24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Patrick Kevin Day

'The Conspirator' nails authenticity. With flat nails [video]

August 15, 2011 |  4:53 pm


"The Conspirator," Robert Redford's historical drama about the trial of Mary Surratt, the only woman charged as a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, came and went quickly when it was released this spring. For those who happened to see it in theaters, the big-name cast, which included James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood and Robin Wright, may have distracted from the meticulous detail put into the film's historical authenticity.

Luckily, that's what DVD extra features are for. In this exclusive clip from "The Conspirator" DVD, out Tuesday, production designer Kalina Ivanov shows off just how much thought went into re-creating Washington of 1865. The columns may be a little thicker (that makes them more masculine), but the details are mostly right. All the way down to the flat nails used to hold the gallows together. Why flat nails? That's the way they did it back in 1865.



How ideological is Robert Redford?

'The Conspirator' movie premiere: Robert Redford, James McAvoy, Robin Wright hatch a plot

--Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Robert Redford directs Robin Wright as Mary Surratt on the courtroom set of “The Conspirator.” Credit: Claudette Barius / Roadside Attractions


Photo: Robert Redford directs Robin Wright as Mary Surratt in the courtroom set of “The Conspirator.” Claudette Barius / Roadside Attractions

'The Help's' cast, especially Viola Davis, wins over the critics

August 12, 2011 |  4:16 pm

Viola-davis1"The Help" comes to the screen with high expectations from the multitude of fans of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel. Luckily, with the help of a cast led by Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, the critics seem to have been won over.

The Times' Betsy Sharkey says the film's heart remains light, even when dealing with potentially tricky material like the segregated South of the 1960s. In fact, it may be too light. She does complain that "the movie exists within an emotionally charged landscape sometimes too starkly black and white -- there is no room for ambiguity at this table." But she does have kind words for director Tate Taylor and his way with the cast: "His strength, as it was in his debut, is in fully mining the comic talents of his actors to help the drama go down; he's less sure-footed in handling the big themes."

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'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' triumphs with the critics

August 5, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Rise of the Planet of the Apes reviews largely positive

 "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," almost lost in the stampede of huge summer blockbusters, probably would not have appeared on anyone's list of most-anticipated films two weeks ago. But all of a sudden, the little-monkey-movie-that-could is emerging from out of nowhere as one of the heat season's biggest surprises.

The Times' Kenneth Turan doesn't go overboard in his praise. He says, it's "smart, fun and thoroughly enjoyable, it's a model summer diversion that entertains without insulting your intelligence." Though he has praise for the writing, direction and the film's human stars, Turan singles out performer Andy Serkis and his fellow performance-capture thespians: "All this technology wouldn't be as dazzling as it is without the work of the actors (some from Cirque du Soleil) who wear the motion capture suits, especially the redoubtable Andy Serkis."

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Critical Mass: Split decision on 'Cowboys & Aliens'

July 29, 2011 |  2:30 pm

Photo: Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde star in "Cowboys & Aliens." Credit: Universal Pictures The crowds flocking to see "Cowboys & Aliens" this weekend will likely be split into two camps: those rooting for the cowboys and those rooting for the aliens. The critics have already divided into two camps of roughly even size: those who enjoyed director Jon Favreau's genre mash-up and those who would rather see the movie hogtied and shot.

The Times' Kenneth Turan is in the latter camp. Despite boatloads of talent, he calls the film "a leaden mash-up of western and science-fiction elements that ends up noisy, grotesque and unappealing." He goes on to say, " 'Cowboys & Aliens' displays one thumping cliché after another as if its bankrupt derivativeness was in some way reinventing the wheel."

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Critical Mass: With 'Cars 2,' the critics' love affair with Pixar hits a rocky patch

June 24, 2011 |  1:53 pm


Pixar has been around for 25 years now and made 12 feature films, all of which have been met with critical praise bordering on religious ecstasy. But "Cars 2" may have finally broken that streak. Though the film was co-directed by Pixar head honcho John Lasseter, the car-based sequel is getting some of the worst reviews of the animation studio's career.

Times critic Kenneth Turan appears to be in the minority camp with his rave. He says, "With engaging characters, a plot that ensures energy, and such a wealth of auto references ... 'Cars 2' has a smooth, easy way about it."

Let's just hope the staff of Pixar only reads the LAT.

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Critical Mass: 'Green Lantern' takes critics to blackest night

June 17, 2011 |  6:10 pm


The summer of the superhero continues with this weekend's release of "Green Lantern." But if the mostly tepid reviews are any indication, this may be the first major superhero misstep of the summer.

After a double shot of Marvel heroes -- Thor and the X-Men -- it's the DC universe's turn with "Green Lantern." Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, the cocky fighter pilot-turned-emerald savior of the universe. Blake Lively plays his love interest. There's lots of CGI and intergalactic bad guys, and for the most part, the critics seem tired of all of it.

Times critic Kenneth Turan is actually kinder to the film than most of his peers, but though he does grant that the film is "watchable in a comic book kind of way," he ultimately lays the blame at the feet of star Reynolds. He writes, " 'Green Lantern's' biggest problem, never completely overcome, is that there is a serious tonal shift between the devil-may-care Hal Jordan of the opening sections and the dead serious savior of the universe of the finale."

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Critical Mass: The critics love 'Super 8' for what it represents

June 10, 2011 |  3:26 pm


Director J.J. Abrams' neo-Spielbergian coming-of-age sci-fi action fantasy "Super 8" has been under wraps for a long time now. But the veil of secrecy is being lifted as the paying public finally gets a chance to see exactly what Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg have been up to.

So how are the critics, who saw the film early and have had a few days to collect their thoughts, reacting to this tale of an alien run amok in small town Ohio circa 1979 while a group of pre-teens make an 8-millimeter zombie flick? Does it recapture the magic of late '70s/early '80s Spielberg that it's so self-consciously attempting to evoke?

Mostly, the answer is yes. But it's not an unqualified success.

Take, for example, Kenneth Turan's review in The Times. Turan came away from the film heavy-hearted, lacking for enthusiasm for the wonders Abrams had shown him. He writes, "A longtime admirer of Spielberg, Abrams has made something more in that director's style than his own, an action that has diminished his own effectiveness without replicating what makes the best of Spielberg's films so successful." In the end, he says, "the problem with 'Super 8' is not how much there is to complain about but how little there is to be excited about."

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Critical Mass: 'X-Men: First Class' graduates with most critics' honors

June 3, 2011 |  4:22 pm


Though a few comic-book heroes are getting their first major filmic at-bats this summer (Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern), the X-Men have been around for a few years. Their latest, "X-Men: First Class," has a lot about it to cause concern. For one thing, it's a fourquel. Not only that, it's a prequel. It lacks the star power of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Hugh Jackman. And the previous installment, "X-Men: The Last Stand," didn't really excite anyone except for director Brett Ratner's accountant. Yet, surprisingly, against the odds, director Matthew Vaughn seems to have made a superhero epic worth watching.

That's not to say that all the critics are on board with the film. The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey sees the greatness that could have been present in this latest blockbuster but feels that it's undone by the flaws. She writes, "Those flashes of amazing are fleeting, ultimately undone by a frustrating mire of multiple plots, overreaching special effects, leaden ancillary players and world-ending military standoffs that have all the tension of a water balloon fight."

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Critical Mass: 'The Hangover Part II' gives the critics a headache

May 27, 2011 |  4:14 pm


The first "Hangover" was a surprise smash, an R-rated comedy that raked in more than $277 million at the domestic box office. So, a sequel was inevitable. And judging from the first day's box office, people are awaiting it with open arms.

But is it any good? That's another story.

Most are like Times critic Betsy Sharkey, accusing the film of existing purely as a crass cash-grab without any good comedy to justify itself. She writes, "Me, I'm left with morning-after regrets. Lost is the fresh, perverse, painfully politically incorrect R-rated pleasure that came when 'The Hangover' ate up the summer of 2009."

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Critical mass: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' doesn't hold water with reviewers

May 20, 2011 |  4:18 pm


Disney's trio of "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. So it's a no-brainer that Johnny Depp would strap on Capt. Jack Sparrow's boots one more time for a fourth adventure, the newly released "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

When we were last in these waters, critics threatened to mutiny, giving the franchise's third installment, "At World's End," the worst reviews of the series to date. Now that they've had some time to cool down, are they more welcoming of Depp's return to swashbuckling?


Times' critic Betsy Sharkey remains a fan of Mr. Depp and his oddball take on piracy, but she calls the rest of the movie "still not seaworthy, nor Sparrow worthy for that matter." According to Sharkey, the film's shabbiness is one of its biggest flaws. She writes, "If all that sounds like a promising place to work a lot of 3-D magic, then boy are you in for a major letdown. The Ds in this instance stand for dark and dismal and disastrously claustrophobic."

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