wait and being told that we were missing the best part ;) C’est la vie!

I won’t tell you any more about the film, so I won’t spoil it for you. There are no special effects, no action scenes, no gratuitous sex or violence ... it’s a simple story that will affect your feelings, bring back long-forgotten memories. If you cringe at the thought of sentimental films or sub-titles, I’d suggest you stay far away ... all others are welcome, if you’re a filmmaker, a film lover.... you'll enjoy this masterpiece!

 

17 Nov 2015

 

      Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

 

I wasn't certain what to write in this blog after the tragic events of last week. I knew that I wanted to write something that would tell how very much we love this beautiful city and its incredible people.   

Paris, Je T’Aime debuted in 2006 and little wonder it has become somewhat of a modern French classic.

If you have never been or if you have and you want to relive those belles moments in this beautiful City of Lights, this film will take you through the twenty short films representing the 20 arrondissements (or administrative districts) of Paris with a selection of love stories inspired by the city and the subject of love.  

This film is utterly delightful and a wonderful homage to love, Paris style.  The 20 vignettes in a variety of film genres are directed by an international list of today's brilliant directors which includes Alexander Payne, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, Joel and Ethan Coen, American-Canadian Vincenzo Natali, Spain's Isabel Coixet, Japan's Nobuhiro Suwa, South Africa's Oliver Schmitz, actors Gerard Depardieu and Gena Rowlands, to France's Oliver Assayas and Bruno Podalydes.

Each director lends a different interpretation on the subject of love, the storylines are unique and exquisite and the cast included an international list, a star-studded cast lending their own unique approach to this project. I won't make a list of them, you can enjoy the surprise awaiting you.

 

PHILIPPE NOIRET 

Philippe Noiret is one of my favourite actors. Let me put it this way, when he passed away in 2006 I felt like I lost a close friend, maybe even an uncle. In a way I did because I had been watching M. Noiret for so many years, since I was a child in the 70’s and 80’s. Looking for my fill of Foreign Cinema, if a particular film was not on my favourite channels, I made sure that my family rented a lot of them, French, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Swiss, Japanese, and M. Noiret's films of course, alongside a long list of actors, actresses, and filmmakers I wanted to discover.

M. Noiret's career spanned more half a century. Much-loved and considered one of the most prolific actors of his generation, he had such amazing versatility that he could play a wide variety of roles. He was probably best known to international audiences for his films Cinema Paradiso and Il Postino, both of which received world-wide acclaim.

I first knew him from Zazie Dans le Metro, Ripoux Contre Ripoux, My Friends, L'Horloger de Saint-Paul, Une femme à sa Fenêtre (with Romy Schneider), Dear Inspector or Tendre Poulet, Deux Bonnes Pates, L'ami de Vincent, La Grande Bouffe, Jupiter's Thigh, The Old Maid and Alexandre le Bienheureux (Happy Alexander) among others. I could make a longer list, but that's for another time ;)

You can see that he was a very familiar face in European cinema and if you look hard enough, a few Hollywood films as well. I found a naturalness in his portrayals that made him stand out to me. This charisma and panache was not lost on the numerous directors and filmmakers he worked with. When he passed away, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin described Noiret as having “captured and expressed something of the French soul.”

If you want to know more, look for his films on You Tube or rent them at your local video