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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Film noir stalwart James Ellroy to read from his new novel

Perfidia coverThere are two cool events going on Thursday night in the noir capital of the world, i.e. Los Angeles.

Master storyteller James Ellroy will read from his new novel, “Perfidia,” set in 1941 LA.

Ellroy’s other novels include: “The Black Dahlia,” “The Big Nowhere,” “L.A. Confidential,” “White Jazz,” “American Tabloid,” “The Cold Six Thousand” and “Blood’s a Rover.”

Several of his books have been made into movies. This influential writer was born in Los Angeles in 1948.

Publishers Weekly calls the new book: “A sprawling, uncompromising epic of crime and depravity.” We’re in.

The reading is at 7:30 p.m. at Skylight Books.

The Autry Center is hosting Celebrate Steinbeck! The Road Trip as Inspiration, in honor of the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Artists will recount The Grapes of Wrath Journey, a 2013 retracing of the route taken by the Joad family. The event starts at 6 p.m.


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Strong acting, stellar cast can’t save ‘Rampart’

Rampart/2011/Millennium Entertainment/108 min.

“This used to be a glorious soldiers’ department,” says Woody Harrelson as dirty LA cop and Vietnam vet Dave Brown early on in “Rampart” by director Oren Moverman.

He’s right. Beset by the Rampart scandal, the LAPD in 1999 is anything but glorious. And corrupt, bloodthirsty, womanizing, racist Dave is anything but sympathetic. Dave’s also oddly verbose at times, perhaps signaling that he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

The best part of “Rampart” is the strong acting by Harrelson and the rest of the cast – Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, and a cameo from Steve Buscemi.

Despite the formidable acting, there’s scant character development, a turbid storyline and gimmicky camerawork. Sometimes the script, by Moverman and James Ellroy, just thuds. When Dave meets Linda (Wright) in a bar, his opening gambit is: “You’re wearing a courtroom suit and you have litigator eyes.” Really?

And when Beatty’s character, an ex-bad-cop, meets Dave in a library, he tells him: “I don’t play games. I don’t name names.”

As much as I wanted to like “Rampart,” I found the film unpleasant to watch. Granted, it is unpleasant subject matter, but dramatically this is a letdown. I had high hopes for “Rampart” because I admired Harrelson and Moverman’s excellent movie “The Messenger” from 2009. For really sizzling neo-noir stories of police corruption, give me “L.A. Confidential” (based on Ellroy’s novel) or “Serpico” anytime.

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Remembering the Black Dahlia 65 years after her death

Beth Short was 22 when she died.

Today is the 65th anniversary of one of Hollywood’s most famous unsolved murders: the brutal slaying and mutilation of Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

Her body, which had been cut in half at the waist, was found in a vacant lot at 39th Street and Norton Avenue in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1947. She was 22 years old.

Born in a Boston suburb on July 29, 1924, Elizabeth was the third of five daughters. Her father abandoned the family and her mother struggled to make ends meet. In 1944, Elizabeth came to California, hoping to live with her father; after a brief stay, he told her to leave.

It’s possible that she hoped to find work as an actress in Los Angeles but, with little education or means to support herself, she was frequently on the move, looking for new opportunities and cheap places to live. A few weeks prior to her death, Elizabeth stayed with a family in San Diego. She rode back to Los Angeles with a man named Red Manley and was seen downtown at the Biltmore Hotel on Jan. 9, 1947.

The Black Dahlia case remains unsolved.

Because the case was gruesome and sensational, and so little is known for certain about her life, theories and speculation, suspects and confessions abound. Police corruption and unethical journalistic practice severely impeded efforts to find justice. Her story spurred a plethora of media coverage as well as non-fiction and fiction books, including James Ellroy’s 1987 novel, “The Black Dahlia,” which was the basis for Brian DePalma’s film of the same name, made in 2006.

While her murder remains unsolved and many details are sketchy, it seems likely that Elizabeth ran out of friends and favors, that in those bleak days of January 1947, now such a long time ago, she had very few places to turn. With that in mind and to remember Elizabeth Short, I hope you’ll join me in making a donation to a women’s charity, such as the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, or a similar organization in your area.

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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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