24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Critics Choice

Judi Dench in 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel': Betsy Sharkey's pick

May 17, 2012 |  1:08 pm

British actress Judi Dench rarely makes a wrong move with any role she's given, a talent duly noted through the years whether she's being handed an Oscar for her turn in “Shakespeare in Love” or being nominated, as she has been five more times, for films as diverse in tone as “Notes on a Scandal” and “Chocolat.”

Still there is irony that one of her most nuanced performances comes now in the small summer surprise of director John Madden's “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” It's a lovely postcard to the possibilities of one's later years with a sprawling ensemble overflowing with other accomplished actors — Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy among them.

As a recent widow with staggering debts deciding to chuck Britain's expensive chill for India's sunny warmth and discount prices, Dench creates a new version of the classic coming-of-age arc. The woman she plays is many decades beyond the angst that more typically plagues adolescence.

But as she is wont to do, Dench finds a way to bring that journey to life in such originality and richness that when she's on screen it's impossible to look away, and when the film is over, she's impossible to forget.

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— Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic


Michael Mann's 'Heat': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

May 3, 2012 |  5:00 am

Heat

“Heat,” one of Michael Mann's most stylish cuts at crime, will be at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre on Friday night. It's worth noting because total darkness and a big screen are really requisites for experiencing the full effect of Mann’s meticulous visual artistry.

This 1995 drama, which he also wrote, is an early look at his fascination with the mood-setting possibilities of noir (“Collateral” would follow in 2004). “Heat” also marked the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro shared the screen, and their intensity fairly crackles in this tale of obsessions.

For Pacino's LAPD detective, it was catching bad guys; for De Niro's high-end thief, it was a heist gone wrong; for Mann, it was the director's unwillingness to give up on an idea he believed in. He spent roughly 10 years trying to get “Heat” made — the payoff was a critical and box office hit.

“Heat” was worth the wait, and worth a second look now, to appreciate what it took to create this masterful mix of dark shadows, close-ups, mood music and syncopated action — classic Mann.

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— Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Michael Mann's "Heat." Credit: Warner Bros.


'Titanic 3D' will convert you too: Betsy Sharkey's film pick

April 19, 2012 |  8:00 am

"Titanic 3D"
It may drive his crews crazy, but the fact that James Cameron is an infamous perfectionist pays off nicely in the conversion of his Oscar-winning 1997 blockbuster “Titanic” into 3-D.

The filmmaker did more than test the technology-roiled waters with “Avatar” in 2009, when he rewrote the navigation chart with a rich dimensionality that was groundbreaking. But what happens when the director re-imagines the past with the aid of the new tools?

All good things.

“Titanic” was gorgeous when it landed 15 years ago, but watching it set sail in 3-D is breathtaking. Just as satisfying as the brilliant new colors and a ship that seems at times suspended in the air is watching Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet falling in love again -- passion and heartbreak are better in 3-D too.

The technology, and the choices Cameron and his team make on when and where to employ it, allows certain moments to completely overtake the senses. The iconic shot of the windblown young lovers on the prow of the ship feels close enough to touch.

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-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo caption: Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as ill-fated young lovers in "Titanic 3D." Credit: Paramount Pictures.


'Casablanca,' 'A Trip to the Moon': Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

April 11, 2012 |  7:14 pm

"A Trip to the Moon" and "Casablanca," two films beloved of movie fans everywhere, are now available in striking new DVD packaging.

Easily the oldest of the two is Georges Melies' 1902 "A Trip to the Moon." Perhaps the most popular of the early black-and-white silent films, it also existed in a rare and little-known hand-colorized version that only heroic restoration efforts have brought back to life. It's available through Flicker Alley in a nifty SteelBook Edition.

Few sound films are as beloved as the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman "Casablanca," and in honor of its 70th anniversary, Warner Bros. has pulled out all the stops with a new boxed edition that includes 14 hours of bonus content and some drink coasters that enable you to turn your own house into a replica of Rick's.

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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


'King Kong,' the 1933 original: Betsy Sharkey's film pick

April 5, 2012 |  7:00 am

“King Kong,” the original 1933 Fay Wray version -- as opposed to the 1976 revise with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange or Peter Jackson’s 2005 homage starring Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts -- is a classic for all kinds of reasons.

Let's start with the remarkable, for the time, creature features: pioneering stop-motion animation; a story that captured not only a giant gorilla, but so many of the nation's rising fears; an unforgettable performance by Wray; an improbable and improbably moving love story. And that’s just the tip of the Empire State Building, which the film made truly, and terrifyingly, iconic.

Unfortunately, the movie has become a small-screen/late-night experience for most people, rarely making its way into theaters, which makes the American Cinematheque’s 7:30 p.m. Sunday showing at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood such a rare treat. For to really see “King Kong,” you need the dark theater, the gasps of those around you, the big screen for Kong to fill with his rages and roars against the machine.

And Wray -- her vulnerability, her fear, her empathy in perfect counterpoint -- is an iridescent beauty that breaks hearts indiscriminately, of those who watch her and the beast who loved her.

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-– Betsy Sharkey


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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-- Kenneth Turan


'Rules of the Game,' 'Casque d'Or' at LACMA: Kenneth Turan's picks

March 1, 2012 |  8:00 am

Casque d'Or
Now that film exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been pared down to a minimum, thank God for the good taste of artist Ellsworth Kelly, who has been allowed to curate a small French film series that includes two exceptional works that happen to be personal favorites, Jean Renoir's “The Rules of the Game” and Jacques Becker's masterful, little-seen “Casque d'Or.”

While Renoir's transcendent 1939 film is on many all-time-best lists, Becker, who was Renoir's assistant director on “Rules of the Game,” had powerful gifts of his own.

“Casque d'Or” is a brilliantly fatalistic romance set in belle époque Paris that captivates both visually and dramatically. Its title, literally “helmet of gold,” refers to the cascading hair of star Simone Signoret in a performance so riveting that the French put it on a stamp.

Both films screen March 9 at LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. “Games” is up first at 7:30 p.m., with “Casque” following at 9:30 p.m.

At $10 for the double bill, you won't find a better film bargain in town.

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-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Simone Signoret, left, and Claude Dauphin in Jacques Becker's "Casque d'Or." Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art


'Godzilla' and two more Japanese gems: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

February 29, 2012 |  6:02 pm

Three films from three different eras of Japanese cinematic history -- "United Red Army," "Three Outlaw Samurai" and "Godzilla" -- have been the beneficiaries of recent DVD releases.

The most recent, 2007's "United Red Army," is a dramatic film, directed by Koji Wakamatsu, but based on real events -- the activities of militant student activists in the 1960s.

The most entertaining of the bunch might be Hideo Gosha's 1964 "Three Outlaw Samurai," an unapologetic sword-fighting film that is an origin story inspired by a popular Japanese television series.

The most celebrated of the three is "Godzilla," the uber-monster film that called forth almost 30 sequels. The comprehensive Criterion release features both the original all-Japanese 1954 epic as well as the Americanized version with actor Raymond Burr added to the mix.

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-- Kenneth Turan


Oscar contender 'A Separation': Betsy Sharkey's pick of the week

February 23, 2012 |  5:00 am

There are endless reasons to make time to see “A Separation,” Iran's entry in the foreign language film category, other than to boost your odds in the Oscar pool, though you will.

It is one of those rare films in which literally everything fits together seamlessly, beautifully, to create a rich tapestry of a family that, despite living in modern-day Tehran, will feel remarkably familiar.

Writer-director Asghar Farhadi's tale is of a marriage fracturing under the strains of impossible choices -- do husband (Peyman Moadi) and wife (Leila Hatami) leave their country to make a better life for their daughter or do they stay to care for an aging parent with Alzheimer's? The answer divides them, but it is the ripple effect of their decision that is so wrenching, so artfully told, so remarkably acted.

It is virtually impossible not to be deeply moved by this powerful film. It is impossible not to be struck by the fact that while wars, religion, politics may divide us, when it comes to matters of the heart, the experience is universal.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic


'Chronicle': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

February 8, 2012 |  6:09 pm

 

For the half of you who opted for the Daniel Radcliffe scary movie “The Woman in Black” last weekend, please put the low-tech but highly entertaining “Chronicle” on your to-do list (they pretty much split the box office).

It's about three teens who fall into a hole and come out with superpowers. But, the film wonders, will they use them for good or evil? That might sound like something you've seen before, but you haven't, or at least not as director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis envision it — as a very cool, very raw video diary.

It's the found-footage idea put through a blender. The three teenagers are a good crew, anchored by talented Dane DeHaan playing the resident nerd.

Since the other guys were already high-school cool, he's the one with issues to sort out. The result is a high-flying ride, and not just because the teens can levitate. If nothing else it will leave you wondering what filmmakers and cast alike are going to do next.

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-– Betsy Sharkey


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