The Return of Modern Mondays

I’ve been inspired to write brief bits about some of the new films I’ve seen recently. I normally post my thoughts on Letterboxd but thought I’d start compiling them here every month or so depending on how much I write and if I have anything worthwhile to say.

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Breathe (2015)
The worst bullies I’ve encountered in my life have all been women and some of them started out as friends. Cold, calculating, flat out vicious and mean spirited women who get their power (or attempt to reclaim it) by isolating, manipulating and emotionally abusing vulnerable fellow females. Apparently French director and actress Mélanie Laurent has also experienced this phenomenon firsthand and she does an excellent job of illustrating the complexities between so-called “frenemies” – a cute term that too often masks the genuine ugliness found in aggressive or passive aggressive relationships shared between women and girls.

The film is beautifully composed making creative use of the cloistered environment it builds while maintaining a mournful tone throughout as the girl’s burgeoning friendship blossoms, thrives and finally dies on the vine. We follow them through exhausting school terms, lazy summer days, late night parties and awkward encounters with boys who make poor replacements for missing (or abusive) fathers while Laurent’s intimate camera work invites us to care deeply about their predicament. This intimacy, as well as the young lead’s (Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge) shared commitment to their roles, makes the shocking finale particularly brutal and heartbreaking. A dark, dark film and an impressive directorial debut that should have gotten a hell of a lot more press coverage last year.

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The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation is one of the best films I’ve seen this year with an impressive central performance from Logan Marshall-Green. Grief and malaise run rampant in the Hollywood Hills turning a dinner party among old friends into a incredibly unnerving and flat out creepy affair.The atmosphere of dread and unease that permeate the proceedings is so thick you can cut it with a serving knife thanks to Karyn Kusama’s taught direction & Theodore Shapiro’s eerie score. A great slow-burn horror feast that didn’t get a wide release so you’ll probably have to catch it streaming online if you want to see it. Best to go into the movie blind with as little info as possible if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

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Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)
I was prepared to hate Pee-wee’s Big Holiday when I spotted Judd Apatow’s name in the opening credits but I was pleasantly surprised by this romantic comedy that has our hero finding true love with the muscular, motorcycle riding Joe Manganiello. The film is surprisingly sweet and gently subversive. It also references some classic movies such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Christopher Strong, which will delight observant film buffs. This might be the first gay love story aimed at kids of all ages and it’s adorable!

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The Witch (2016)
Spent Oscar night watching The Witch with a small but enthusiastic crowd at a local theater that politely clapped after the credits rolled. I liked the film a lot, particularly the way it creatively weaved folklore elements into the narrative. With all the hoopla surrounding the film I wasn’t expecting much but I was impressed by the adult nature of The Witch and some of the unusually grim twists and turns the film took. Surprised this got a wide release but I hope that’s a sign of good things to come. So many of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years (such as last years Aleluia, Cub and Naciye) never make it out of New York or the small festivals they’re shown at. Don’t know how The Witch has managed to get so many breaks and such wide acclaim but it makes my black heart happy.

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Like Father, Like Son – Doppelgangers

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One of my most interesting recent discoveries is a short film made by director Julien Landais. It’s titled DER DOPPELGANGER (2014) and stars Alain Delon’s youngest son, Alain-Fabien Delon Jr. who was just 20-years-old at the time. What fascinates me about Landais’s film is that it seems to borrow some visual motifs from my favorite horror anthology, SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968), which featured Alain Delon in a segment directed by Louis Malle as well as Rene Clement’s magnificent PURPLE NOON (1960). Similarities with Malle’s film include titles that change from orange to red and the use of white and black costumes to represent good and evil or the shadow of the “other.” I was also struck by Landais’ use of a mirror to frame Alain-Fabian and the intense close-ups of his eyes and neck that was reminiscent of the erotic way Clement shot his star in PURPLE NOON. Father and son look eerily alike in a number of scenes and the meta nature of DER DOPPELGANER makes it a fascinating companion to Malle’s original film. Landais has said that his own short was inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Double” and Alfred de Musset’s narrative poem “December Nights” while Malle’s film was based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “William Wilson” and PURPLE NOON is based on Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The first three tales all involve narcissistic men haunted by doppelgangers who are eventually driven mad by their doubles. And Highmith’s crime thriller explores the very nature of identity.

Young Alain-Fabien obviously takes after his father and has inherited his good looks but he also manages to maintain a smoldering intensity throughout DER DOPPELGANGER that suggests he may have also inherited some of his father’s acting skills. Landais short film is beautifully shot and composed and contains one particularly stunning moment where Alain-Fabien suddenly seems to develop fangs and bites his double on the neck. I’ve always wished that Alain Delon had made a vampire film when he was younger and that brief moment in DER DOPPELGANGER gives me hope that I’ll eventually get to see his son vamp it up in a French horror film.

Following a selection of stills I’ve posted Landais’ short film below for your viewing pleasure (and mine) followed by Malle’s original WILLIAM WILSON. Watching them back to back is a real treat, especially if you’re a Delon fan.

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June & July at the Movie Morlocks

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I haven’t been online much the last few months for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve been having some medical problems with my left eye and spending lots of time on my computer reading, watching vids and writing can often be problematic. My eyes get easily irritated and I’m prone to headaches, etc. The other reason is simple net fatigue, particularly on social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter where petty bickering, herd-like behavior and one-upmanship among film fans, critics and journalists can become unbearably tiresome. With that out of the way, I want to apologize to anyone you visits Cinebeats often hoping for new updates (excuses I know… but I seem to be suffering from an extreme case of weltschmerz this year) but you can still find me regularly posting on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog and I occasionally write articles for TCM’s website. Here are some links to things I’ve written in the last few months:

They Wore It Well: Actors & Mustaches: “Mustaches of all shapes, sizes, widths and weights have long been part our movie history so it’s easy to take them for granted. But a good mustache can have power and presence in the movies and many actors have made great use of their facial hair to seduce costars, entice laughter and menace their enemies.”

Hammer Noir: Terence Fisher’s STOLEN FACE (1952): “While a few of the Fisher’s earlier films, such as SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950), hinted at his penchant for gothic fantasy and costume drama, STOLEN FACE gave the director the opportunity to begin exploring (and exploiting) his apparent fascination with science, philosophy, psychology and medicine that would later permeate his full-color horror films made for Hammer. Amid the noir elements and abundant melodrama that can be found in STOLEN FACE, Fisher spends a noticeable amount of time lingering on strange medical devices while focusing on the doctor’s interactions with patents and colleagues. The doctor also makes a noteworthy trip to a pub where he mingles with some inquisitive locals. This seemingly innocuous event became a staple in Fisher’s horror films…”

Summer Reading Suggestions: “Like many people, I tend to do a lot of reading when the weather warms up and with summer officially about to start on June 21st I thought it would be a good time to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying with my fellow film buffs. My own tastes tend to be somewhat eclectic but I hope readers of all types and stripes will find something that piques their interest when pursuing my list of Summer Reading Suggestions.”

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“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?” – Remembering Eli Wallach 1915-2014: “Leone famously liked to shoot his actors in extreme close-up or in sweeping wide shots where they were barely visible. But Wallach instinctively knew how to make the most of his screen time and easily navigates between these two very different modes of filmmaking. His eyes speak volumes when Leone’s camera zooms in for a signature close-up but when the director’s camera is out of sight Wallach skillfully used his body language to define his character from a distance. Many actors would get lost in the vast deserts, dilapidated cemeteries and shabby old towns that make up Leone’s film but Wallach seamlessly becomes part of the landscape. We know he’s there even when we can’t see him.”

When Fact Mirrors Fiction: AGATHA (1979): “Redgrave and Hoffman make an unlikely pair and some critics apparently found their height difference distracting but I think the two actors have an incredible chemistry on screen. Redgrave seems to be channeling Garbo while Hoffman displays the kind of arrogant charm that made William Powell so likable. Both performers have rarely been as vulnerable, sympathetic, affable and flat out sexy as they are here, which is partially due to the way they interact and seem to identify with one another’s characters. Their unconventional but utterly convincing on-screen romance is one of the many reasons why I find AGATHA so compelling.”

The Malaise of the Ghetto: LA HAINE (1995): “The broad appeal of Kassovitz’s film can also be traced to another film that mesmerized young audiences in 1955, Nicholas Ray’s timeless classic REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Both films focus on a troubled threesome who form a makeshift family during the span of 24 hours. The neighborhood fighting might be on a much smaller scale and the suburban hood of 1955 Los Angeles appears much more inviting than the suburban slums of 1995 Paris, but both movies use the threat of gun violence to their credit. Neither Plato (Sal Mineo) nor Vinz (Vincent Cassel) can fully comprehend the lethal power of the weapons they’re carrying and their shared desire for some kind of notoriety or control in the face of an indifferent world is something many young people can unfortunately sympathize with . Does LA HAINE have the staying power of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE? That remains to be seen.”

A Century of Scares: Happy Birthday Bava!: “This week marks the 100th birthday of Mario Bava who was born on July 30th (according to leading Bava researcher Tim Lucas and author of the essential Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) or 31st (if you want to believe IMDB.com and Wikipedia). The brilliant Italian director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter died in 1980 but today he’s fondly remembered by horror film enthusiasts as the Maestro of the Macabre. Bava has long been one of my favorite filmmakers so I couldn’t let this important anniversary pass without acknowledging his artistry.”

Pierre Cardin: A Career in Movies

Cardin & MoreauToday Pierre Cardin is celebrating his 89th birthday. The French designer has had a surprisingly rich and varied career that’s included creating costumes for many films and television programs such as Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946), Anthony Asquith‘s The V.I.P.s (1963) and The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964), Louis Malle’s Viva Maria! (1965), Roger Vadim‘s The Game Is Over (1966), Orson Welles’ The Immortal Story (1968), Vittorio De Sica‘s Woman Times Seven (1967), Anthony Mann’s A Dandy In Aspic (1968) and The Avengers (1961-1969). Many beautiful and talented actresses including Jeanne Moreau, Elizabeth Taylor, Joanne Woodward, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda and Mia Farrow have modeled his designs.

I decided to shine a light on his impressive filmography over at the Movie Morlocks this week so if you appreciate ’60s fashion and want to see more stunning photos of Cardin’s creations please follow the link below:
Pierre Cardin: A Career in Movies @ @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

I’ve also created a Pierre Cardin Gallery at Flickr especially for Cinebeats’ readers that you can find here. It’s filled with lots of colorful and eye-catching images featuring some of Cardin’s best designs from the 1950s – 1979. Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll find in the gallery…
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Pierre Cardin Designs

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Comic Book of the Week: Angelique (1978)

Angelique (1978)

Toshie Kihara’s Angelique series was originally published in 1978 by Princess Comics. Angelique is a Japanese manga (comic book) based on the historical novels by Anne and Serge Golon published between 1957 and 1976. These historic novels focus on the romantic adventures of Angelique de Sancé de Monteloup as she braves misfortune and tragedy in 17th century France. The novels were also turned into a series of films in the ’60s starring the lovely Michele Mercier who appeared in some great Italian horror films including Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963) and Antonio Margheriti’s Web of the Spider (1971).

Toshie Kihara is one of my favorite manga artists and Angelique is one of her most popular creations. Kihara took great liberties with Golon’s original novels but her work is exceptional. Her page layouts, bold lines and dramatic framing really bring Golon’s action packed drama to life. I actually prefer early Japanese manga to American comics because the work of my favorite mangakas (comic artists) is so stylized and cinematic. Manga appeals to me for a variety of reasons including the mature nature of the storylines, which were often light years ahead of their American counterparts. Angelique features lots of murder and mayhem as well as witchcraft and romance between straight and gay characters. This talented artist and writer doesn’t shy away from anything and I appreciate her fearless creativity.

Unfortunately none of Toshie Kihara’s manga have been published in English. English speaking readers have had to rely on fan translations of her work, which aren’t easy to come by and the quality can be questionable. Kihara recently celebrated her 63 birthday and many of her manga stories are considered classics but her work is relatively unknown outside of Japan. I thought I’d share some pages from Angelique because if you’ve read the original novels or seen the films you can enjoy Kihara’s manga without a translation. Just remember that unlike American comics, you have to read the pages from right to left. Following the manga pages is a poster and clip from the first Angelique (1964) film featuring Michele Mercier.

Angelique (1978)

Angelique (1978)

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Angelique (1964)

Monsieur Hulot vs. The Modern World

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)

Mon Oncle (1958)
Images from Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958)

I recently caught up with Jacques Tati’s delightful French comedy Mon Oncle (aka My Uncle; 1958). I had previously only seen one Tati film, Les Vacances de M. Hulot (aka Mr. Hulot’s Holiday; 1953) and frankly it didn’t engage me as much as I wished it had so I put off watching other Tati films, but that was a mistake. Mon Oncle completely won me over thanks to the brilliant color cinematography, incredible set design, wonderful performances and sentimental storyline involving a unconventional uncle who has trouble finding his footing in the modern world. The film is really a feast for the senses and a whole lot of fun to watch. You can read my further thoughts about Tati’s Mon Oncle at TCM’s Movie Morlocks Blog.

A Belmondo Birthday Salute

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Tomorrow Jean-Paul Belmondo will be celebrating his 77th birthday. He’s one of my favorite actors but I haven’t had the opportunity to write about him very much so I decided to rectify that over at the Movie Morlocks Blog. I watched Breathless (À bout de souffle; 1960) for the sixth or seventh time yesterday and I seem to appreciate it more every time I see it. It’s easy to take Jean-Luc Godard’s film for granted since it has been borrowed from so greedily over the years. But it changed the way we view movies and Belmondo is really the iconic representation of that change. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Jean-Paul Belmondo’s birthday and his memorable role in Breathless over at TCM.

Blood and Roses: The Soundtrack

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I recently learned that portions of Jean Prodromidès’ sweeping score for Roger Vadim’s Blood & Roses (Et Mourir de Plaisir; 1960) will be released on CD from Disques Cinémusique on March 20th. I’ve written about my appreciation for this fantastic vampire film at length before in a piece simply called Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses (1960) but at the time I neglected to mention Jean Prodromidès’ soundtrack. His classical and somewhat traditional score for the film is impressive for its scope and beauty. I’m happy that segments of it have finally been made available on CD but it would be nice to see the soundtrack for Blood and Roses released in its entirety along with a restored print of the film made available on DVD. I can’t think of a classic horror movie that I’d like to see restored and released on DVD more than Vadim’s Blood and Roses.

Disques Cinémusique has made the soundtrack for Blood And Roses available as part of their release of Prodromidès’ score for Andrzej Wajda’s 1983 film Danton. Besides portions of Blood and Roses, the CD also contains bits & pieces of Jean Prodromidès’ music for This Special Friendship (Les Amitiés Particulières; 19604). You can currently purchase the CD at the official Disques Cinémusique site. They’ve also made sound clips available that showcase Jean Prodromidès’s impressive talents as a composer.

JEAN PRODROMIDES: Danton, Les Amities Particulieres, Et Mourir de Plaisir

Art Film As Fashion Trend

In 1962 Alain Resnais’ film Last Year at Marienbad aka L’année dernière à Marienbad (1961) debuted in America and made quite a splash with film critics as well as fashionistas. As the following fashion article from ’62 makes clear, women were obviously inspired by the lovely Delphine Seyrig and attempted to mimic her look including fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and American actress Elizabeth Ashley. Today actresses in popular films seem to dictate many fashion trends but I found this fashion piece about Last Year at Marienbad really surprising and a fun read so I thought I’d share it here. Delphine Seyrig’s one of my favorite actresses and I love the idea of her as a smart trendsetting ’60s style icon in the same league as Jean Seberg and Audrey Hepburn. Make way ladies! Here comes Delphine Seyrig…
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Modern Mondays: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)

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If you’ve been reading Cinebeats for awhile you’re probably well aware of my fascination and fondness for spies. From the smart and exceptional Prisoner to the ridiculously silly Last of the Secret Agents?, I never seem to get tired of watching spy movies or television shows as long as they have a good soundtrack accompanying them. So it should come as no surprise that I think the recent French spy spoof OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies aka OSS 117: Le Caire, Nid d’Espions (2006) is one of the funniest films of the last decade.

The movie was directed and co-written by Michel Hazanavicius who based it on the original OSS 117 spy novels by the prolific French author Jean Bruce. The original books featured an American born spy with French roots named Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath who worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). OSS 117 predated Ian Fleming’s more well-known spy James Bond, alias 007, by 4 years, but both characters seem to share a lot of similarities. I haven’t read any of the original Jean Bruce novels myself or seen the early French films based on the books but according to director Michel Hazanavicius OSS 117 isn’t as ironic or clever as James Bond.

Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, alias OSS 117, is played brilliantly by the handsome and very funny French actor Jean Dujardin. Dujardin has clearly based his character on Sean Connery’s Bond from the early ’60s as well as other self-assured male spies from the same period and he does a terrific job of mimicking their best and worst qualities. In the film agent OSS 117 is sent to Cairo to investigate the disappearance of his close friend and fellow OSS operative Jack Jefferson (Philippe Lefebvre). Finding his friend won’t be easy and over the course of the film OSS 117 becomes entangled in a web of international espionage involving Nazis, a fundamentalist uprising and two beautiful but dangerous women played by the lovely Bérénice Bejo and Aure Atika.

OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies takes place in 1955 and the film beautifully replicates the decade it’s boldly taking a jab at. Director Michel Hazanavicius clearly loves the movies he’s emulating and OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies comes across as a thoughtful homage as well as a clever parody. From the detailed set designs, to the stylized fashions and incredible soundtrack, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is a film that knows exactly what it’s doing while delivering a lot of laughs. The humor in OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is slightly more sophisticated than the Austin Power films but the movie should appeal to Pink Panther fans and anyone who enjoys television shows like Get Smart.

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