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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Critics Choice

'The Big Combo,' 'Pitfall' on Broadway: Kenneth Turan's film pick

February 2, 2012 | 11:44 am

The Big Combo

The UCLA Film & Television Archive has taken to showing premium films at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles, and the film noir double bill scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 is one of the best.

Top-billed is Joseph Lewis' classic "The Big Combo," with Cornel Wilde as a relentless cop, Richard Conte as a pitiless crime lord and Jean Wallace as the girl caught in the middle. The big, dark shadows in this film will eat you alive.

Also showing is Andre de Toth's "Pitfall," starring Dick Powell as a married insurance agent (shades of "Double Indemnity") who finds the definitely unmarried Lizabeth Scott awfully hard to resist.

It's a chance to see a pair of great films in a great venue, a circa 1918 theater built by the one and only Sid Grauman.

Other cities would kill for the great old theaters remaining on Broadway, and we should patronize them whenever possible.

Million Dollar Theater, 307 S. Broadway, downtown L.A.

ALSO:

Buster Keaton's classic films return

Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead on DVD

'The Artist,' despite slams, deserves Oscar front-runner status

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Richard Conte and Jean Wallace in "The Big Combo." Credit: UCLA Film & Television Archive


Buster Keaton's classic films return: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

February 1, 2012 |  5:27 pm

 

New DVD releases allow viewers to look at all aspects of Buster Keaton's filmmaking career, even the lesser-known ones.

Two-reel short films are where Keaton honed his craft, and "Buster Keaton -- The Short Films Collection" from Kino presents all 19 of his solo shorts, created between 1920 and 1923.

Keaton's silent features are considered the peak of his career, and Kino has just released one of the best, 1925's "Seven Chances," where Keaton is under a deadline to get married if he wants to inherit $7 million. The climactic chase scene is a classic.

Keaton lost his independence as a filmmaker when sound came in, and the early talkies he did for MGM are the least seen of all his films. Until now. The hard-working folks at Warner Archives have released three of them: "Doughboys," "Sidewalks of New York" and "What! No Beer?." See them and decide for yourself.

RELATED:

Laurel & Hardy and Ernie Kovacs on DVD

'The Artist,' despite slams, deserves Oscar front-runner status

Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and more: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


DGA names 'The Artist's' Michel Hazanavicius best director

January 28, 2012 | 11:17 pm

Scorsese payne hazanavicius fincher dga

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

The Directors Guild of America on Saturday evening named Michel Hazanavicius best film director of 2011 for “The Artist,” the nostalgic black-and-white, nearly silent movie that hearkens back to the time of transition in Hollywood from silents to talkies. It is the first guild win for the 44-year-old French filmmaker.

"It's maybe the highest recognition I could hope. I really love directors, I over-respect directors. This is very moving and touching to me," he said, receiving a standing ovation. "Best director -- I really don't know what that means. All movies are different, so it's a strange thing to try to compare them and say which is best, but I'm very happy to get this. Thank you."

The other nominees were Martin Scorsese ("Hugo"), Woody Allen ("Midnight in Paris"), David Fincher ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") and Alexander Payne ("The Descendants").

PHOTOS: Directors Guild of America Awards

The DGA feature film awards are considered one of the most dependable bellwethers for the Academy Awards for best director. Over the past 63 years, the DGA and academy have disagreed on their choices only six times. The last time was nine years ago when Rob Marshall won the DGA award for “Chicago” and Roman Polanski was named best director by the academy for “The Pianist.”

Hazanavicius had already been named best director by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Critics Choice Movie Awards. He was in contention for a Golden Globe and is nominated for a BAFTA and Independent Spirit Award for best director.

Last week, “The Artist” won the Producers Guild of America award, which is one of the indicators for the best film Oscar. On Tuesday, “The Artist” earned 10 Oscar nominations, one less than the top nominee “Hugo.” Hazanavicius is up for three of those Oscars for director, screenplay and editing.

The 64th annual DGA Awards were held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland. Recent Golden Globe winner Kelsey Grammer was the host of the evening, succeeding Carl Reiner, who had become an institution at the event, hosting 24 times. Reiner agreed to host for a final time at the 2011 ceremony.

"Welcome to what will be a glorious night....for some of you. Last year we celebrated the DGA awards of biblical length -- it was so long, the Mayans could not predict an end," he said. "The director's cut was two hours shorter. Even James Cameron said, 'it was too long.'"

Before being named the night's big winner, Hazanavicius was presented with his nominee medallion by his two stars, Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin. Upon taking it, he said: "It's a thrill to be here and to be among these wonderful directors. I'm honored," he said in accepting the medallion. "Maybe you haven't noticed but I'm French. I have an accent and I have a name that is very difficult to pronounce. I'm not American and I'm not French, actually. I'm a filmmaker. And I made a film about my love for Hollywood. We create stories that tell people they are not alone. We separate life from shadows. Hollywood helped me grow up. I believed in values like courage, perseverance and integrity."

"I made this film as a love letter to Hollywood. I feel like I am being accepted by you -- not you as Americans but as filmmakers. So thank you." And he added:  "For my wife Berenice, I'm so glad we shared this together and I love you."

The guild gave James Marsh the award for feature documentary for "Project Nim."

The DGA award for best directing in a TV comedy series went to Robert B. Weide, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" ("Palestinian Chicken").

In accepting, Weide said: "I have very mixed feelings about this because this means that I just lost a $300 bet to my wife, Linda. Why do they call this a medallion? It's a plate. I understand when you go to Don Mischer's house for dinner, you actually eat off of these."

Other awards handed out Saturday night:

Movies for Television and Mini-series: Jon Cassar, "The Kennedys"

Dramatic TV series: Patty Jenkins, for the pilot of "The Killing"

Musical variety TV: Glenn Weiss, for the 65th annual Tony Awards 

Reality TV programs: Neil P. Degroot, for "Biggest Loser"

Daytime TV serials: William Ludell, for "General Hospital" ("Intervention")

Children’s programs: Amy Schatz, for "A Child's Garden of Poetry" 

Commercials: Noam Murro

Three special awards were also presented. Ed Sherin was named an Honorary Life Member; Katy Garretson received the Frank Capra Achievement Award; and Dennis Mazzocco recieved the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award.

[For the record, 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of "Project Nim" director James Marsh as March.]

RELATED:

Oscar nominations: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese top list for best director

Oscar nominations: Who's been hottest so far this awards season?

'The Descendants' expands rapdily, 'The Artist' slowly

-- Jasmine Elist and Susan King

Photo: Directors Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Michel Hazanavicius and David Fincher attend the 64th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards Meet the Nominees Breakfast held at the DGA on Saturday.Credit: Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA 

  


'Coriolanus,' 'We Need to Talk About Kevin': Betsy Sharkey's picks

January 25, 2012 |  5:50 pm

 

"Coriolanus" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- two exceptional dramas that dropped in briefly in December to qualify for Oscar consideration -- are back in theaters for their real run. And they are certainly worth your consideration as well.

On the one hand there is "Coriolanus," Ralph Fiennes’ modern-day take on Shakespeare’s great war story with its brash mix of fighting, politics, economics and clashing egos.

Fiennes has proven to be as superb a director as an actor; he does both in "Coriolanus." With a talent-packed cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler and Jessica Chastain and a truly exceptional Brian Cox, it’s a sprawling story filled with big ideas and bigger action, and definitely worth the big screen.

On a more intimate level, there is the tragedy of Greek proportions with its family betrayals and loyalties stretched to the breaking point in "We Need to Talk About Kevin." It features yet another searing performance by Tilda Swinton, one of the top actresses working in the field today, and a fine job by the talented teenager Ezra Miller.

They play mother and son in this dark, stark disaster. Saturated with despair, it is not easy watching, but it couldn’t be more affecting. Sometimes you just have to let a film break your heart.

RELATED:

Betsy Sharkey's best film picks of 2011

The thrill of 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo': Wow

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic


'We Need to Talk About Kevin': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

January 19, 2012 |  8:30 am

Tilda Swinton and Rocky Duer in We Need to Talk About Kevin

Returning to theaters after its Academy qualifying run, "We Need To Talk About Kevin" is well worth catching up to. It's about a nightmare on your street, not Elm Street. It's a domestic horror story that literally gets to us where we live, a disturbing tale told with uncompromising emotionality and great skill by filmmaker Lynne Ramsay.

Working from Lionel Shriver's celebrated novel, Ramsay and her equally unflinching star, the mesmerizing Tilda Swinton, present a troubling, challenging examination of what Ramsay, speaking at Cannes, called "one of the last taboo subjects: You're meant to instantly love your baby from the moment he's born, but what if you don't?" And what if that baby grows into someone terrifying?

What holds us in the film, besides Ramsay's skill, is Swinton's fearless, ferocious performance as someone not only trying to come to terms with an endless nightmare but also agonizing over what part she might have had in its creation.

The Oscar-winning Swinton's gifts are of course no secret, but this is a special performance, even for her.

RELATED:

Review: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

'A Separation': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

Tilda Swinton, Lynne Ramsay birth a nightmare called 'Kevin'

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Tilda Swinton and Rocky Duer in a scene from "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Credit: Nicole Rivelli / Oscilloscope Laboratories


Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and more: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

January 18, 2012 |  4:00 pm

DVDs are not just for stories, they can capture and convey all manner of musical performance.

"The Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan Show," for instance, does just what it promises, delivering all six of the Stones' appearances on that classic 1960s TV variety show alongside everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Senor Wences.

"The Grateful Dead Movie" is the first Blu-ray appearance of that 1970s concert film, along with a DVD disc of bonus concert footage.

Most eccentric of all is "Aki Kaurismaki's Leningrad Cowboys," a collection of all three Kaurismaki films about the wacky rock band the Leningrad Cowboys, including "The Total Balailaika Show," featuring the Cowboys performing before 70,000 outdoor Helsinki fans along with the Red Army Chorus. Really.

RELATED:

'A Separation': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

Laurel & Hardy and Ernie Kovacs: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

More from Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan on 24 Frames

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

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'The Artist' is the big winner at Critics' Choice Movie Awards

January 12, 2012 |  7:10 pm

Artist
The silent was golden Thursday evening at the 17th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards presented by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. with the black-and-white ode to silent film "The Artist" winning best picture, best director for Michel Hazanavicius, as well as best costume design and best score.

The awards were held at the Hollywood Palladium and telecast on cable channel VH1.

George Clooney won best actor for "The Descendants" and Viola Davis earned best actress for "The Help."

PHOTOS: Critics' Choice Movie Awards - Best and worst

Supporting actor went to 82-year-old Christopher Plummer for "Beginners," and Octavia Spencer was won the supporting actress award for "The Help." The cast of "The Help" also won best ensemble. Thomas Horn was named best young actor/actress for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."

Woody Allen won original screenplay honors for "Midnight in Paris," and Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin — with Stan Chervin for his story — won best adapted screenplay for "Moneyball."

There was a tie in the cinematography category, with Emmanuel Lubezki ("The Tree of Life") and Janusz Kaminski ("War Horse") splitting the honors.

Dante Ferretti won best art direction for "Hugo," and Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won for editing for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

PHOTOS: Critics' Choice Movie Awards - Winners and reactions

"Rango" took home best animated feature, and "Drive" won best action movie. Best comedy honors went to "Bridesmaids," and "A Separation" earned best foreign-language film. "George Harrison: Living in the Material World," directed by Martin Scorsese, won best documentary feature.

"Life's a Happy Song," from "The Muppets," earned best song. Other technical honors went to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2," for make-up and sound, with "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" picking up best visual effects.

The Joel Siegel Award went to Sean Penn for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of Haiti, and the Critics' Choice Music + Film Award went to Martin Scorsese.

RELATED:

PHOTOS: Critics' Choice Movie Awards - Red carpet arrivals

New York Film critics name 'The Artist' best of the year

— Susan King

Photo: "The Artist" wins best picture and three other Critics' Choice Movie Awards. Credit: The Weinstein Co.


'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo': Betsy Sharkey's film pick

January 12, 2012 |  8:30 am

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's" Lisbeth Salander, the pierced-punk-hacker-tracker with a post-modern grudge in need of settling, has fascinated me from the first time I waded through the priceless pulpy viscera of the late Stieg Larsson’s books.

In 2009, when the Swedish films came along and the excellent Noomi Rapace brought her to searing life, I couldn’t imagine another Lisbeth. Ah, but never underestimate the power of director David Fincher to bring polish and panache to the party, which he has done to exhilarating and harrowing effect in this season’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

Actress Rooney Mara, haunted and hard, has given Lisbeth a new range of repressed emotions I didn't think possible. Meanwhile, Steven Zaillian’s excellent script has nicely bulked up Daniel Craig’s role -– significant in the book, downsized in the Swedish films.

With Fincher's deft touch, cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth’s stealth and speed set to chilling, thrilling music from composer Atticus Ross and Nine Inch Nails genius Trent Reznor (the three were part of Fincher's "The Social Network" success last year), it all works to keep Lisbeth’s world spinning darkly, violently, madly, wildly. Wow.

RELATED:

Betsy Sharkey's best film picks of 2011

More from Betsy Sharkey on 24 Frames

Review: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Rooney Mara, left, and Daniel Craig in David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Columbia Pictures


'A Separation': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

January 5, 2012 |  1:56 pm

Leila Hatami, left, and Peyman Moadi star in "A Separation," Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week
Don't wait too long to see "A Separation," an exceptional film from Iran. If you care enough about foreign language films to have heard about this particular gem, don't hold back until all your friends have told you how good it is and put a crimp in your pleasure.

Instead, see it now and relish a thrilling domestic drama that offers acute insights into human motivations and behavior as well as a glimpse behind the curtain separating us from daily life in that country's capital city of Tehran.

Imagine Alfred Hitchcock's intricate attention to plot joined to the devastating emotional impact of Ingmar Bergman: The result is exhilerating enough to be the first foreign language film to win the L.A. Film Critics'  screenplay nod. Go to Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles and see exactly why.

RELATED:

Movie review: "A Separation"

Laurel & Hardy and Ernie Kovacs: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

More from Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan on 24 Frames

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Leila Hatami, left, and Peyman Moadi star in "A Separation." Credit: Habib Madjid / Associated Press/Sony Pictures Classics


Laurel & Hardy and Ernie Kovacs: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

January 4, 2012 |  2:50 pm

 

Genuine humor is hard to come by these days, so it's a good thing that some of the funniest people of the past are reappearing on DVD collections.

"Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection" is just that: a 10-disc set containing for the first time all the films this dynamic duo made for producer Hal Roach between 1929 and 1940. "The Music Box," famously shot on those Silver Lake stairs, is naturally included.

"The Ernie Kovacs Collection" is a six-disc set covering the marvelous work the great television comic did between 1951 and 1962. As someone once said, he broke rules that hadn't even been made yet.

Enjoy.

RELATED:

Kenneth Turan's best films of 2011

'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,' 'Tintin': Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

Harry Potter complete 8-film collection: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


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