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Category: May 2012

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Academy chooses architects for its movie museum project at LACMA

May 30, 2012 | 10:40 am

Lacma may academy museum

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has picked Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali as the architects charged with transforming the old May Co. building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue into the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The Italian-born Piano, who was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1998, is behind the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Central St. Giles Court in London, and the headquarters of the New York Times. Piano also designed the expansion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he began working on in 2003.

The building that will house the film museum sits next to, and is owned by, LACMA.

Pali, a Los Angeles native, has been responsible for the restorations of Los Angeles' Greek Theatre, the Gibson Amphitheatre and the Pantages Theatre. He worked on the renovation and expansion of the Getty Villa museum and is designing the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which will open in fall 2013.

"Renzo's track record of creating iconic cultural landmarks combined with Zoltan's success in transforming historically significant buildings is a perfect marriage for a museum that celebrates the history and future of the movies," said Dawn Hudson, the academy's chief executive.

[Updated 11:54 a.m., May 30:  Hudson, in a conference call with the duo, said the organization chose them because "we actually responded to and fell in love with both architects." The architects spoke from Genoa, Italy, where they are already working on plans for the L.A. site. 

Pali and Piano have never worked together but have known each other for a long time. "Obviously, Renzo is a hero for me," Pali said. "It's an incredible honor to team up with his team."

Both men intend to work closely together on the project's interior design. "The idea is that we don't divide the work," Piano said. "Creativity has no limit, no boundaries."

Hudson added that she and the museum committee, which includes some academy governors, current President Tom Sherak and former President Sid Ganis, still need to hire a firm to design the specific exhibits.

The academy is currently in the "silent phase" of its fundraising. It plans to open the museum in late 2015, early 2016.]


Ruby slippers find a new home at movie academy

Academy aligns with LACMA to create a movie museum

Academy creates two new posts to manage film museum project

-- Nicole Sperling and Susan King

Photo: The old May Co. building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue is to be transformed into the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Box Office: 'Men in Black 3' blasts away competition [Video]

May 29, 2012 |  2:02 pm

Men in Black 3 grossed 70 million dollars at the box office this weekend
After four weeks atop the box office, "The Avengers" finally had to settle for the runner-up position.

"Men in Black 3" dethroned the superhero flick, raking in $70 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend. The movie ended up grossing around $203 million worldwide by weekend's end -- roughly $50 million less than industry projections had indicated the film would debut with.

Meanwhile, the low-budget horror flick "Chernobyl Diaries" had a dismal opening, collecting a weak $9.3 million. To make matters worse, the few moviegoers who saw the film hated it, assigning it an average grade of D+, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

There were some success stories in the independent film world, however. Both Wes Anderson's 1960s-set quirky dramedy "Moonrise Kingdom" and the French foreign-language film "The Intouchables" performed well in limited release.

For more on this week's hits and misses at the multiplex, check out our latest box office video report.


'Men' fights well but misses a prediction

'Men in Black 3' was no easy sequel to make

'Moonrise Kingdom' sets per-screen-average box office record

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Will Smith stars in "Men in Black 3." Credit: Sony Pictures

'G.I. Joe's' move to 2013: A curse or blessing in disguise?

May 29, 2012 | 10:50 am

Scene from "G.I. Joe" film

Hollywood was all aflutter late last week over the news that Paramount had done the unthinkable — it had delayed the release of its big summer film “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” just five weeks before it was due to reach theaters. The studio said it was pushing the release back to next March so the film could be converted to 3-D.

Judging from the buzz on Twitter and reaction from industry insiders, no one was buying that explanation. The consensus? Paramount must have decided that it didn’t have the goods to go up against so much stiff summer superhero competition. Surely the film must be a dog.

The Big PictureAfter all, when studios bail on a release date, it’s usually a sign of something being amiss. Paramount had already spent millions on marketing and promotion touting the film’s launch, including a costly buy for a Super Bowl commercial. The “G.I. Joe” trailer was already playing in theaters. Billboards were up around town. As one top studio executive told me, with obvious relish: “Look on the bright side. Paramount could be the first studio ever to run a spot for the same movie on two Super Bowls in a row.”

From the standpoint of conventional wisdom, surely someone hit the panic button. Look at Marvel Studios: It locks in its release dates years in advance, often long before anyone has started to shoot the movie or even finished the script. For years, this has been the calculus for summer behemoths: Plant your flag on an attractive release date and work backward from that.

It makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re a showbiz brand manager who views your movie as an industrial assembly-line product. In pop music, an artist can sense something in the air, slip into their backyard studio and get a record out into the world in months, sometimes weeks. TV shows deal with zeitgeist issues all the time.

But Hollywood, especially when it comes to reacting to the marketplace, rumbles at the pace of a 2-ton dinosaur. Studios have so many merchandising tie-in deals and carefully orchestrated promotional windows that once a movie’s release date is set, it’s almost impossible to shift gears.

Studios are also prisoners of a risk-averse mind-set that has clogged the machinery of the business, stifling almost anything that resembles innovative thinking. This is especially true of studio release dates, which often seem to be chosen by a distribution chief who’s been in closed-door consultations with a palm reader. If a film does well on a specific date, as “The Dark Knight” did when it came out on the third Friday in July 2008, you can bet that its sequel, this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” will also show up in theaters on the third Friday in July.

Perhaps because Paramount doesn’t have the same deep pockets as most of its studio rivals, it has been open to less traditional kinds of decision making. The studio spends less of its own money bankrolling movies than any other major distributor, but it has been especially canny about getting the most bang for its buck from its releases, one reason why it was the industry’s market share leader in 2011.

Paramount’s business has been booming overseas, in large part because of recent 3-D releases like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Thor.” It was an obvious motivation for giving “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” a 3-D makeover. With audiences in Russia, Korea, Brazil and Japan flocking to see 3-D films, studios believe that a good film can easily enjoy a 25% to 30% boost in its box office if it is distributed in 3-D. With digitally-equipped theater expansion unfolding at a breakneck pace, there will be even more potential ticket sales available by the time “G.I. Joe” debuts.

But to hear insiders at Paramount tell it, the studio was also reacting to events that had occurred in the marketplace since “G.I. Joe” went into production last summer. In fact, executives at every studio in town have been losing sleep in the last several months, trying to make sense of a series of major seismic shocks to their traditional business model.

Over the past 80 days, the industry has been rocked by the release of two huge flops — Disney’s “John Carter” and Universal’s “Battleship.” Each lost many millions, $200 million in the case of “Carter.” At the same time, the industry has spawned two gigantic hits, Disney’s “The Avengers” and Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games,” which are setting box-office records all around the globe.

As one veteran studio executive put it: “It’s great to have the big hits, but when you have two huge films that tank like that, it’s not a fluke — it’s a very unsettling development. It proves that there’s no floor anymore. You can spend an unbelievable amount of marketing dollars and still not even open your movie.”

For Paramount, the biggest lesson from this upheaval is that it couldn’t stand pat with “G.I. Joe.” The studio claims that when it greenlighted the film, it was so rushed that it couldn’t be in 3-D and still meet its summer release date. That now looks like a blunder. By delaying the film, the studio will eat a lot of marketing dollars, as well as spending more money on a 3-D conversion. But with the film in the hands of Jon Chu, a young filmmaker who’s already fluent in the technology, having made two 3-D movies already, the studio believes that a 3-D version of the film would be seen as more of an event internationally.

The studio also isn’t so hung up on leaving June 29 behind. In recent years, a host of films have done summer-like business in March, most recently “The Hunger Games,” which had one of the largest opening weekends ever from its March 23 launching pad this year. Ditto for “Alice in Wonderland,” also released in March, which out-grossed every 2010 release besides “Toy Story 3.”

No one’s saying that “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” will end up being a bigger hit next March than it would’ve been this June. But it is a sign that Paramount isn’t wearing blinders. With two giant action movies having recently capsized, despite huge marketing pushes from their studios, it’s time to realize that if you don’t have the goods, you can’t buy your way to success.


Stale looking 'That's My Boy': Raunchy risk for Adam Sandler?

'G.I. Joe': Top Ten reasons Paramount bumped it from summer

Will 'Think Like a Man' put director Tim Story on Hollywood A-list?

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Adrianne Palicki and Bruce Willis in a scene from the upcoming film "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Credit: Jaimie Trueblood / Paramount Pictures.

Cannes 2012: Festival offers only small hints of Oscar season

May 28, 2012 |  5:00 am

Michael Haneke's "Amour" is one of the films that emerged from the Cannes Film Festival with Oscar heat

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

CANNES, France -- As the world's most prestigious film festival drew to a close Sunday, the 2012 awards picture remains nearly as much of a mystery as it was when Cannes began.

In contrast to 2011, when films such as "The Artist" and "The Tree of Life" established themselves as best-picture contenders on the Croisette, this year's edition of the festival offered only small hints of the season to come.

Gaining the biggest foothold -- and offering the most intriguing questions -- was "Amour," Michael Haneke's examination of an elderly man who must care for his wife after she becomes the victim of a stroke.

PHOTOS: Cannes 2012

Sony Pictures Classics plans to release the movie this year and would be justified in holding hopes for major Oscar consideration. The French-language film garnered critical raves and standing ovations here, and on Sunday capped off its magic run by winning the Palme d'Or, Cannes' top prize. The movie tells a universally human story and centers on older people, which some pundits believe is an advantage with Oscar voters.

But a place in the best-picture hunt is far from a sure thing. Foreign-language titles are a tough sell to the entirety of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the top prize. Indeed, Haneke's last film, the German-language period drama "The White Ribbon," won the Palme d’Or as well but was only nominated in the Oscar foreign-language category and didn’t win.

"Amour" could well score acting nominations for its two leads, the octogenarians Jean-Louis Tringitgnant and Emanuelle Riva. Holding almost iconic status in France, the elderly actors return to the screen for the first time in years, giving raved-about performances and offering a compelling back story that rivals anything in "The Artist" (and just as many spelling challenges).

A number of other actors established themselves as contenders at Cannes. The events of the last 12 days made it clear we should probably keep an eye out for Garrett Hedlund, who plays Dean Moriarty in "On the Road," as he takes a significant leap from his "Tron" days. "No" star Gael Garcia Bernal could also be in the conversation as an advertising executive called on to run a political campaign against Augusto Pinochet in 1980s Chile (the Spanish-language film also has a strong shot at a foreign-language Oscar nomination).

The X factor on the actor side is Matthew McConaughey, who dazzled as an enigmatic homeless man in Jeff Nichols' well-received "Mud." But the film will need to score a U.S. distribution deal first.

The festival was useful at helping awards watchers cross a few movies off their list -- at least in pencil. Although it's very early and things could yet turn around, the kind of talk garnered by "Lawless," the John Hillcoat bootlegging drama starring Shia LaBeouf that the Weinstein Co. will open at the end of August, doesn't at this point suggest a major Oscar run, though if any executive could reverse that, it's Harvey Weinstein.

And anyone banking on a Lee Daniels return to the Oscar podium will probably want to shelve those thoughts. The director’s follow-up to "Precious" drew a large number of negative reviews and reactions, as did fellow English-language pic "Cosmopolis." Neither film comes out of the festival with much momentum.

Meanwhile, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" could seek to take a page from the playbook of "Midnight in Paris," which was nominated for a best-picture Oscar and a bevy of other awards. Like that film, "Moonrise" opened Cannes and represents a director's feel-good switch. But to get that kind of attention, it would probably have to start approaching "Midnight"-level box office.

Finally, there's Brad Pitt's "Killing Them Softly." The Andrew Dominik-directed hit-man picture garnered respectable reviews and comes after two Oscar nominations for the actor's and director's previous collaboration, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Will the genre picture have a shot? It could at least be a factor on the performance side, with Scoop McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn joining Pitt in drawing acclaim.

For the Record, 3:21 a.m. May 29: An earlier version of this post suggested that "Cosmopolis" did not have U.S. distribution. It has landed a deal from eOne.


Cannes 2012: "Amour" captures festival's top prize

Cannes 2012: "Amour" director Haneke says he hasn't mellowed

Cannes 2012: A festival filled with wild (and divisive) experiments

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Amour." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Cannes 2012: Adam Yauch’s label buys film about reality TV

May 28, 2012 | 12:31 am

Adam Yauch's film label Oscilloscope has acquire "Reality," Matteo Garone's follow-up to "Gomorrah," at the Cannes Film Festival
CANNES, France -- A trio of movies from the Cannes Film Festival have found homes in the U.S. and will soon be headed stateside.

"Reality," Matteo Garone's dramatic comedy about a Naples fish vendor's obsession with the show “Big Brother," has been acquired by Oscilloscope Laboratories, the label founded by the late Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch. The Italian-language film is the company's first acquisition since Yauch died several weeks ago.

In a statement, the company's David Laub paid tribute to Oscilloscope's late leader. "This is exactly the kind of film Adam Yauch wanted to champion, and we are extremely proud to have it join the Oscilloscope family," he said.

PHOTOS: Cannes 2012

"Holy Motors," Leos Carax's surrealist romp through the streets of Paris, has been picked up by upstart Indomnia Media. Starring Denis Lavant, the well-received French-language movie centers on a shape-shifting man who gets role-playing "assignments" that take him from being a motion-capture actor to a vagabond old woman.

Indomnia, which has offices in Los Angeles and a large production stage in the Dominican Republic, previously acquired a number of independent titles, including two films that played Sundance, the hip-hop story "Filly Brown" and the missing-child thriller "The Imposter."

"Like Someone In Love," Abbas’ Kiarostami's Tokyo-set examination of the unlikely relationship between a call girl and a professor, has been acquired by Sundance Selects, the AMC-owned sister company to IFC Films. The move marks the AMC family's latest pickup of a film that played in Cannes; the company previously acquired titles including the Kristen Stewart-starring “On the Road,” Romanian Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills" and Ken Loach's latest, "The Angel's Share."

Release dates have not been set for "Reality," "Holy Motors" or "Like Someone in Love."

A follow-up to Garrone's well-received 2008 mob drama "Gomorrah," "Reality" was not much discussed when it premiered early in the festival. But it captured Cannes' Grand Prix, the festival's second-highest honor, on Sunday night. The movie examines the downward spiral of Luciano, a working-class husband and father, after he becomes fixated on the idea of landing a spot on "Grande Fratello," the Italian equivalent of "Big Brother."

Indomnia will try to turn "Holy Motors" into a cult hit after it gained an ardent band of followers at the festival. The movie also had a hard-core group of fans at several mainstream distributors, but they were ultimately overruled by colleagues who thought it simply too difficult to market.

The Iranian Kiarostami, for his part, continued his recent tendency to work abroad rather than try to create films within the restrictive system of his own country. Asked about his decision, he told 24 Frames, "I don't want to spend what little time I have left in my life sitting behind closed doors wondering whether I'll be able to finish what I started."

With the acquisitions, nearly all of the major foreign titles from the festival's competition section have found homes.

But a group of North American movies remain distributor-less, including Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy," David Cronenberg's "Cosmopolis" and, most notably, "Mud," Jeff Nichols' well-regarded and crowd-pleasing story of two Arkansas boys who encounter an enigmatic stranger.


Cannes 2012: Iranian filmmaking at two extremes

Cannes 2012: "Gomorrah" director aims at sins of reality TV

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Reality." Credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Cannes 2012: A fest filled with wild (and divisive) experiments

May 27, 2012 |  2:30 pm

CANNES, France — The Cannes Film Festival didn't see a breakout on the order of “The Artist” this year. And yet “The Artist” was everywhere.

The silent film's sense of playfulness and disregard for convention pretty much infused the festival. Wherever one looked, there seemed to be another bold experiment — sometimes delighting audiences, often polarizing them.

Among the more well-received movies of the 65th edition of Cannes, which wrapped Sunday evening, was Leos Carax's “Holy Motors,” a surrealist romp through the streets of Paris. Some of its touches: A man biting the body parts off people at a cemetery-set photo shoot and limousines that spoke to one another in darkened garages.

PHOTOS: Cannes Film Festival 2012

Carax was hardly alone in his eccentricity. The Mexican director Carlos Reygadas offered “Post Tenebras Lux,” a dreamlike story shot with distorted lenses that featured a sex club where rooms are named after famous intellectuals. The film divided audiences but earned him the director's award.

Michael Haneke, the provocateur Austrian director of “Funny Games” and “The Piano Teacher” and a filmmaker who embodies a contemporary cinematic adventurousness, broke form himself by eschewing the violence and sex of his earlier work to make "Amour," a tender drama about aging, which took home the Palme d’Or prize Sunday evening.

And the Chilean Pablo Larrain directed one of the more unusual political films in recent years — a dramatic satire of the 1988 Chilean elections starring Gael Garcia Bernal that was shot to look as if the movie had been discovered on a VHS tape from the era. Tersely titled “No,” the movie became one of the fan favorites of the festival and scored a U.S. distribution deal from Sony Pictures Classics.

“I wanted people to feel like the archival footage we were using looked and felt like the rest of the movie,” Larrain told 24 Frames. “And I wanted to have a little fun with the medium.”

English-language directors did their share of wild noodling too. With “Cosmopolis,” David Cronenberg set nearly an entire movie in a stretch limousine as Robert Pattinson starred in a futuristic exploration of the end of technocapitalism.

The Oscar nominee Lee Daniels, meanwhile, tried his hand at an intensely heightened 1960's melodrama in “The Paperboy,” a period movie about race and murder starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron; the movie was so filled with over-the-top touches that it prompted pundit Eugene Hernandez to proclaim this the auteurs-gone-wild festival. Neither “Paperboy” nor “Cosmopolis” went over well with critics or festivalgoers.

Indeed, U.S.-set films, the subject of much hype coming into the festival, were also some of its biggest disappointments. Also faltering with festgoers was John Hillcoat's Prohibition-era “Lawless,” which starred Shia LaBeouf as a brother in a family of bootleggers.

LaBeouf and many Hollywood stars sought to use Cannes for another purpose: to reinvent themselves as more serious actors. Perhaps none did so more successfully than Matthew McConaughey, the romantic-comedy staple who established himself as a potential Oscar contender with his turn as an enigmatic homeless man in “Mud,” a contemporary spin on “Huckleberry Finn.” Directed by Jeff Nichols, “Mud” was by far the best-received movie of the English-language crop.

Attempts at a career makeover were also undertaken by the stars of one of the globe's biggest franchises. In addition to Pattinson's turn as a paranoid Wall Street mogul in “Cosmopolis,” Kristen Stewart, his “Twilight” costar and comrade in tween idoldom, tried a prestige turn in the long-awaited adaptation of Jack Kerouac's “On the Road.” The film received reasonably enthusiastic responses, as did Stewart for her role as Marylou from the iconic book.

“I just want to take good roles,” Stewart said, when asked by The Times about how this turn might propel her career. “That's true whether it’s a big movie or a small one, or a comedy or a drama, or if a director wants to try something completely new.”

She's in luck. Judging by this year's Cannes, plenty of filmmakers are willing to oblige.


Cannes 2012: 'Amour' captures festival's top prize

Cannes 2012: 'Holy Motors' has 'em saying Holy Moly

Cannes 2012: With 'Cosmpolis,' Rob Pattinson seeks acting cred

Cannes 2012: Jeff Nichols cleans up with 'Mud'

 — Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Denis Lavant in "Holy Motors." Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Cannes 2012: 'Amour' captures festival's top prize

May 27, 2012 | 11:42 am


CANNES, France -- In a rare convergence of critical, popular and jury tastes, the most admired film at the 65th Cannes Film Festival -- Michael Haneke's "Amour," starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva -- won the Palme d'Or on Sunday night. It was the second victory in four years for the Austrian Haneke, whose "The White Ribbon" also won in 2009.

 “Amour” is a devastating experience, the thrilling result of joining Haneke’s icy, immaculate style (think “Funny Games” and “Cache”) to an intrinsically emotional subject: what happens to the close, harmonious marriage of a couple in their 80s when the wife suffers a series of debilitating strokes. Shattering performances plus Haneke’s severe style add up to a stunningly moving experience.

For American movies at Cannes, it was a mixed year. None of the half-dozen U.S. titles -– which included “On the Road,” “Killing Me Softly,” “Paperboy” and “Mud”  -- won any prizes.

PHOTOS: Cannes Film Festival 2012

But it was an American film, Benh Zeitlin’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Beasts of the Southern Wild," that walked off with the coveted Camera d’Or for best first film across all of Cannes’ sections. The film also took the FIPRESCI or international critics’ prize for the Un Certain Regard section.

Aside from “Amour,” the film that did best at Cannes was “Beyond the Hills,” the new work by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme in 2007 for “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days.”

“Beyond the Hills,” set during a crisis at a monastery, won the best screenplay prize for Mungiu and the best actress prize, split between its two stars, Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan.


NTERACTIVE: Cheat sheet guide to Cannes films

Cannes 2012: Michael Haneke's 'Amour' feels the love

Cannes 2012: 'Amour' director Haneke says he hasn't mellowed

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Austrian director Michael Haneke raises his trophy as he poses with French actress Emmanuelle Riva after being awarded with the Palme d'Or for his film "Amour." Credit: Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images.

Cannes 2012: 'Amour' director Haneke says he hasn't mellowed

May 26, 2012 | 12:28 pm

Two months ago, the Austrian director Michael Haneke turned 70, which might explain why he recently took a turn from his provocateur past to make "Amour," a tender movie about a Parisian couple struggling with old age.

But ask Haneke if the prospect of that personal milestone informed the poignant tone of his new French-language film and he'll demur.

"It was simply the subject that called for this treatment," Haneke said earlier this week from a hotel suite at the Cannes Film Festival, where his movie premiered to rave reviews and became an instant Palme d'Or front-runner. "If I was making a movie about a different subject it might have demanded a different kind of treatment."

Upon being gently reminded that it was he, after all, who chose to make a movie about this tender subject in the first place, Haneke gave a sly smile and said. "If you're asking whether I've become a nicer person, well, you'll have to ask my wife."

Always crisply courteous in person, Haneke has spent the last 15 years making films that have been anything but polite.

With the immigrant drama "Cache" (2005), the original German-language and then remade English-language psychological thrillers "Funny Games" (1997 and 2008), and the inter-generational sex drama "The Piano Teacher" (2001), Haneke has built a reputation for uncomfortable material and unsettling scenes, as anyone who's watched the voyeurism-gone-violent of "Cache" or the infamous sex-on-a-bathroom-floor moments of "Piano Teacher" can affirm.

"Amour" is a different animal. The movie is a restrained story of a musically inclined octogenarian couple, Georges and Anne (played by the legendary French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva), who are thrown for a loop when Anne suffers a stroke and her health begins to decline. Hardly in great health himself, Georges must then care for his wife while he attends to his own feelings of grief.

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Cannes 2012: Jeff Nichols cleans up with 'Mud'

May 26, 2012 |  8:12 am


CANNES, France -- Looking a little like a kid caught swiping some candy, Jeff Nichols said what everyone in the room was thinking -- there is a lot of Mark Twain in his new movie "Mud."

"If you're going to steal, steal from someone who's really good," he told reporters with an affable shrug after his film premiered to extremely enthusiastic applause Saturday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.

At 33 and with just two features under his belt, Nichols came to Cannes as the youngest and least experienced of the North American directors, an estimable group that includes Wes Anderson, Lee Daniels and David Cronenberg. But he emerged with perhaps the best-received film of them all with "Mud," a coming-of-age drama graced occasionally by thriller touches.

An homage to "The Goonies" and "Stand By Me" as much as to "Huckleberry Finn," "Mud" is perhaps the most accessible and unabashedly crowd-pleasing movie to play among the roughly dozen English-language films here. It is also more of a feel-good tale than Nichols had been known for with his previous work, which includes the moody man-unhinged piece "Take Shelter" from 2011.

"I never considered a bleaker ending for this movie," he said at the press conference. "I had enough of those."

While "Mud" follows a criss-crossing pattern of relationships, its main focus is 14-year-old Ellis (previously unknown Southern teen Tye Sheridan) and his sidekick Neck (ditto, played by Jacob Lofland), and what happens when the Arkansans escape to an island downriver from Ellis' houseboat home only to find an enigmatic vagabond named Mud (Matthew McConaughey).

Which means that, like a certain iconic American novel, we're watching two young boys in rural America taking to the river and coming upon a mysterious stranger.

Unlike the escaped slave of Twain's Jim, Mud, it turns out, is on the run because he committed a crime to win the heart of longtime romantic interest Juniper (Reese Witherspoon, somber and un-Reese-like), a woman who has never fully returned his devotion.

Continue reading »

Cannes 2012: Ken Burns' 'Central Park Five' explores famous crime

May 25, 2012 |  3:06 pm

David McMahon, Sarah Burns and Ken Burns

New York Mayor Ed Koch called it “the crime of the century.” TV newscasters talked angrily about perpetrators who “blazed a nighttime trail of terror” that culminated in the savage beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park on April 19, 1989. It was one of the biggest media stories of its day, and as it turns out, everything you remember about it is wrong.

That is the premise of “The Central Park Five,” a careful, thoughtful and devastating new documentary directed by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns that is premiering out of competition at Cannes.

Five black and Latino teenagers confessed to the rape of the white jogger and served prison sentences ranging from almost seven to 13 years. Compelling new evidence, including an ironclad confession by the actual rapist, led a New York Supreme Court justice to vacate the sentences of those teenagers in 2002. In plain English, these young men were completely innocent.

“The Central Park Five” does more than go over this territory. Using extensive interviews with the five men and their families, it shows exactly how this disturbing miscarriage of justice happened. It also reveals a theme that Ken Burns feels runs through many of his documentary projects: “When you look under the surface of American history, it's always race.”

Burns is best known not for theatrical documentaries but for PBS series about subjects such as jazz, baseball and the Civil War. This project started not with him but with his daughter Sarah, who nine years ago had a summer internship with a Manhattan law firm that was handling a civil suit against the city for violation of the Central Park Five's civil rights.

She met several of the young men and was “moved by their story and by what lovely people they were, not hardened or angry.” The story so stayed with her that Burns decided that instead of going to law school she would turn her interest into a book, also called “The Central Park Five” and published by Knopf in 2011.

While she was writing, her father and McMahon (her husband and a producer for her father) were, in Ken's words, “looking over her shoulder” and getting drawn into the possibility of telling this story on film.

The co-directing credit for Sarah was, the senior Burns is sure to point out, “not parental largesse” but a reflection of the fact that “the three of us made this film co-equally.” Added McMahon, “three is a good number in the editing room, which is where films are made.”

Sarah Burns' relationship with the five meant, she said, “they were all in. They wanted to tell their story.” Four talk on camera while the fifth, who has moved out of the state and lives under a different name (“a self-imposed witness protection plan,” said McMahon) is heard but not seen.

Harder to convince were relatives of the five, who experienced more of the public hatred and condemnation that resulted when, in Ken Burns' words, “the media swallowed the story like an LSD trip.”

“They remained incredibly raw,” said McMahon, while his wife added: “The families were the ones on the outside, the ones who suffered, were ostracized and ignored. They were much more skeptical.”

Even more skeptical were the New York City police and the prosecutors from the district attorney's office. No one was willing to go on camera and talk about the case.

“There's a real omertà, a code of silence from prosecutors. They rarely speak, plus there was a good deal of hiding behind the civil suit,” which is ongoing, said Ken Burns.

The most fascinating aspect of “The Central Park Five” is its examination of how people can be psychologically manipulated into confessing to crimes they did not commit, a phenomenon also explored in another recent doc, “Scenes of a Crime.”

“People don't understand this. It sounds irrational — they sit in the comfort of their living rooms and think, ‘I would never do that,'” said Sarah Burns. “But these were practically children, they were so young and so naive.” And they also were in the hands of experienced interrogators, people who were so good at their jobs, McMahon said, that a military interviewer told him: “I could get Mother Teresa to confess to anything.”

The “Central Park” co-directors are hoping for a theatrical release for their film before it goes to PBS in 2013 or 2014, in part to create publicity to put pressure on the city to settle the civil suit with the five.

“These are men with a life so interrupted, a gap we can't imagine,” Ken Burns said. “My mother died when I was 11 and that hole was the defining moment in my life. It led to what I do for a living: I wake the dead. I would love it if some wise soul would whisper in the mayor's ear, ‘Just settle.' To have these men made whole again in some way would be great.”


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— Kenneth Turan, reporting from Cannes, France

Photo: "The Central Park Five" directors, from left, David McMahon, Sarah Burns and Ken Burns, at the Cannes Film Festival. Credit: Loic Venance/AFP/GettyImages.


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