Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gene Kelly: All the Right Moves

Most people know Gene Kelly as a dancer, an actor, occasional singer and perhaps someone who enjoys a rainy day more than most. Some might even know he was a groundbreaking director and choreographer, too. But there’s a lot people don’t know about the handsome hoofer from Pittsburgh. And that’s where the Film Society of Lincoln Center comes in. They’re currently in the middle of a two week retrospective on  Kelly. This August just happens to be the 100th anniversary of his birth.

I was lucky enough to attend an Evening with Gene Kelly at the Walter Reade Theater last night, hosted by Kelly’s wife, film historian Patricia Ward Kelly - a thoroughly fascinating woman in her own right. Various film clips of some of Kelly’s most famous musical numbers were punctuated by Patricia’s insightful commentary, revealing anecdotes and warm recollections of her late husband. She also dug into stacks of boxes on stage and pulled out some of Gene’s old things to share with us - choreography notes, sweet valentines Gene wrote to Irish shillelagh he kept by his bedside.

Perhaps what most surprised me to learn, and maybe it shouldn’t have, was Gene’s voracious appetite for knowledge and his fierce intelligence. According to Patricia, Gene spoke multiple languages (French and Latin, among them) and liked to quote poetry. The two of them seemed to have quite a connection, despite their 46 year (!) age difference. When they met in 1985, Patricia was 26 and Gene was 73. She didn’t even know who “Gene Kelly” was! She got to know the man behind the star, and that’s who she was able to show us last night.

After all these years, Gene still has the power to captivate. During the clips they showed, there were audible gasps from the audience (“He’s sooo good looking!” “He makes it look so easy!”).

And indeed, he did make it look so easy. Here are my favorite examples:

The "Alter Ego" dance from 1944's Cover Girl

"The Newspaper Dance" from 1950's Summer Stock 

"The Roller Skate Dance" from 1955's It's Always Fair Weather. Because he's tap dancing. On roller skates.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Liz & Linds

Ok, so the first official picture isn’t totally horrible. As you may well know, Lindsay Lohan is gonna attempt her best Elizabeth Taylor impression for the upcoming Lifetime movie Liz & Dick. The network released a promotional photo, featuring Lohan in full Liz hair and makeup, and co-star Grant Bowler as Richard Burton. Also released yesterday and today were some paparazzi photos from the set, which were, um, considerably less impressive. But, hey, at least it looks like Linds is showing up for her scenes! Not like my expectations are very high for this project anyway. What do you think of the photos? Will you be watching this movie, like me, solely for the trainwreck aspect?

Update: Here's another pic of Linds in character.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Display: The Art of the Movie Poster

I’m a serious fan of the old movie poster. One look around my room and that’s apparent.  A movie poster hangs from every angle - from A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on one wall to East of Eden and The Hustler on another. My room’s a veritable classic movie poster gallery.

So when I heard Film at Lincoln Center was displaying their own movie poster gallery, I jumped at the chance to check it out. Presented by Turner Classic Movies, the exhibit at the Furman Gallery, called “Style and Motion: The Art of the Movie Poster,” featured a variety of original film posters from the Mike Kaplan Collection. Incidentally, Kaplan is an acclaimed designer/art director of movie posters - and an avid collector of posters from around the world (a guy after my own heart).

Last month, recent guest blogger Nicole Turso and I visited the gallery to check it out. The exhibit wasn’t very large - but it was free, and total movie poster eye candy. I snapped some pics of my favorites. An interesting tidbit: The American in Paris poster once belonged to Gene Kelly himself! Needless to say, I would wallpaper my house with these if I could.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Guest Blogger: Oh, The Horror!

by Nicole Turso

Ed. Note: On the Marquee's guest blogger today is Nicole Turso! I enlisted her help to do a post about classic horror films, because when it comes to horror, there's a gap in my movie knowledge. Because I am a total chicken.

Lea Michele in Creature from the Black Lagoon
As a classic horror movie fan - news of a remake with today's popular actors can really make you into a raving lunatic.

When Hollywood decided 1976's "The Omen" was due for a re-boot, my blood boiled knowing Gregory Peck and Lee Remick would be replaced by the likes of Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles (Sorry, guys). 

And while Naomi Watts is a decent match for Hitchcock's golden girl Tipi Hedren - remaking "The Birds" was another one of Michael Bay's bird-brain ideas (Along with yet another Transformers flick).

Well, now some of the more iconic horror images are getting the Ryan Murphy treatment on the pages of the latest issue of Elle.

Kate Mara in Carrie

Murphy proved his horror chops with FX's "American Horror Story" - as did stars Connie Britton and Kate Mara. Now Murphy puts his muses to the scenes from his favorite thrillers.

Connie Britton in The Omen
And since Murphy's poptart comedy "Glee" has been frighteningly-bad lately, it only makes sense Gleeks Lea Michele, Dianna Agron and company would join in on the horror romp.

Dianna Agron in The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Some of this fan's favorites: Britton as Damien's petrified mother in "The Omen", Mara just before the pig blood hits the fan in "Carrie" and Sarah Paulson as both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in my all-time favorite creepfest "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Sarah Paulson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's New is Old Again!

This is officially amazing. Illustrator/designer Peter Stults imagines what modern-day movies would look like if they were made during past Hollywood eras - and then he creates movie posters for them. My personal fave? The re-imagining of the Ryan Gosling flick Drive starring James Dean! The poster series is called "Movies from an Alternate Universe."

 The series also includes posters for The Hangover starring Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon and Jerry Lewis and Avatar starring William Shatner and Natalie Wood, among others! This was too good not to share!


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Artist Paints a Nostalgic Picture

It’s black and white. It’s silent. And it’s French. But don’t let that turn you off from The Artist, probably one of this year’s most pleasing big-screen gems. What it’s lacking in dialogue, it makes up for in vibrant performances, an expressive score and deft visual cues. Part Singin’ in the Rain, part A Star is Born and part Charlie Chaplin film, The Artist gives us nostalgia without feeling stale.

It takes place in 1927, when motion picture making is on the brink of sound. Hollywood’s biggest silent film star is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a dapper fella who can rock a tux and charm an audience with a raise of his eyebrow. He’s got the movie-going public - and the studio - in the palm of his hand and he knows it. At one of his big premieres, he quite literally bumps into one of his biggest fans - a pretty young thing named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). Their picture gets snapped together and just like that Peppy becomes George’s “mystery girl” in all the papers.

Her newfound “fame” is just the confidence boost she needs to audition as an extra on George’s latest film. George and Peppy have instant chemistry - they both can go toe-to-toe on the tap dancing floor. The seasoned actor sees the eager young ingenue’s allure and takes her under his wing. But just like in A Star is Born, the student is destined to outshine the teacher. Especially when the rise of talkies begs the need for fresh talent.

It’s not that George gets pushed out - he simply refuses to get on board. While the studios start cranking out films with the latest sound technology, George dismisses it all as a passing fad and sets out to make his own silent film. His refusal to move into the future is what ultimately makes his future a bleak one. He must forgo his pride or face living in obscurity forever.

In less capable hands, The Artist could have been a gimmicky mess - a parody of sorts. Or it could have been too, well, artsy, thus alienating the average moviegoer. But filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has done his homework. He knows what made the classics great and he applies those elements to his own film, giving all the old timey tricks a more polished finish. There are barely any words - just the occasional title card to give context to a scene - but the film is still a rich experience. The score plays throughout, and there’s even a dream sequence where sound is used for clever effect. You never feel as if anything’s missing. 

He may have been silent, but the Oscar buzz for French actor Jean Dujardin is almost deafening. He’s perfect for this part in every way. He has Old Hollywood good looks, but much like the actors of that time, his face also has character. He uses expression and body language so well that you forget he’s not saying anything at all! His George Valentin goes from cocky to desperate, and all the while you continue to like him.

Dujardin has an equally adept partner in Berenice Bejo, who plays Peppy. With a glowing smile and a buoyant personality, it’s not easy to see why Peppy becomes a big star. We begin to feel the same adoration for her as her audience in the film.

There are also appearances by some familiar American faces, but they almost seem out of place here. John Goodman plays a big-time studio exec, James Cromwell plays George’s trusted chauffeur and confidante, and Penelope Ann Miller plays George’s neglected wife. The movie’s feel was such a throwback, I really didn’t expect to see anybody I recognized. But perhaps the award for best supporting character goes to George’s dog, a trusty terrier much in the vein of Asta, the loyal pup from The Thin Man series of the 1930s or George, the mischievous dog in Bringing Up Baby. The scrappy scene-stealer was a treat to watch - and he also plays a pivotal role in the story.

My one gripe is that George’s fall from grace drags on a bit too long. It takes a while for him to fully hit rock bottom and find the strength to pick himself up again. You may get frustrated with him as he rejects Peppy’s well-meaning attempts to help get him back on track. But, as I said, the film is ultimately a crowd-pleaser, and you’ll be smiling ear-to-ear by the end. I certainly was. Sometimes, silence really is golden.

You can also find my review on!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Take on My Week With Marilyn

You’d have to be pretty brave to take on the role of iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Thank goodness Michelle Williams seems to have courage to spare. In My Week with Marilyn (out Nov. 23rd) she embodies the blonde bombshell with a confidence that most young actresses couldn’t even dream of achieving. She has the Marilyn “wiggle” down to a science - achieved, she said, by practicing walking with her knees tied together. She has the Marilyn sparkle - her childlike abandon. And on the flip-side, she evokes the Norma Jean insecurities. The vulnerability and the need to be loved. The desperate desire to be a person of worth. It’s this duality - Marilyn vs. Norma Jean - that elevates Williams’ performance from mere imitation to a deeper representation of a person’s humanity.

My Week with Marilyn is not a Marilyn biopic - it’s more of a Marilyn snippet. A glimpse into a period of her life as seen through the eyes of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a young, eager third-assistant director on her film The Prince and the Showgirl, which began filming in London in 1956. The story is based on Colin’s diary from that time in his life, and includes his observations of the star as she allows him to get close to her and as he becomes more and more infatuated with her.

The film is mainly split between on-set antics and off-set moments. On set, Colin watches wide-eyed as the film’s director and star, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), butts heads with the difficult Marilyn. Olivier fumes as she shows up late, brings along her own “acting coach” of questionable credibility, and botches her lines time and again. The Prince and the Showgirl was notorious for its tumultuous on-set atmosphere, mainly due to the fact that Olivier and Marilyn just didn’t understand each other. He admired her vivacity and innate talent, to be sure, and Marilyn respected and was intimidated by his serious acting background. But even that couldn’t break the ice between them. Olivier was reportedly so fed up by his Prince and the Showgirl experience, that he pretty much abandoned directing after that.

But here’s the thing, when Marilyn got it right, boy did she get it right. There was no denying her charm - even Olivier could see it.

Off set, Marilyn had a whole other set of problems, and we see Colin as he slowly becomes privy to them. Her recent marriage to playwright Arthur Miller is already on the downslide, she’s clearly addicted to alcohol and pills, and she’s surrounded by enablers.  There are moments when Williams is able to show the needy, fragile and troubled girl underneath the star sheen, and I’m glad the movie didn’t shy away from that.

And speaking of the star sheen, Williams’ makeup, hair and styling is impeccable - and quite a necessary element when you’re playing someone who was so stylized in her public persona. The scene that best illustrates this is when Colin and Marilyn are confronted by paparazzi during a spontaneous outing. She turns casually to Colin and asks, “Shall I be ‘her’?” and just like that, she “turns on” Marilyn Monroe - sexy swaying, playful winking and all. “Playing” Marilyn Monroe was perhaps her greatest role, but that ease of switching gears was also probably her downfall. She opens up to Colin at one point, admitting that all the men in her life see her as “Marilyn Monroe,” and once they figure out that’s not really who she is, they leave.

The film on a whole is not spectacularly original. A young man falls for a beautiful woman completely out of his grasp, learns some life lessons, comes of age. He forgoes a pretty, pert costume assistant (Emma Watson) to chase Marilyn’s affections and in the end gets his heart broken. But the audience doesn’t really care about Colin - at least not when he’s sharing the screen with the magnetic Williams. She pulls focus, much like Marilyn did in all of her films, and she’s marvelous to behold.

Bookended by two sensational song and dance numbers seamlessly performed by Williams, My Week with Marilyn reaffirms Marilyn Monroe’s timeless appeal - and solidifies that same quality in the radiant Michelle Williams.

You can also find my review on!