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  • June 24, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Venturing into the American West

    by Sam Hutchins

    Darius Khondji taking stills.

    Darius Khondji taking stills.

    We made it to LA without incident, and the flight was actually rather pleasant. One very nice thing about my business is flying first class. There is simply no way you can go back to coach once you get used to a seat that reclines into a bed, not to mention the unlimited free whiskey. Given those circumstances I actually hate to land. Another good thing about being in the air was not worrying about either of my companions wandering off and getting lost. Safely confined in the plane, I didn’t have to worry about losing them, as would clearly be the case when earthbound.

    After collecting our ridiculous cache of luggage we trammed it to hertz and picked up a great big SUV. We were making a low budget film, so of course the initial thought had been to cram us into some sort of sedan. All three of us had rebelled at this, and I actually tried to get us the biggest truck possible. Knowing what the road is like there is great advantage to travelling in a Ford Expedition or something similar. I love the environment as much as anyone, but not to the point of travelling thousands of miles shoehorned into a small car. Ultimately we compromised on a Nissan Armada, which appeared to be the most spacious option without going up to one of the real monster size rides. Good thing we held out. Once our luggage was loaded we three were a snug fit.

    It was late so we checked into a hotel near LAX and got ourselves settled. Darius and Stephane were meeting a potential production designer, but I was not needed, so I chose to grab some sleep. In retrospect, it is rather funny that this fellow’s interview was as unusual as mine, meeting two weird Frenchmen in the bar of an airport hotel close to midnight. For my part, I found it hard to sleep as excited as I was. The thrill of starting an epic journey kept me up for quite a while, with me eventually falling asleep to the late rerun of Sportscenter.

    Just before parting company with my travel companions, I made a valiant effort at starting out bright and early.

    “What do you say, guys, meet in the lobby at eight am, checked out and having had?”

    “Aving ad? What does this mean?” asked Stephane in that goofy accent.

    “It means having had breakfast. At eight tomorrow morning we should meet here in the lobby having already eaten breakfast and turned in your room key, ready to travel. We have lots to see.”

    From the look on their faces I might as well have just kicked their dogs and insulted their wives. Obviously this was an uphill battle. In the end we compromised on a 9AM leave time. At a quarter after nine the next morning they ambled into the lobby and insisted we eat breakfast before leaving. For me, a scouting breakfast is a bagel and a coffee scarfed down while driving. For them apparently it was more like a casually eaten bowl of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola. I suppose there are worse problems to have in life than meandering through a lengthy breakfast, but I was already wondering how anything gets done in France.

    My spirits soared once we were on the road, though. Navigating due east out of LA there was nothing but open road and the entire country laid out before us. We took the 10 east through a few hours of suburban LA sprawl as we started getting to know each other better. My only issue was their occasional lapses into speaking French, but that was an understandable thing. For the most part it was a pleasant bit of fast highway driving under a sunny blue sky. Although quite well-traveled, I am born and raised in the northeast. It’s easy to forget the beauty and majesty of the American West. Jumping off the highway at Palm Springs I was struck by the surrounding vista. Driving the desert road with massive mountains rising on the horizon sent my soul soaring. What an amazing sight to behold.

    Turning north towards Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree, we encountered the first wind farm I had ever seen. Enormous windmills rose like aliens from the desert floor. Ignoring the many “no trespassing” signs posted, we did our first bit of off-road four-wheeling. Damn good thing we had the SUV after all. No regular sedan would have made those moves. We pulled over and got out to shoot some pictures. It quickly became apparent that shooting video was a pain in the ass. We had brought a professional grade camera and it was rather cumbersome. Darius shot a few clips using Stephane as an actor but soon packed up the video rig for the last time on the trip. We instead shot lots of stills, taking in the amazing views. Not bad for our first pullover, definitely an amazing and otherworldly spot. If our trip proved this easily bountiful we were going to have some amazing stuff.

    Darius and Stephane

    Darius and Stephane

    I had given a lot of thought to how Kar Wai’s films would play in an environment like this. His work is so urban and confined, and he loves industrial decay layered with streaks of electric neon colors. Frankly I just couldn’t see it until this very moment. Standing on the burnished sand of the desert floor, mountains obscured by the haze under these giant looming alien-looking machines it all clicked for me. I could see one of the loners he so loves portraying looking lost in their surroundings as the blades of the windmills slowly whomp-whomp-whomped away overhead. Yeah, man, this was it. This felt right.

    ….

    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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  • 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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