Wednesday, May 04, 2016

May revivals: first week

Hey all, Mike here and I'm back. I didn't expect to be gone as long as I've been. I expected to post plenty from the Sam Peckinpah retrospective at Lincoln Center, but I didn't come close to having the time to post many of the films I was thinking of. I'm lucky I got to see Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs (better than I remembered, but still brutal and uncomfortable). But when the only current films I got to see were Deadpool (decent but if I was 13-17 it would have been AWESOME!!!), Remember (decent, Christopher Plummer was terrific), and Francofonia (I fought to stay awake for the first 30-40 minutes), then you know I'm behind. But life got in the way after the Oscars, and simple pleasures like revival screenings like this fell by the wayside. But now things have lightened up considerably, and I can start posting and attending these screenings again. Here we go, with a list for the first week or so of May:

PURPLE RAIN (1984)- Wed May 4 at AMC Empire at 5:10 and 8:05,  Wed May 4 at AMC Loews 34th St at 4:20 7 and 9:40,  AMC Loews 19th Street East at 5:15 8 and 9:30- plus  Wed May 4 at AMC Fresh Meadows at 4 and 7:45- plus Wed May 4 and Thurs May 5 at 8- plus Fri May 6 at 11:20 at IFC Center- Unfortunately while I was away, Prince passed away. I'm not sure if I could jump up and call him the best musical entertainers ever. I admittedly lost interest in his music after Diamonds and Pearls came out. But I feel he hit a home run with his album, Purple Rain. As far as I'm concerned, any list of great Rock and Roll albums that doesn't have Purple Rain in its Top 5, is a list that deserves being ignored and its compilers shunned.

Purple Rain the album has aged badly at all. Purple Rain the film, well, not so much. But it has some of the greatest rock music ever, so the film has been screened at varying theaters, commercial or non-profit, since Prince's death. AMC theaters has gone so far as to playing the film digitally in a number of its screens for 6 days, sorry I'm just getting to it now. Different locations in Manhattan, plus Fresh Meadows in Queens. 1 independent cinema, Main Street Cinemas, will also show it at night Those outside of NYC, AMC is showing the film in about 150plus other screens, so I'm sure you can find it if you're interested.

For the record, IFC Center is also showing stuff with Prince in it. I'm posting their late night (but NOT Midnight) screening, but I can only do Friday night. But since their retrospective includes Under The Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge, I'll just pretend that retrospective doesn't exist. Now if they somehow got a hold of the rarely screened concert film Sign O The Times, I would jump on that one like you wouldn't believe. But I'm not counting on that.   

Now as for Purple Rain the film, I'll repost what I wrote the last time I listed it:

"Pauline Kael once said in the late 60's that the time then was ripe to create more musicals with the present (then) rock stars like Janis Joplin. That's what made the musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s successful: they were populated with the top recording artists of the day (Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Crosby et. al.). That's what the studios could do: setup a musical with one or many of today's contemporary recording artists."

I think that fits in the case of Once, where you had recording artists doing their songs. And it certainly applies to Prince with this film. Can't imagine a good actor from that period pulling off these kind of songs, no matter who wrote them. Not the greatest film ever made, and not what you call great acting by Prince. But with performances of songs like "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy" and the title track, the sleeper hit of the summer of 1984 literally rocks whenever the music comes up. Watch how Prince went from successful rock act to icon status. Granted, he would later throw it away with crap like "Under The Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge", change his name to a symbol with no real meaning, and basically become strange to the point of uninteresting. But watching and listening to him here, anything seemed possible back then. Prince did win an Oscar for music, in a category that no longer exists.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) for ten dollars- either Thurs May 5 at 7 at Chelsea Bow Tie Cinemas- or Fri May 6 at 9:30 at the Rubin Museum of Art (introduced by Gerard Alessandrini)- A cheap-ish screening of the classic musical, Singin' In The Rain. But you have your choice of venue; you can either see it as Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas where it will be introduced by Hedda Lettuce, or you can go to the Rubin Museum where it will be introduced by Gerard Alessandrini, the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Both venues will sell out. The Chelsea screening will probably sell out within 45 minutes of the screening, while the Rubin screening will sell out anywhere from 4 hours to 1 day beforehand.  

Now onto the film itself. When Singin in the Rain came out, it was successful, but ignored. Yes it was nominated for it's score, and the only actor nominated from this was not Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds or Donald O'Connor, but Jean Hagen as the funny, bitch-on-wheels diva. But it was dismissed as fluff, and people moved on. People in 1952 wanted to go on and on about Ivanhoe, John Huston's Moulin Rouge, Son Of Paleface, and the Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Greatest Show On Earth (considered by some to be the biggest mistake the Academy ever made in that category). But when people ever bring up quality films released in the U.S. back in 1952, it's High Noon, Rashomon, Singin' In The Rain, and that's it. OK, maybe The Quiet Man, but you'd have to be Irish and drunk to do that.

THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN (1979) with a post film Q and A with director Jerry Schatzberg by writer Michael Schulman- Thurs May 5th at 7:30- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's mini-Meryl Streep retrospective. I'm mildly surprised there hasn't been a bigger one recently, but beggars can't be choosers. The second of three films in the series where Michael Schulman, author of the new Streep biography  "Her Again, Becoming Meryl Streep" discusses early roles of Ms Streep from the 1970s.

Sorry I missed the first film in the series, but here we go with the second, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, from 1979. Alan Alda wrote and stars in the title role, as a young rising Senator, and enjoying a wave of positive press, with sycophants of a staff enjoying the ride with him. He (seems to) loves his wife (Barbara Harris) and family, but seems to love his growing power and position more. And as he gears up for a battle regarding a Supreme Court nominee, in comes assistance in the form of young lawyer Streep; whose mind, youth, sense of self, and looks, all serve as an aphrodisiac to Senator Tynan. But what will be the repercussions for having this affair, if any?

Released in the summer of 1979, reviews were respectable, it did decent business at the box office, and received some more attention on video and TV for most of the 80s, as Streep's name and reputation grew. But by some point in the late 80s and continuing thru the present day, The Seduction of Joe Tynan has essentially been forgotten. Next to the other two Streep films from 1979, Manhattan and Kramer vs Kramer, this is a minor film. It has been over 15 years since I've seen this film, and while I remember liking it the several times I've seen it, I can't say I've made an attempt to get Universal Studios's slapped together DVD, or watch it on one of its rare cable screenings.

As I remember it, it's best to think of this as an early version of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing, with a few colorful characters, a mixed bag view of politics and a good cast of actors. Alda is an increasingly less likeable variation of Bartlett. You get good supporting turns from Rip Torn as a hedonistic powerful Senator, and Melyvn Douglas as an increasingly senile Senator mentor of Tynan's . But the women stand out more. You have Barbara Harris (in one of her last screen roles) as Tynan's wife; dealing with emotional issues, job stresses, holding her family together, and a husband who's away more often than not, and resenting much of it over time. When she finds out about the affair, ka-boom.

But the attention for the screening will be Streep. As a smart, ambitious, young lawyer, unhappily married, and making a professional connection with Senator Tynan. When the connection becomes personal, then comfortable, then difficult to sustain, you can read it all on Streep's face. Apparently she went into the film on some kind of emotional auto-pilot, mourning the loss of her partner, John Cazale. Streep credited Alda for getting her to open up more, get her comfortable on touching upon certain emotions and a working level of intimacy, and that this helped move forward in the short term to the roles she would tackle next, including Kramer vs Kramer. More about this I'm sure will be brought up on the screening's post-film Q and A, when author Schulman interviews director Jerry Schatzberg. If you want to go, get your tix before 6:30 and get in the theater before 7:15, because screenings at IFC with Q and As will fill up:

Let me know if there's interest. Take care.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Best of 2015

Hey all. Mike with my Top 10 of 2015. It may not be considered the best of 2015, but I think it is, so there, TTHHHRRPPTT! I try to post this every year the afternoon before the Oscars. Wait you might say (you probably didn't), you didn't post a Best of 2014 last year! Oh, I'll correct that now. In summary:

10) Still Alice
9) Zero Motivation (forgotten Israeli black comedy, MASH the film meets Sex in the City, until that changes)
8) Leviathan (Russian subtle attack of Putin style government thru modern version of the Book of Job)
7) American Sniper
6) Finding Vivian Maier (best of the documentaries)
5) Calvary (forgotten Irish comedy)
4) Birdman
3) Under The Skin (UK sci-fi starring Scarlett Johansson)
2) Whiplash
1) Boyhood (what I felt should have won Best Picture, though Birdman was a darn fine substitute)

Reasons I didn't post last year: didn't have time to write a full list, and I waited till I saw both Citizenfour (good, but not top 10) and Theroy of Everything (great lead performances, but overrated. Best Picture? OH PLEASE)

Now as for 2015, I feel this was a pretty good year for film. To the point that, yeah, my top 4 of 2014 from last year could wreck havoc on this list, but not to the point you might think. And my Top 3 of 2013 (Frozen, Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years A Slave) would be battling for the later half of the Top 10 of 2015.

I could have done a Top 22 of 2015, and be completely fine with my posting. That said, I'm fine with my order. I feel my Top 3 stands head and shoulders above  the rest of the year, with 4 and 5 not that far off from the Top 3, but just enough. Sorry there was no room in the inn for: 
Room (very good)
Steve Jobs (very good Sorkin script and Danny Boyle's best film)
The Big Short (better than I thought it would be)
45 Years (well done drama with a gut punch of an ending), and
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (if start hating all Star Wars films that are repetitive, I'll have to go as far back as Return of the Jedi, and that ain't happening folks)

Sorry I didn't get to most of the nominated documentaries (The Look of Silence in particular), Joy and The Danish Girl (the former looks like a slog, the later seems to take liberties with Alicia Vikander's character to the point of making shit up, so no thanks, I'm not spending the money) So here we go:

10) AMY- Best documentary of the year, from director Asif Kapadia. Works for both Amy Winehouse fans and as an introduction to the singer to those unfamiliar with her. Though with the information brought up here such as her full family background and her songwriting approach, some of this documentary might bring new information to even her most devout fans as well. 
8) SICARIO- No wonder Sicario had a tough time drawing audiences. The message of the film; that the Drug War in Mexico is impossible to win as long as, to paraphrase the film, twenty percent of the U.S. population continues to snort white powder. That the best we can do is to have in power, a semi-reasonable drug lord on the other side of the river (whatever that means). And what might hinder our efforts almost as much as a well armed drug lord, is law-enforcement officials on our side who are too naïve to know this. Ok, sure, the other side is using the same tactics. But it doesn't seem to matter much when you're facing down the barrel of some sort of firearm. Oh, man . . . . .

And no way did this film feel like 2 hours 2 minutes. Once we get thru the somewhat ponderous introductions of our main characters (among them, Emily Blunt's naïve cop, Josh Brolin's mysterious American agent, Benicio Del Toro's even more mysterious Mexican agent on "our side", and a Mexican man with a family who eventually makes sense), the tension ratchets and rarely lets up. We might think there's a respite here and there, but this is the wrong film and the wrong director (Denis Villeneuve) to feel that. Culminating a dinner scene that must be seen to be believed.Tight action scenes, impressive Cinematography by Roger Deakins, and a strong ensemble cast, help make Sicario an amazing, if hardly enjoyable, cinematic achievement

7) THE HATEFUL 8- The Hateful 8 could go down as Tarantino's most underrated film ever, even more so than Jackie Brown. I guess in theory telling people to go to a Western, and then make a Western that's almost three hours long, and then try to sell people on the idea that if you don't see the full 3 hour plus version in a limited (great) film format you're missing out on something special, well I don't know. They are missing something special. Specifically, they're not really messing a Western per say. They're missing a story of faith (not of the religious kind), and they're missing a sort of combination of Ten Little Indians, Deathtrap, and John Carpenter's The Thing. I would guess that Carpenter's The Thing was probably the foundation for the screenplay, with the Western motif and other ideas springing forth from there.
I wonder how well the film would have played without most of the Channing Tatum-led section in the final cut. Because as much as I love Zoe Bell, most of the characters we're introduced to in the cabin for the first time come off as collateral damage with no consequences. As in Don't Care, This Film Is Now Beginning To Feel Like It's Taking Forever. That lack of tightness for me keeps the film from being higher on this list, because the other films above it have no such problems as far as I'm concerned.
Based on my watching the 70mm version, the Cinematography outside is gorgeous and the Cinematography inside is always interesting. I enjoyed Ennio Morricone's music, but don't go in thinking you're getting a lot of original new stuff. Though I was the one hopping in my seat think "OHMYGODOHMYGOD QUENTIN IS USING REGAN'S THEME FROM EXORCIST 2!!!". Anyway, we also have a great cast from the main 8. I was hoping both Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins would get Oscar nominated alongside Jennifer Jason Leigh's go-for-broke joyous work. But it looks like it was too tight in the Actor category for Jackson to get in, and Goggins has the audacity of both not being as well known as some other actors, and not as well known as Sly Stallone playing Rocky in the Supporting Actor category. But we also have here is Quentin's tightest screenplay, in terms of both of dialogue and story construction (again, except for the Tatum-lead section).

6) WILD TALES- Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year's Oscars. It received a theatrical release here in the States last Spring, so it qualifies for this list here. During the Oscar telecast last year, I though the best films in the Foreign Language category were Leviathan, from Russia, and the actual winner, Ida, from Poland. As much as I liked the Russian film, I liked Wild Tales more.

A very pleasant surprise, which considering the content, the word pleasant might not seem appropriate. Another in the violence-with-consequences territory of films, like Unforgiven. But this anthology film from Argentina has six tightly contained stories. Aside from taking place in Argentina is, all they have in common,  according to writer-director Damian Szifron, is having protagonists  who either give in to, or try to fight off, their animal instincts. Whether they give up being human toward others, or try to fight off those impulses, and the consequences of those actions. So you can have a dark comic, almost slapstick story of a young waitress fighting her conscious about poison a local criminal politician,  and her ex-con co-worker who is only to happy to, um, overindulge in this venture. But you can also have a tension filled drama; such as where a wealthy man is ready to spend money to keep his son out of jail after a fatal hit-and-run/ DUI, only to see many people demand more and more money from him to pull this off.

3 or 4 of the 6 tales have a Twilight Zone-like aspect to them, which is why this isn't higher on the list for me. But one thing in some of his stories that Szifron pulls with better consistency than Rod Sterling and his writers on the TV series, is humor. Humor could be awkward at times on The Twilight Zone, and is a natural fit here in Wild Tales. And while the opening story on the plane is memorable, well done, and yet quite Sterling like (with a budget!), it's the last story that mixes the comedy, drama and violence well. A wedding reception to end all receptions. Where the bride starts off as the belle of the ball, only to discover something about one of the guests. A discovery that slowly but surely sends the bride off the deep end. Her reactions and how the story moves along, I'm pretty confident you won't know the twists or the ending.

5) INSIDE OUT- Pixar's best work since Toy Story 3. When I made that statement to someone, I was reminded of the mediocrity released by Pixar between these two films, so I'll say the best Pixar film since Wall-E.

Funny for the first ten minutes and a consistent mix of comedy drama and action after that. The best use of unreliable narrator of 2015 with the emotion Joy. Breaking down complex ideas of types of consciousness and Freudian theories that adults can pick up on, as well mourning the impending end of childhood. for the kids, they use bright colors and a funny imaginary friend to let them follow along (maturity will them catch up later on). But that even kids can pick up the idea that feeling sadness, or that happy memories can be tinged with sadness, is NOT necessarily a bad thing, that is cool. There are no villains here, not even the mean girls depicted in school. Maybe among the better Pixar film, Inside Out is better suited for kids, despite what I wrote earlier. Not a bad thing to me, just an observation. 

And no, it is NOT a rip-off of Herman's Head. Mere similarities here and there, nothing more. Damn, I thought we put that sitcom away for good, no matter how much I like Yeardley Smith and Molly Hagan.

4) ANOMALISA- For those who need a more realistic romantic film than Brooklyn, which is a respectable film that once it leaves the title borough, becomes a lot more ordinary. Sorry, was being a little facetious there. A touching story that could on film, could probably only be made affordably thru the method they used, animation. And not CGI, but a stop motion drama where the seams are visible, the faces seem ready to come off (and does in 1 dream sequence), and the bodies displayed are almost achingly human.

Stunningly subtle, though that's not a surprise if you remember large chunks of one of writer/ co-director Charlie Kaufman earlier efforts, Adaptation. Slowly though never explicitly do we follow our lead, self-help author Michael, who seems no longer capable of helping himself. Specifically, he seems to me (you might disagree) to suffer from Fregoli syndrome, where someone believes all the people he/she sees are the same person who look and sound almost exactly the same. We don't know if Michael's mundane lifestyle contributed to developing this syndrome or vice versa. Michael comes off as at least sympathetic for at least the first half of the film; though his letter from an angry old flame, as well as a cringe-worthy meet-up with her at the hotel bar hints that he possibly had issues back then. Narcissism possibly, which mixed with Fregoli, seems like a hole Michael will have a tough time digging himself out of, if he can.  

Michael's outlook becomes noticeably brighter when he meets a woman who is attending the conference he's speaking at. Actually Michael meets two women, but one in particular, Lisa, with a scar mostly covered by her hair, very shy, and not used to men find her interesting or attractive, is the one that touches Michael's heart. Obviously, since Lisa is the only one who looks like someone other than everyone else in Michael's Fregoli-tinged perspective. They make a connection, but how it affects them is among the film's surprises.

I fell for this film hook line and sinker. I understand this film from Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson has its detractors, but I won't be one of them. Some may refer to it as dull. I considered it leisurely paced, perhaps a little too leisurely, which is why it's lower on this list. Some may not appreciate having a lead character be so psychologically damaged, or just be a myopic putz, or that the viewer themselves are forced to consciously form their own opinion based on the style of storytelling. But I was just fine with that. And in creating a counterbalance in Jennifer Jason Leigh's Lisa character, we have someone that elevates the film for me. No Magic Pixie Girl here, to use Nathan Rabin's term. She's her own person living her own life; not necessarily smarter than Michael, maybe as world weary as him, maybe someone outwardly and perhaps inwardly more scarred than Michael. But she knows what she wants, and her life doesn't begin or end with her interaction with Michael, no matter how special the moment might be for both of them. And that is a pleasant surprise for a female character on screen today. 

3) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD- The best Franchise film this year, which I don't mean to sound like faint praise. The best action film since The Fugitive or Terminator 2, depending on your preference. For those who feel all movies tell their stories in the same way, using the same beats, here's a film that says oh Hell No. Deceptively one long chase film, but oh would you be wrong. Whether you see it in 2D or 3D, it's worth the money spent to see it in theaters.

I'm okay with George Miller rarely stopping to explain things. The film assumes you know at least some of the history of Max. It assumes you can at least pick up on the idea this is a post-apocalyptic world. The breakdown of this section of the world, of dictator, army, warrior, fanatic (OH WHAT A LOVELY DAY!!!),slave, sexual chattel. You don't need dialogue to figure it out, which is good because we usually don't get any. And having a strong female lead in Charlize Theron 's Furiosa, a hero on par with Ripley and the Bride, as the lead of a Mad Max film, audacious. And hey, was that a blind guy playing a flame-throwing axe on top of a speeding truck? COOOLLLL!!!!!

2) SON OF SAUL- A film that should be a near-lock to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, from director/ co-writer Laszlo Nemes. Different from other Holocaust films in terms of time, focus, and style. Time in terms of only 2 or so days depicted in the film. Focus in terms of concentrating on a small (my words) part of the Auschwitz death camp; the Sonderkommando group of Jewish prisoners forced on threat of death, to aid with putting other prisoners into the gas chamber and then the disposal of their bodies. From there we focus on a cog, a Sonderkommando named Saul. After doing this task for months, he spots the body of a boy who he thinks is his son. Saul becomes obsessed with trying to have a Rabbi perform a proper Jewish burial service for the boy. A service that would, if caught, would be an instant death sentence for Saul and whoever performed the service with him. It could also be a death sentence for his fellow Sonderkommando, who might get executed within days anyway, and who are planning an armed insurrection of their own.
How expected a tough, emotionally wrenching story going into Son of Saul. What I did not expect was the cinematic style brought into the focus of the main character, Saul. In 12 or so minutes, we get the gist of his life in Auschwitz, where the focus on him is sharp, but focus on his surroundings is usually fuzzy. The Jews crying and screaming as they're being forced inside, forced to strip, being led into the showers, the dogs barking, the Nazi soldiers yelling. Rarely is any of it the focus of Saul, and therefore it is NOT the visual focus of the audience, unless our knowledge of history forces us to stray toward Saul's blurry surroundings. Maybe an old woman needing help to go to the chamber briefly snaps Saul's focus into place, or a Nazi that he must immediately bow his head toward, and then back to his tasks.
So we're given an interesting cinema vocabulary to follow, aided by effective sound mixing and editing. Enough that we can follow along the sameness of his world, until Saul finds the body of his son. And that, alongside an occasionally unpredictable screenplay that doles out surprise little character insights, history and anything else, spoils it for you. Not the history per say, but the how the story is told throughout, so see it. Especially if you can get to it in a theater.

1) SPOTLIGHT- From director/ co-writer Tom McCarthy. Another film depicting the uncovering of the saying Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. While this may not have the complete punch-gut feeling that the documentary Deliver Us From Evil has with the same topic, that might be because we were having the victims and the information open to us kind-of directly. Here we have the journalists of the Boston Globe's Spotlight unit serving as a sort-of audience surrogate between us the viewer and the victims telling (and re-telling) their stories. But we also see the arduous and time-consuming task of information gathering, reaching out to other victims (sometimes being told no or having a door slammed in their face) and sometimes even a priest who did some of the abusing. We also get an idea of how much others knew; whether it was superiors in the Boston Archdiocese, the lawyers who worked with the Church on getting cheap settlements quietly done, or even other people who knew who some of the abusing priests were and looked the other way for whatever reasons. We also see how it took an "outsider" within the Boston Globe (the new editor, played by Live Schreiber) to push the reporters to go beyond telling and confirming the victims' stories, but also find out who knew about the crimes (Archdiocese, lawyers, Boston PD) and what did they do or not do about it.

Also of note is that Spotlight also doesn't let the Boston Globe off the hook either, showing how they had the story (or elements of it) off and on for years, showing their in-house failures or lack of will to pursue the story until the 21st Century.

As a film involving journalism, it's near the ranks of All The President's Men. But the time care given by this film regarding the depiction the victims and their emotional states (anger, humiliation, fear, shame and a bunch more that would take forever to write), elevates Spotlight to me to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Alan Pakula's film as one of the best True Crime and Journalism films ever made.  

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

February revivals

Hey all. Mike here with a small list of revivals for the month of February. Some stuff I just can't make, and a few, like the French version of Beauty and the Beast, I question whether I can draw anyone. So I'll stick to this as probably the Feb revivals I'll post. Maybe one more, but that would be in a few weeks at the very end of February. Now on with this list:

THIEF (1981)- Fri Feb 5 at 4:30 and 7- BAM- Launching the Michael Mann retrospective. The only film in the series I'll be able to catch. I was hoping to see Heat, but I'll never make it in time. I just know it. 

Thief, from 1981. Mann's first time directing a theatrical film might be considered as an example of style over substance, but oh what glorious style. One of United Artists' last flops, from 1981, it tells a familiar story. James Caan is a top safe cracker with a code of honor, who agrees to do one last job for a crime boss who'll let him retire afterwards. Or will he? He wants to make (or steal) enough money so he can retire and raise a family. All the obsession he brings to his profession, he transfers to pursing his dream of starting a family, ignoring his own instincts. He'll pay for that.

If this had come out 3-5 years later, when Michael Mann's style was firmly established in the hit series Miami Vice, it might have been more successful. Or maybe not, considering how Band of the Hand flopped, as well as the disappointing business of Manhunter. But in Thief, the energized cinematography, slick editing, electric rock score (from Tangerine Dream), it's all there. Plus, a strong centerpiece performance from Caan as the tough as nails thief; anxious to have something resembling a normal life, and unsure if he can get it, or keep it. Not the best film on this list, but look at as a Mann template coming into place, as it tells a familiar story in an interesting way. Caan's great lead performance ably supported by the rest of the cast (Robert Prosky, Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, William Petersen, Dennis Farina). It's only available in an out of print DVD, with little to no extras, so this is your best chance to see this rarely screened film:

THE LAST WALTZ (1978)- Fri Feb 12 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Part of the Museum of the Moving Image's See it Big: Documentary series. Arguably the best concert film ever made. After Taxi Driver, a change of pace for director Martin Scorsese, filming the farewell concert of The Band on Thanksgiving 1976. Mixed with recording sessions that also included working with Emmylou Harris and The Staples. They also had some friends performing with them, including Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Ron Wood, Dr. John, and Ringo Starr. Also includes interviews with members of the Band, days after the concert. Also noteworthy is the cinematography of Michael Chapman, who also did Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. The first concert film to be photographed in 35mm. But never mind that. It's a film that says in it's opening titles that it should be played LOUD, and you can bet your ass it will be in Astoria: 

THE BAND WAGON (1953)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Sun Feb 14 at 8- Part of Lincoln Center's Dance on Film series, the only one I can do. A pretentiously artistic director is hired for a new Broadway musical and changes it beyond recognition. Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse star in what some consider to be Astaire's best MGM musical. Nominated for 3 Oscars, mostly for the music, and screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (both credited as opposed to Alan Jay Lerner and Norman Corwin). Directed by Vincent Minnelli and Choreography by Michael Kidd. It's been so long since I've seen it, I barely remember it but not with clarity. So this would feel like I'm watching it for the first time. I certainly wouldn't mind:

Let me know if there's interest, later all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January revivals

Hey all, Mike here with some January revivals. Not many, but the best I can do with limited time on my end. Also the best I can do with the latest and potential over-hyped blizzard on its way. If it wasn't for the threat of snow, I would post an 11PM screening this weekend of The Good The Bad and The Ugly at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. But alas, I cannot, so go enjoy that on your own if you can. Now on with this list:

FARGO (1995)- Fri Jan 22 at 4:50, 7 and 9:10- Film Forum- A 4K digital restoration. Runs for a week, to kick off the Forum's Coen Brothers retrospective. But this is the only day/night I can do, so this is the only day/night I will post here. Click the link below for other days and times. Most screenings of their films, when as part of a retrospective as opposed to a Midnight screening, have either sold out or come real close, so planning ahead will be needed.

The best film of 1996, and one of the best films of the 1990s. Chances are, if you're even glancing at this list for any reason, you've heard of this crime dramedy; where a very pregnant and very persistent sheriff figures out most of the parts, to a stupidly planned and executed kidnapping. The Coen brothers' best film. Oscar nominations for Picture, Supporting Actor for William H. Macy (forever known for more than just ER and his work with Mamet, thanks to this), Editing, Cinematography, and Director. Oscars for Frances McDormand for Actress, and the Coen brothers for Screenplay. Yes, this actually lost to The English Patient for Best Picture. I guess Oscar owed them one, which might explain the near clean sweep this year for No Country for Old Men. On both AFI Top 100 lists and a Top 35 film for me. A great film to catch:
THE THIRD MAN (1949/50) for 10 dollars- introduced by Ron Haviv- Fri Jan 22 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap-ish screening at the Rubin, introduced by photojournalist Ron Haviv. The Third Man, from 1949. Though in America, it came out in 1950, where it would rise to classic status at about the exact same time as Sunset Blvd., All About Eve and Harvey. Talk about when being the third or fourth best film of that particular year meant a lot more than usual. Seriously, it's seems to me to be among the least seen of all the post silent flim era flicks I would label classic, at least stateside. As the older audience dies out, younger ones may not know it. But once they see it, boom, it's got them, and they'll probably see it everytime it comes on TCM as well. Film students must also have to see this at least once I would imagine. If not, then it's probably not all that reputable a film school.
Simple fish out of water story, where American Joseph Cotton, who seems to hold black belts in screwups and stumbling blindly into situations, attends a funeral for his friend in post-war divided Vienna. And yet things, as usual in these kind of film noirs, are not what they appear to be. Thus, what I said about the story being simple, eeeeehhhhh, not so much. The film seems to exist entirely in states of gray, with camera angles that seem to have made it the Blair Witch Project of its day.

Standing out in the colorful supporting cast are Trevor Howard with what appears to be a permanent British stiff upper lip, and Alida Valli, who can keep many men's interest, but keeps pining for the one who treats her like shit. And, oh yeah, Orson Welles; who brought charm, gravitas, and the memorable, though historically inaccurate, cuckoo clock monologue. The only part of the film not written by Graham Greene, who adapted his book with some uncredited help.

Oh yeah, he didn't write the ending either. Director Carol Reed didn't like the book's ending, but still wasn't sure what to do. But he came up with a solution, over Greene's objections. At the end of shooting, just placed his camera and himself far away so the actors couldn't hear him say cut, and let it roll. Whatever would be, would be. Hey, it worked.

An Oscar for the black and white cinematography, nominations for Editing and Reed for Director. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes, on the first AFI Top 100 list (though not the second!), number one on Britain's similar film list, Japan's number one film on it's own similar list of non-Japanese films, and in my personal top 100. Not sure where exactly, but it's somewhere. It would be higher in my mind if there wasn't so much zither music. Yes, it fits, and after 60 years, we can't exactly do anything about that now, but still. That damn zither theme can still pop into my head from time to time. Despite that, you will enjoy it, whether you've seen it a bunch of times, or for the first time.
BARTON FINK (1991) or THE BIG LEBOWSKI- (1998)- Fri Jan 29 at 5:10 (Barton), 7:30 (Barton), 9:50 (Lebowski)- Film Forum-  Two films that are part of the Coen brothers retrospective, but separate admissions, so I'm afraid we'd have to choose between them. Both are 35mm screenings, hopefully the prints will be in good shape.

First, Barton Fink, from 1991. Written during a time period when the brothers were having a bout of writer's block during the creation of Miller's Crossing; it was produced after the gangster film. John Turturro plays the title role of a playwright going out to Hollywood in 1941 to write a wrestling picture. Writer's block sets in after the first sentence, as he has a room in the hotel from hell. Fink tries to get help from a drunken writer (John Mahoney, as a stand-in for William Faulkner), the writer's girlfriend (Judy Davis), and the salesman next door who seems to have both wrestling skills and the "common man's touch". To say things go wrong is a mild understatement.

 Next, The Big Lebowski, from 1998. Not the biggest hit the Coen brothers ever had, but probably the film with the largest cult following of Joel and Ethan's career. So I expect a respectable size crowd for this, even though it's a 35mm screening and not a digital one of any kind.

Almost a spoof of a Raymond Chandler-style mystery, set in 1991. The slacker of all slackers, The Dude in a career performance by Jeff Bridges, is assaulted in a case of mistaken identity. This takes The Dude away from his life of bowling and drinking White Russians, into a case of (possible) kidnapping where many people lies and almost everyone takes advantage. With supporting performances by Julianne Moore (as a Yoko Ono-type artist), Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, and John Goodman and Steve Buscemi as the Dude's bowling buddies. Goodman's character of The Dude's best friend; a Vietnam vet, gun nut, and bowling and Judaism enthusiast, is based in part on writer-director John Millus.

Didn't see in theaters back in the day. I certainly wasn't alone, considering the mediocre business it did at the box office. When I caught it on cable within a year later, I was mixed about it, not embracing The Dude or the overall tempo of the film. But repeated TV viewings have allowed me to embrace the film more over the years. But I've never done it on the big screen, and since the film is (for once) not being screened at Midnight, let's try it. But like I said, there is a cult, so mucho planning ahead may be required:


Let me know if there's interest, stay warm.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Revivals: holiday season edition

Happy Festivus everyone. Mike here with a holiday season revival list. Not Christmas films mind you, but this list takes us thru New Years Day weekend. Here we go:

THE WILD BUNCH (1969) with or without SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (2015) and/or THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)- Sat Dec 26 and Sun Dec 27 at 12:30 (Shaun) 3:30 (Wild) and 7 (Picture)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A potential triple feature at the Museum of the Moving Image, all for one admission. An insanely long day into night, and one I'm not exactly up to. Now this is someone who not too long ago, did a triple feature of a compilation of Rowlf the Dog clips, Far From Heaven, and Boogie Nights. I also did a double feature at the Museum pf Godfathers 1 and 2. So just because I'm not planning about doing it, or I'm complaining right now about doing such a thing, doesn't mean I won't do if talked into it properly. This triple feature will be done on both Saturday December 26th, and Sunday December 27th. I prefer to do Saturday, but I post Sunday as well.

First you have Shaun The Sheep, which came out to critical praise and audience indifference this summer here in the States. Not sure how it did in the U.K., where the character is used in a TV series of the same name, and was originally from a Wallace and Gromit short. The same Wallace and Gromit company made this film, where Shaun and his flock decide to vacation in the big city, and get into trouble. Especially when the Farmer who looks for them is missing. For the Wallace and Gromit/ Chicken Run fans, this gets attention for not only the critical praise and Oscar nomination talk for Best Animated Film, but the Museum will also do hands-on Claymation Creatures workshops after the film. If you can't do Shaun and the Workshops on either the 26th or the 27th, it will play every afternoon after that, thru New Year's Day.

Next is The Wild Bunch, from 1969. For months, in anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming 70mm release of The Hateful 8, the Museum had been touting their own 70mm screening of the Sam Peckinpah classic. Thematically, they're of kindred spirits, so it makes sense to whet the cinematic appetite this way. However, the Museum recently announced (sometime between the morning of the 21st and the afternoon of the 22nd) that the 70mm print of The Wild Bunch is in such poor condition, it has been pulled from distribution, and the Museum will screen a 35mm print instead. Wow, not even a DCP. Oh well, it still works seeing before Tarantino's new film.

The Wild Bunch, the film that John Wayne complained destroyed the myth of the Old West. Follows a group of older outlaws, still robbing and shooting to make a living. The times have changed, they've gotten a lot older and their foes are seemingly younger and stronger. They want to rob to retire, but that only gets a group of bounty hunters after them, led by a former member of the group. They escape to Mexico for one last go. But dealing with the corrupt forces there and the bounty hunters on their tail, the old group of outlaws basically to go out on their own terms. Violent, bloody, and taking hundreds of the enemy with them. Holden is the leader of the Bunch, Ernest Borgnine is his best friend, and Robert Ryan is their former friend; a bounty hunter forced to pursue them without relent. Plus Western stalwarts like Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and future director Alfonso Arau (A Walk In The Clouds) in the cast as well.

Sam Peckinpah's film was approved mainly to compete with what they thought was the similar Buthch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Similar, Warner Bros.? Oops. He wanted to show a certain macho code that was not holding up in the start of the 20th Century. But no matter what code you live by, betrayal is unacceptable. From others and especially from yourself. Another thing Peckinpah wanted to show was the violent world of this time. Not sanitized like in most Westerns, nor in TV Westerns of the time like Gunsmoke, but closer to what was shown on the news in Vietnam. He wanted to horrify his audience with its brutality. The climatic shootout was supposed to convey this. With 6 different cameras all shooting at different speeds, its an amazing combination of choreography, cinematography and editing. Despite about 20 minutes cut before its release to avoid an X rating, the violence was still considered controversial. But what shocked Peckinpah was how much of his audience was thrilled by the violence as opposed to being repulsed by it. Oops for Sam. When Warner Bros tried to re-release the film back in 1994 with 10 extra minutes, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating, complaining about the violence! It took a year of resubmission before an R rating was finally granted.

2 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay, but NOT for Editing. On both AFI Top 100 lists. May or may not be on my Top 100 list, but very close. If you don't know it, this is a great chance to change that, even if it's only with a 35mm print.

Next is The Last Picture Show. A new DCP restoration of the 1971 film. I saw the last 35mm restoration of it back in 2011, so I have high hopes for the quality of the look. This doesn't get a revival screening too often. Two milieu are depicted here. Life in high school, as its seniors are finding their way into adulthood, however slow the emotional development. All taking placing in a dying small Texas town, circa early 1950s. Our entry into this world comes from two buddies: the wild jocular type played by Jeff Bridges and the more sensitive one played by Timothy Bottoms. College doesn't seem likely for them. More likely for them, unless they choose to move to larger towns like many before them, is reflected in the lonely, frustrated bitter adults around them. Whose dreams have long since died a quiet death. All here are not depicted as country bumpkins or idiots. Maybe some are more vain, or depressed than others, but such as life.

Peter Bogdanovich jumped to A list status with this film, a status that went bye-bye, thanks to pictures like Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love. But with a great script adaptation of Larry MacMurtry's novel from Bogdanovich and MacMurtry (anyone better in depicting Texas in print than Larry?), and wonderful cinematography from Robert Surtees (black and white, per the suggestion/demand of Orson Welles), you have cinema. If it wasn't for so many good, recognizable actors in the cast, you might think you were watching a documentary, what with the almost subliminal use of music and naturalistic performances. A cast that includes Bridges, Bottoms (Tim and Sam), Cybill Shepherd (ok performance, but perfect as an object of desire), Randy Quaid, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and Ben Johnson (watch his monologue by the lake, very good indeed).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Bridges for Supporting Actor and Burstyn for Supporting Actress. Oscars for Johnson for Supporting Actor and Leachman for Supporting Actress. On the second AFI Top 100 list. And with everything I said, this may be more of an acquired taste. I invite any and all to come watch this, but this might be better suited for cinephilles (or however you spell it) and those interested in quiet films. I'm not sure if this even has classic status. Two other films from 1971, The French Connection and A Clockwork Orange, may or may not have been loved by critics as much as Last Picture Show, but their classic status is unquestioned. We will be getting the two hours six minute Director's Cut released in 1992, as opposed to the 1 hour 59 minute theatrical release. 7 minutes cut by Columbia Pictures, who insisted that the film had to have a running time under 2 hours. Whatever version is screened, I want to catch this:

BALL OF FIRE (1941)- Mon Dec 28- Wed Dec 30 at 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- An archival print of the hit screwball comedy from 1941. Professor Gary Cooper is working on a new encyclopedia with 6 other, mostly bachelor, professors (including Max from Sound of Music, Clarence from It's A Wonderful Life, and Sacha and Carl the Waiter from Casablanca). They're on a deadline, but they're distracted by dancer Barbara Stanwyck (stripper? Burlesque dancer? Who knows). She's hiding from evil mobster Dana Andrews (Laura), and seeks sanctuary with the 7 professors, much like Snow White hiding with the Seven Dwarfs (DO YA GET IT?!?!?!). But unlike Disney's version, this not so Snow White falls for a rather Dopey tall professor.

Co-written by Billy Wilder. Based on his short story which was a take on the Snow White story, it would be the last Screenplay Wilder would write without directing the film as well. Luckily for Wilder, the director of Ball of Fire, Howard Hawks, was willing to mentor him and  let Wilder observe how he worked. 4 Oscar nominations, including Stanwyck for Best Actress, and Wilder for Best Writing, Original Story:

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965-67)- Fri Jan 1, Sat Jan 2, Mon Jan 4-Sat Jan 9, and Tues Jan 12-Thurs Jan 14 at 5:10, 7:30 and 9:50- Film Forum- A rarely screened Orson Welles film gets a DCP restoration and a twelve day run (at least) at the Film Forum. Released in Europe in 1965 and 66, released briefly in the U.S. in 67. Welles combined Henry IV Part 1 and 2, Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor to concoct this film. A film where Prince Hal must choose to give his loyalty to either his father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) or his father figure, Sir John Falstaff (Welles). With Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly, and Fernando Rey as Worcester.

The film was a big deal at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, winning two awards for Welles and a nomination for the Palme D'or. But with most American film critics ripping it a new one, led by Time Magazine and the New York Times's Bosley Crowther, film distributor Harry Saltzman (as in the co-producer of the James Bond films of the 60s-mid 70s) lost faith. Chimes of Midnight barely received a theatrical release in America, and tanked bad. Critical re-evaluation has since occurred over the decades with the likes Camby, Kael, and Ebert praising the film. Welles himself considered it his favorite of all his films, as well as one of his most personal. But ownership rights to the picture has made it very difficult to see the film here in the States. Available on Blu-ray and DVD in Europe, but not here. Two long out-of-print VHS versions is all the home video distribution Chimes of Midnight has had, so forget about finding it on Netflix. But with this DCP restoration, maybe this can be the start of the film finally finding an audience: 

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pre-Christmas revivals

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals for the month of December, pre Christmas Eve. All of them are Christmas movies, except for one or two. Three, if you include the one I have that IFC Center has in their Christmas film retrospective that begins this list:

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)- Tues Dec 15 and (maybe) Thurs Dec 17 at 9:40- IFC Center- Stanley Kubrick's final film, as part of IFC Center's Christmas film series. Films that are obvious Christmas movies, and those that are not that obvious. Or perhaps far from obvious, in the case of Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman played a shallow married couple. They're bored with their life together, perhaps more Kidman's character more than Cruise's. He barely pays attention to her except thru sex, she's seems more interested in something else, anything else. A night of intimacy and pot smoking, turns into a near-monologue by Kidman full of resentment over her life, him as a man and a s a lover, as well as an admission (possibly invented, possibly not), of near-adultery. And while Kidman's character is named Alice, it's Cruise's character that goes down the rabbit hole. A NYC rabbit hole of potential trysts, infidelities and more. 

If you've never seen the film before, or read the Austrian novella that it is based on, and are unaware of the stories and analysis about it, then you won't get where the twists are. If at a certain point, you decide the film follows a more imagined, dream-like path as opposed to a reality based one, it'll work for you that way as well. But why would this be considered a Christmas film, as IFC Center is trying to pitch it? Yes this film is set days/weeks before Christmas, but so what? Maybe the setting and the ideals of the holiday is in contrast to the materialism and attempted hedonism run rampant. Good will to men and women is rarely practiced here, and the possibility of redemption might be cynically thought of as temporary. At least as until one of them achieves orgasm. Or not, the interpretation is our to make. Thanks, Stanley:   

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)- Wed Dec 16 at 7, Fri Dec 18 at 4:15 and 7, Mon Dec 21 at 4:10 and 7, Tues Dec 22 at 7 (introduced by Mary Owen) and Wed Dec 23 at 9:40- IFC Center- plus Thurs Dec 17 at 7 for 10 dollars at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- plus Sun Dec 20 at 9 at Cinema 1 2 3 on 1001 3rd Ave-A 35mm projection at IFC Center, a digital screening at Cinema 1 2 3, I'm guess some kind of projection at the Chelsea Cinema. Once again, IFC Center shows the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed classic for about two weeks. It's only shown once or twice a year on NBC and I believe it will be screened only once on TCM, and not much more after that, if at all. So if you're in the mood, here it is. I'm sorry that you don't get a little bell with the title of the film on it, like you do with the recent DVD release, but how bad do need to give out angel wings?

As for the film itself, you probably know it, and your familiarity is probably why you're hesitant to go out and see it on the big screen. Don't worry, unless you're one of those who've made it a tradition to come out and see it in a venue like IFC Center every year or every other year, relatively few people know what it's like to experience this on the big screen, without commercial interruption. So maybe this is the year you'll do it? This holiday season, it will screen at three different Manhattan locations. Alongside the IFC, we have one night only on the Upper East Side, One cheap-ish screening introduced by Hedda Lettuce in Chelsea. 

Once again, Mary Owens, Reed's daughter will make introductions to selected screenings, but only at IFC Center. Tuesday December 22 at 7, would probably be the only screening I could make:

CHINATOWN (1974) with or without DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)- Sat Dec 19 at 1:30 (Double) and 4 (Chinatown)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A special DCP screening, as part of the Museum's The Hollywood Classics behind Walkers series. Where Classic films are paired with an exhibit of movie scripts and memorabilia, as well as art work inspired by or incorporating the classic films. Don't know what they have in the exhibit related to Chinatown. But if you get there no later than say, 2:15, that should give you plenty of time to see the exhibit before Chinatown. A little earlier, you can see the rest of the Museum's exhibits or catch one of the classic serials that plays in rotation at 2 and 3:30. All for one admission. The Museum itself closes at 7 on Saturdays, so you won't have much time to check out the sights inside after the film.

Chinatown, the last of the great film-noirs. Ok, it's more of a modern or neo-noir. While there would be some very good to excellent modern noirs afterwards (L.A. Confidential, Blue Velvet and Fargo chief among them), none would go the dark paths Roman Polanski's film would travel, not even Lynch's film.  Based on events from the California Water Wars of the 1930s, Jack Nicholson's private eye (the role that made him a star forever) is hired by Faye Dunaway to spy on her husband. But nothing is as it seems, and if you don't know the film, I won't spoil it for you here. One of the great period films, one of the great mysteries, and if wasn't for Paramount's own Godfather Part 2, it might have been the best film from that year. An Oscar for Robert Towne's Screenplay; 10 other nominations including Picture, Polanski for Director (who also turns in a memorable performance as a thug), Nicholson for Actor, and Dunaway for Actress. Sorry there was no room for John Huston for Supporting Actor, but boy does he make a memorably repellent villain. On both AFI Top 100 films and in my personal top 100. 

Also for the record, Double Indemnity plays prior to Chinatown, at 1:30. Another of the great film-noirs. I've done it earlier this summer, and I'd rather take the time to check out the Museum than do the film again. But I like it enough that I'm open to doing it if you really want to:

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) for 10 dollars- Wed Dec 23 at 7- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema- A special Wednesday night screening of the Christmas classic. Yes, there is a DCP screening going on at the same time at AMC Empire and Regal Union Square, sponsored by TCM. But let's go for a screening that's at least 4 dollars cheaper, and throw in a Hedda Lettuce intro as well. Smart screenplay, sentimental without getting sugary sweet. Appealing performance; from the main roles filled by the likes of Edmund Gwen Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood, to character actors in early film roles like Thelma Ritter Jack Albertson and William Frawley, and everyone else in-between whose names escape me. All of whom helped to make this a classic, among both Christmas films and in films set in NYC. Oscars for Gwen for Supporting Actor, Valentine Davis for Best Writing- Original Story, and to the film's director, George Seaton, for Best Writing- Screenplay. An Oscar nomination for Best Picture: 

Let me know if there's interest, later all.