‘Best of Enemies’ shines a light on fiery Buckley-Vidal debates

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ABC News was last in the ratings in the summer of 1968, behind NBC’s team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite on CBS. It was desperate to gain an edge on the more established networks’ news teams.

So ABC decided to try something different, hiring William F. Buckley Jr., the guiding light of the-then “new conservatism” to debate writer Gore Vidal, a Democrat and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, during the Republican and Democratic conventions. They had long been ideological enemies and had twice debated before — once on David Susskind’s show “Open End” in 1962 and at the Republican convention in 1964.

Dorothy Arzner is the focus of a retrospective by UCLA Film and Television Archive

If you know anything about the history of American film, you know the name Dorothy Arzner. And no wonder.

Called by one scholar “the most prolific woman studio director in the history of American cinema,” Arzner directed 16 Hollywood features in a career that lasted from 1920s silent films through 1940s World War II dramas. But that’s not all.

Arzner was the first female member of the Directors Guild of America, is often credited with the invention of the boom microphone, shot 50 Pepsi commercials with Joan Crawford and even had Francis Ford Coppola as one of her graduate students when she taught filmmaking at UCLA (she died in 1979).

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With ‘Henry,’ a cinematic leap into world of virtual reality

On a recent afternoon in sparsely chic offices here, the people making the virtual-reality animated short “Henry” convened to watch footage of their cutting-edge film.

The group of about a dozen — mostly young and many of them with Pixar backgrounds — gathered in a semicircle as the director, a gregarious filmmaker named Ramiro Lopez Dau, engaged in what appeared to be a tribal ritual. He dropped to the floor, strapped on a headset and began crawling around an area rug, extending his head this way and that in the manner of a disoriented cat.

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“I felt a lot of trail with that smoke,” Lopez Dau said, poking his head in one direction. “It’s really visible.”

Danny Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’ lands NYFF centerpiece spot

Director Danny Boyle’s biographical drama “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender as the late Apple co-founder, will screen in the New York Film Festival’s centerpiece slot Oct. 3.

A monster resembling a radish shatters a box office record in China

“Monster Hunt,” a hybrid animation-live action film centered on a baby monster who resembles a white radish, has become the top-grossing Chinese film ever, earning about $208 million in its first 10 days of release, mainland government regulators said Sunday.

Indie focus: Movies go to work, ‘Paper Towns,’ ‘The Passenger’ and our podcast

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Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Last week we had an Indie Focus Screening Series event with the pregnancy dramedy “Unexpected.” Director Kris Swanberg couldn’t attend — in an ironic twist not lost on her she is pregnant and unable to travel from her home in Chicago. So she sent along questions of her own for stars Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm and Gail Bean for our post-screening Q&A.

You can listen here in the second edition of our Indie Focus Podcast.

Left: “Unexpected” actress Gail Bean. Right photo: Various people involved in “Unexpected.” (Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP; Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

This week we’ve got a screening and Q&A with “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” and writer-director Marielle Heller and actors Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgard. (We hope to turn that into a future podcast too.)

August will mark three years that we’ve been putting on the screening series, and to celebrate we’ve gone a little nuts. (Also, there were just too many great movies and guests to turn down!) We’ve got “Fort Tilden,” “Mistress America,” “Digging For Fire,” “Grandma,” “Z For Zachariah” and “Learning To Drive” all on deck.

Check here for more info: events.latimes.com/indiefocus/

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

Money, work and the movies

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, right, in “Tangerine.” (Magnolia Pictures)

I just wrote an essay on depictions of work in a handful of recent movies. Far too often in American movies, work life is reduced to some ill-defined environment from which long lunch breaks or afternoons off can be taken. How often have you left a film and wondered, “What exactly did they do at that office?”

And yet there are movies — the recent “Magic Mike XXL,” “Tangerine” and “Results” come to mind — that do place work at the forefront of their dramatic interest and intent.

In an interview earlier this year, “Results” writer-director Andrew Bujalski recalled how he went to see Robert Bresson’s 1983 film “L’Argent,” in part because the title translates simply as “Money.”

“I thought every movie should be called ‘L’Argent,’&rdquo Bujalski told me. “So much of our interactions in this culture and on this planet are driven by it. So it’s a part of every story, of course.” 

‘Paper Towns’

Nat Wolff is led on the best night of his life by Cara Delevingne in “Paper Towns.” (Michael Tackett / 20th Century Fox)

The new film “Paper Towns” is an adaptation of the novel by “The Fault in Our Stars” author John Green. Directed by Jake Schreier and adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who also wrote “The Spectacular Now,” the film is a teenage romance between characters played by Nate Wolff and Cara Delevinge.

In her review of the movie, Rebecca Keegan noted, “There’s an old-fashioned chasteness to their banter — even about sex — that’s charming in part because it’s so rare in modern movies. It seems unlikely anybody’s mom will get angry about ‘Paper Towns.’ Rarer still is a studio movie for young adults that concerns itself not with vampires or the apocalypse but with the mundane matters of the heart.”

This sentiment was echoed by the film’s director in a recent profile by Steve Zeitchik.

“We are the no-one-dies movie,” Schreier said, smiling as he made clear he’s heard the question a few times before. “It is a little unfortunate no one turns into a vampire.”

Schreier’s previous feature, “Robot & Frank,” was in fact our very first Indie Focus Screening Series event. I also interviewed Schreier and wrote about the film then.

Parker Posey ‘Close-Up’

The Film Society of Lincoln Center is one of the most venerable and venerated film organizations in the country. The organization puts on the New York Film Festival and the New Directors/New Films series (in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art) and features important programming year-round of both repertory titles and new arthouse films.

A lot of fascinating people have passed through the society’s doors over the years, and they recently started a podcast called “The Close-Up” to take advantage of that. A particularly wonderful conversation occurred recently between actress Parker Posey, currently onscreen in “Irrational Man,” and the FSLC’s deputy director, Eugene Hernandez. The pair talked about Woody Allen, Christopher Guest, Posey’s recent blond hair color and the importance of discovering the “temperature” of a film set. It’s a great listen.

‘The Passenger’

Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in a scene from the movie “The Passenger.” (Floriano Steiner / Sony Pictures Classics)

Michelangelo Antonioni is a filmmaker I feel I have grown into as I have grown older. I get his movies now in a way I simply didn’t before, their enigmas revealing themselves to me over time.

His staggering 1975 film “The Passenger,” starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider in the story of a man trying to escape his life by assuming the identity of another, will be screening at the American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre on July 30 on a double bill with Martin Scorsese’s likewise overwhelming “Taxi Driver.”

When “The Passenger” was rereleased in 2005, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis called it “arguably Antonioni’s greatest film” while adding that “it dazzles from first shot to last.”

When the film was originally released in 1975, the Los Angeles Times’ own Kevin Thomas interviewed Antonioni in Los Angeles, “in the Jose Ferrer Suite in the Beverly Wilshire’s new wing.”

As to whether he favored style over substance and mystery over meaning, Antonioni countered by saying, “If it looks fantastic then there is something in it that is fantastic!”

Antonioni added, “Words are symbols, images are what they are. I may be someone who is successful — I don’t know, perhaps — with something to show, not something to say. I can’t find the right words. I’m not a writer.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

How ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Trainwreck’ put work life at the forefront

“Out here, it is all about our hustle.”

These words are spoken in the opening scene of “Tangerine.” The story of two transgender street-level sex workers, the film remains keenly aware of the importance of work and money. In that scene, the two share a single doughnut because that’s all they can afford.

But far too often in American movies, work life is reduced to some ill-defined environment from which long lunch breaks or afternoons off can be taken. How often have you left a film and wondered, “What exactly did they do at that office?”

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And yet there are movies — besides “Tangerine,” the recent “Magic Mike XXL” and “Results” come to mind — that do place work at the forefront of their dramatic interest and intent.

Work and money and where it puts you in the world are the secret subjects of lots of pictures that might more forthrightly be about something else. In the animated film “Inside Out,” the portrayal of the emotional infrastructure of a little girl is visualized as a series of individualized workspaces. “Jurassic World” depicts Bryce Dallas Howard’s character as an executive overseeing a business where marauding genetically enhanced dinosaurs might be thought of as disgruntled employees.

‘Jack Strong’ brings true Cold War thriller to life

Fans of Cold War novelists John le Carré and Tom Clancy should warm up to “Jack Strong,” a gripping political thriller based on the exploits of Ryszard Kuklinski, a high-ranking Polish army officer who shared top-secret Soviet documents with the CIA between 1972 and 1981.

’10 Cent Pistol’ wants to be pulp fiction but misfires

“10 Cent Pistol” serves as a perfect example of getting what you pay for.

How ‘End of the Tour’ became a very David Foster Wallace kind of film

Right after the new road movie “The End of the Tour” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, a movie-industry friend texted me her thoughts. Starring Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, “End of the Tour” chronicles a real-life journey taken by then-Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Eisenberg) and the late postmodern novelist David Foster Wallace (Segel) just before Wallace’s career blew up in 1996, and the movie electrified audiences with its ability to tuck meaningful truths into banal Middle American settings.

My friend, however, was not feeling the charge. “Journalist film,” she said tersely, and while I wished she was just paying a compliment to Walter Cronkite, I knew better. On one hand, I could see her point. “End of the Tour” is a seemingly insular exercise — a film concerned with words and the words of the people who like words.

Yet the essence of her critique — that, as the armchair critic might say, “not much happens” — is also what made the movie special and of interest to more than a coterie of early-adopter writers, if not everyone in the Wallace family.

Arriving in theaters July 31, “End of the Tour” tackles heady subjects like the American penchant for self-distraction, the tango between genius and depression, the role of groupthink in value systems and the powder keg of the mentor-protege relationship. All of these topics come with insight to burn, making the 106-minute movie a serious bang for a philosophical buck.

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