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November 17, 2012 | By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Ken Burns, public television's signature chronicler of great American moments, pastimes and inventions, has turned his Ken Burns Effect loose upon "The Dust Bowl. " One would say it was almost inevitable that two things so huge were bound to meet. The four-hour film premieres Sunday and Monday on PBS and tells the story of the great drought that befell the Southern plains in the 1930s and the poor farming practices that made it into something far worse. Though it has the pokey pace and flat affect of his other films - for Burns, history is elegy - it is also one of his best works: more tightly focused than usual in time and place, with a clear shape, dramatic arcs and a conclusion that is at once cautionary and moving, topical and timeless.
November 12, 2012 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Had Oliver Stone not been involved in "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States," which premieres Monday night on Showtime, would the 10-part miniseries have a less hectoring tone? Would voices of actual historians replace clips from Frank Capra and John Wayne movies to make points of fairly grave significance? And perhaps most important, without the regular use of histrionic questions such as these, would the essentially reasonable warning against American nationalist preening have been less condescending and therefore more convincing?
October 16, 2012 | By Randy Lewis, This post has been corrected. See note below
It's a good bet that a fair amount of homework went undone Monday night for about 3,000 students from five Claremont colleges. Rather than hunkering down over their books, students piled into Pomona College's Bridges Auditorium and spent most of the evening with Taylor Swift, who used the opportunity to tape a new edition of “VH1 Storytellers.” In an unusually smooth television taping - there were few pauses and no stops for retakes -...
October 13, 2012 | By Irene Lacher
Sanaa Lathan has been a critics' darling here and in New York in the title role of Lynn Nottage's play "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark," which runs through Oct. 28 at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. As Vera, Lathan plays an African American movie actress in the 1930s who can get only maid roles. Fast-forward to the present, where she costars as Mona Fredricks, the mayor's assistant, in the second season of the Starz series "Boss," which concludes Sunday. FOR THE RECORD: Sanaa Lathan: The Sunday Conversation interview with Sanaa Lathan in the Oct. 14 Calendar section said that her TV series "Boss" would be airing its season finale that night.
October 10, 2012 | By Mark Olsen and John Horn, Los Angeles Times
TORONTO - Martin McDonagh is no stranger to movie violence. The British playwright-filmmaker's debut feature, 2008's hit-man tale "In Bruges," had no shortage of blood, and McDonagh's new movie, Friday's R-rated crime drama "Seven Psychopaths," is hardly a musical comedy. The writer-director won't have to wait for critics and audiences to comment on the surging body count - "Seven Psychopaths" is as much a commentary on screen violence as a story overflowing with it. At various points throughout the film, McDonagh points out the real-life consequences of aggression and stages some scenes with so much over-the-top mayhem that it's clear he's poking fun at how movies typically, and casually, glorify bloodshed.
September 22, 2012 | By Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore and John Horn, Los Angeles Times
BEIJING - Every movie project involves a certain amount of negotiation, but finding middle ground proved no easy matter when writer-director Daniel Hsia tried to film "Shanghai Calling" in China. To secure permission to make his story about a Chinese American lawyer relocated to the country's largest city, Hsia exchanged numerous screenplay drafts with China's censors. The government's film production arm, China Film, which co-produced the movie, wanted to make sure that Shanghai was depicted as an efficient modern metropolis, that locals were shown as "kind and hospitable," that the visiting lawyer comes to appreciate the country by the film's conclusion and that a plot about piracy would be rewritten into more of a business misunderstanding, Hsia said.
September 18, 2012 | By Meg James, Los Angeles Times
Looking to capture young, tech-savvy Asian Americans, a Long Beach advertising agency turned East for inspiration. The firm, InterTrend Communications, came up with a Web series that blended elements of South Korean soap operas with a novel Japanese storytelling device that employed online social networks. The series, sponsored by AT&T Inc., quickly notched nearly 10 million views on YouTube and generated 4,700 suggestions from fans about how the story should unfold. The unusual interactive nature of the Web series, called "Away We Happened," could provide a template for advertising in the future.
September 9, 2012 | By Glenn Whipp
TORONTO -- Alan Arkin knew he wanted to act by his 5th birthday. He dragged his mother to the Crossroads of the World on Sunset Boulevard when he was 11 so he could sign up for a specious organization called The Screen Children's Guild. Nothing came of that, but the 78-year-old actor has been making a pretty good living for nearly half a century. Arkin has seen a thing or two, and he has a few thoughts about why movies connect with audiences. Sitting in the back row of the cavernous Roy Thomson Hall Theatre for the Toronto Film Festival's gala screening of Ben Affleck's politically tinged thriller "Argo," Arkin watched and listened while the audience cheered the story.
August 23, 2012 | By Mark Olsen
At any other time, the storyline of a film like "R2B: Return to Base" - a reckless young fighter pilot (Korean superstar Rain) is taken down a few pegs by a more experienced and disciplined rival (Yu Jun-sang) and learns the value of teamwork - would likely earn references to "Top Gun. " With the film by chance seeing release so closely after the recent death of "Top Gun" director Tony Scott, one almost feels sorry for "R2B" director Kim Dong-won for how inescapable the comparisons will be. They are not unfounded, of course, as Kim's film looks to get premium mileage from the thrill of a slo-mo formation walk across a tarmac or the whooshing rush of the horizon line slipping by the cockpit.
August 22, 2012 | By Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times Theater Critic
Enigmatic anecdote is the currency of Martin Crimp's "The City," having its U.S. premiere at Son of Semele Theater in a production directed by artistic director Matthew McCray. The characters don't so much engage in dialogue as indulge in a cryptic form of storytelling, in which puzzling incidents are set against a background of warfare, brutality and personal desolation. A foreboding air of menace invokes the work of Harold Pinter, though Crimp, a playwright better known in the States for his springy translations of French dramatic classics, is more abstract and diffuse.
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