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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Critic's Choice

The David O. Selznick Collection: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

June 7, 2012 |  4:00 pm

If you know David O. Selznick's name, you probably think of him as the man behind "Gone With the Wind." But even before that classic, he was one of Hollywood's top producers, and Kino Classics, in collaboration with the George Eastman House, is releasing a series of his best-known films called the Selznick Collection.

Top of the list is "A Star Is Born." This is not the celebrated Judy Garland version but an earlier, 1937 edition of this inside-Hollywood story starring Janet Gaynor and Frederick March and directed by William Wellman.

Another Wellman film, also starring March, is 1937's caustic screwball comedy "Nothing Sacred," in which the actor plays a cynical reporter (is there any other kind?) who interacts with a lively lady played by the great Carole Lombard.

Having more literary origins is 1932's "A Farewell to Arms," starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes and taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel of World War I. The director is Frank Borzage, one of the screen's peerless romantics.

Finally, there is King Vidor's "Bird of Paradise," starring Joel McCrea and Delores Del Rio. This is the kind of film where a footloose sailor in the South Pacific falls in love with the lovely daughter of a fierce island chief. Throw in a volcano and a Max Steiner score and you're in business.

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'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


'Children of Paradise,' a personal favorite: Kenneth Turan's pick

June 7, 2012 |  2:16 pm

Children of Paradise
One of cinema's most transporting and transformative experiences, the 1945 French romantic drama “Children of Paradise” is the title I most often cite when asked to pick an all-time personal favorite.

Set in the bustling theatrical world of 1830s Paris and revolving around four very different men in love with the same enigmatic woman (played by Arletty), this three-hour-plus epic, written by Jacques Prevert and directed by Marcel Carne, is generally considered the greatest French film ever made.

Those suitors include the chilling Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a cold-eyed and confident criminal/philosopher, and the equally self-centered, ramrod-straight Count de Montray (Louis Salou), one of the richest men in France. From the theater come Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), a practised seducer and the preeminent actor of his day, and, most memorably of all, Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the man who revolutionized the art of pantomime.

Its visual richness and splendid dialogue, when added to the humanity and complexity of its relationships, makes this one of the few films that has the durability and emotional texture of a great
19th century novel. Always one of cinema's most transporting experiences, in a
spectacular new restoration, this is a cinematic event not to be missed.

Holding over at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7 and opening at the Town Center 5.

RELATED:

John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online

'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: "Children of Paradise." Credit: Criterion.


John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online: Kenneth Turan's pick

May 24, 2012 |  9:28 am

This week's DVD pick is not a DVD at all, but a free video on demand streaming and downloading of one of the most significant of American documentaries, a controversial film that has been restored in a very specific way.

That film would be 1946's "Let There Be Light," John Huston's groundbreaking documentary that was one of the first, decades before post-traumatic stress disorder was a term, to document the terrible things combat did to the minds of soldiers.

The candor of this film helped get it almost immediately pulled from distribution, and it was not until 1980 that its release to the general public was authorized.

One problem with the film that did not go away was that many of the soldiers interviewed were hard to understand because they mumbled or whispered their stories. Now, as a result of a National Film Preservation Foundation grant, the National Archives has restored the soundtrack, and the result, easy to hear for the first time, is available courtesy of the NFPF's website (www.filmpreservation.org) starting Thursday.

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Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


UCLA tribute to Universal films: Kenneth Turan's pick of the week

May 10, 2012 |  6:11 pm

Traffic in Souls
The UCLA Film and Television Archive tribute to the 100th anniversary of Universal Pictures goes into high gear this weekend, with programs changing daily at the Hammer Museum's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. Top films include the antiwar gem "All Quiet on the Western Front" at 7:30 p.m. Friday and "Three Smart Girls Grow Up," starring the irrepressible Deanna Durbin, at 7 p.m. Sunday. 

My personal favorites, however, would be split between 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday afternoon. Playing Thursday is an outstanding silent-film double bill of the anti-slavery "Traffic in Souls" and Lois Weber's "Where Are My Children," a pioneering, socially conscious film that was simultaneously pro-birth control and anti-abortion. 

More delirious than anything else is the wild and crazy "Cobra Woman," playing at 4 p.m. Saturday. This gaudy Technicolor extravaganza stars Maria Montez as a cheerful bride-to-be whose twin sister just happens to be, no kidding, the evil priestess of the dread cobra cult. You won't believe your eyes.

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Turan's picks: 'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis on DVD

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: A scene from "Traffic in Souls." Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive


Turan's picks: 'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

May 9, 2012 |  3:50 pm

The busy folks at the Warner Archives Collection have focused recently on the female stars of the 1930s (and even a bit earlier), and several new releases fill out their slate nicely.

The oldest film in the group is the home video premiere of 1929's "Untamed," Joan Crawford's first significant role in a talking picture. Crawford -- playing Bingo, described as a "jungle-raised oil heiress" (you don't see many of those anymore) -- gets to sing a duet of "That Wonderful Something Is Love" with co-star Robert Montgomery.

Also prominent is Bette Davis, represented here with her 1935 "Dangerous," in which she plays a driven actress eager for a comeback. Her work was good enough to win her that year's Oscar for best actress.

More of a group effort is 1932's "Thirteen Women," a melodrama starring Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne that sounds like a wild time all around. No Oscars for anyone here.

Most interesting of the Warner DVDs are two devoted to actress Dorothy Mackaill, who retired early from films and was subsequently long forgotten. Warners is offering two Mackaill films on one disc -- "Bright Lights" and "The Reckless Hour" -- and is putting her most famous film, "Safe in Hell," on another.

Warner Archive Collection DVDs are manufactured on demand. To order, visit www.WarnerArchive.com.

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Swashbucklers from the '30s, '40s

Universal's 100th anniversary: classic films

'Casablanca' and 'A Trip to the Moon' on DVD

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


'What Becomes a Legend' at the Getty: Kenneth Turan's film pick

April 26, 2012 |  3:00 pm

Pandora's Box
To accompany its comprehensive look at photographer Herb Ritts, who did superb glamour and fashion work, the J. Paul Getty Museum is presenting a film series, "What Becomes a Legend," that showcases great screen icons.

On Saturday at 3 p.m., Heartthrob No. 1 Rudolph Valentino stars in "The Sheik," while at 7 p.m. Louise Brooks is at her most iconic in "Pandora's Box," with live piano accompaniment
by Michael Mortilla.

Sunday is devoted to sound-era sirens: "Morocco," an early collaboration between Marlene Dietrich and director Joseph von Sternberg, plays at noon, with Rita Hayworth singing "Put the Blame on Mame" in the memorable "Gilda" screening at 3 p.m.

All will be shown in the Getty's splendid Harold M. Williams Auditorium. The screenings are free, but reservations are required at www.getty.edu.

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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Louise Brooks in "Pandora's Box." Credit: UCLA Film and Television Archive


Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

April 26, 2012 | 10:00 am

Who doesn't love a good swashbuckler, complete with flashing swords, romantic couples and all manner of derring-do? Hen's Tooth Video, which specializes in the hard to find, has brought back a trio of classics, all based on the works of Alexandre Dumas.

The most familiar title is the 1934 "The Count of Monte Cristo," directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring the elegant Robert Donat as the unfortunate Edmond Dantes and Elissa Landi as the woman in his life. If revenge is a dish best served cold, this story takes the cake.

Almost as well known is 1939's "The Man in the Iron Mask," directed by James Whale, best known for "Frankenstein." Louis Hayward plays both the French King Louis XIV and his separated-at-birth twin, with Joan Bennett taking on Princess Maria Theresa.

The most recent of the trio is 1941's "The Corsican Brothers," starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in another tale involving twins. Veteran players Ruth Warrick, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carrol Naish, H.B. Warner and Henry Wilcoxon round out the cast, with Gregory Ratoff directing.

If you like action not of the swashbuckling variety, Hen's Tooth is also bringing out the 1936 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's classic "The Last of the Mohicans" with Randolph Scott doing the honors as the intrepid Hawkeye.

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Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and more on film

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


'The Island President,' a nail-biting doc: Kenneth Turan's pick

April 12, 2012 |  5:00 pm

Mohamed Nasheed in "The Island President"

"The Island President" is a powerful documentary focusing on Mohamed Nasheed, who until recently was the president of the Maldives, a nation of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean so low-lying that global warming is a clear and present danger.

Articulate, charismatic and heroic, Nasheed is an ideal documentary subject. Not only does he always say what's on his mind, but he granted the filmmakers access to the kinds of insider meetings and conversations that are usually strictly off-limits to the media.

Nasheed's efforts at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit are the heart of the film. Will the conference end with a crucial deal? The back and forth of late-night diplomatic meetings turns out to be as much of a nail-biter as a top-tier sporting event.

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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Mohamed Nasheed in the movie "The Island President." Credit: Lincoln Else / Samuel Goldwyn Films


'Footnote's' bravura filmmaking: Kenneth Turan's pick of the week

March 29, 2012 |  1:26 pm

The year is still young, but there may not be a smarter, more satisfying film in it than “Footnote.” Intensely specific in story yet universal in themes, with a tone that turns on a dime from comic absurdity to close to tragedy, this is brainy, bravura filmmaking of the highest level, a motion picture difficult to pigeonhole and a pleasure to enjoy.

The subject matter does sound unlikely: an implacable rivalry between two scholars of the Talmud, the complex key text of the Jewish religious tradition, staunch rivals who happen to be father and son.

But this, the fourth work by writer-director Joseph Cedar, Israel's most accomplished filmmaker, has not lacked for recognition. It took the best screenplay award at Cannes, won nine Israeli Oscars (including picture, script and direction for Cedar, plus a pair of acting awards) and, like Cedar's last film, 2007's very different "Beaufort," was one of the five nominees for the foreign-language Oscar.

See it and understand what all the fuss is about.

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Universal's classic films at 100

'Godzilla' and two more Japanese gems

Pola Negri, Jean Harlow, Jean Arthur on DVD

— Kenneth Turan


Universal's classic films at 100: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

March 29, 2012 |  9:07 am

Universal is more than just the home of a celebrated tour, it's been making movies for exactly 100 years.

In recognition of that fact, the studio has reissued some of its best films in a series of commemorative DVDs.

Modern pictures like "Out of Africa" and "The Deer Hunter" are part of the mix, but it's especially nice to see some older classics included.

Not to be missed are Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels," the director's defense of entertainment, and the top-notch screwball comedy "My Man Godfrey" starring Carole Lombard and William Powell.

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'Godzilla' and two more Japanese gems

Pola Negri, Jean Harlow, Jean Arthur on DVD

-- Kenneth Turan


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