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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Fantasy

'Mirror Mirror': What happened to the fairy-tale renaissance?

April 2, 2012 |  7:00 am

"Mirror Mirror," starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins and directed by Tarsem Singh, is the latest fairy-tale disappointmentOf all the ways American pop culture defines itself in the early part of the 21st century, myths -- larger than life, older than time -- supersede them all.  World-creation (usually based on the rules of a world someone previously created) is what we consume, as one glance at the "Lord of the Rings"-ish enthusiasm for HBO's just-launched second season of "Game of Thrones" demonstrates.

No world is getting (re)created these days more than the one shaped by the Brothers Grimm. And yet it's these myths we seem to want least.

This was supposed to be the era of the fairy-tale movie. Big studios threw big money at big stars to take us to the land of happily ever after. In part, this was -- let's be honest -- because the source material came cheap. But it was also happening for all sorts of cultural reasons, we were told, a metaphor for evil and escape in a post-9/11 world, children's folklore with a Christopher Nolan spin.

TIMELINE: Snow White through the years

Yet like Cinderella's slippers on the other women, none of them have quite fit. In fact, fairy-tale movies so far have been dismal commercial and creative affairs. This past weekend's "Mirror Mirror," starring Lily Collins as the put-upon princess Snow White, was the latest such disappointment -- a paltry $19-million opening, just a 53% favorable rating on Movie Review Intelligence. And though you can toss out specific reasons for its failure (mistimed marketing, the diminishing appeal of Julia Roberts), it's starting to feel like something larger is going on here.

Tarsem Singh's decision to spin a fairy tale into a bouncy, punny, girl-empowerment story has fared no better than the bending of the form to other genres, not to the earnest teen romance ("Beastly") nor the gory period thriller ("Red Riding Hood"), both of which struck out with critics and audiences as well. Over the river and through the woods, to the house of flopdom we go.

This is all in pointed contrast to other mythic cinematic offerings -- the kind, such as "Harry Potter" or "The Hunger Games," that take stories to the realm of the fantastic without the strictures and expectations of a direct fairy-tale adaptation. It's also in contrast to television, where the fantasy procedural “Grimm” and the fairy-tale adventure "Once Upon a Time" have both enjoyed at least modest success, suggesting that if you are indeed going to try to put your mark on the Brothers Grimm, perhaps you need more than 100 minutes to do it well.

TIMELINE: Snow White through the years

There's still time for others to reverse the tide: Universal Pictures has been parceling out pieces of this June's "Snow White and the Huntsman," for example, hoping that the straight-faced seriousness of an action movie will be the fairy-tale formula that finally catches on. Maybe it will. Or maybe we'd rather look to new, "Games of Thrones"-like horizons instead of continuing to gaze in the mirror.


Hollywood is churning out classic fairy-tales -- with a twist

"Mirror Mirror": Snow White tale is fair (not fairest), critics say

Box Office: Greek gods, Snow White no match for "The Hunger Games"

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Lily Collins as Snow White, surrounded by dwarfs, in "Mirror Mirror." Credit: Relativity Media

Around Town: Films, screenings and more in L.A. this week

January 4, 2012 | 12:17 pm


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

With Gary Oldman getting strong reviews and Oscar buzz for his performance as spy George Smiley in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” the Arclight in Hollywood is offering a six-film retrospective of the British actor’s career beginning Monday with 1986’s “Sid and Nancy,” in which he played punk rocker Sid Vicious, followed by Oliver Stone’s 1991 “J.F.K.,” which features his tenacious performance as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oldman’s performance as a U.S. congressman in 2000’s “The Contender” is on display on Tuesday, along with his “biting” turn as the most famous vampire in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 “Dracula.” Scheduled for Wednesday is his turn as playwright Joe Orton in 1987’s “Prick Up Your Ears,” directed by Stephen Frears, followed by “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”

After the "Tinker, Tailor" screening, Oldman will participate in a Q&A with Matt Holzman, host of KCRW’s “Matt’s Movies.” The admission to the retrospective is free, but tickets are only available via RSVP through www.OldmanRSVP.com. www.arclightcinemas.com

The American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre concludes its annual “Screwball Comedies” Festival Thursday evening with Howard Hawks’ 1941 romantic comedy “Ball of Fire,” starring Barbara Stanwyck in her Oscar-nominated performance as a nightclub singer on the lam who hides out with a group of encyclopedia nerds. Gary Cooper plays the nerd working on slang who falls for Stanwyck.

The second feature is the 1937 classic “The Awful Truth,” for which director Leo McCarey won the best director Oscar. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, who earned an Oscar nomination, star.

On Friday, the Aero celebrates the centennial of New Mexico’s statehood with Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 Western “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” with Kris Kristofferson and James Coburn. Nick Redman, Peckinpah’s biographer and documentary filmmaker; Peckinpah’s assistant Katy Haber; editor Garth Craven; and the film’s co-star, Charles Martin Smith, will discuss the movie after the screening.

Director J.J. Abrams and members of his cast and crew will be appearing Saturday evening at the Aero Theatre for a screening of Abrams' sci-fi coming-of-age 2011 box office hit, “Super 8.” Sunday evening, the Aero presents the 2010 French comedy-drama “Eight Times Up,” which explores the topic of unemployment. Director Xabia Molia and star and co-producer Julie Gayet will appear in person.

Every year the Cinematheque presents the “Golden Globe Foreign-Language Nominee Series.” The Globes take place Jan. 15. This year's programming begins Monday evening at the Aero with Angelina Jolie’s feature film debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which is in Bosnian with English subtitles. The series continues Tuesday with Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” which marks a reunion with one of the Spanish director’s early muses, Antonio Banderas. The critically lauded Iranian film, “A Separation,” which has already earned several critics’ accolades, screens Wednesday.

The Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre presents its seventh annual “Focus on Female Directors” evening on Thursday. Among the films screening are Maryna Vroda’s “Cross,” which won the 2011 Palme d’Or for best short film; Jess Holzworth’s 2011 “Gamma Ray,” with Chloe Sevigny; Mitsuyo Miyazaki’s award-winning 2011 USC student film, “Tsuyako”; and Penelope Spheeris’ 1998 “No Use Walkin’ When You Can Stroll.” Spheeris and other directors featured in the program will be appearing.

Two cult coming-of-age classics, 1985’s “The Goonies” and 1986’s “Stand By Me,” are scheduled for Friday evening at the Egyptian.

On Saturday evening, Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will be leading a discussion after the screening of “The Honeymooners: Lost Episodes 1951-1957.”

The current film “My Week with Marilyn” explores the turbulent production of the 1957 film, “The Prince and the Showgirl,” starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. On Sunday the Egyptian will screen “The Prince and the Showgirl,” along with the 1959 Billy Wilder comedy masterwork, “Some Like It Hot,” with Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. www.americancinematheque.com

The UCLA Film & Television Archive commences its three-month retrospective on Oscar-winning actor Spencer Tracy on Saturday evening at the Billy Wilder Theatre with “Inherit the Wind,” Stanley Kramer’s 1960 film version of the hit Broadway play based on the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, for which Tracy earned an Oscar nomination as an attorney based on Clarence Darrow. Fredric March also stars. James Curtis, author of the new Tracy biography, and “Wind” co-star Donna Anderson will be in attendance.

Scheduled for Sunday is his first feature film, 1930’s “Up the River,” which also marked the feature debut of Humphrey Bogart, followed by the 1930 Vitaphone short, “The Hard Guy.”

The archive’s Wednesday program at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles is the campy 1966 prehistoric drama “One Million Years B.C." starring Raquel Welch in very revealing outfits and the 1940 version “One Million B.C.” with Victor Mature. www.cinema.ucla.edu

Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 satire “Weekend” visits the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre on Thursday through Wednesday in a new 35mm print. On Monday, Cinefamily presents a feature length edition of Season One of David Cross’ IFC series “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” followed by a Q&A with the actor (“Arrested Development”), who created and writes the series, which begins its second season Friday evening. www.cinefamily.org

And on Saturday the Los Angeles Filmforum teams up with Cinefamily to present “Wallace Berman’s Underground Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980, Screening 9." Toni Bail and Russ Tamblyn are scheduled to appear in person, schedule permitting. www. lafilmforum.org

The New Beverly Cinema showcases Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, “Into the Abyss,” on Thursday evening, followed by Errol Morris’ 1999 doc, “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr." Two by Pedro Almodovar are featured Friday and Saturday -- his 2011 drama “The Skin I Live In” followed by 2009’s “Broken Embraces” with Penelope Cruz. Saturday’s midnight movie is David Fincher’s 1999 “Fight Club,” with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

Sunday and Monday’s offerings are Luc Besson’s 1997 action-adventure “The Fifth Element,” with Bruce Willis and Chris Tucker, as well as 2001’s “Cowboy Bebop: The Movie.”

Mark Romanek, schedule permitting, will appear in person Wednesday at the New Beverly for a screening of his 2010 drama, “Never Let Me Go.” Also screening is Francois Truffaut’s only English-language film, 1966’s “Fahrenheit 451,” based on the novel by Ray Bradbury. www.newbevcinema.com

The 7th Annual Santa Clarita Valley Film Festival kicks off Thursday and continues through Sunday at the Repertory East Playhouse in Old Town Newhall and features comedies, dramas, animation and shorts, plus works by budding filmmakers in junior high and high school. www.SCVFilmFestival.com

The 9th Annual Venice Film Festival, which explores the history of films made in Venice, Calif., takes place Thursday at the Seven Dudley Cinema at Beyond Baroque. laughters.com/7dudleycinema.html.

The Free Tunisia Organization is presenting the New Tunisian Film Festival Tuesday through Thursday at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. The festival also marks the one-year anniversary of the Tunisian uprising. Among the films to be screened are “Fallaga 2011,” “Making of,” “Fausse Note” and “Rouge Parole.” www.levantinecenter.org/event/tunisian-film-festival.

Stanley Donen directed the acclaimed 1967 romantic comedy-drama “Two for the Road,” with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney, which screens Tuesday afternoon at the Skirball Cultural Center. www.skirball.org

[For the record, 4:03 p.m. Jan. 5: This post originally listed Spencer Tracy's retrospective as a two-month engagement launching on Friday. The retrospective is three months and launches Saturday.]


'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy': Betsy Sharkey's film pick

-- Susan King

Photo: Tom Hardy, left, and Gary Oldman in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" Credit: Jack English/Focus Features

Around Town: The Stooges ride back to town

November 24, 2011 |  6:00 am


The Three Stooges, a Gary Cooper double bill and a tribute to Japan’s Studio Ghibli are among the Thanksgiving week film offerings.

Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk! The Alex Film Society presents its 14th annual “Three Stooges Big Screen Event” Saturday afternoon and evening at the venerable Alex Theatre in Glendale. The slapstick, eye-poking comedy shorts starring Moe, Curly, Larry and Shemp are presented in glorious 35mm. Among the shorts scheduled are 1937’s “Back to the Woods” and “Goofs and Saddles,” 1948’s “Mummies Dummies,” with Shemp, 1943’s “Higher Than a Kite” and 1938’s “Wee Wee Monsieur.” http://www.alexfilmsociety.org

The New Beverly celebrates Turkey Day with a Gary Cooper double bill Thursday and Friday: 1930’s melodrama “Morocco,” directed by Josef Von Sternberg and also starring Marlene Dietrich in her only Oscar-nominated performance, and 1940’s “The Westerner,” directed by William Wyler and co-starring Walter Brennan, who picked up his third supporting actor Oscar as the infamous Judge Roy Bean.

Two seminal films from former cinematographer-turned-director Nicolas Roeg are screening Tuesday and Wednesday at the theater-1971’s Australian adventure “Walkabout,” with Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil and the 1976 sci-fi fantasy “The Man Who Fell to Earth” with David Bowie. http://www.newbevcinema.com

Film Independent at LACMA shines a “Spotlight on Studio Ghibli” Saturday at the Leo S. Bing Theater. The Japanese animation studio was created in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. Screening late Saturday afternoon is 1986’s “Castle in the Sky,” Miyazaki’s debut film for the studio, followed in the evening by Miyazaki’s 2001 “Spirited Away,” which earned the Oscar for best animated feature. This week’s Tuesday matinee feature at the Bing is the 1936 screwball comedy “Theodora Goes Wild,” for which Irene Dunne earned a lead actress Oscar nomination. Melvyn Douglas also stars. http://www.lacma.org/series/film-independent-lacma

The American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre screens 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” which is widely considered the greatest movie musical ever made, on Friday evening. Gene Kelly, who co-directed with Stanley Donen, stars with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen in this effusive musical farce about the early days of the talkies in Hollywood. On tap for Saturday afternoon at the theater is “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The beloved 1939 musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” is set for late Sunday afternoon. And Wim Wenders’ 1999 musical documentary “Buena Vista Social Club” is on tap for Wednesday.

The Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre presents “French Female Directors Shorts Showcase” Saturday evening at its intimate Spielberg Theatre, while the main theater will be presenting the 1939 Oscar-winning epic “Gone With the Wind,” starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre presents the 1972 rock documentary “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii” and 1976’s “Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same” Friday evening. The Silent Movie Theatre offers a free sneak preview Sunday afternoon of the film “The Death and Return of Superman,” starring Elijah Wood and Mandy Moore. Writer/director Max Landis, as well as several of the stars, schedule permitting, are set to appear for a post-screening Q&A. You must preregister for the screening.

Doug Benson’s “Movie Interruption” presentation at Monday evening Cinefamily’s is the acclaimed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” http://www.cinefamily.org

Film Courage presents the L.A. premiere of “Missing Pieces” Monday evening at the Downtown Independent. Schedule permitting, there will be a Q&A with director Kenton Barlett and his stars after the movie. http://www.filmcourage.com

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ “2011-2012 Contemporary Documentaries” series continues Wednesday evening at the Linwood Dunn Theater with Davis Guggenheim’s “Waiting for Superman” and Madeleine Sackler’s “The Lottery,” both released in 2010. http://www.oscars.org

UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Wednesday evening presentations at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles offers two collaborations between Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson: 1970’s “Five Easy Pieces,” for which Nicholson earned his first lead actor Oscar nomination, and the underrated 1972 drama “The King of Marvin Gardens,” which also stars Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn. http://www.cinema.ucla.edu


Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli enters ‘The Secret World of Arrietty’

-- Susan King

Photo: The Three Stooges, from left, Moe, Curly and Larry. Credit: Alex Film Society

Around Town: Steven Spielberg and a rare 'Trip to the Moon'

September 1, 2011 |  6:00 am

Steven Spielberg

The American Cinematheque is celebrating the early films of Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg this week. The Aero Theatre is featuring two of his sci-fi classics: 1982's blockbuster "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" -- this is the 2002 extended cut re-release not the original -- and his first foray into the sci-fi genre, 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." And on Wednesday, the Egyptian presents the 40th anniversary screening of "Duel," the ABC TV movie that put Spielberg on the map as a filmmaker. Dennis Weaver stars in this lively thriller as a businessman driving on a stretch of deserted highway who suddenly finds himself being menaced by an unseen truck driver. The film did so well in the ratings it also had a brief theatrical release. Screening along with "Duel" is the automotive thriller "Vanishing Point," which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. http://www.americancinematheque.com

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" also is this week's flick at the Outdoor Cinema Food Fest on Saturday evening at the Northridge City Little League. http://www.outdoorcinemafoodfest.com

One of the sensations of this year's Cannes Film Festival was the re-premiere of George Melies' seminal 1902 fantasy film, "A Trip to the Moon," which was featured in its newly restored, hand-colored version. The film will be screening Tuesday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, along with several other silent goodies, including a restored "A Trip Down Market Street," a 1906 film shot in San Francisco just days before the famous earthquake hit. Tom Burton, head of the preservation department at Technicolor in L.A. who was in charge of the restoration of "Trip," and historian Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, will be discussing the films. http://www.oscars.org

The Aero Theatre presents Joel and Ethan Coen's 1987 comedy "Raising Arizona" on Thursday evening. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter play a married couple with baby fever who can't conceive and so decide to kidnap a tyke. http://www.americancinematheque.com

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Around Town: Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock, Rita Hayworth and more

May 26, 2011 |  5:00 am


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Tim Burton exhibit opens May 29, and the museum's film department has planned its own tribute, "The Fantastical Works of Tim Burton." The series begins Friday evening with 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," which marked the first screen collaboration between Burton and actor Johnny Depp. Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest and Vincent Price, one of Burton's earliest supporters, also star.

Burton will be on hand Saturday evening to introduce 1994's "Ed Wood," his biopic of the eccentric director of such truly bad films as "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Depp plays Wood opposite Martin Landau's Oscar-winning turn as actor Bela Lugosi. The film will be preceded by 1982's "Vincent," Burton's stop-motion tale narrated by Price.  http://www.lacma.org

The "Suspense Account: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock" retrospective at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood features a Thursday evening screening of the director's Academy Award-winning 1940 thriller "Rebecca." Based on the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the film stars Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson as the evil housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Also screening Thursday is Hitch's 1935 British thriller, "The 39 Steps," with Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll.

Friday's offerings are 1960's "Psycho," with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, and 1963's "The Birds,"  with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. Scheduled for Saturday are two Cary Grant-starrers -- 1955's "To Catch a Thief," with Grace Kelly, and 1946's "Notorious," also starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The festival concludes Sunday evening with the 1958 masterwork "Vertigo," starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.

Continue reading »

Saiorse Ronan on 'The Hobbit': 'Hopefully they have a part for me'

March 25, 2011 |  7:40 pm


Production on "The Hobbit" is already under way in  New Zealand with a diverse cast. But don't rule out the possibility of a star of a previous Peter Jackson film winding up in the two-part epic.

Saiorse Ronan, the breakout "Atonement " actress who worked with Jackson on the 2009 spiritual drama "The Lovely Bones,"  says that while her much-rumored casting in the fantasy franchise isn't "confirmed," she's optimistic that she'll be starring amid the dragons and wizards.

"Pete is adding a lot of characters in the film adaption," she said. "Hopefully they have a part for me."

The 16-year-old, whose action thriller "Hanna" comes out  April 8 (more on her and that shortly), declined to reveal what part she'd play in "The Hobbit." Instead, she offered that "on IMDB they say I'm playing an elf [specifically Itaril, a character not in the novel that was described in casting reports as a young female fighter who falls in love with an elf lord]. "We’ll just have to figure it all out."

Speaking in Los Angeles, Ronan said that the primary reasons she'd want to be involved in the films is Jackson and chance to return to New Zealand, where "Bones" was shot.

"It would be great to go back. I love Pete," she said. "It’s such an amazing family unit down here because it's such a small country, and they use a lot of the same crew [for each film]." (Ronan is currently traveling to promote "Hanna" but could easily jet down to New Zealand once her tour is over.)

Ronan said she hasn't yet read the "Hobbit" script but did read the J.R.R. Tolkien original and found herself enraptured.

"It’s magical and it’s a fantasy, but the characters in this story are also so real," she said. "Bilbo’s such an insecure man. He’s comfortable in his life but he’s kind of reaching out for something else even though he won't admit it."

She expects Jackson to bring a different touch than with his previous Tolkien adaptations. "It's a little bit lighter than 'Lord of the Rings,' and Pete is quite a lighthearted man," she said. "He likes to have fun."

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Sairose Ronan in "The Lovely Bones." Credit: DreamWorks


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