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I've Been Going to the...MOOOOvies


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Ian Birnie, who has been head of the film program at LACMA since 1996, was recently pushed out, or "fired" if you will, in a shake-up by LACMA's new Director Michael Govan. Needless to say, many of us cinephiles in Los Angeles were not happy. Upon my return from Europe and settling in Hollywood in the 80's, attending LACMA's weekend film series was my graduate film studies course. First, with the legendary Ron Haver curating the films and then, after Ron's death, Ian Birnie guiding the ship magnificently.

I still remember the weekend I, and a thousand or so other lucky Angeleno's, got a chance to see Abel Gance's epic "Napoleon", in the original multi-strip format that Gance shot the film in(three cameras filming simultaneously side-by-side-by-side and then the films projected the same way...an early version of cinemascope). To see such imagery on the big screen, in pristine restoration, is a feast for the eyes. You cannot get the same effect watching it on a dvd.

It's like the difference between reading an actual book and a book on kindle.

Well, for Ian's last hurrah, he's curated his final film program that began screening this month at LACMA, and to give you some idea how beloved Ian is here in L.A., here's an article from the LA Weekly that Scott Foundas wrote about Ian.

LACMA Film: Remembering Ian Birnie

By Scott Foundas Thursday, Jul 7 2011

The series "Celebrating Classic Cinema: Curator and Audience Favorites" would be just as well served by the title of one of the films it includes: The Long Goodbye. For the next four weeks, LACMA's outgoing film curator, Ian Birnie, will bid adieu to himself with a 21-film "carte blanche" — an extended farewell that truly began in July 2009, when the museum announced it would be terminating its 40-year-old film program due to declining attendance and revenue. And though film at LACMA has been kept on life support these past two years through a combination of public outrage and modest corporate sponsorship, the writing never truly vanished from the museum's wall. As announced earlier this year, following Birnie's departure LACMA will hand over the reins of the film program to Film Independent, the nonprofit organization that produces the Los Angeles Film Festival and the annual Spirit Awards.

In the introductory notes to his final series, Birnie is typically coy, explaining that he "sidestepped the task of devising a list of 'favorite' or 'desert island' films ... in favor of a nostalgic look back at the program itself" — movies that played one or more times in previous museum series and were well attended by the public. But to deny that other themes and through lines abound would be like ignoring the thick fog that envelops the remote Scottish isle at the center of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's glorious I Know Where I'm Going (which opens the series, paired with F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, on Fri., July 8).

Stroll down this particular memory lane with Birnie and you will encounter multiple tales of people trapped in doomed relationships (Max Ophuls' The Earrings of Madame de ... , Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place) or simply trapped, like the immobilized dinner guests of Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel. Also favored are chronicles of disappearance and the loss of identity, from the missing woman quickly forgotten by her friends in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura to the two femme fatales who freely swap identities in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. Even the ostensible comedies here — Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be and Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels — are set against the Holocaust and the Great Depression, respectively.

All, in their way, are stories of people who think they know where they're going, but, like most of us, haven't got a clue.

Birnie came to Los Angeles in the summer of 1996 from his native Canada, where he had been one of the programmers for the Toronto International Film Festival, and set about following in the formidable footsteps of the late Ron Haver, who had stewarded the LACMA film program from the early 1970s until his death in 1993. (Because Haver's death coincided with LACMA's prolonged search for a new museum director, the film program was forced to subsist for more than two years on a series of guest curators.)

As a budding cinephile myself recently transplanted to L.A., the ambitious filmmaker retrospectives and thematic series presented at LACMA (including those on the blacklist, the evolution of sound design and Hollywood anti-Nazi movies) in the early days of Birnie's tenure were as crucial to my own cinematic education as anything gleaned in the hallowed halls of the (since renamed) USC School of Cinema-Television.

Profiled by the Los Angeles Times a few weeks into the job, Birnie told reporter Robert Koehler that he aspired to create "a sense of living history for an audience," and those words as well as any capture the spirit of Birnie's programming over the subsequent decade and a half. If LACMA is but one of the many jewels in L.A.'s robust repertory cinema crown, it has long been the one most assiduously devoted to what we might call "the canon." So while the American Cinematheque blazed trails into the annals of B movies and other marginal cinemas, and UCLA performed its miraculous preservation work , it was at LACMA that you were most likely to find major surveys of world-class auteurs (Altman, Bergman, Oshima), iconic stars (Bogart, Olivia de Havilland, Audrey and Katharine Hepburn) and — because the canon isn't a closed object — important figures on the leading edge of world cinema today, from the South Koreans Lee Chang-Dong and Hong Sang-Soo to Mexico's Carlos Reygadas.

Time and again the conventional wisdom that says Los Angeles moviegoers are less art film–savvy than their East Coast counterparts was disproved, with LACMA retrospectives of Robert Bresson, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Krzysztof Kieslowski generating sold-out crowds in the 600-seat Bing Theatre, a venue more than double the size of the largest auditoriums at such stalwart New York cinephile haunts as BAM, Film Forum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Of course, Birnie's LACMA years coincided with the rise of DVD, on-demand video, HD technology and other similar breakthroughs that make it easier than ever to dial up a century of cinema from the comfort of our living rooms. So what will really be on exhibit over the next month is a look back not just at a certain style of film programming but at a certain style of moviegoing, too. As Martin Scorsese rhetorically asked in his now-famous L.A. Times editorial, published in the immediate wake of the museum's 2009 film crisis, "Without places like LACMA and other museums, archives and festivals where people can still see a wide variety of films projected on screen with an audience, what do we lose? We lose what makes the movies so powerful and such a pervasive cultural influence. If this is not valued in Hollywood, what does that say about the future of the art form?" Indeed, now we have more movies at our disposal than two lifetimes will allow us to see, and ever smaller screens on which to watch them, but the collective viewing experience has never felt so endangered, and with it the presence of expert voices like Birnie's to guide us.

For most of the past decade, as the Weekly's film critic/editor, I assigned dozens of articles about LACMA film programs to myself and other writers — never enough for my own satisfaction (or, I suspect, the museum's), but then these were the dog days of print journalism, with their incredibly shrinking page counts and freelance budgets. Working for a newspaper at the dawn of the 21st century, it was easy to feel that one had arrived at the tail end of something formerly great and glorious.

Working for a film programming organization, as I have since leaving the Weekly in 2010, I've been dogged by a similarly uncertain feeling. Good prints of older films are harder than ever to come by, and by "older" I mean anything made before 1990. Studio archival divisions have been decimated by layoffs and belt-tightening. The hoped-for digital revolution that will make projection-quality HD masters available for more than just a few hundred canonical classics is still years, if not decades, away.

Let me try, however, to end on something other than a funerary note. Elvis Mitchell, a friend and fellow Weekly alum, will oversee the new LACMA program for Film Independent, and I salute him as he joins the ever-growing fraternity of critics turned programmers, even as I suspect he has his work cut out for him. Despite an April 7 L.A. Times report that characterized the LACMA/Film Independent partnership as an "expansion" of the museum's movie offerings, sources close to the discussions confirm that, at least initially, the series will consist of only a single weekly screening, presented on Thursday evenings, starting in the fall.

Are 52 screenings a year enough to give moviegoers the sense of "living history" that past LACMA film curators strived so diligently to foster? I hope so, for the history of cinema, like that of any art form, is a narrative unto itself, and we need good programmers (and critics) to help tell that story, lest we become hopelessly lost in the dark.

So, this past Friday night, it was Preston Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels"...

Sullivanstravelsposter.jpg

Joel McCrea plays a film director tired of making fluffy comedies...he wants to make "serious" films, and wants to make a movie called "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"(yes, this is where the Coen brothers got the idea to name their movie "O Brother Where Art Thou"). He decides to go undercover as a hobo, a bum, to see what real poverty is like, and in one of my favourite scenes, he meets Veronica Lake in this Hollywood diner:

http://youtu.be/ndV9xth1zoI

and Ernst Lubitsch's "To Be or Not to Be"...

To_Be_or_Not_to_Be_1942_poster.jpg

This was Carole Lombard's last movie before she died in a plane crash. here's the first 10 minutes of the movie...don't let the German credits fool you, it's in English:

http://youtu.be/0NbkJe2FBt8

Of course, you might already know about these films...but if you don't, you should rent them, if you're looking for a good laugh. Both Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch are recognized comedy masters. There's even an in-joke in "Sullivan's Travels" regarding Lubitsch, whose films were often described as having the "Lubitsch touch".

Another great Sturges classic, and possibly my favourite Sturges film, is "The Lady Eve", with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. And my favourite Ernst Lubitsch is probably "Ninotchka", with the sublime Greta Garbo. "The Shop Around the Corner", with Jimmy Stewart, is also great.

Just in case you're tired of comic-book characters and sub-literate dialogue in today's summer movies.

In other news, I went to see the new "Harry Potter" movie again last night...this time in 3-D, and with a different group of friends. The 3-D isn't all that integral to the film, so don't feel you have to spend the extra dough on the 3-D to see it....it's perfectly fine in 2-D. One of our group got a little verklempt, a little teary-eyed at the end. And much as I felt with the two "Kill Bill" movies, I think I would have preferred having both parts screen as one big movie. All in all, probably the best one of the whole series of "Potter" films. Yes, as in all the previous films, there were changes and omissions in the adaptation from book to film, but to film everything that happens in the books, you'd have to have a 52-week mini-series. Or make each movie 6 or 7 hours long.

Edited by Strider
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Well, got THAT out of the way. Went to the midnight show last night of the final Harry Potter movie. Finally, those kids indentured servitude is over and they can get on with the rest of their lives.

No, seriously, it was pretty good. In fact, after an uneven series, the last 3 films ended things on a high note, as once the films dispensed with the gee-whiz cutesiness and got down to the life or death stakes of the story, the quality of the films improved.

And, lawdy mama, if you're a fan of British thespians(that's THESpians, NOT LESbians, Big Dan :) ), these Harry Potter films were like a Who's Who of Brit talent. I think everybody other than Steve Coogan made an appearance.

Personally, I cheered every time Alan Rickman appeared on screen...his line readings were...oh, what's the word I'm looking for?...DELICIOUS! And Helena Bonham Carter gave the film series a late jolt of looney energy.

So for all you Harry-heads, I think you'll find "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" a worthy ending. And even for you novices, there is much to enjoy in the movie.

One thing's for sure...it's a helluva lot better than Transformers, Green Lantern, and Pirates of the Caribbean 4.

I love Harry Potter; haven't seen the last film yet but hopefully next weekend. I hate to see it end. :(

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Completely biased, but I loved the final HP movie! It really does rely heavily on audiences having prior knowledge of the story to understand the significance of many plot points, but those ten people will just have to put in the time to fill in the gaps :P

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I bought the dvd 'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown'...

A great ducumentary on the 'Funk Brothers' studio musicians who played on more hits than Elvis & The Beatles combined.

B)

It also includes live performances by Joan Osborne, Chaka Khan, Mishell Ndegeocello, and Ben Harper.

It brings back a lot of memories of the 60's and 70's.

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Completely biased, but I loved the final HP movie! It really does rely heavily on audiences having prior knowledge of the story to understand the significance of many plot points, but those ten people will just have to put in the time to fill in the gaps :P

laugh.giflaugh.gif

I loved it too. I have been very pleased with all of the HP movies.wizard.gif

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In the theaters, I've seen Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, and Cars 2. (can you see the pattern of my movie going?)

I watched a very good movie tonight on Netflix's instant streaming called Lovely, Still. It was a touching little movie. I highly reccomend it to people who like dramas.

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Obama was wrong, this is a great movie. I knew next to nothing about it prior to renting it. If I knew anything more of the plot beforehand I'm not so sure I would have enjoyed it so much. It starts out like a typical political story but then takes a huge detour that kept me captivated until the end.

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51cCLUbm-GL._SX500_.jpg

Obama was wrong, this is a great movie. I knew next to nothing about it prior to renting it. If I knew anything more of the plot beforehand I'm not so sure I would have enjoyed it so much. It starts out like a typical political story but then takes a huge detour that kept me captivated until the end.

I became interested in this from the original previews, which looked kinda sci-fi/action.

I still enjoyed it when I learned it wasn't exactly that.

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In the theaters, I've seen Kung Fu Panda 2

Way back in the 70's me and my nephew went to see 'Kung Fu Gold' (Chinese) and I swear the opening fight scene was 20 minutes long. They were kicking and screaming while flying off bridges, landing on trains and flowing down rivers. They must have traveled half way across China by the time the fight ended. Of course we were laughing our heads off at the ridiculous scene. :lol:

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laugh.giflaugh.gif

I loved it too. I have been very pleased with all of the HP movies.wizard.gif

Yeah really consistent quality throughout, but now that it's all said and done, I'm glad that they split the 7th novel into two movies. Given the inherent challenges of adaptations, they really did the story justice, let alone one of this magnitude. 7 Part II is my favourite one! :witch:

Anyway, I saw it again :bagoverhead:. I can't get over Snape's heartache. The success of the whole enterprise has rested on his devotion all along. Who knew he had it in him??

Tonight I'm watching Sense and Sensibility (the brilliant Emma Thompson version).

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I watch loads of films, don't usually bother posting about them on here though.

I'll make an exception for this as it's the best one I've seen for a while, a French gangster/prison drama called A Prophet

It really was good, 2 1/2 hours long and I was glued to it all the way through.

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I watch loads of films, don't usually bother posting about them on here though.

I'll make an exception for this as it's the best one I've seen for a while, a French gangster/prison drama called A Prophet

It really was good, 2 1/2 hours long and I was glued to it all the way through.

So glad you liked this Ady, as this was one of my favourite films of 2009. It got ROBBED at the 2010 Oscars! Instead of "A Prophet", or the equally worthy "The White Ribbon", the Best Foreign Film Oscar went to the middle-of-the-road, overrated "Secret in their Eyes". Boo! :thumbdown:

Just another in a series of bad decisions in the Foreign Film category.

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So glad you liked this Ady, as this was one of my favourite films of 2009. It got ROBBED at the 2010 Oscars! Instead of "A Prophet", or the equally worthy "The White Ribbon", the Best Foreign Film Oscar went to the middle-of-the-road, overrated "Secret in their Eyes". Boo! :thumbdown:

Just another in a series of bad decisions in the Foreign Film category.

Yeah, that's usually the way.

I've seen The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke is one of my favourite directors. I found some of his films truly shocking that really made me think about them for days afterwards.

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I kept reading about how bad this movie supposedly is which what took me so long to finally get around to renting it. I enjoyed it so I'm guessing all of the criticism had to do with people thinking it didn't live up to the first Iron Man somehow.

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Before renting this I had a very hard time remembering if I'd seen it before. Since the Die Hard movies all follow pretty much the same formula it was hard to tell from the description on the box. Thankfully, it was one I hadn't seen. Lots of edge of your seat stuff here but they ratcheted up the action so much towards the end that the final sequence felt almost anti-climatic. Still, a great movie, especially if you're a fan of the previous Die Hard flicks and like action movies in general.

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