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  • June 22, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Charade

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Suspicion

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The shy but wealthy Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) marries suave, penniless Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) despite warnings that he’s a gold-digging playboy. Before long, Johnnie appears to show his true colors when he gets involved in an embezzlement scheme-and his partner Beaky (Nigel Bruce) turns up dead. Though lacking hard evidence, Lina begins to suspect her husband is a killer, and fears he may come for her next.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Hitchcock’s psychological thriller is as tightly plotted and crisply directed as any of the master’s finest works. The tension builds slowly and inexorably, as the bookish, increasingly frightened Lina waits passively for her nightly glass of (poisoned?) milk, fearing the worst. Fontaine, who appeared the previous year in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” won an Oscar for her role as the rattled wife, while Grant is superb as a cynical charmer. “Suspicion” is sure to thrill anyone in the mood for subtle romantic intrigue.


    Notorious

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    American intelligence officers tracking Nazis in post-war South America coerce Alicia Hubermann (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of an executed Nazi spy, to use her feminine wiles to implicate more of her father’s colleagues, including one Alex Sebastian. Before the assignment is disclosed; however, American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia have already begun a passionate romance, complicating matters going forward.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “Notorious” still delivers outstanding suspense, with director Hitchcock at his most subtle. The story of a fallen woman-first redeemed by love, then put in peril- is riveting throughout, and stars Grant and Bergman emit powerful on-screen chemistry. Acting laurels also go to supporting player Rains, who’s never been smoother or slimier than here, playing a Nazi agent. But then, just look at his friends-and that mother! Don’t miss the climax, nothing less than pure, understated genius.


    To Catch A Thief

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    On the sun-drenched French Riviera, someone is relieving rich women of their precious jewels, and all the evidence points to retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant). Reluctant to sit for questioning, “The Cat” evades investigators who show up at his luxe villa and-with the help of London insurer H.H. Hughson (John Williams)-cozies up to wealthy American widow Mrs. Stevens (Jesse Royce Landis), who he believes may be his imitator’s next victim.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Paramount’s new two-disk “Centennial Edition” has re-mastered audio and crystal-clear color. Filmed in VistaVision by Oscar winner Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s swanky, breezy suspense film takes a simple idea-one cat burglar on the tail of another-and spins it into cinematic gold. With his customary wit and sexual innuendo, the director positions tanned star Cary Grant on a collision course with the resplendent Kelly, who never looked more ravishing as spoiled heiress Francie Stevens, especially in a wide-brimmed white sun hat and bathing outfit Jackie O would have coveted. When they kiss, there are literally fireworks on-screen, a technique Hitch used to keep the censors from snipping his film. You’ll have a lot of fun catching this “Thief.”


    North by Northwest

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    By chance, martini-swilling adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a top spy, and set up for murder. He then finds himself in the unfamiliar position of fugitive, criss-crossing the country in search of the real culprit, his only chance of survival. Along the way, he meet the beautiful but mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint), who wants to help him. But is she who or what she seems?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Fifty years after release, “Northwest” provides gripping, colorful entertainment for the whole family, full of the Master’s trademark twists and turns. Only Cary could undertake such a rugged and dangerous journey and keep looking marvelous with no change of clothes. Eva Marie-Saint is appropriately enigmatic and alluring as the icy blonde who may or may not be in his corner. But it’s James Mason’s treacherous turn as the cold-blooded enemy agent that stays etched in your memory.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 22, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Funny Ha Ha

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Five Films (Faces & A Woman Under the Influence)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Five films, organized chronologically, which capture the essence of the Cassavetes legacy: Ahead of its time, “Shadows” centers on a fragile love affair which dissolves when a young white man discovers his naive girlfriend is half-black. In “Faces,” we follow the crumbling world of a middle-aged businessman (John Marley) who leaves his empty marriage and retreats to his mistress, a high-class call girl (Gena Rowlands). “Influence” concerns a loving married couple (Rowlands and Peter Falk) who nevertheless can’t fully connect. “Killing” follows a strip-club operator (Ben Gazzara) who gets in over his head with the mob, while “Opening Night” shows stage diva Rowlands blocked over a part that suggests her advancing age.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Resolutely independent filmmaker John Cassavetes is a hero to film buffs, and this indispensable collection comprises five of his groundbreaking dramas. Though the rawness and immediacy of a Cassavetes film can be unnerving to watch, we feel sympathy, even affection for many of his characters. Our hearts break for the deflowered girl in “Shadows,” the bewildered housewife in “Influence,” even the two-bit gambler in “Killing,” whose only home is his strip-club, his only family its sleazy denizens. A Cassavetes film usually makes the viewer a bit uncomfortable, like someone who’s walked into a party uninvited, one which could turn ugly any second. Such is the impact of the “truth” Cassavetes empowered his actors to find, reflecting life as a wondrously weird, often messy phenomenon. Here’s your chance to see him- and his troupe- at their very best.


    The Graduate

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.


    Happy-Go-Lucky

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    No matter what life throws her way—a stolen bike, a cutting remark—chipper, 30-year-old primary-school teacher Poppy (Hawkins) always sports a smile. Content as a single gal, Poppy enjoys the camaraderie of her best friend and flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), with whom she shares an especially intimate bond. But her encounters with sour, rageful driving instructor Scott (Marsan) challenge Poppy’s natural effervescence, especially once a kindly social worker (Samuel Roulkin) enters her life.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Sally Hawkin’s winning, unforgettable performance in Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated drama, about a free-spirited working-class British gal confronting a unredeemably noxious soul, is absolutely first-rate. Ever the optimist, Poppy can’t help but try to recuperate Scott’s malignant, borderline psychotic attitude—bitter, racist, paranoid, utterly devoid of joy—and Marsan’s turn as the splenetic, tightly wound Londoner is edgy and riveting. Funny, sad, and life-affirming in equal measure.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 15, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Anchors Aweigh

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    On the Town

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1949, legendary MGM producer Arthur Freed introduced dancer Gene Kelly to a young director named Stanley Donen, and the two collaborated on this musical, chronicling three sailors’ wisecracking, happy-go-lucky shore leave in New York City. They’ve got just one day to take in the world’s greatest city, and find three girls to join them on their exuberant adventure.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This exhilarating musical comedy, featuring (respectively) the fancy footwork and infectious crooning of GIs Kelly and Sinatra, perfectly captures the optimistic spirit that held sway in the post-World War II boom. Co-starring dancers Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller, “On the Town” was one of the first color films shot on location in Manhattan, and remains one of the grandest, liveliest Hollywood musicals ever made.

    Watch the trailer on Reel 13.


    Singin’ in the Rain

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A tribute to and satire of the late 20′s, when Hollywood transitioned from silent films to talkies. Gene Kelly plays Don Lockwood, a star with a future who meets talented unknown Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), and besotted, schemes to advance her prospects. Meanwhile, he must derail the career of cloying past co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), a shrill femme fatale from hell. Donald O’Connor plays Cosmo, Kelly’s eternally loyal, energetic pal.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An obvious choice, but it’s hard to resist what is likely the best film musical of all time. The period music is delightful, the dancing routines sensational. Thanks to a golden Comden & Green script, this is also among the funniest musicals ever, especially with Hagen’s side-splitting performance as Lina. Must-viewing for the whole family.’


    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the backwoods of Oregon, rugged Adam (Howard Keel) marries Millie (Jane Powell), who then inherits Adam’s six rambunctious bachelor brothers. The newlyweds need to tame the brothers so they can find mates of their own. In civilizing these boys, more than half the fun is getting there.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Featuring a slew of fabulous dancers, including a young Russ Tamblyn (later Riff in “West Side Story”), the movie’s an adrenaline rush of vibrant hues and non-stop motion. Though the songs by Gene De Paul and Johnny Mercer are catchy, the real attraction here is Michael Kidd’s matchless choreography. The barn-raising sequence alone is one of the outstanding sequences in all musical film. Exuberant, infectious fun.


    Funny Face

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) transforms Paris bookstore clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) into a modeling sensation. It’s all a souffle-light pretext for breathtaking sets, music and dancing.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Combine the moves of Fred Astaire, the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the talents of Director Stanley Donen with the city of Paris and a Gershwin soundtrack, and what have you got? Movie paradise. Prepare to be delighted: this 50th Anniversary edition is “Swonderful, Smarvelous!” Look for Eloise-creator Kay Thompson playing a fashion editor modeled on Diana Vreeland.


    The Pajama Game

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When her fellow workers are denied a 7.5-cent raise, pajama-factory employee Katie “Babe” Williams (Doris Day) forms a grievance committee and takes their modest wage demand to the doorstep of shop boss Sid Sorokin (John Raitt). But things grow complicated for Babe-and how!-when she falls for the handsome superintendent. Just whose side is she on?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This Technicolor smash hit began life on Broadway but made a lively, beautiful transition to film in 1957. Funny, intelligent, and stuffed frame to frame with a jumping songbook and ebullient choreography by the one and only Bob Fosse, “Game” features Day in one of her cheekiest, most adorable screen roles. Adler/Ross tunes like “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “There Once Was a Man,” and the show-stopping “Steam Heat,” featuring the remarkable Carol Haney, add punch. If all workers’ movements looked like this, we’d have a revolution on our hands!


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 15, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: The White Countess

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Shakespeare Wallah

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Lizzie Buckingham (Felicity Kendal) is part of a traveling Shakespearean troupe, the Buckingham Players, trying to eke out a living performing for less-than-enthusiastic villagers in postcolonial India. When their caravan breaks down, wealthy playboy Sanju (Shashi Kapoor) steps in to help, and the sparks fly. But Sanju has already been claimed by Manjula (Madhur Jaffrey), a Bollywood actress with no intention of letting him go.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This charming early effort by the acclaimed Merchant-Ivory team, penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a gorgeous elegy to the waning of British influence in India, represented here by the growth of the Bollywood film industry. Based in part on the real-life experiences of Kendal’s own family, Ivory’s film was scored by Satyajit Ray, shot by his lensman Subrata Mitra, and impeccably played by a lively cast. Jaffrey, however, nearly steals the show with an over-the-top performance as the arrogant, jilted starlet.


    Howard’s End

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Meticulous adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End depicts transitions in the British class system in the early 20th century. It traces the evolving relationship between Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins), a restrained and conservative industrialist, and Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) — a poor, yet plucky younger woman.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Few filmmakers capture period detail like James Ivory. Here, Hopkins is the personification of upper-class British reserve, while Emma Thompson is radiant in an Oscar-winning performance. Vanessa Redgrave portrays Hopkins’ dying wife with poignancy, and Helena Bonham Carter is suitably fiery as Thompson’s modern sister. Literate, human drama of the first order.


    Morgan!: A Suitable Case For Treatment

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Morgan Delt (David Warner), a mentally unbalanced young artist obsessed with apes, really goes off the deep end when his beautiful, only slightly daffy spouse, Leonie (Vanessa Redgrave), asks for a divorce. Determined to have her back, Morgan resorts to bizarre and desperate measures to keep her from marrying priggish art dealer Charles (Robert Stephens).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Redgrave made her film debut in this wildly inventive black comedy by Czech director Reisz. Her magnetic performance as Leonie-continually torn between her more conventional side and the unhinged part of her nature – netted her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. “Morgan!”‘s exuberant pacing and anarchic spirit make it one of the swinging sixties’ most delightfully loony cult films. Also, Warner is terrific in the lead.


    Georgy Girl

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Georgina, known as Georgy (an Oscar-nominated Lynn Redgrave), is an ugly duckling at loose ends. Her father is a manservant whose married, middle-aged employer (James Mason) wants her as his mistress. Meanwhile, her gorgeous roommate Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) treats her carelessly, but Georgy basks in her glamour. Finally, there’s Jos (Alan Bates), Meredith’s sometime boyfriend, who beds the beauty but seems to prefer Georgy’s company. Somehow, this plump, sweet girl must make sense of her disordered life and figure out where she belongs.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Distinctive black comedy has Georgy, a free spirit with a self-image problem, surrounded by somewhat pathetic, bizarre characters: Meredith’s beauty can’t conceal the soul of a witch; Jos is a loveable, overgrown child; and Mason’s character seems like a rather lonely, leering fellow, though endowed with real affection for Georgy. Still, the film’s ambiguity is intended- and it’s a large part of its charm. A fascinating, highly original ride, with terrific performances and a vivid sense of London in the swinging sixties. Catchy title tune by The Seekers.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 9, 2009

    A Scouting Life: The Importance of Being Punctual

    by Sam Hutchins

    JFK International Airport

    JFK International Airport

    The die was cast; we were set to embark. An ambitious, detailed itinerary had been built. Darius, Stephane and I would depart for LAX and begin making our way back to New York City over the course of the next month. Kar Wai would join us at some point along the way, and Jackie might as well. We planned to drive mainly on blue line highways, the primary route of auto transit prior to the interstate highway system. They should take us to the out-of-the-way, forgotten spots that Kar Wai favored so. It was a great adventure that we were setting out on. Honestly, if I could create a dream job this would probably be it.

    My concerns were legion, of course. Scouting even in areas you know can be hit-or-miss. No one can know the entire country, no matter how good you are. I had done my homework and prepared us as well as anyone could. I even had a trick up my sleeve, having pre-scouted a few promising sounding locations outside of LA over the phone. My good pal Jesse Lehrman is one of the top still photo/fashion scouts on the west coast. Jesse hipped me to a known desert gas station called Roy’s that lies between LA and Vegas. The photos he sent me looked great. Apparently there are other rundown cantinas in the area as well, scattered around the desert outside Twentynine Palms.

    My biggest concern was actually my travelling companions. I was about to spend a whole lot of time in a car with two guys I hardly knew. First impression is that they were, well, French. Don’t get me wrong: the French are a magnificent people. They have a long and storied history. The foods, wines, literature are all as good as can be found anywhere. I have so many things that I love about them. That being said, they can also be massive pains in the ass. The French are by nature an argumentative people, and at that particular point in history, they were awfully down on America. Probably with good reason, but that’s a story for another blog. For all of Stephane’s impishness and Darius’ passion they were ultimately unknown quantities as travelling companions.

    I had a fair amount of equipment to tote along. In addition to my 20 lbs of topo maps covering a good part of the country, I had my laptop, cameras, cell phone, iPod, and all the requisite cords and cables. There was also the matter of clothing. We were planning to cover the country from roughly the Southwest up to the Northeast in winter, so we intended to pass through a wide range of climates. I managed to fit everything in a standard airline carry-on, my computer case, and one tote bag. The colder climes were covered by the heavy leather jacket I carried on my back. My companions, however, were not so good at packing light.

    When we met at the office prior to departing I was shocked at all they brought. Stephane wasn’t as bad; he only brought a battered leather suitcase, a large duffel bag, a laptop case and a couple camera cases. Half my size and twice the baggage. Darius, however, might as well have been in the turn of the century boarding an ocean liner for a round the world tour. He had so much luggage we had to hire a second car to get us all to JFK. To be fair, he had no plans to return to Paris, so he was carrying his wardrobe for roughly the next six months. That being said, I suggested he winnow things out a bit and store the extra luggage at the production office. He was having none of it, insisting that he needed everything at hand. I was not pleased at the thought of hauling all that stuff cross-country with us. We had a tight schedule with numerous airport connections and that load wasn’t going to make it easy.

    Our two-car caravan left for JFK, one car for us and another for the luggage. Didn’t leave on time, of course, as my two companions were dawdling around the office well past the appointed departure. One thing to know about me is that I am punctual to a fault. Actually that’s not true; I’m early. Especially when it comes to work and travel. When travelling for work I’m even worse, it gets borderline obsessive. I have surprised directors I was due to pick up at 9 for a scout by being out front when they walked their dog at 7:30. Just part of who I am and how I do the job. I have ended relationships with otherwise lovely women due to their constant lateness; it is not something I can abide. Faced with coworkers who rank higher than me on the organizational chart I have little recourse.

    It got worse at the airport. In addition to helping the guys with their extensive baggage, they did everything possible to avoid going to the gate. I did have a little chuckle at the desk when the clerk kept referring to Stephane as Stephanie. I saw how it bothered him and filed that away for future use. Another wrinkle was Darius’ passport with dozens of international destinations stamped in it. In a recently post-9/11 world, stamps indicating you were just visiting Iran are not particularly helpful. Once the bulk of the luggage was checked in I started race-walking to the gate. Not my boys, though. Stephane was browsing magazines and Darius was in a Brookstone having an in-depth discussion as to the merits of various gadgets that charge your electronics. I was as polite as possible about moving them along but they exhibited a distinct lack of concern.

    Ultimately I left them. Time was short and I did not want to miss the plane. I made sure they both knew the gate we were assigned and busted my hump to get there. Darius started to say something about being patient but I pretended not to hear him so as to avoid additional delay. I arrived at the gate and checked in as they were making the final boarding call.

    At least we were flying business class. Travel is difficult enough. Flying cross-country in coach is a drag. I tried to relax in my comfy half-bed, half-seat but was too anxious about my partners making the flight. I was already trying to plan for their delayed arrival at LAX when they both ambled onto the plane. They hadn’t even found their seats when the stewardess sealed the door and started bugging them about getting settled.

    “You see,” said Stephane, “We had plenty of time. I think you worry too much.”

    “Thank God you found me,” replied Darius, “I had no idea what gate we were in. Sam, you really need to make sure I get to these places. I could have missed the plane.”

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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