Friday, August 31, 2012

'Notorious', 1946. dir, Alfred Hitchcock

It's been years, YEARS since I saw this film.  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, CLAUDE RAINS (seriously, I would watch Claude Rains in ANYTHING); the second world war spilling over to post-war espionage, Nazis, uranium stored in a well-stocked wine cellar, kisses that go on forever, Ingrid Bergman's gowns, poison, Hitchcockian suspense swelling with camera angles zooming in on important markers of the story's suspense: dwindling bottles of champagne in an icebox, the key to the mystery held in Bergman's hand.

Gah!  Notorious is part noir, part romance, part thriller, all deftly spun AWESOME ( did I mention Claude Rains)

Anyways, there are two people here: Alicia Huberman and Develin.  Alicia's dad was an American traitor and Nazi sympathizer. His age-old connections in Brazil are still recognized and enamoured by Alicia who is lured by Develin into a scheme to help expose traitorous actions abroad.  Patriotism abounds!

Develin and Alicia have a bit of a rocky, erotically-charged relationship; but Develin hides his true feelings and convinces Alicia---notorious party girl, daughter of Nazi sympathizer, renowned notoriously for her partying ways and suspected loose morals, into canoodling with Alex Sebastian: a most-wanted on the American's list of "We Think You Might Still be a Snide Nazi"

Alicia takes it all the way and not only entices and reignites Sebastian's long-time love for her, she decides to marry him when asked, in order to be able to more aptly spy on the goings-on inevitably taking place in his house and the constant entertaining of his numerous Nazi cohorts....

This is a bit of a love story, a bit tragic, a bit wistful and it has, like, the BEST and most tragically sound ending in the history of time.  Yes, there is a twist and yes the villain gets his comeuppance; but you feel like you are punched in the gut. A door slams and you are left with a reckoning feeling that everything is as it should be; but still ----still----- love was involved, was it not?  And you love LOVE ---- passionate, long-burning love; it even makes you slightly forgive villains..... but, nah! it all turns out!

Anyways, I watched a retrospective on the film's long-standing appeal and regard as one of the greatest screenplays of all time and one film historian mentioned that the magic of Hitchcock resounds in those moments where even though you DON'T WANT ANYTHING BAD to happen---because you are invested in the characters and want them to outlive the impending suspense; part of our human nature WANTS something to happen just to see WHAT HAPPENS and how they get out of it....

There is lots of that in this film. Tons! Also, Claude Rains.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Three Coins in the Fountain, 1954, dir. Jean Negulesco

This time of year is high stress for me at work and very busy so in the evenings, I am attempting to unwind and keep anxiety at bay by watching old films: revisiting some and checking off those on a long and always updated list I have of “movies I want to see”

Three Coins in the Fountain was a revisit.  This film is well-known for its ultra-saccharine song, swelling film score and location shooting around Rome and Venice.  Indeed, having soaked up Venice in Summertime the other night, it was a delight to see Rome through a colourful 1950s kaleidoscope.

Three American women are in Rome working as secretaries: well-paid with a good exchange rate in their favour, they hope to find romance and love.  Maria arrives in Rome to replace Anita at the United States Distribution Agency as Anita plans on returning state side shortly.  Anita shares a lovely, spacious villa with Miss Frances, a woman in her late 30s who works as secretary for a reclusive American writer. 

The three women stop on the way to work one morning to cast wishes into the famed Trevi Fountain.  After this fateful moment, three whirling stories of romance beguile the women.

Anita is well aware of the rules at her Agency which forbid her from fraternizing with the local employees. However, gorgeous Georgio ( Rossano Brazzi), a translator in the office, has obvious eyes for her and Anita makes a rare exception to visit his family in the Italian countryside.  At a posh cocktail party, Maria meets the handsome Prince Dino ( played suavely by Louis Jourdan) and, face it, what girl doesn’t want a real, life prince? Then there is Miss Frances, a self-proclaimed old maid abroad who has harboured a secret love for her employer Shadwell (the older and distinguished Clifton Webb) during her 15 years in his employ.

The three women make mistakes in their path toward love: Anita has lied to her workplace and acquaintances about having a fiancée waiting at home which causes a bit of a “this would only happen in the 1950’s” scandal when her boss sees her in Giorgio’s company.  This results in Giorgio’s firing and a blight in his path to study as a lawyer. Maria is so smitten with the charming prince that she researches him on the sly to discover his tastes of food, wine, opera and modern art. Though they share no commonalities in actuality, Maria goes above and beyond to ensure he thinks her his soulmate. When Prince Dino discovers this charade he is heartbroken, threatening their attraction. Finally there is Miss Frances whose only mistake seems to be in her silence. Miss Frances and author Shadwell are all but an old married couple in their familiarity with each other, their mutual respect and their anticipation of each other’s needs. It’s one of those gorgeously interwoven stories where the audience recognizes their perfection as a unit and waits for the two erstwhile lovers to catch up.  When an unexpected twist is thrown in Miss Frances’ path, she and Shadwell must overcome their reticence to take their relationship outside of its comfortable bounds and leap into the unknown.

This is a very light and fluffy movie with declarations of love pronounced without development of relationships or character; but it is a GORGEOUS movie and reminded me a lot, what with its female-centric story, of The Best of Everything (film by the same director): taking the plight of the working girl in the 1950s---championing women in their 30s independently owning villas and providing their own sustenance without the aid of men --- and making their way in a foreign world.    

The film is also gorgeous: the Rome setting, the moments in the countryside, the quick trip to Venice: all lusciously filmed.  To add, the clothes! Dear god, the CLOTHES!  The 1950s was a fabulous era for fashion and if you have a penchant for its style you will find that the wardrobe choices take on an almost separate character. Consider a moment when Miss Frances, abloom with the prospect of love, buys a new dress: well shaped to her hourglass, with a slight v-neck: a dress for a much “younger” woman ( apparently in 1950s Italy, late 30s was old). It’s a re-birth for the smart, savvy and straight-forward Miss Frances and it is worn on the day when she sends caution to the wind, downs a few double-scotches, secures her true love and jumps into a fountain…..

Her story, I argue, is by far the most beguiling of the three threads: as is her simmering chemistry with Clifton Webb.

Anyways, a great time had by all! Cheesy; but good. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Elena and Her Men (Elena et les Hommes), 1956, dir. Jean Renoir

I’m a TCM junkie--- so I was excited when Summer Under the Stars was going to be featuring a day of Ingrid Bergman and showing Jean Renoir’s cotton-candied visual spectacle “Elena et les Hommes” as part of the series.   However, as sometimes happens with fair TCM, there were no Canadian rights and it was not scheduled in our programming.

Alas, I was in the mood for some Ingrid Bergman! Some Mel Ferrer! What to do!

I went online to Bay Street Video’s extensive web selection (seriously, if you live in Toronto, you should use this store as I do; best DVD selection in the city: especially for those little, esoteric foreign titles, art films and classics) and found it there as part of the Criterion Collection.

This film, readers, is absolutely ridiculous; but the palette---so lovely, so full of the joie-di-vivre which painted the spectacles of Renoir’s interestingly spun carousels.  Jean Renoir was the son of painter Pierre- Auguste Renoir and father and son share a passion for diverse colour and landscape.  Renoir the filmmaker enjoys the carnivalesque aspect of bustling crowds, of parades, of hot air balloons being thrust into a marshmallow-clouded sky ( and landing in Germany incidentally causing an International disaster preluding to war as quickly as you can say “Franz Ferdinand”) Herein, he portrays the wily but impoverished Polish princess, Elena (Ingrid Bergman) and her two ardent suitors. 

The political dichotomy of the film greatly clashes with the boisterous outbursts of song and dance and fitful and ludicrously French penchant for l’amour.   Elena has been mostly romantically unattached until a Bastille Day parade throws her in the path of the scrumptious Comte Henri de Chevincourt (Melchor Ferrer--- sorry. I have to call Mel Ferrer by his full name because … MELCHOR….) and his friend General Rollan, the object of the spectacle, the boisterous applause and the cries of vivre.

The apt comparison of Rollan’s political advisors to a chorus from a light operetta becomes more and more painfully obvious as they note their General’s attraction to the princess and use her to lure the General into a power play they desire.   The upstairs-downstairs plots and the spacing of the mansions used (for Elena’s engagement party to a M. Shoe and later at the staging of a coup d’etat with the general) are industriously flecked with doors slamming, heels scraping wood, people bustling out.  Renoir further extends the lens to encapsulate the gypsy camp nearby (completely with caravan) and the bustling throngs awaiting the exit of the General.   It puts you in mind of a whipped-creamed staging of Marriage of Figaro.

see! colour!

It’s a ridiculous story. There are singing gypsies, village-wide make-out sessions ( this is rather tame making-out ), the General kisses Elena on the love seat, Mel Ferrer kisses Elena at a party following the parade,  Elena kisses Mel Ferrer aside the glorious curtains furrowing out to allow a glimpse of amour to the spectators below.

The maid is in love with an inappropriate soldier,  Mel is disguised as a gypsy…. And all of this plays out against the backdrop of political turmoil largely reflective of the events leading up to the First World War.

It’s frothy, souffléd nonsense with a bunch of music besides…. And awkward neck-tilted kisses….

The love-triangle lasts for about five seconds when Elena learns that Henri/Melchor’s apparent idle nature cloaks his passionate love for her and it all turns out in the end: in love … and in war…

( well, maybe not in war; but at least for the general)

This might have been more fun if I had been drinking pinot grigio at the same time.  I’ll remember that tip for myself the next time I approach the technicolour world of odd Jean Renoir and his musically fantastical spectacles with awesome costumes and so much kissing…..

Also, I think I know what every woman wants: a man who will look at her like Mel Ferrer looks at Ingrid Bergman/Audrey Hepburn/Leslie Caron/*insert actress here*   He is so undone by love and it is so transparent on his face.  He out-heights the 5’10 Bergman so can even look down at her with these eyes that just blaze amidst the fluorescent frou-frou of the spectacle….

ARGH! My heart! ARGH!! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Selection by Kiera Cass

I think I mentioned this already. I read this book mostly in the airport waiting a flight from Cork to Edinburgh. I read this book, honestly, because Rissi at Scribbles and Scripts and Such mentioned it a few times on twitter.

In futuristic America, there is a caste system: you are born into a class and there is little room for upward mobility. Farewell to the American dream, you can marry a step or two up (or down), you can work your way as hard as you can; but you must remain contented within your sphere: no matter your talent, beauty, drive.

For America Singer, we believe christened for the happier times of old, there is one chance to bring her family from their redundant poverty and into a world they never dreamed of: a reality series not unlike Katniss running around shooting down people---but with ultimately less violence.

The SelectionThink The Hunger Games meets the Biblical Book of Esther: women from across the classes compete for the hand and ultimate love of Prince Maxon.  The shortlist of ladies, which includes America, is plucked from their usual social norm and thrust into dystopian fairytale: food, banquets, lavish dances and clothes bely their new purpose: to refine themselves for the prince’s choosing.

America, who previously has fallen head over heels for the hard-working if somewhat stern and marginal Aspen is torn between her blossoming new friendship and the early realization that her informal pact with Maxon ( to let her stay in the competition ‘til near the end while he steers in the direction of the lady of her choosing ) limits her burgeoning attraction to him.

Throw in some uprising between provinces ( think the Hunger Games districts) and pepper in some unexpected Aspen-in-the-Palace-What’s-HE-doing-here action and you have a really interesting teen read sans the violence that propels The Hunger Games.

Peter from Narnia should probably play Maxon if they ever make a film...

And, yes, it DOES remind me of the contest in which the soon-to-be Queen Esther of the eponymous Bible story vies for the hand of Xerxes after Queen Vashti is tossed aside.  Like Esther, America is skilled, willed and talented… she just needs to use advantageous position to speak her mind, to abolish unfairness, to set the world alight.

I will read the rest of this trilogy. …And not just because the cover has a pretty dress.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Film Review: 'Summertime' 1955 dir., David Lean

David Lean is my favourite director. He's such a visual storyteller and he has an almost poetic sensibility which allows his fleeting camera gaze to speak more volumes than the carefully chosen words of the screenplays he is imagining.

Consider the moment in Doctor Zhivago when Yuri Zhivago is trapped on a crowded train across the barren snow-swept lands and looks longingly up at the moon: he is still a poet; no matter time or circumstance.  Consider how the throngs of Lawrence of Arabia's rag-tag band of up-risers surround the carcass of a train as Lawrence parades atop it; swinging his long cape, watching his shadow, basking in the light.  Consider the look of extreme pathos when Captain Nicholson visually trails the exposed wire which will blow the painstaking work he and his POW regiment put into the Bride over the River Kwai.

Lean has a very perceptive grasp of humanity: of the nuances which feed our daily decisions and inform our life with inevitable vulnerability.  Thus, when he pits spinster Elementary school secretary, Jane Hudson (played by Katharine Hepburn---who will rip your heart out ) against the awed beauty of Venice in Summertime, you believe the alighting of her eyes when she feasts in the first glimpse of the famed canals, you hear, with her, the resounding romance of La Gazza ladra as she sips wine next to a dashing Italian shopkeeper.

You feel her heartbreak and experience those titillating moments of a love almost realized.   Lean can tell a story with his camera lens and he transports this device very early on to his spinster heroine.

When Jane Hudson arrives in Venice you see the wish fulfillment of a long-saved-for trip reflected in her brightened eyes.  She spans the landscape of the age-old city with a hunger that she strives to capture with her camera: always at the ready.  Travellers know that pictures captured on camera are but second best to the moment you first glimpse steeped and sloping cobblestones, or the majesty of a church spire; but Jane soaks it all in.

She settles into the Pensione Fiorini and we get the first glimpse of her well-reserved loneliness as she reluctantly pours a dram of liquor for herself when her companions, the head of the pensione and a few likewise American travellers, leave for their dinner plans.

Later, she strolls, solo, through the Piazza San Marco: her camera, her guidebook and maybe even her journal set next to her glass of wine.  She is watching, observing, listening.... she is especially in tune with pairs. She is one of those people who doesn't seem to notice she is alone until she sees couples strolling by.  Behind her, a refined gentleman sits languidly.  At first, he doesn't seem to notice her, until he settles upon the graceful upturn of her ankle as her leg protrudes from her dress and fits slenderly into a well-matched shoe. From there, he becomes fixated on her: watching her back as she strains and leans forward, as she fiddles with her camera, as she drinks in his city.

She catches him watching her, fumbles for her sunglasses and embarrassedly runs away.  Tell me you haven't done this before?  ---caught someone imposing harmlessly on a private moment and felt ashamed for your stark humanity....

The next day she encounters the same gentleman, Renato de Rossi (played by the oh-so-smouldering Rossano Brazzi ) again as she peeks through his antiques shop and settles on a beautiful goblet of Venetian glass.   He follows her  to her pensione and admits his attraction.  She is unaccustomed to being at the receiving end of love and passion: a spinster who doesn't belong, who appears fine and strong and happy as all of the turmoil of loneliness and pain ripples well beneath her well-manicured facade.   Renato persists.

David Lean will never craft us a fairytale.  He prefers love in the bittersweet, moving and exposed.  But, he offers hints of a fairytale: symbolized in small gestures and movements: a red shoe left behind evoking the myth of Cinderella and a woman taking flight at love's first blush; a gardenia linking a strong remembrance of a long-ago ball --- a tale from a spinster's more promising youth before everything passed her by; the almost-moment of rendezvous as a train chugs out of the station...

Isn't Rossano awesome? don't you love his terribly misguided; but wonderful casting as Prof. Bhaer in the 1949 'Little Women'?
Lean strings you along in a cruel and depraved way ( remember Brief Encounter? EGADS!) but there is such truth in his exposition.  This is not a tale of love everlasting, ignited and consummated in typical hollywood fashion: it is a brief and shining moment of optimism and hope in a woman who thought life had passed her by, who is so used to providing strength and entertainment that the slightest tear has her re-thinking her self-worth to public eye. A woman who suddenly has a reason to buy a scarf and get a manicure and go to the hairdressers.

Renato's place in her life isn't as the relationship that need exist forever ---- it's in her discovery that she is desirable, attractive, as worthy of a glance of a gentleman as the younger and prettier guests at the pensione .......

This movie will rip your heart out and eat it for breakfast --Now, Voyager style.

You'll hear the credit music roll and feel remarkably pained and somewhat unsatisfied; but then you'll go back to the begin and watch it unfurl again and feel the pang of loss and the ecstasy of hope quelling like the crescendo of the violins which lurk through the plaza and throughout the soundtrack and you'll become a slave to this almost-love.... and it's worth it; every minuscule second of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

World's Worst Book Proposals

I am sure they are not the worst.... there are probably others out there... but these are PRETTY bad!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Putting 'Merlin' to good use....

I was on vacation when the latest issue of Femnista was published; but I was thrilled to the gills to have participated again this month and wanted to showcase it here.

I finally used my good-natured love for Merlin to good use.

Read A Boy Named Merlin as well as other excellent articles featured herein.

Click to view the full digital publication online
Read Femnista July Aug 2012
Self Publishing with YUDU

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Georgette Heyer Contest WON

Hi All,

congratulations to Ruth at Booktalk and More for winning the random draw to win the sourcebooks Heyer grab bag.

I loved reading everyone's Heyer stories :)

Fear not: if you still need some Heyer in your life, you can still participate in the amazing Kindle deals offered by Sourcebooks and available here until August 20th.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


It's no secret: I loooooooove Georgette Heyer.  While I haven't indugled in as many of her historical novels or her mysteries, I am a die-hard fan of her Regencies.  Next to Austen, she is the best author we have in this ilk!

I first read Georgette Heyer during the Toronto Blackout of 2003.  There was no subway service, my bookstore had just been closed due to ...well... no power....and work was done for the day, so I rambled over to a park to wait for a ride and read Arabella under a tree.  It was a few years until I started going all hard-core Heyer; but boy! did I ever.

I ration out Heyers so I always have more to read.

On this, her 110th Birthday, Sourcebooks ( and me! ) want to know your Heyer moment: whether it be when you first tucked into the pages of her wonderful novels or your favourite moment from one of her novels. Bonus points if you name your favourite hero: mine is Jasper from Venetia!

Comment and tell me and you have the chance to win a surprise grab-bag of 3 of her novels: 1 mystery, 1 historical and 1 of those gorgeous Regencies!

I will draw names from posters and the winner will be notified shortly!

The contest is open to Canadian and American readers.....

Meanwhile, DISCOVER HEYER for fabulous prices at the Sourcebooks website!

From August 14th until August 20th, a large selection of her e-books are on sale for 2.99! 2.99! Please go here to find your new favourite....

Friday, August 10, 2012

What I read on Vacation....

At the Cliffs of Moher
Forgive the absence.... I was gallivanting around Scotland and Ireland the past few weeks and have had, like, two seconds to jump on facebook at the hotel or B and B and update my status on a shared computer with no space key.

Anyways, there are stories and pics to follow.  Sadly, just before I left, my BELOVED macbook, affectionately called Watson, died.  As I await my NEW macbook air , my blogging will be intermittent as I work sometimes on my work laptop ( macs are so much better for EVERYTHING)

anyways, whilst I was on planes and trains and in the moments in my hotel room when I returned from wanderings and was not fast asleep or watching the Olympics on the BBC, I read these books:

Some will get more detailed reviews:

The Selection by Kiera Cass 

The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha

The Thistle and the Rose (hey! I was in Scotland!) by May McGoldrick

Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond

The Single Girl's To Do List by Lindsay Kelk (my sister bought in at the airport and I read it on the flight to Dublin)

The Rose of York by Sandra Worth

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Around the World in 80 Dates by Christa Ann Banister  (the worst of the lot and one of those Christian books which insult the practice and intelligence... I'll rant about it later)

More pics to come, I am sure--- once I have my new mac :)

The Hop On - Hop Off Tour in Dublin!