Thursday, December 11, 2014

December revivals: pre-Christmas edition















Hey all, Mike here with a list of revivals for December. Pre-Christmas that is. This was a difficult list to pare down, and it still feels like a damn long one. And the first five or so days on this list are jammed packed with conflicting options that I'll have to just go with majority rules or first come first served. Not a bad problem to have. Let's not delay this any longer, here we go:



THE PASSIONATE THIEF (1960/63)- Fri Dec 12, Sat Dec 13, and Mon Dec 15 at 4:45, 7:15 and 9:30 and Tues Dec 16 at 7:15 and 9:30- Film Forum- A week long run of a big deal Italian comedy that concludes the Forum's Mario Monicelli retrospective. Sorry I didn't post anything here. I had no time for Big Deal on Madonna Street or any of the others prior to this film. I'm not even posting all days that this film is playing, since it conflicts with the remaining films on this list.

From 1960, released in the U.S. in 1963. Anna Magnani is a delusional and lonely actress working background. When the crew takes a holiday break, she jumps into a New Years Eve party with a blonde wig, brassy dress, and silver fox (with head), and throws herself at any available man. This includes her fellow performer and friend (Toto, a big name in Italian comedy) and a good looking American (Ben Gazzara). Both men are trying to steal from the party guests and she keeps interfering. Don't know the film, but curious:



IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)- Fri Dec 12, Sat Dec 13, Mon Dec 15- Thurs Dec 19, Mon Dec 22 and Tues Dec 23 at 7, plus Tues Dec 23 at 9:40- IFC Center- Once again, IFC Center shows the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed classic for about two weeks. This kicks off IFC Center's series of Christmas films, and this is by far the most traditional, as you'll see with a couple of other selections below. It's only shown once or twice a year on NBC, once this year on USA Network, 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?  Once again, Mary Owens, Reed's daughter will make introductions to selected screenings, on Dec 16th, 20th, and 23rd at 7PM:




THE BIG SLEEP and THE BLUE DAHLIA (both 1946)- Fri Dec 12 at 5:10 (Dahlia), 7 (Sleep) and 9:30 (Dahlia)- and Sat Dec 14 at 5:10 (Sleep), 7:30 (Blue) and 9:45 (Sleep)- Film Forum- The start of the Film Forum's noir series of films that were the book and/or screenplay was written by one or more of the following: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, and Cornell Woolrich. Sorry that I probably won't post anything from this retrospective except this double feature. Maybe not, depending on whether the first two Thin Man films are doable for me on Christmas Eve. But that's for the next list.

First, The Big Sleep, another standout noir from Bogart, this time as Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe. Co-written by William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, and directed by Howard Hawks. To paraphrase from the Forum's website: Hired by a hothouse-ensconced retired general to investigate his nympho daughter's gambling debts, Marlowe, finds the dames, including a very young Dorothy Malone as the bookseller, keep throwing themselves at him even as corpses keep dropping, while he and Lauren Bacall take time for a memorable double entendre conversation about race horses. 
Note that this is the version released in theaters, after the film ran into enforced edits by those in charge with enforcing the Production Code.  Specifically who aided the killer, the overt sexuality of  and the mention of both nature of the gangster's business and sexual preference, were not permissible by the Code. The original version of the Big Sleep will also play in this retrospective, but I'm afraid I have no time for it. The plot barely makes sense no matter which cut you see, even if the set-up is decent. But the reason to catch it is the coolness of Bogie and Bacall, Bogie's scenes in the bookstore with Malone, and some cool dialogue.

Next, The Blue Dahlia, an original Chandler screenplay (Oscar nominated) from an unfinished Marlowe novel and the third film team-up of leads Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Ladd is a returning Navy pilot who sees his wife philandering around the title nightclub, and finds out she's responsible for their son's accidental death. Ladd nearly shoots her, but restrains himself and walks away. Imagine his surprise when his wife is found dead and he's the prime suspect. You might think this would make Ladd frightened. But he's fought before, and will coolly take on all comers to find the murderer. But what is mysterious Lake's angle? Unfortunately this would be Chandler's only original screenplay, but it's a cool one with a cast to match. The best of the two noirs playing, but both are worth catching:


DIE HARD- Fri Dec 12 and Sat Dec 13 at 9:40- IFC Center- A DCP projection, part of IFC Center's series of Christmas films. An offbeat choice for the holiday season, but since everything takes place on Christmas Eve, it fits. An off beat change of pace for Christmas, but one of the best action films of the past 25 years or so. Bruce Willis jumps from TV star to Superstar status with this film, as everyman cop John McClane, saving his wife and co-workers in a giant office tower, from the clutches of evil Alan Rickman and his machine gun toting cohorts. True, you might feel Paul Gleason, William Atherton and Hart Bochner slow down the fun a bit by playing variations of the American Asshole, but two out of three pay off.

Compared to a lot of action films made after say, True Lies, Die Hard looks better and better each year. CGI alone does not make an action film exciting or even interesting. Yeah, I'm talking to you Transformers 1 and 2, just to pick on two films almost at random. Die Hard was just another above average hit from 1988. A little bigger in popularity than say, Beetlejuice, but not on the level of Crocodile Dundee 2. Home video and cable, plus the even bigger success of Die Hard 2, helped move Die Hard to the level of classic status. But if you're reading this, then you've probably only experienced this on TV. A large TV perhaps with an ok sound system, but not the big screen. Time to change that. Hey, be glad it's not a Midnight screening. Well they are showing this at Midnight as well, but I won't be up for that right now, so let's do it:



IMAGES (1972) with Damages and/or THIEVES LIKE US (1974)- Sat Dec 13 at 4 (Images) and 7:30 (Thieves)- MOMA- A potential double feature of more stuff from the Robert Altman retrospective. You can see both films for one admission, but if you only want to see one, well you can do that to. First, Images, from 1972. Children's book writer Susannah York goes on vacation with husband Rene Auberjonois to a remote-ish Irish cottage. She may not have been the most stable person prior to the road trip, but as the film delves into her inner life, things begin to go downhill. Altman's attempt at a non-linear narrative. If you're a fan of 1960 Ingmar Bergman films or David Lynch films from the 2000s, then you can get into Images. If nothing else, York's performance and Vilmos Zsigmond's Cinematography make this worthy of interest. Preceded by Damages, a 2001 short Altman put together from home movies shot on the set of Images.

Next, Thieves Like Us from 1974. Unfortunately, like Images, this was also a flop. An adaptation of Edward Anderson's novel. While it might be considered a more faithful adaptation than the Nicolas Ray film They Live By Night, most of us have never read it. This film feels like a more realistic version of Bonnie and Clyde. 3 bank robbers elude the law. One of them falls in love with a girl. But instead of the sexiness of a Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway couple, we have a more realistic Keith Carradine-Shelley Duvall pairing. You feel for them, the romance between them feels more tangible, but you know in this time period it won't work out. Lots of Mississippi locations and superior art direction and costume design help with the authentic feel. Catch this:




WHITE CHRISTMAS- Mon Dec 15 at 7- AMC Empire- A special DCP screening.  Christmas classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. The first widescreen film made by Paramount and more successful than the original Holiday Inn. In short, before It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Home Alone became American holiday classics, this was it. If you didn't prefer Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Carol that is, this was it. And what's more Christmas than Bing and Danny, Irving Berlin shows, helping out our veterans, with a couple of hot blondes. That is what Christmas is all about, just as Allah intended. At least that's what Santa Claus said on an episode of Family Guy:



THE EPIC OF EVEREST (1924)- Wed Dec 17 at 7- Rubin Museum of Art- Now here's a film I normally would not have considered. But a friend brought it up, sent me the link to both the page at the Rubin Museum about it, as well as the link to the trailer of the restored silent film with new score. I saw it, I'm sold, and I'm going. It's been playing prior to the 17th, but I'm posting the only date I'm doing. Now since I'm not familiar with it, I'll copy and paste the Rubin's description of the film, and I'll include a link to the trailer below:

“Spooky, entrancing.” - TimeOut London
“The sequences in Tibet before the climb, of daily life among the Sherpas and their families, are of rare and magical ethnographic value.” - The Daily Telegraph
Capt. John Noel’s The Epic of Everest (1924) has been newly restored by the British Film Institute, with a mesmerizing and evocative new score by Simon Fisher Turner, and with the original tinting restored for the striking mountain sequences.
“This movie is all about the awe-inspiring visuals, mist rolling off the mountain top, glaciers twinkling in the evening light – and the crowning glory is the blue-tinted Fairyland of Ice sequence.” - Silent London
The third attempt to climb Everest famously culminated in the deaths of two of the finest climbers of their generation, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and sparked an on-going debate over whether or not they did indeed reach the summit. Filming in brutally harsh conditions with a hand-cranked camera, Captain John Noel captured images of breathtaking beauty and considerable historic significance. The film is probably the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet and features sequences at Phari Dzong (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and Rongbuk monastery. But what resonates so deeply is Noel’s ability to frame the vulnerability, isolation and courage of people persevering in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.



A WEDDING (1978) with Dinah Goes To A Wedding- Thurs Dec 18 at 7- MOMA- A Wedding, one of the last Altman studio films to receive a proper release. Basically, it covers the story of a wedding, the 2 families that come together, and the secrets, lies and other contrivances that come forth during this social event that doesn't run smoothly. Over the top at times, but likable. Strong ensemble acting, including Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Lillian Gish, and a number of others who had appeared in previous Altman films. Not a hit, took some grief by critics, but I think it's held up surprisingly well. Preceded by Dinah Goes To A Wedding, a ten minute clip from Dinah Shore's old talk show Dinah! From 1977, Dinah visited the set of A Wedding and interviewed Altman:



NASHVILLE (1975)- Fri Dec 19 at 7:30 for free (subject to ticket availability)- introduced by Michael Murphy and Joan Tewkesbury- MOMA- Robert Altman's other masterpiece, from 1975, gets a big screen showing. Tickets are free and distributed at 3:30. Because there's a 6pm book signing of Altman by authors Giulia D'Angolo and Kathryn Reed Altman (the director's widow), and because the screening will be introduced by screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury and costar Michael Murphy, expect said free tickets will fly.

Country music types were not thrilled with Altman's attack of their world, but they weren't a target. This was Altman's cinematic State of the Union address; while hope is expressed for some of the Individuals, the country was rotting and it would only get worse. Bad enough that it kinda predicts the coming of both Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley. So let's sort of frame it as a musical!

We're following 23 characters, who'll all eventually come together for the Parthenon concert in Nashville's Bicentennial Park. Lily Tomlin is a married gospel singer who ends up becoming one of the many conquests of rock star Keith Carradine. Ned Beatty is Tomlin's husband, who has his own wandering eye, is a local organizer for an unseen Presidential candidate, and his tying in a campaign rally with the concert. Henry Gibson is Country Music Royalty, with an ego, an eye for political office, and a loud, drunk girlfriend who worships the late Kennedy boys, JFK and RFK, a bit much. Ronee Blakley is the most popular female country singer, whose constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown and whose husband is struggling to keep her sane. Scott Glenn is a Vietnam vet, walking around in uniform and gets maybe a little too close to Blakley's character. Karen Black is another popular country singer, though more ruthless off-stage and mediocre on-stage than Blakley's character. Murphy is the two-faced campaign manager. Shelley Duvall is a man-chasing groupie, chased by uncle Keenan Wynn, whose wife is dying. Barbara Harris and Gwen Welles are two aspiring singers trying to get into the concert; the former is not conventionally pretty and has been struggling for a while, the later is lovely, and is forced to move up through her body than through her voice. Geraldine Chaplin as a reporter (or is she?), who seems a lot closer to starfucker than serious journalist. With Elliot Gould, Julie Christie (as themselves), and Jeff Goldblum in an early role.

A film that Altman had difficulty finding financing for years. All the major studios didn't want to touch the heavy political aspects of Nashville, no matter what possible actors and big time soundtrack would come along with it. It wasn't until Jerry Weintraub came along, became producer of the project and got creative with the financing before Nashville could get made (at least according to Weintraub's interesting autobiography). The last Altman film that both drew an audience and had critics (lead by Pauline Kael) praising it to the hilt.

Oscar nominations for Picture, Altman for Director, and both Tomlin and Blakley for Supporting Actress. An Oscar for Carradine, who wrote the song, I'm Easy. On the second AFI Top 100 list. The main reason it's not on mine is because it's been a long while since I've seen this on cable, and I've never seen this on the big screen before. Now is a great chance to change that:



GREMLINS- Fri Dec 19 and Sat Dec 20 at 9:40- IFC Center- A DCP projection, part of IFC Center's Christmas Films series. Certainly the darkest in their series. Works well in making one both laugh and jump. Recently appeared in a list blog among the worst gifts ever given in a movie set in Christmas time. Cute little Gizmo given as a gift to a son by screw-up Dad, who just can't keep his pet from getting wet, thus multiplying, or keeping them from eating after midnight. Turning them into evil little things. I steal this from someone on imdb who talked about this: like The Matrix, be careful with your ever improving technology, or else you're screwed.

Laugh either loudly, at say, when the Gremlins enjoy Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or darkly, at Phoebe Cates' monologue involving her dad, a Santa Claus suit, and a chimney two sizes two small, so to speak. No laughing when the film came out, but now . . . And make you jump, when say, Mom is attacked by multiple Gremlins. One of the big hits of the summer of 1984, from director Joe Dante, and writer Chris Columbus:




3 WOMEN with Girl Talk- Sat Dec 20 at 4- MOMA- Part of the Robert Altman retrospective. Definitely a 70s film, but one heavily influenced by Bergman's Persona. Lots of obsession and some switching of personalities. Hard to describe a film that had no screenplay, but was completely influenced by some dreams Altman had. Gone are the days when a major director and the head of a major studio (in this case, Alan Ladd Jr. of Fox) could have an exchange possibly resembling something like this:

Altman: Hi, Alan. I just had some dreams, and I'd like you to give me some money to make a movie about them. I promise I won't write a screenplay.
Ladd: Oh. Ok.
Altman: I don't need much.
Ladd: How about 1.5 Million? (the actual estimated budget)
Altman: Great. I've got a plane to catch. Will call you later.
Ladd: Have a good flight. (The situation actually happened, minus this dialogue, according to the book "Easy Riders" by Peter Biskind).

Starring Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall. Never seen all of this and I'm very curious




CHINATOWN  for 10 dollars (7 for Seniors/Students)- Tues Dec 23 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's John Huston retrospective. All films will be 10 dollars, 7 for Seniors and Students. Every film he directed, and a couple where he just acted in. Sorry this is the earliest I have the time to post something from it. For the record, I won't post many films from the series. Mostly because I've done my share of Huston films on the big screen already, from The Maltese Falcon, to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, to The Asphalt Jungle, to Casino Royale, to Annie. And partly because there are a few I wish I had the time for but no go, like Prizzi's Honor. Ok, plus a couple I'm thinking no way in Hell, like Phobia, The Bible and Victory. Is it bad that I'm think of doing Tentacles during the holiday season? Such a good bad movie, Ill have to think about that one . . .

A DCP screening of 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 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:



Let me know if there's interest, have a Happy Festivus.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

December revivals: Part 1






Hey all, Mike here with the latest revival list. For the month of December, I will split the month into 3 lists: early December, mid December and thru the Holiday break. Let me getting going with this: 



ONE FROM THE HEART (1982)- Wed Dec 3 at 4:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From the Nastassja Kinski retrospective. I wrote in the previous list in the Tess section that she had no U.S. hits of any kind between Tess and Your Friends and Neighbors. That's not to say she deserves any blame. Ok a few times she was billed as the lead in terms of being the box office draw, and that didn't work with say Cat People or Unfaithfully Yours. But when the director as auteur is in charge, the blame goes there. Which leads us to Francis Ford Coppola's One From The Heart.

An everyman-like couple (Terri Garr, Frederic Forest) celebrate their 5th anniversary on the Fourth of July. The celebration devolves into the fight of all fights, and the couple separates. Each ends up with a new lover:  each more attractive than themselves or the partner they've split from. Garr's character hooks up with handsome Raul Julia, while Forest's character meets up with exotic Kinski. Our leads may have the lover of their dreams, but that doesn't mean they've left their problematic selves behind. And what if our leads were meant to be together . . . . All those with music and songs by Tom Waits (Oscar nominated), performed by either Waits or Waits and Crystal Gayle. With support from Harry Dean Stanton, Lainie Kazan and Rebecca De Mornay in her film debut. With choreography from Kenny Ortega, with uncredited consultation by Gene Kelly. Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Dick Tracy) and Ronald Victor Garcia (Twin Peaks).

Once we have our leads getting together with with their form of dream lovers, their locale, Las Vegas comes to life. Or specifically the Las Vegas sets Coppola had built on his Zoetrope Studios. The kind of dream state, not that different in tone than say Midsummer Night's Dream, is when the stylistic touches are cranked to eleven. But prior to the leads's dreamlike state and after they get out of it, we have a more realistic and perhaps overly familiar (in life) arguments between lovers who are disillusioned and worn down to their last nerve. With songs thrown in to fill in emotional blanks. In these ways, One From The Heart shares less with Shakespeare and more with Scorsese's New York New York. While Marty's film was also a big flop, it at least didn't put an end to its home studio, United Artists, the way One From The Heart put an end to its home studio, American Zoetrope. Heaven's Gate would help put an end to United Artists, 3 years after Marty's film and less than two years before Francis's film, but I digress.

The film may have visually looked large but the story is a small scale one. Originally intended by Francis to be a small scale follow-up to Apocalypse Now, as well as a way to get a quick infusion of cash into American Zoetrope. Not an unusual thing; we just had Joss Whedon follow his big budget film There Avengers with his no budget version of Much Ado About Nothing. But it  seems every idea Francis had, he would have an idea to make it look Bigger and Cinematic. Ideas that eventually to a recreation of Las Vegas in both realistic and fantastical ways. Ideas that blew the budget up from 2 Million to about 28 Million. Money spent while four other productions were filming or about to begin production, with no money coming in at all. 

Allegedly, Paramount was supposed to distribute One From The Heart, but disagreements between studio brass and Coppola killed that. Eventually Columbia Pictures picked it up for distribution, but they might have wondered what the hell they had on their hands, based on their piss-poor distribution pattern. Reviews were not good. High praise by the likes of Time and Newsweek, a borderline thumbs down by both Siskel and Ebert. The Times' Janet Maslin praised the look of the film to the hilt when she attended the premiere at Radio City Music Hall, referring to it as one of the most amazing film experiences she ever had (my paraphrasing). But even she had major reservations about the story and the script. Other critics attacked the script, some even singled out Garr's and Forest's looks in terms of having "unattractive leads" (my quotation marks). Columbia gave the film an art house sized release, people stayed away, and the studio pulled quickly. Low grosses equaled lack of quality in terms of perception, and it has stuck. Columbia gave it a minor re-release to no attention, dumped it on all available video formats  and waited for the rights to expire. This was briefly on the short list of infamous flops, with Heaven's Gate and Liz Taylor's Cleopatra. But the 80s gave us mega flops like Howard The Duck and Ishtar, and the 2000s has given us Battlefield Earth and Gigli, so One From The Heart has even dropped out of the ranks of Legendary Flops. All this while Coppola was forced to go all mercenary, making whatever films he could to pay off the debts of the shuttered American Zoetrope. 

Now, is the film any good? I have no idea. Never seen it. The impression I've received is either one loves it, or one loves the visuals, Tom Waits's music and the looks and performances of both Kinski and Julia, but feel the film is a waste of time. No in-between here. So come out, and decide for yourself: 



THE PASSIONATE THIEF (1960/63)- Sat Dec 6 at 4:45, 7:15 and 9:30 and Tues Dec 9 at 7:15 and 9:30- Film Forum- A week long run of a big deal Italian comedy that concludes the Forum's Mario Monicelli retrospective. Sorry I didn't post anything here. I had no time for Big Deal on Madonna Street or any of the others prior to this film. I'm not even posting all days that this film is playing, since it conflicts with the remaining films on this list.

From 1960, released in the U.S. in 1963. Anna Magnani is a delusional and lonely actress working background. When the crew takes a holiday break, she jumps into a New Years Eve party with a blonde wig, brassy dress, and silver fox (with head), and throws herself at any available man. This includes her fellow performer and friend (Toto, a big name in Italian comedy) and a good looking American (Ben Gazzara). Both men are trying to steal from the party guests and she keeps interfering. Don't know the film, but curious:



MASH (1970) with Ebb Tide- Mon Dec 8 at 8- MOMA- From the Robert Altman retrospective. Most if not all of his films, plus most if not all of his shorts, plus a TV work here and there. At this writing, the only films of his that I haven't seen listed are Kansas City and Ready To Wear. But this might change, since this retrospective plays thru mid January. For now, I'll just post two, starting with MASH.

One of the best comedies ever made, one of the best satires ever made, one of the best anti-war films ever made. More of a mosaic as opposed to a linear story, put together by Robert Altman in what would soon be noticed as a signature style. Overlapping or overlaying dialogue, long shots, music and sound effects drifting in and out and to either obscure or enhance said overlapping dialogue. All in the service of the story of an American hospital unit during the Korean War and the crazy eccentric Army doctors (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould and Tom Skerritt) doing their best to keep their patients alive, to buck the efforts of ramrod regular Army types (Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman among them), and keep themselves and their friends and colleagues sane. Not a testament to screenwriting, since almost all the dialogue was improvised. More a triumph of editing and of a director who managed to piece together his vision in the editing room. Also a triumph in the casting department, considering how many working character actor types had careers thanks to MASH (use IMDB on your own for this).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Altman for Director, Kellerman for Supporting Actress, and for Editing. An Oscar for Screenplay Adaptation. An award screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. took has sweet revenge for how little of his dialogue was used. Altman was fine with it, crediting Laudner Jr. for providing the template from where all the ideas would eventually spring forth from. In both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal Top 40 all time as well:

Preceded by Ebb Tide, a 4 minute short Altman directed in 1966. I know nothing about it except this wasn't for theatrical release, but for the Color-Sonic jukebox. A film jukebox from 1966, that screened shorts shot in 16mm, transferred to 8mm magnetic tape, and were a kind of ancestor to music videos. While MASH will be screened in 35mm, Ebb Tide will be a digital presentation:



MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (1971) with Zinc Ointment- Wed Dec 10 at 7- MOMA- From their Robert Altman retrospective. A Western that must have heavily influenced at least the look of HBO's Deadwood, as well as Unforgiven. Warren Beatty (cast for box office purposes, over Altman's original choice of Elliot Gould) plays a gambler/hustler type who sets up a whorehouse/saloon with the help of Julie Christie (Oscar nominated). When mining companies try to buy out their successful business, things get bloody. But since we're in 70s Altman territory, expect some revisionist changes to the usual formula. Plus an ending that makes The Wild Bunch and Heaven's Gate look cheery in comparison, though comparatively less bloody.

This film got lost in the shuffle back in 71; released in the summer around hits like Klute and Shaft, and with influential films like French Connection, A Clockwork Orange and Last Picture Show coming later on, forget remembering this back then. Over the years, it's developed a cult following, among Western fans and Altman fans. At first, it was at least better than Altman's previous picture, Brewster McCloud. A 1990 revival/ mini re-release in London helped. Vilmos Zigmond (Close Encounters, Heaven's Gate, The Deer Hunter)'s Cinematography and Leonard Cohen's songs certainly helped, as did future revisionist Westerns like Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven. Also filled with a lot of actors from other Altman films, including Keith Carradine, Rene Auberjonois, and Shelley Duvall.

Preceded by Zinc Ointment, a 9 minute short about the making of this film:



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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November: the rest of the month edition








Hi, Mike here with a small revival list for this coming week. Very small list, all taking place at the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center. Films shot between 1977 and 1982 are now considered old movies. Now don't you feel old, on with the list:


THE THIRD GENERATION (1979)- Tues Nov 25 at 4:15- Walter Reade- A Fassbinder I haven't seen and I'm curious about. If you know the Oscar nominated German film The Baader Mienhof Complex, then you have an idea of where this film is going. But no romancing of these homegrown here in this 1979 Western German film as opposed to the 2008 film I just mentioned. The people depicted here didn't even found a group like the Red Army Faction. These are youngish men and women from well to due families, who would qualify for Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year Award skit. These idiots may extol Marxist ideals, they may verbally attack consumerism and their Nazi collaborating parents/grandparents, but their kidnappings and terrorist attacks are more about looking cool and killing time then anything else. But they do have guns, a desire to commit terror attacks in country, and this makes them vulnerable to manipulation. Specifically, manipulation by security companies seeking more money and contracts to fund efforts to strike down said terrorist groups.

The film was hit with American critics, possibly only The Marriage of Maria Braun and Verionkia Voss had better reviews upon their American releases, though I'd have to go onto a site like Rotten Tomatoes to see if that has changed over the decades. But this kind of praise in Germany didn't come at all until Reunification, and even it took years and it seems it was muted. In Western Germany, this film was torn to shreds by critics and people sympathetic to groups like the Red Army Faction were beyond pissed. Fassbinder was considered a class traitor, and allegedly more than once was a projectionist screening this film was beaten.

The following analogy is not a great one, but the best one I can give, to allow you to imagine what a similar film here in the States would be like. Imagine one year after Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino made a film about a group of well-to-do Americans under 35 who are pro-choice, who bomb abortion clinics and post their deeds on social media because it's cool. Then imagine said group being manipulated to go after larger targets, like airports and sporting events. Then imagine said group spouting their beliefs but more interested in getting high and having sex. Then imagine said group being manipulated into such actions by security groups and a media conglomerate who see opportunities for contracts and profits by this group actions, and imagine a kind of federal cooperation so that the status quo can be maintained. Now imagine Tarantino hiring the kind of recognizable and bankable actors needed to draw an audience. No, I'm not talking about something like Syriana, I'm talking about a film people would actually be curious to see going in, and would leave pissed off.

Not the perfect analogy to The Third Generation, but it gives you the kind of firecracker Fassbinder set off in his country, that American critics and art house audiences fully supported. Decide for yourself. Not only am I including the link to the film on Lincoln Center's film site, but also Vincent Camby's rave review on the Times:




QUERELLE (1982)- Wed Nov 26 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From 1982, released in the U.S. in 1983. The last film in Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. Fitting since it was also Fassbinder's last film. I've never seen it, though I know about it. So I'll introduce to you by copying and pasting the Lincoln Center description of it:

The director’s swan song, taken from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest and released after his death, follows the titular Belgian sailor and hustler (Midnight Express’s Brad Davis) as he frequents a brothel in Brest run by Lysiane (legendary Jeanne Moreau), and works through a complex relationship with his brother. Fassbinder’s expressionistic use of garish lighting lends an air of surrealism to the sensational goings-on. Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, Jury President Marcel CarnĂ© (director of Children of Paradise) withdrew after failing to convince his fellow jurors to bestow the award, stating “…although controversial, R.W. Fassbinder’s final movie, want it or not, love it or hate it, will someday find its place in the history of cinema.”

Fassbinder got to work with a large (for him) budget for the last time, with the majority of the budget going to pay for the use of Davis, Moreau and Franco Nero. Triumph agreed to distribute it  in North America but forced Fassbinder to edit it on threat of Querelle never to be seen in the U.S./ Canada. Probably the only time Fassbinder didn't have so form of final cut, and this is the cut that will be screened at the Walter Reade. So basically, imagine a world that looks blatantly like a film set with stylized lighting, a filmed play style that  must have influenced Lars von Triers when he made Dogville and Manderlay. The amoral title character, in constant conflict with his brother, is in a town and port that's seems a separate universe unto itself, with little to signify it takes place in any particular era. Fill it with a world full of men and one woman, who are just as likely to fuck each other as  kill each other (or both), and the E.T. crowd can be told to go home. Play around with sound in terms of the volume and clarity of music, sound effects and actors (all dubbed in English, by most of the principals) to create a dreamlike effect, and  you don't have a typical movie. Throw in narration that changes from Third person to First person with no warning, and you're either fascinated, confused, or bored. Throw in the hint of incest between the brothers,  and who knows how one will react to this.

Well that last part is not entirely true. We know what the reaction was. Marcel Carne's reaction not withstanding. Few critics praised the film. Some called it a mess, some had difficulty with the clinical love scenes between men, and when it became more carnal. Some blamed the film's deficiencies on the director being messed up on pills and cocaine. Some used supposition by comparing  the darkness of the film to Fassbinder's feelings about himself as a depressed gay man, and even lightly hinted at his overdose (intentional or accidental, still debatable) after he finished editing Querelle as cause and effect. No matter what the exact critical reaction was, in an era where a toothless gay themed film like Making Love was ignored, a button pushing picture like Querelle wasn't sought out (outside of France where it was a hit) except by Fassbinder fans, who where also divided in reaction. Younger people who've discovered the film are either fascinated by the kind of film they're not used to seeing (never compared to Hollywood fare but compared to say, Brokeback Mountain) or wondering what the hell is this. God forbid if this is one's first entry into the career of Fassbinder. But if it isn't and you want to take the risk, so am I:
 


TESS (1979) with a post film Q and A with Nastassja Kinski- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Sat Nov 29 at 4- From 1979, released in the U.S. in 1980. From Lincoln Center's Nastassja Kinski retrospective. Now here was an actress who as early as 12, was willing to be physically vulnerable yet emotionally strong and never passive (at least, not for long). In European films in the 1970s, this also meant she was usually nude, as young as 13. But this exploitation (which supposedly took decades to get over) ended in some ways (how many I don't know) when she was cast in Tess.

A DCP restoration of one of the best films of 1980. Successful in its day, borderline forgotten now, at least in the states. Not on a Raging Bull or Empire Strikes Back level, but damn good. Roman Polanski's film was overshadowed not only by those two films, as well Ordinary People,The Elephant Man, and the massive financial disaster of Heaven's Gate, but also by being the first film after Polanski escaped Europe to avoid jail for statutory rape. Since this film, Roman has made other films, but Tess is the best film he's made since he became a fugitive. Yes, better than The Pianist. There have also been two good TV mini-series version of Tess, one from Australia and one from the BBC with Gemma Arterton. This film version is still the go-to adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel of a peasant girl who becomes the object of desire of two men; a love triangle that won't end well. Oscars for Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography for Ghislain Cloquet and Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Cabaret and Superman, who died during shooting). Nominations for Picture, Director for Polanski and Score. This also introduced the non-European world to Nastassja Kinski, who played the title role.  A long film, a tragic-romantic film, a very good film.

Kinski would become an international sex symbol, but only in Tess were her acting talents actually used to their fullest. Hollywood cam  calling, and Kinski would take advantage to work with a variety of interesting personalities, including Francis Ford Coppola, James Toback, Tony Richardson and Paul Schrader, among others. This variety of challenging projects is why Lincoln Center is doing a retrospective of some of her films. But most of these films are not those I have a burning desire to see. Tess is one, and I'll post one other on the next list. 

I'm afraid I have no time for Paris,Texas and The Moon in the Gutter, and you're not dragging me to see Cat People or Exposed, and no way in hell am I doing The Hotel New Hampshire. A sentiment shared by American audiences I'm afraid. Kinski was billed as the next big thing in Hollywood, but there was a long chasm of flops between Tess and the art house hit Your Friends and Neighbors. Not that she didn't stop working on interesting projects; they were either small independent films in America, or projects back in Europe. So yes, Hotel New Hampshire aside, I'd say we American audiences missed out on a good thing. But we have Tess and other projects to check out. Ms Kinski herself will take part in a post film Q and A, so figure on being at the Walter Reade until 8 or a little before:




Let me know if there's interest. Later all and Happy Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

November revivals: pre Thanksgiving edition











Hey all, Mike here with a bunch of revivals in November. Specifically revivals being screened prior to Thanksgiving weekend. I'll split the list into two sections. First, here are the films not being screened at Lincoln Center:


VERTIGO (1958)- Mon Nov 17 at 6:45 and 9:20- Film Forum- 209 West Houston St.- The return of Vertigo at the Forum. Now thru November 18th, though I can only attempt the 17th. A 4k digital restoration. Possibly the same glorious DCP restoration that premiered at the Forum a few years back. If you're the kind of person who looks at sites like this, than you're familiar with the Hitchcock classic. A tragic romance with poor guy Jimmy Stewart, going down the emotional Rabbit Hole of Doom as he falls for Kim Novack, and tries not to literally fall due to his vertigo. The story of obsessive love that has never been done better than this. Not on the big screen anyway.

A film that was ignored at best and derided at worst in its initial release, but attained instant classic status upon its 1984 re-release. a near permanent fixture on most AFI Top 100 lists. In some recent film articles listing best movies, Vertigo has made the leap to 1st or 2nd. Not quite sure about that, but on my own Top 40 for sure.
Now again, note that I haven't written much at all about the story itself. To paraphrase Martin Scorsese when he wrote about Vertigo, not only is Vertigo required viewing, it also requires a Personal Response. Your life experiences will determine how you will take it. I'm guessing anyone who looks at my lists has seen Vertigo before. Therefore, you jumped past following the plot and can get to the heart (figuratively and literally) of the story and how it connects with you. Now you have a week to see this, I'm only posting the possible days and times I could do it in theory: 



THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973) for a 10 dollar food/drink/bookstore purchase- Fri Nov 21 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- 150 West 17th St.- If you haven't gotten enough this year of Alejandro Jodorowsky, what with his The Dance of Reality, the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune and Midnight screenings at IFC Center of El Topo, let's bring up a cheapish screening of The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky's other Midnight movie will be screened at the Rubin as part of Cabaret Cinema. You use to have to pay 7 dollars for a drink at the bar to get your ticket. Now it's 10, but you can also purchase something at the bookstore or buy food and get a ticket as well as purchase something from the bar. Best to get there at or before 6:45 for your ticket, and decide to eat dinner and/or check out the glorious Rubin before 9:30.

Now as for the film itself, where a Jesus looking thief infiltrates the domain of an Alchemist, played by Jodorowsky. Once inside, the thief joins the Alchemist's crusade for . . . . something. Soon captains of industry, the masters and mistresses of their respective fields (politics, manufacturing, fashion, the arts, orgasm inducing- don't ask) soon join the Alchemist on his crusade. It's quite weird before all I just described, and it keeps getting weirder. Will it make a lot of linear sense? Eh. Is it boring? Hell no. Very much a Midnight movie screened at a reasonable time. Maybe you can interpret as something drug hazy, and one can certainly interpret attacks against organized religion and politics,  but I can't say one is pushed to feel a single overarching thing. Much like I wrote before that there's no film quite like El Topo, there's no film quite like The Holy Mountain, in a good way:   



PURPLE RAIN (1984)- Sat Nov 22 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- 143 east Houston bet 1st and 2nd Ave- A cheapish screening of the hit film from the summer of 1984. For the rest, 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.


 

For the rest of this list I'll post some options from Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. There was one this summer that covered the first half of his career, and this one covers the rest. Films from 1975 on, where Rainer wasn't any less ambitious, but usually had a larger budget, more emotional maturity (relatively speaking), and a surer hand with the camera, the written word, and in the editing room. Not all films from the retrospective will be posted here. The only I'm not posting is his most successful and most accessible, The Marriage of Maria Braun. I really wish I had the time. One can pay for three films for the price of one and a half, but you have to be ready to commit to all three when purchasing at the box office. All films will screen at the Walter Reade site on 165 West 65th Street:


DESPAIR (1978/79)- Fri Nov 14 at 1:30-  A DCP restoration of one of Fassbinder's favorites. An English language adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel from Tom Stoppard. From 1978, released in the U.S. in 1979. Dirk Bogarde is Russian Jewish immigrant Hermann Hermann, who is a successful chocolate manager. But things don't look good as his dumb wife is cheating on him, and he's facing bankruptcy as the Nazis rise to power. His own way out, in his mind, is to fake his own death by killing his doppelganger. Not a good time to begin losing your sanity, and if you don't know the rest, I'm not spoiling it for you. 

With Cinematography from Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, Last Temptation of Christ). Nominated for the Golden palm at Cannes. The biggest film Fassbinder ever made up to that point, and the favorite of his career. The film's financial failure supposedly crushed him for a while: 



LOLA (1981/82)- Fri Nov 14 at 6:30 and Mon Nov 17 at 9- Walter Reade- From 1981, released after Fassbinder's death in the U.S. in 1982. A dark satire, a variation of The Blue Angel. Set in 1957 during West Germany's economic boom, Armin Mueller-Stahl plays a building commissioner determined to clean up the town of Coburg. He's willing to take on all comers, despite the town's lack of desire for cleaning up corruption; it made us rich, so why bother changing things? Yet the commissioner is blind about the woman he falls in love with, a prostitute/ lounge singer named Lola (Barbara Sukowa). A woman who knows what she is, will not let the denigration of her job keep her from fighting for herself and her child. Another dark film from Rainer, yet with enough humor to keep things moving and keep the kick in the teeth ever so gentle. With good looking, warm (deceptively) Cinematography from Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, Last Temptation of Christ):



VERONIKA VOSS (1982)- Tues Nov 18 at 6:15- Walter Reade- One of Fassbinder's best as far as I'm concerned; his even darker variation of Sunset Blvd. But only a variation because Fassbinder also based this in part on the life of a German actress who enjoyed her greatest success while the Nazis where in power, but who had trouble finding work afterwards. A younger writer is enthralled with the older actress, but he can't save her from her demons, both from outside and within, as well as her chemical addictions. The film gained pathos here in the States with the similarities of addictions between the director and the title character, since it was released here mere months after Fassbinder's fatal overdose.  Certainly Rainer was a far higher functioning addict than his title character; his command of storytelling and depiction of time and space (and addiction) may never had been better. Throw in terrific Black and White Cinematography from Xaver SChwarzenberger (Lola, Lili Marleen) and a well cast lead in Rosel Zech, and you have a sad yet well crafted tale: 



LILI MARLEEN (1981)- Tues Nov 18 at 8:30- Walter Reade- Another big budget film from Fassbinder. Controversial in his native West Germany for depicting the time period in a kitschy, irresponsible manner. How dare he throw in Busby Burkley elements! Fassbinder was more interested in telling a love story, and would not let historical accuracy get in his way. More than a little reminiscent of Verhoven's Black Book. It was originally shot in English for American distribution, then dubbed in German. I don't know if there will be any subtitle reading or not for this. But anyway, I'm going to be a little lazy, and just cut and paste from MOMA's website from back in 2007:

Screenplay by Fassbinder, based on unproduced screenplays by Joshua Sinclair, Manfred Purzer; adapted from the autobiography of Lale Andersen. With Hanna Schygulla, Mel Ferrer, Christine Kaufmann. In Fassbinder’s only film set during the Third Reich, Schygulla, a fine singer, plays an emotional chanteuse who falls in love with her Jewish accompanist and becomes a recording star by performing “Lili Marleen,” the song that Goebbels derided and Hitler loved.

"A movie with a fantastic plot and very rich and energetic mise-en-scene. The feelings Fassbinder expresses in Lili Marleen are sweeter and more compassionate than any he has expressed before"
Andrew Sarris

http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/lili-marleen


THE THIRD GENERATION (1979)- Mon Nov 24 at 8:30- Walter Reade- A Fassbinder I haven't seen and I'm curious about. If you know the Oscar nominated German film The Baader Mienhof Complex, then you have an idea of where this film is going. But no romancing of these homegrown here in this 1979 Western German film as opposed to the 2008 film I just mentioned. The people depicted here didn't even found a group like the Red Army Faction. These are youngish men and women from well to due families, who would qualify for Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year Award skit. These idiots may extol Marxist ideals, they may verbally attack consumerism and their Nazi collaborating parents/grandparents, but their kidnappings and terrorist attacks are more about looking cool and killing time then anything else. But they do have guns, a desire to commit terror attacks in country, and this makes them vulnerable to manipulation. Specifically, manipulation by security companies seeking more money and contracts to fund efforts to strike down said terrorist groups.

The film was hit with American critics, possibly only The Marriage of Maria Braun and Verionkia Voss had better reviews upon their American releases, though I'd have to go onto a site like Rotten Tomatoes to see if that has changed over the decades. But this kind of praise in Germany didn't come at all until Reunification, and even it took years and it seems it was muted. In Western Germany, this film was torn to shreds by critics and people sympathetic to groups like the Red Army Faction were beyond pissed. Fassbinder was considered a class traitor, and allegedly more than once was a projectionist screening this film was beaten.

The following analogy is not a great one, but the best one I can give, to allow you to imagine what a similar film here in the States would be like. Imagine one year after Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino made a film about a group of well-to-do Americans under 35 who are pro-choice, who bomb abortion clinics and post their deeds on social media because it's cool. Then imagine said group being manipulated to go after larger targets, like airports and sporting events. Then imagine said group spouting their beliefs but more interested in getting high and having sex. Then imagine said group being manipulated into such actions by security groups and a media conglomerate who see opportunities for contracts and profits by this group actions, and imagine a kind of federal cooperation so that the status quo can be maintained. Now imagine Tarantino hiring the kind of recognizable and bankable actors needed to draw an audience. No, I'm not talking about something like Syriana, I'm talking about a film people would actually be curious to see going in, and would leave pissed off.

Not the perfect analogy to The Third Generation, but it gives you the kind of firecracker Fassbinder set off in his country, that American critics and art house audiences fully supported. Decide for yourself. Not only am I including the link to the film on Lincoln Center's film site, but also Vincent Camby's rave review on the Times:





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