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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Kenneth Turan

'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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-- Kenneth Turan


Widescreen silent 1927 epic 'Napoleon' to be shown in Oakland

March 19, 2012 |  4:48 pm

Albert Dieudonné  in the title role of Abel Gance's "Napoleon"

Like the great man himself, returning in triumph from exile in Elba, the legendary 1927 silent motion picture “Napoleon” is coming back. But it's not returning to New York, the site of its previous success in 1981 — instead, it will make landfall right here in the great state of California.

For four performances only — March 24, 25 and 31 and April 1 — the most complete version of Abel Gance's masterpiece, now clocking in at a staggering 5 1/2 hours, will screen at one of the most venerable American movie palaces, the Paramount in Oakland. (The 1981 showing at Radio City Music Hall ran a considerably shorter four hours.)

The event is being sponsored by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which will celebrate its 17th year this July, but “Napoleon” will not be showing in San Francisco because no theater there is big enough to encompass one of the prime innovations of the Gance film.

That would be a widescreen format known as Polyvision, which involves expanding the screen to three times its normal width. The cost and difficulty involved in this has meant that no other American cities are going to be showing this version of “Napoleon,” and similar obstacles mean no DVD or Blu-ray release is being considered either.

Opened in 1931 and restored to its original Art Deco splendor in 1972, the Paramount not only has 3,000 seats but also the space to accommodate the 46-member Oakland East Bay Symphony that will play the wall-to-wall music written and conducted by Carl Davis.

The man behind all this is film historian Kevin Brownlow, who has been working on finding and assembling all the pieces of “Napoleon” for decades and received an honorary Academy Award in 2011 for his lifetime achievements in preservation and film scholarship.

Performances will start at 1:30 p.m. and include three intermissions, one being a generous dinner break. Tickets are $45 to $120. If you are hungry for the best silent cinema has to offer, this is the place.

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-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Albert Dieudonné  in the title role of Abel Gance's "Napoleon." The San Francisco Silent Film Festival will present the 1927 legendary silent epic  in its complete restoration by Kevin Brownlow, in four special screenings at Oakland's Paramount Theatre on March 24, 25 and 31 and April 1. Credit: Photoplay Productions
 


'The Clock' clicks at LACMA: Kenneth Turan's film pick

March 15, 2012 |  8:30 am

A scene from "The Clock"

“The Clock” is coming back.

A collage of clips created as an art installation by Christian Marclay from thousands of films, foreign and domestic, silent and sound, with some TV shows thrown into the mix, “The Clock” is structured minute by minute around a 24-hour time cycle.

This may sound like a trivialization of the cinematic experience, but the reality is quite intoxicating. As with the Eagles' "Hotel California," you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art owns “The Clock” and periodically puts it on display.

The next free, 24-hour screening at the spacious Bing Theatre begins at noon March 24 through noon March 25. Even seeing a fraction of it will expand your mind.

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Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' starts ticking at LACMA today

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: A detail from Christian Marclay's "The Clock." Credit: Todd-White Art Photography


Pola Negri, Jean Harlow, Jean Arthur: Kenneth Turan's DVD picks

March 14, 2012 |  5:15 pm

New boxed sets look at the careers of Pola Negri, Jean Harlow and Jean Arthur -- three actresses who deserve to be better known.

From the silent era, we have Negri, a European-born sensation who predated Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. "Pola Negri: The Iconic Collection 'The Early Films' " presents a quartet of her starring roles, including the celebrated "The Yellow Ticket" and the wonderfully named "Eyes of the Mummy Ma."

Harlow is better known, but many of her films remain unseen. A Warner Archives 100th anniversary boxed set presents seven of them, including the sharp and satiric "Bombshell," one of the classic inside Hollywood productions.

Finally, TCM's "Jean Arthur" vault collection allows us to see the comedies this fine actress was turning out before her films with Frank Capra, like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

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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


'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.

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Buster Keaton's classic films return

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'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.

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-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic


Slamdance 2012: 'Buffalo Girls' director fought for Thai boxing doc

January 26, 2012 |  2:02 pm

 

A scene from "Buffalo Girls."

The first time filmmaker Todd Kellstein saw Thai children boxing — two 8-year-old girls with gloves on in the ring in a rural corner of Thailand — “I thought it was horrible child abuse. I wanted to make a film that would create awareness and make it end.”

 

Now, after spending three years on a project he thought would take him 10 months, Kellstein, whose unexpected and fascinating documentary “Buffalo Girls” had its debut at the Slamdance Film Festival, sees things differently.

“It’s really not our business to say what people in other cultures should or shouldn’t do,” he says now. “In the U.S., people are adamant that it has to stop, but that’s not really the point. I tried to make a film that found a balance.”

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

“Buffalo Girls” took as long as it did to make partially because it took a full six months for Kellstein to gain the trust of Pet and Stam, the two girls who are the center of the film, as well as their families. “Pet’s dad thought I was working for the other side, spying on her training methods,” he says. “They didn’t understand why people would want to watch them in a film."

Kellstein’s film background was in music videos, working with acts such as Bon Jovi, but he was looking for something else here. “I wanted this to be not slick, to be on the ground, me alone, with no crew,” he explains. “If I landed in these small villages with a soundman and a crew, it would have been like a Martian landing. I intentionally used the smallest, cheapest digital video camera I could find."

Right from the get-go, Kellstein started to learn the dynamics driving young girls and boys, estimated at 30,000 total, to engage not in classic American boxing, but in muay Thai, a mixed martial arts discipline that is said to be 700 years old.

"I asked a little girl, through a translator, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing, why are you doing this?’” he reports, “and she looked up at me like the biggest idiot on the planet and said, ‘Money.’”

For in a terribly poor country, where the sex trade is an option often taken to escape grinding poverty, boxing, the filmmaker says, is an opportunity to earn essential money.

“These kids are so happy, so full of joy, and they’re full of pride at doing something that contributes to the family, that can help them buy a house,” Kellstein says. The director acknowledges that the long-term physical effects of these fights are not known, but insists that having girls involved is “a huge gender coup. Thai women are very submissive, very quiet. This is unheard of in Thai culture.”

When Kellstein returned from Thailand and told his producers about his thinking, they were aghast. “They said, ‘You can’t say its OK.’ I got into a real argument with the guy who designed our poster; this was really chancey, dangerous material to get into.”

Gradually, a film that presents both sides of the issue and asks the viewer to decide took shape.

Interested in Buddhism before his time spent in Thailand, Kellstein has a quote from the celebrated teacher Milarepa tattooed near his right hand, a quote that seems in some way to speak to the film he’s made:

“Whatever is experienced will fade to a memory. Everything that is seen will not be seen again.”

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— Kenneth Turan in Park City, Utah

Photo: A scene from "Buffalo Girls." Credit: Courtesy of Todd Kellstein


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