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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Kenneth Turan

The David O. Selznick Collection: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

June 7, 2012 |  4:00 pm

If you know David O. Selznick's name, you probably think of him as the man behind "Gone With the Wind." But even before that classic, he was one of Hollywood's top producers, and Kino Classics, in collaboration with the George Eastman House, is releasing a series of his best-known films called the Selznick Collection.

Top of the list is "A Star Is Born." This is not the celebrated Judy Garland version but an earlier, 1937 edition of this inside-Hollywood story starring Janet Gaynor and Frederick March and directed by William Wellman.

Another Wellman film, also starring March, is 1937's caustic screwball comedy "Nothing Sacred," in which the actor plays a cynical reporter (is there any other kind?) who interacts with a lively lady played by the great Carole Lombard.

Having more literary origins is 1932's "A Farewell to Arms," starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes and taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel of World War I. The director is Frank Borzage, one of the screen's peerless romantics.

Finally, there is King Vidor's "Bird of Paradise," starring Joel McCrea and Delores Del Rio. This is the kind of film where a footloose sailor in the South Pacific falls in love with the lovely daughter of a fierce island chief. Throw in a volcano and a Max Steiner score and you're in business.


John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online

'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

'Children of Paradise,' a personal favorite: Kenneth Turan's pick

June 7, 2012 |  2:16 pm

Children of Paradise
One of cinema's most transporting and transformative experiences, the 1945 French romantic drama “Children of Paradise” is the title I most often cite when asked to pick an all-time personal favorite.

Set in the bustling theatrical world of 1830s Paris and revolving around four very different men in love with the same enigmatic woman (played by Arletty), this three-hour-plus epic, written by Jacques Prevert and directed by Marcel Carne, is generally considered the greatest French film ever made.

Those suitors include the chilling Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), a cold-eyed and confident criminal/philosopher, and the equally self-centered, ramrod-straight Count de Montray (Louis Salou), one of the richest men in France. From the theater come Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), a practised seducer and the preeminent actor of his day, and, most memorably of all, Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault), the man who revolutionized the art of pantomime.

Its visual richness and splendid dialogue, when added to the humanity and complexity of its relationships, makes this one of the few films that has the durability and emotional texture of a great
19th century novel. Always one of cinema's most transporting experiences, in a
spectacular new restoration, this is a cinematic event not to be missed.

Holding over at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7 and opening at the Town Center 5.


John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online

'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: "Children of Paradise." Credit: Criterion.

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: 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.”


Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman is 'not interested in being safe'

Cannes 2012: Actor Norman Lloyd remembers Hitchcock, Renoir

Cannes 2012: China has a dangerous liason with a classic

— 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.

Cannes 2012: Actor Norman Lloyd remembers Hitchcock, Renoir

May 25, 2012 | 10:35 am

At a recent event at the Cannes Film Festival, actor Norman Lloyd reflected on his life's work and his famous collaborators, including Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir
If modern film history has a voice, it is Norman Lloyd's. An actor for more than 70 years, Lloyd has worked with -- and known as friends -– filmmakers as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir.

A peerless raconteur with an impeccable memory, the 97-year-old Lloyd had a capacity crowd at the Cannes Film Festival (including directors Alexander Payne and Abbas Kiarostami) in the palm of his hand as he answered questions from critics Todd McCarthy and Pierre Rissient about his long career.

Lloyd's best-known work (unless you count his TV stint on “St. Elsewhere”) was his first appearance, a key role as a Nazi spy in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 "Saboteur." His character famously plunges off the Statue of Liberty. But before he ever came to Hollywood, Lloyd had a distinguished stage career that included a place in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and the role of Cinna the Poet in Welles’ 1937 production of "Julius Caesar," which Lloyd remembers as having, in Welles' celebrated staging, the contemporary feel of "political melodrama written the night before." 

Once in Hollywood, Lloyd became extremely close to Renoir, the son of painter Auguste Renoir, after appearing in the director's 1945 "The Southerner." Though dismissed by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck as "not one of us," Renoir earned the admiration of Chaplin as well as Welles: "They both said he was the No. 1 director," Lloyd recalled.

Perhaps the most moving story Lloyd told involved Renoir in his declining years. The director embarked on a project of seeing all his films. When he'd viewed them all, he said to Lloyd: "'When I started to make films, I was determined at all cost to be as unlike my father as possible. But having seen all my work, I realize that what I've been trying to do all my life is imitate my father,' Lloyd shared, before adding, "What an amazing statement from a man near the end of his life."

Lloyd's close association with Hitchcock led to his working as a producer and director on the classic TV series "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." As the Cannes audience sat spellbound, so to speak, Lloyd recounted going to see Harold Pinter's 1960 "The Caretaker" and talking to the British playwright about possibly writing for the Hitchcock show.

As it turned out, Pinter had a TV script already written, which was sent on to Hitchcock to consider. His epigrammatic response: "I don’t do that sort of thing."


Cannes 2012: China has a dangerous liason with a classic

Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman is "not interested in being safe"

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Norman Lloyd is reflected in a mirror at his home in Brentwood on May 15, 2009. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

John Huston's 'Let There Be Light' online: Kenneth Turan's pick

May 24, 2012 |  9:28 am

This week's DVD pick is not a DVD at all, but a free video on demand streaming and downloading of one of the most significant of American documentaries, a controversial film that has been restored in a very specific way.

That film would be 1946's "Let There Be Light," John Huston's groundbreaking documentary that was one of the first, decades before post-traumatic stress disorder was a term, to document the terrible things combat did to the minds of soldiers.

The candor of this film helped get it almost immediately pulled from distribution, and it was not until 1980 that its release to the general public was authorized.

One problem with the film that did not go away was that many of the soldiers interviewed were hard to understand because they mumbled or whispered their stories. Now, as a result of a National Film Preservation Foundation grant, the National Archives has restored the soundtrack, and the result, easy to hear for the first time, is available courtesy of the NFPF's website (www.filmpreservation.org) starting Thursday.


'Untamed' Joan Crawford, 'Dangerous' Bette Davis

Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman is 'not interested in being safe'

Swashbuckling good films from '30s, '40s: Kenneth Turan's DVD pick

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman is 'not interested in being safe'

May 24, 2012 |  8:11 am

Nicole Kidman
CANNES, France -- “I'm not interested in being safe, and I'm willing to fail because of that,” Nicole Kidman declares, not a shred of doubt in her voice. “I feel very ashamed when I do something safe.”

That may sound like the easy thing for an actor to say sitting in a quiet cabana at the luxurious Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. But throughout her career, which includes three Oscar nominations and one victory, Kidman has always walked that particular walk as well as talked it, and never more so than this year.

Kidman has two films showing this year at the Cannes Film Festival (Philip Kaufman's “Hemingway & Gellhorn” and Lee Daniels' “The Paperboy”), and they showcase her in roles that couldn't be more wildly different. As far as Kidman is concerned, that is a very good thing. “The diversity of characters is the thing I'm most interested in,” she says. “I don't think I do well playing myself.”

In “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” Kidman plays journalist Martha Gellhorn, married to the novelist (played by Clive Owen) for five years but best remembered today as one of the 20th century's great war reporters.

“I don't get to read many scripts that are going to be made that are driven by a woman,” Kidman, 44, says of her interest in the project. “She's a woman who sacrifices a lot, who doesn't compromise, for a force she feels inside her, which is to tell the stories of people around her.”

If both this HBO production and Kidman's role in it share the pleasant feeling of classic, almost glamorous filmmaking, “The Paperboy,” adapted from the Pete Dexter novel, is something else again. A lurid, wildly excessive melodrama that depicts rural Florida in the 1960s as a cesspool of feverish mendacity, “Paperboy” features the actress totally convincing as a character whom fellow residents of Moat County describe as “an oversexed Barbie doll.”

That would be Charlotte Bless, a woman of formidable, unapologetic sexuality whose main activity is starting epistolary romances with death row inmates. She focuses on Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a sullen, white-trash alligator hunter behind bars for killing the local sheriff, and convinces Miami journalist Ward James (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) that his claims of innocence are worth investigating.

A maelstrom of seething emotions, “Paperboy” features scenes of extreme and graphic sexuality. In taking the part, Kidman was guided, as she often is, by her connection with the filmmaker. “I believe in putting an enormous amount of trust in your director, and I'm willing to take the knocks if it doesn't work,” she says. “I've chosen that path, chosen to contribute, and I have to trust as an actor and try not to be a control freak.”

With Kaufman, Kidman responded to a director she describes as “incredibly deep and a philosopher with a very wise outlook on life.”

A fan of Daniels' best picture Oscar nominee “Precious,” Kidman describes the director as feeling “‘give me all of it, I want to devour the world.' Lee is raw and abandoned, he will do or say anything, he's completely erratic and wild and will shock you with the things he says.”

Because Kidman makes decisions about parts on a gut level, she is used to hearing criticism about her choices.

“There are so many different opinions out there, it is so extreme, diverse and loud, there is so much noise, that to get caught up in that seems like minutia,” she says. What she does feel is “protective of the director. I worry about how they're going to fare. I'm there, but it's them, they're putting themselves on the line.”

The thing that Kidman feels most protective about, however, is her marriage to country star Keith Urban and her two youngest children, 4-year-old Sunday and 17-month-old Faith. (She has two other children from her previous marriage to Tom Cruise.)

“That's my priority in terms of my life,” she says, noting that she and Urban try not to be apart for more than three or four days and that he is taking a long plane ride to be with her for a day in Cannes.

Projects Kidman takes now must factor family in. “Six months in Africa, I can't do that,” she says. “I cannot stand to be away from the girls. I'm not willing to leave them, it's very painful. I attach very deeply, and there are ramifications, pain to endure, if you allow yourself to attach and love to that extreme.”

The couple and their children live outside of Nashville, an area Kidman enjoys, among other reasons, because it is “removed” from the limelight.

“When you get to this age, I want to breathe, I can go with the flow of it,” she explains. “There's still a fire that ignites in me creatively, but I know how to put it out for a while.”

That fire is also the one thing Kidman is not willing to do without professionally. “As you get older, you can lose that abandonment,” she says. “I want to stay in that place of ‘Try it, why not.' I very much still try to maintain that artistically.”

Given where she is in her life, Kidman looks thoughtful when reminded that when she was a teenager beginning serious acting in Australia, she decided to model her career on Katharine Hepburn: She wasn't going to marry or have kids, she was just going to act.

“I knew the thing I need to do was seek out my path artistically,” she says, looking back now on her younger self. “A burning force within me wanted to go out and explore the world, have experiences. If I was going to fall in love at 18 and have a child, I would not have done that.

“In my psyche, the desire to find a partner was very strong, but I didn't want to give in to that. I had to fight against what I knew my nature was.”

It's something she doesn't have to do anymore.


Cannes 2012: Kanye West, auteur?

Kristen Stewart in 'On the Road' [video]

Cannes 2012: Breaking down Brad Pitt's 'Killing' [video]

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Nicole Kidman at the Hotel du Cap. Credit: Patricia Williams / For The Times

Kristen Stewart in 'On the Road': 'I just want ... a baby' [video]

May 23, 2012 |  3:19 pm


"On the Road," Walter Salles' adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. It's a lyrical tone poem about the adventures of Kerouac alter ego Sal Paradise, his best friend and inspiration, Dean Moriarty (based on the legendary Neal Cassady, who went on to drive the Magic Bus for Ken Kesey), and Moriarty's wife, Marylou. Here's a look at two clips from the movie, which is scheduled to be released in the U.S. in late fall.

"On the Road" more than captures the purity of that long-ago quest, using youthful stars like Sam Riley as Sal, Garrett Hedlund as Dean and Kristen Stewart as Marylou to show how eternal that yearning remains.

In the first clip, above, Sal, Dean and Marylou are driving. Marylou is at the wheel, musing about Dean leaving her while simultaneously coming onto Sal and talking about going back to her fiance. "I just want a house, a baby, something normal," she says.

The second clip, below, features Kirsten Dunst, who plays Camille, Dean's ex, with whom he has an on-again, off-again relationship. 

"On the Road" is also notable for the top-flight talent in cameo roles, including Amy Adams, Terrence Howard and Steve Buscemi, all motivated, Salles says, by passion for the source material. Viggo Mortensen, who plays Old Bull Lee (based on William S. Burroughs), showed up on the set with a gun and a typewriter.



Cannes Film Festival: Walter Salles' journey to 'On the Road'

Cannes 2012: Brad Pitt's 'Killing Them Softly': Anti-capitalist screed

Cannes 2012: Brandon Cronenberg takes a (sort of) familiar path

— Kenneth Turan and Julie Makinen

Cannes 2012: Gael Garcia Bernal says 'No'

May 19, 2012 |  5:51 am


CANNES, France -- Films with buzz at Cannes usually come from one of the official selection’s numerous sections, but this year one of the early popular favorites, and deservedly so, hails from the festival’s genial crosstown rival, the Directors’ Fortnight.

That would be the simply named “No,” directed by Chile’s Pablo Larrain, best known for his previous film, “Tony Manero.” Here he’s taken a little-remembered event in his country’s recent history and made it into a smart, involving, tangy film that mixes reality and drama to provocative effect.

In 1988, after 15 years of authoritarian rule, Chile’s leader, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, responded to international pressure by agreeing to hold a plebiscite on his rule. Each side, including the "No" forces, would get a rare 15 minutes of uncensored television time to state their case.

It is the conceit of Larrain’s film (screenplay by Pedro Peirano, based on a play) that the "No" TV spots, which in reality were done by committee, were in large part the idea of one advertising man -- Rene Saavedra.

Beautifully played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Saavedra has the counterintuitive idea of selling the "No" vote the same frothy, soft-focus way he would have sold a soft drink or a microwave oven.

But rather than embracing this subversive idea, everyone is against it, including Saavedra’s ad agency boss, his estranged and politically active wife, and the political coalition that is his client. And don’t even ask what happens when the Pinochet people start to understand his strategy.

Directed by Larrain in a confident, assured style, and benefitting from the use of the actual ads that ran in 1988, “No” is a most unusual underdog story, the kind of heady, relevant filmmaking we don’t see often enough at Cannes. Or anywhere else.


Jacques Audiard sought a film where the protagonist was love

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

Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

Cannes 2012: An Osama bin Laden battle brews by the beach

-- Kenneth Turan

Photo: Gael Garcia Bernal in "No." Credit: Cannes Film Festival

Cannes: Audiard sought to make film whose 'protagonist was love'

May 18, 2012 |  5:15 pm

Jacques audiart marion cottilard
CANNES, France — Honored with nine Césars, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009 and nominated for the best foreign-language Oscar, the intense prison drama “A Prophet” made French writer-director Jacques Audiard’s international reputation. But by the time it was over, the filmmaker was ready for something different.

“Fifteen weeks shooting, a 9-square-meter cell, no natural light, only men, no women,” he said, sitting on a rooftop terrace here Friday and recalling the exertions required to make “A Prophet.” “So I felt a strong desire to do a love story, with sun, with light, with space. A film with women.”

That film is “Rust & Bone,” screening at this year’s festival in competition, but don’t expect a soft, fluffy movie. Audiard’s idea of a love story is edgy and fearlessly emotional.

Starring Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as a trainer of killer whales and Belgian sensation Matthias Schoenaerts as a violent, disconnected security guard, “Rust & Bone” has been well-received here, further cementing Audiard’s place in the very top rank of French directors.

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