Basinger and Pearce delight a sold-out audience at anniversary screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’

Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger spoke with critic Stephen Farber after the screening.

Kim Basinger’s initial answer to playing the voluptuous call girl Lynn Bracken in “L.A. Confidential” was a resounding “no.”

“I’m not going to play a whore! I’m a Mom now,” she recalled saying. (Basinger gave birth to daughter Ireland Baldwin in October of 1995.)

Basinger was speaking at Tuesday night’s screening of the movie, marking its 20th anniversary, held at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills. Co-star Guy Pearce (squeaky clean Det. Ed Exley) joined her for the Q&A, which was moderated by critic Stephen Farber.

But the film’s director Curtis Hanson was determined and invited Basinger to meet him at the Formosa Café to discuss the idea. (The famous bar/restaurant would later feature in the film – it’s there that Kevin Spacey as cop Jack Vincennes gives his perfectly timed line: “It is Lana Turner.”)

At the Formosa, Basinger said she experienced “the seduction of Curtis Hanson,” referring to his eloquence and deadpanning that he was “very manipulative.”

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce share a scene in “L.A. Confidential.”

Hanson’s persistence paid off: Basinger won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal. “He believed in me much more than I believed in myself,” she said. “He had a magical connection with actors and with people in general.”

(Hanson and Basinger worked together again in 2002’s “8 Mile,” with Hanson remarking, while she was deciding whether to take the part, “I know if she fears it, she’s going to do it.” Sadly, Hanson died on Sept. 20, 2016.)

Fans wait in line late Tuesday afternoon at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Playing Ed Exley was a much easier choice for Pearce, who was unknown in America at that time, though he remembered being a little overwhelmed by the plot’s twists and turns. “I read the script and I was really confused,” he laughed.

(Hanson and Brian Helgeland earned an Oscar for their screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel.)

Once Pearce heard that fellow Aussie Russell Crowe had been cast as muscle-bound cop Bud White, he was eager to be a part of the production, adding that he went through extensive screen tests at Warner Bros. before it was a done deal.

“L.A. Confidential” turned out to be Pearce’s break-through role. As he put it: “It’s the greatest film I’ve ever been a part of. It sticks with me like nothing else.”

(Pearce went on to make many more films, including “Memento” in 2000, “The Hurt Locker” in 2008, and “Iron Man 3” in 2013.)

Basinger said director Curtis Hanson was a calming influence.

Pearce and Basinger both credit Hanson with being a calming presence and encouraging them to bring stillness to the screen. A true cinephile who had the cast watch a “film noir retrospective” to get in an old-school mood, Hanson pushed back when he was nudged by execs to speed up the production, telling them: “You can hurry me along all you want but I’m not going to go any faster.”

Veronica Lake was famous for her hair. Basinger was as well – as a Breck Shampoo girl. In the film, Basinger plays a call girl who is Lake’s doppelgänger.

Hanson’s treatment of his actors was often gentle but also spare. Basinger remembered being rattled after doing a scene repeatedly, noting that she had trouble walking gracefully in long gowns and clunky 1940s shoes, à la Veronica Lake.

She asked Hanson for help. His answer: “Do it again.”

“He was utterly inspiring, really,” said Pearce. “He was a mentor, a father figure and we stayed close friends.”

Pearce also shared Crowe’s advice before a close-up. He told Pearce: “Don’t blink.”

Basinger took the opportunity on Tuesday night to thank Pearce and Crowe for their support in her Oscar win, explaining that she’d been too flustered to do so at the time. With “Titanic” sweeping the awards that year, she was sure the trophy would go to Gloria Stuart. “When you hear your name, you freeze! You lose your hands. You lose your feet. You can’t think. I just sat there until Curtis, who was sitting behind me, nudged me. Jack Nicholson had to help me to the stage.”

At 63, and still every inch a beautiful blonde, Basinger looked sleek and slim in a black blazer and blouse, cuffed jeans, white socks and black Oxfords.

When an audience member asked if they had considered making Lynn a brunette for the film’s final scene (in which she leaves Los Angeles, with Bud, for Arizona), Basinger paused a moment, then replied:  “I don’t think there was any thought of that,” she said. “I think she was really happy being a blonde.”

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‘L.A. Confidential,’ a neo-noir classic, turns 20

Tonight at the Laemmle Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills: Oscar winner Kim Basinger and co-star Guy Pearce will participate in a Q&A after a screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’!

Upon the film’s release, critic Michael Wilmington, writing for the Chicago Tribune, described it as: “A movie bull’s-eye: noir with an attitude, a thriller packing punches. It gives up its evil secrets with a smile.”

In honor of the anniversary, we are rerunning our review from 2010.

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Life is good (and glitzy) in 1953 Los Angeles, if you don’t mind smoke and mirrors, hidden crime, rampant racism and more than a few dodgy cops. Corruption in the police force, long an undercurrent in classic noir, takes center stage in “L.A. Confidential,” a wry, stylish and devastating police drama directed by Curtis Hanson.

Hanson sets the tone of glib optimism masking darker secrets by opening the movie with shots of bright and cheerful ’50s postcards, the song “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative)” and a Danny DeVito voiceover filling us in on some of the trouble that lurks in paradise.

The sophisticated script, by Hanson and Brian Helgeland, is based on the 1990 novel by James Ellroy, which cleverly weaves in actual Hollywood history while telling the see-speak-and-hear-all-evil story of three cops:

From left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey

*The jaded and jazzy Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey with a nod to Dean Martin) who pads his bank account by consulting for a TV police show (“Badge of Honor”) and feeding juicy info to “Hush Hush” tabloid columnist Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). Sid meets looming deadlines with set-ups, celebrity exposés and the odd blackmail scheme. (“Hush Hush” magazine is based on the ’50s scandal mag “Confidential” and “Badge of Honor” is based on TV’s “Dragnet.”)

*Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious newbie with a gift for finessing police politics. Exley wants to make his Dad proud, follows a strict moral code and doesn’t care about being one of the guys. And he won’t be, given that he testifies against his fellow cops and their part in “Bloody Christmas,” a true incident of LA cops beating up Mexican prisoners.

*Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), a thuggish beefcake who likes to take justice into his own hands, especially when it comes to violence against women. “His blood’s always up,” Exley says of White.

Presiding over the entire force and clashing with Exley in particular is Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), arrogant but understated until his latent psychopath rears his head.

“Bloody Christmas” is a mere prelude to a detailed catalog of vice and sin, as the story deepens and stretches to accommodate layer after layer of lies, double-dealing, betrayal and cover-up. Funny what can happen when mob leader and “honest haberdasher” Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) — a real-life criminal — is getting a time-out in jail.

Central to the tangle is the Nite Owl case, involving kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder, which of course is not what it looks like. White’s ex-partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) was among the bodies found in a dumpy diner, and, in pretty short order, three African-American guys with records end up taking the fall.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Additionally, the three cops find out about an upscale call-girl service, run by the suave, slick and urbane Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Patchett’s gimmick: All the girls resemble popular actresses — or they do after a few trips to a plastic surgeon. For instance, there’s a Veronica Lake look-alike named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Sure enough, such a business did apparently exist in ’50s Tinseltown, as recounted in Garson Kanin’s memoir “Hollywood.”

Bud White proves to be both smart and strong as he asks the tough questions and finds their well-guarded answers, one in the form of a rotten, rat-infested corpse who turns out to be a fellow cop. Shocker!

More storylines surface, such as the romance between Bud and good-hearted golden-girl Lynn, not to be confused with Veronica Lake. (Btw, the Lana Turner mixup scene is a hoot!) And as is the case in noir, it’s not long before Exley meets Lynn and creates a triangle of treachery. As the threads of the story unravel, and we see more darkness and deceit, deadly shoot-outs and bloody dust-ups, it’s clear that all strands lead back to a central source of evil. Hanson and Helgeland, courtesy of Ellroy, tell a tense, crisply paced, funny and chilling story nestled in a near-perfectly rendered world of sun-drenched, sleazy LA.

A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, “L.A. Confidential” also ranked on most major critics Top Ten lists for 1997. The film received Oscar noms for best movie, director, editing, art direction, cinematography, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, sound and music/original dramatic score. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also scored “Chinatown” from 1974 and 1992’s “Basic Instinct.” “L.A. Confidential” won two: Basinger for supporting actress; Hanson and Helgeland for the screenplay.

Hanson’s film stands up beautifully and certainly holds its own among the great neo-noir movies, in the tradition of “Chinatown” and “Body Heat.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times sums up the appeal this way: “Its intricate plot is so nihilistic and cold around the heart, its nominal heroes so amoral, so willing to sell out anyone and everyone, that the film is as initially unnerving as it is finally irresistible.”

That said, there are several snags on the accuracy front. We are introduced to Johnny Stompanato (Paolo Seganti) as Lana Turner’s boyfriend, but in reality, the pair didn’t meet until 1957. (The following year, Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane fatally stabbed Stompanato; it was found to be justifiable homicide.)

And while Mickey Cohen was certainly a major player in the LA underworld, the bigger, though less famous, boss was Jack Dragna, who took over mob business after the murder of Bugsy Siegel in 1947.

Veronica Lake shot by George Hurrell; copyright George Hurrell

Also, Veronica Lake was a 1940s star and, by 1953, her power had faded considerably; the clip that’s shown from “This Gun for Hire” would have been 11 years old. At least Hanson let a 43-year-old actress play the part.

My favorite aspect of “L.A. Confidential” is the stellar performances. (There are 80 speaking parts.) Australians Pearce and Crowe, largely unknown in the U.S. at the time, and Spacey are terrific to watch as their loyalties to each other ebb and flow. Crowe electrifies every scene he’s in and Pearce makes an ideal foil. Spacey coasts through his part with an equal measure of glitz and wit; his brief answer to why he became a cop is stunning. DeVito must have modeled Sid after a mangy dog.

As I mentioned earlier, Basinger won an Oscar for her role as the femme fatale. “She’s one of the few contemporary actresses that you imagine in a George Hurrell photograph—as glamorous as any star in the old studio system,” Hanson said in an AP story from 1997. In the same story, Basinger said of Veronica Lake: “I think she’s more interesting than every character she ever played.”

So do I.

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‘Mildred Pierce’ by Haynes savors subtext of Cain’s novel

Crawford and Blyth

HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” mini-series, directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, starts this Sunday.

In director Michael Curtiz’s 1945 movie version of the book, Joan Crawford won the Oscar for her portrayal of the title role in the ultimate story of a self-sacrificing mother and her ungrateful child, Veda (Ann Blyth). Mildred’s hard-earned success as a restaurateur allows her to support not only her family but also her aristocratic and cash-poor love interest Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott).

In Haynes’ mini-series, Kate Winslet stars as Mildred, Guy Pearce plays Monty and two actresses share the Veda role: Morgan Turner as the girl and Evan Rachel Wood as the young woman. Haynes and Jon Raymond wrote the teleplay.

In many ways, the series, which follows the book more faithfully than the 1945 movie and covers nearly 10 ten years in the characters’ lives, is a delight to watch. Depression-era Southern California is beautifully recreated and shot by Edward Lachman. Carter Burwell’s original music is spot-on as is Ann Roth’s costume design. And the acting is excellent, particularly the leads.

Whereas Crawford’s Mildred is stoic and dignified, Winslet’s is sensitive, wistful, often tentative and unsure of herself. Her expressive features suggest her mounting anger, guilt and desperation as her business grows but her relationships deteriorate.

Early on in the series, Winslet’s Mildred identifies in her daughter a “pride or nobility I thought I had” and we glimpse the complexity and closeness of her bond with Veda. The mother-daughter relationship in Haynes’ five-hour version is perhaps more nuanced than in Curtiz’s film.

Pearce easily inhabits the playboy scoundrel Monty and Wood sizzles as the junior miss femme fatale. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mildred and Veda also have very similar taste in men. This year’s supporting actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham are quite good as Mildred’s friends.

A disappointment, however, is James LeGros’ insipid performance as Pierce family “friend” Wally Burgan. In Curtiz’s version, the role as played by Jack Carson – conniving and sly, but charming – was one of the movie’s many strengths.

Another downside is the pacing, which is far too slow. It would have benefited from shaving about an hour, especially in the beginning. But then if Haynes’ aim was to be true to every page of the book, he has succeeded.

I prefer Curtiz’s original because it is canonical film noir, in tone, look and story. Granted, Cain’s book was altered because in 1940s Hollywood, immorality was never allowed to triumph. Instead of the evil-doers leaving California to begin a new life in New York, one is fatally shot and the other eventually is punished. The murder sets the story, told via flashback, in motion and lends an edgy suspense.

Still, Haynes did not set out to make a noir; apparently his aim is to explore the subtext and subtleties in Cain’s novel. Cain was, arguably, sympathetic toward his feisty protagonist (what choice does she have but to establish independence and security, given the weak and deceitful men she has to choose from?). But she pays a dreadful price for doing so and the book decries materialism, the class system and social climbing. As for Cain’s ultimate take on Mildred’s power, in Hayne’s work, there is fodder for both sides of the argument.

Warner Bros. image of 1945 “Mildred Pierce”

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On the radar: HBO’s ‘Mildred Pierce’ premiere in New York, the launch of ‘Parisian Chic,’ and an of-the-moment site

Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce walked the red carpet Monday night in New York at the premiere for HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s novel. The mini-series starts Sunday. The 1945 movie version of the book stars Joan Crawford in the title role.

Inès de la Fressange

Look book: Magazine illustrator, Roger Vivier consultant and former Chanel model Inès de la Fressange shares her style secrets in “Parisian Chic” out next month. In addition to fashion pointers, the book includes tips on living well, 70 pages of her favorite places to go in Paris as well as ideas for entertaining at home, and who does that better than the French?

A sample de la Fressange maxim: “A true Parisian is not looking to snag a billionaire husband. She is uninterested in spending for its own sake and sporting the labels to show for it.”

Read more and see highlights on savvy and soigné Shana Ting Lipton’s site, Chic Trek.

Newness to me: I recently discovered the elegant site NOWNESS, which features “stories influencing contemporary culture and global lifestyle, previewing the latest in fashion, gastronomy, art, film, music, design, travel and sport.” Part of the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton family, the site notes that all content is editorially independent. Bella Freud, Bret Easton Ellis, Joan Juliet Buck and Daria Shapovalova are just a few of the contributors.

Inès de la Fressange image from Chic Trek.

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‘L.A. Confidential’ a first-rate depiction of sun-baked sleaze

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Life is good (and glitzy) in 1953 Los Angeles, if you don’t mind smoke and mirrors, hidden crime, rampant racism and more than a few dodgy cops. Corruption in the police force, long an undercurrent in classic noir, takes center stage in “L.A. Confidential,” a wry, stylish and devastating police drama directed by Curtis Hanson.

Hanson sets the tone of glib optimism masking darker secrets by opening the movie with shots of bright and cheerful ’50s postcards, the song “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative)” and a Danny DeVito voiceover filling us in on some of the trouble that lurks in paradise.

The sophisticated script, by Hanson and Brian Helgeland, is based on the 1990 novel by James Ellroy, which cleverly weaves in actual Hollywood history while telling the see-speak-and-hear-all-evil story of three cops:

From left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey

*The jaded and jazzy Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey with a nod to Dean Martin) who pads his bank account by consulting for a TV police show (“Badge of Honor”) and feeding juicy info to “Hush Hush” tabloid columnist Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). Sid meets looming deadlines with set-ups, celebrity exposés and the odd blackmail scheme. (“Hush Hush” magazine is based on the ’50s scandal mag “Confidential” and “Badge of Honor” is based on TV’s “Dragnet.”)

*Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious newbie with a gift for finessing police politics. Exley wants to make his Dad proud, follows a strict moral code and doesn’t care about being one of the guys. And he won’t be, given that he testifies against his fellow cops and their part in “Bloody Christmas,” a true incident of LA cops beating up Mexican prisoners.

*Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), a thuggish beefcake who likes to take justice into his own hands, especially when it comes to violence against women. “His blood’s always up,” Exley says of White.

Presiding over the entire force and clashing with Exley in particular is Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), arrogant but understated until his latent psychopath rears his head.

“Bloody Christmas” is a mere prelude to a detailed catalog of vice and sin, as the story deepens and stretches to accommodate layer after layer of lies, double-dealing, betrayal and cover-up. Funny what can happen when mob leader and “honest haberdasher” Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) — a real-life criminal — is getting a time-out in jail.

Central to the tangle is the Nite Owl case, involving kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder, which of course is not what it looks like. White’s ex-partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) was among the bodies found in a dumpy diner, and, in pretty short order, three African-American guys with records end up taking the fall.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Additionally, the three cops find out about an upscale call-girl service, run by the suave, slick and urbane Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Patchett’s gimmick: All the girls resemble popular actresses — or they do after a few trips to a plastic surgeon. For instance, there’s a Veronica Lake look-alike named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Sure enough, such a business did apparently exist in ’50s Tinseltown, as recounted in Garson Kanin’s memoir “Hollywood.”

Bud White proves to be both smart and strong as he asks the tough questions and finds their well-guarded answers, one in the form of a rotten, rat-infested corpse who turns out to be a fellow cop. Shocker!

More storylines surface, such as the romance between Bud and good-hearted golden-girl Lynn, not to be confused with Veronica Lake. (Btw, the Lana Turner mixup scene is a hoot!) And as is the case in noir, it’s not long before Exley meets Lynn and creates a triangle of treachery. As the threads of the story unravel, and we see more darkness and deceit, deadly shoot-outs and bloody dust-ups, it’s clear that all strands lead back to a central source of evil. Hanson and Helgeland, courtesy of Ellroy, tell a tense, crisply paced, funny and chilling story nestled in a near-perfectly rendered world of sun-drenched, sleazy LA.

A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, “L.A. Confidential” also ranked on most major critics Top Ten lists for 1997. The film received Oscar noms for best movie, director, editing, art direction, cinematography, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, sound and music/original dramatic score. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also scored “Chinatown” from 1974 and 1992’s “Basic Instinct.”  “L.A. Confidential” won two: Basinger for supporting actress; Hanson and Helgeland for the screenplay.

Hanson’s film stands up beautifully and certainly holds its own among the great neo-noir movies, in the tradition of “Chinatown” and “Body Heat.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times sums up the appeal this way: “Its intricate plot is so nihilistic and cold around the heart, its nominal heroes so amoral, so willing to sell out anyone and everyone, that the film is as initially unnerving as it is finally irresistible.”

That said, there are several snags on the accuracy front. [Read more…]

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‘L.A. Confidential’ quick hit

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for her portrayal of call-girl Lynn Bracken in this police corruption drama, set in vintage Hollywood. The script, co-written by director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland from a James Ellroy novel, also snared the gold statuette. Co-starring with Basinger are: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, David Strathairn and Danny DeVito.

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Sly guys, coffee, pie: It’s all in ‘Mildred Pierce’

Mildred Pierce/ 1945/Warner Bros./ 111 min.

“Mildred Pierce” was Joan Crawford’s comeback role and she won an Oscar for her performance.

I saw “Mildred Pierce” for the first time nearly 20 years ago on a Sunday afternoon in my small, studenty London flat – pale gray walls, Venetian blinds, a Victor Skrebneski print opposite the TV.

Just before the opening scene unfolded – a shooting in a shadow-drenched California beach house with a sinister vibe – I remember popping a batch of popcorn in oil on the stovetop and making American lemonade (fresh lemons, sugar and water). Such wholesome snacking for the decadence on the little screen.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, “Mildred Pierce” is based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, adapted by Ranald MacDougall with uncredited help from William Faulkner. Joan Crawford plays the title character, a wife and mother, who tries to buy the love of her spoiled and ungrateful teenage daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). Her younger daughter Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) is easy to love, but Mildred is determined to win Veda over as well.

Hubby Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) doesn’t think Veda is worth it and they break up over Mildred’s intense maternal devotion. Some subtexters theorize that Mildred’s love has romantic overtones; I don’t think there’s a strong case for that.

Mildred works as a pie-baker and a waitress, then opens a chain of restaurants to pay for Veda’s clothes, music lessons and extravagant taste. Problem is, nothing’s ever good enough for the Everest-level high-maintenance Veda. “I can’t wear that rag,” she snarls, upon seeing a dress Mildred bought for her.

Besides sniping at loved ones and spending their money, Veda enjoys hatching blackmail plans and singing in sleazy nightclubs. So it’s no shocker that she also has designs on Mildred’s new love interest Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott). Monte is an aristocratic playboy who’s always short of cash but really rather useful for Veda’s plan to become patrician.

Ann Blyth and Joan Crawford as daughter and Mumsy

No matter what, Veda sinks her serpent’s teeth deeper and deeper into Mildred’s flesh, which, by the way, at 40, was still very shapely. Curtiz wisely gives Crawford plenty of opps to show off her gams. And her little hats, tailored suits and ankle straps are the picture of retro chic. [Read more…]

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