Saturday, June 25, 2016

Next week's revivals

Hey all. Mike here with a week's worth of revival screenings. I'll keep my descriptions as brief as possible. Some flicks for the whole family, and some strictly adult fare. Nothing NC-17 rated, don't get me wrong. But two films for the kids to stay home, wait for them to be adults to appreciate. Or at least over 14. Sorry I digress, here we go:

THE KING OF COMEDY (1983)-  Sun June 26 at 6:10 (maybe for me) and 8:20, Wed June 29 at 7:30 (introduced by Mario Cantone) and 9:45, and Thurs June 30 at 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- A 4K digital restoration. It's runs a week, but I'm only posting the screening I think I can make.

Big flop from early 1983, but also one of that year's best film. Similar to a musical where the songs all happen in the context of a show or in fantasy. Here, most of the comedy is in the context of the talk show or in fantasy. Mostly it's a dark drama. Robert de Niro plays an obsessed fan, who takes a chance encounter with his talk show host idol too much to heart. This lets his fantasies of becoming a comedy icon grow bigger than usual, and his behavior becomes more irrational, and potentially dangerous.

De Niro is loser incarnate, and it cuts close to the bone. It's almost like Willy Loman never did anything, then kidnapped his brother for those riches. But most critical attention back then, went to Jerry Lewis, in his first serious role of note, as the talk show icon. A role Johnny Carson turned down after much deliberation, because the role was written to close to his reality (at least when he hosted The Tonight Show in NYC). Lewis was long dismissed at this point, and this role gave his career a whole new lease on life. When the Academy Awards show clips from Jerry's career when he gets his honorary award, they will be at a decent clip from this film to show. We see him in de Niro's fantasy scenes, and is just as impressive as someone not happy with his celebrity status, and even less happy by his privacy being interrupted by this nut. Stealing scenes from both de Niro and Lewis is Sandra Bernhard, as an even more obsessed fan.

Came out in Feb. 1983 to major praise. When it expanded beyond 2 or 3 screens, it was DOA. I'm guessing there wasn't a lot of love for an ending that neither went to the comfortable Hollywood route, nor did it go a Taxi Driver-esque route. Maybe the stalker story was too close after John Lennon's murder by a crazed fan. Home video and TV could only do so much. Not the coolest in comparison to other Scorsese-de Niro, and because it was made by Fox instead of Warner Bros, it doesn't get packaged with their other works. But I'm guessing most of you haven't seen this ever, or since the 80s or early 90s. Now is the chance to change that. Comedian Mario Cantone will introduce the 7:30 screening on Wednesday, June 29th:

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY- Sun June 26 at 7- AMC Empire, Regal Union Square 14, and Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema, plus Wed June 29 at 7 at AMC Empire (the only place I could try to catch it that night)- The Gene Wilder cult classic gets a special digital screening, sponsored by TCM and introduced by Ben Mankiewicz. If it looks as great as the TCM digital screenings of Jaws and Double Indemnity, this should be a treat

It may not be as loyal to the original Roald Dahl book as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it's a better film. Dahl wrote the original adaptation, but a massive re-write caused Dahl to badmouth the film every chance he got. And while there was better usage of the Oompa Loompas and the budget to go hog wild on the look, the family/daddy issues, especially in the last half-hour, drags the film down when compared to Willy Wonka. Maybe I like this film so much strictly for Wilder's performance. I'm ok with that.

Now considering this was not a hit back in 1971 but only became a cult classic thanks largely to NBC broadcasts in the late 70s into the 1980s, most people have no idea what this film looks like on the big screen. I include myself in that statement, but I would like to change that

THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) for 10 dollars- Thurs June 30 at 7- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema- A cheapish screening of the Humphrey Bogart film, introduced by Hedda Lettuce. Humphrey Bogart stars as a has-been movie director, who gets a second wind when he discovers beautiful peasant girl Ava Gardner and, with the help of his backers, makes her a star and an international sex symbol. But will this be a case of too much too soon? Will she be truly loved for herself?

Praised in its day. Corny and a little soap opera-ish today. But writer/ director Joseph Mankiewicz keeps a steady hand. Not too much corniness, smarter than you think, and just enough bitterness mixed with the sweet. An Oscar nomination for Mankiewicz's Screenplay. An Oscar for Edmond O'Brien for Supporting Actor, as the tough, insincere publicist.  

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)- Fri July 1 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- Part of a weekend of Hollywood blockbusters that were released on the 4th of July weekend, that made an impact; culturally as well as big time at the box office. Ok, they include Magi Mike XXL, but only because they're screening the first Magic Mike as well I guess. The only non-digital screening on this list. The print should be decent based on the Museum's history. 

The biggest film of 1985. Came out of nowhere to find not only the family audience, but served as an overall alternative to the other major film from that year, Rambo Part 2. Chances are you know the story, so I don't need to sell this classic:

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Revivals: mostly Memorial Day weekend edition

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the Memorial Day weekend. Well one film is playing next week, in June. But I'm not leaving it out, and I'm not doing a special write-up just for one film. So here we go, starting with a film I enjoy:

HARD BOILED (1992/93)- Fri May 27 at 7- Metrograph-  For the record, I liked attending Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the Metrograph. A little on the expensive side compared to other places, the in-house restaurant especially so. But the screening room is comfortable. what with stadium seating and a quality sound system. The kind of screen that can handle both 35mm and digital. Not as big as say the Walter Reade screen, but one I can imagine seeing Barry Lyndon, if I grow the balls to see it again that is. But if I can consider that one, you know I'll consider Hard Boiled.

Now if you're an American of a certain age who enjoy action films, you were introduced to John Woo before his American films, the darn good Face Off and the mediocre Hard Target, were released. You were probably introduced to one of two films, either via cable or bootleg VHS. Whichever film you were introduced to first, is probably one of your favorite action films. It could have been The Killer for you, but for me it was Hard Boiled,from 1992. Chow Yun-Fat secured his status as action hero extraordinaire, as a Dirty Harry-like cop, trying to avenge the death of his partner, while investigating gun runners who are fighting over territory. Tony Leung (The Lover, Infernal Affairs) plays a hit man with a secret, who sides against the more violent gun runner. Both men collide, when said gun runner and his mob hold a hospital full of people hostage. This mob has superior fire power that keeps the police helpless, and the cop and the hitman with a secret can only rely on each to take out the gang. One floor at a time, one room at a time.

The film is pretty good before you get to the hospital. Yun-Fat and Leung are charismatic, the gun fights are stylized and interestingly shot. But the last hour takes place in the hospital, and that's when Woo ratchets everything up another level. The firefights are incredibly complicated at the start and increase in complications as it goes on. The mix of quick edits and single shot extended action scenes have to be seen to be believed. And oh yeah, there's a little humor in there too. No one will ever confuse John Woo with say, Woody or Mel Brooks or even Judd Apatow. But Woo sneaks it in throughout, and is a pleasant surprise during the second half. So yes, on Memorial Day Friday, I'll go out of my way to the Metrograph, if it means I get to enjoy Hard Boiled in all its glory:

JAWS (1975) Fri May 27 and (maybe for me) Sat May 28 at 12:05AM- IFC Center- I don't care if I've posted this before and done it before. Jaws is one of my all time faves, the big screen is a great place to catch it, and summertime is the perfect time period to do it. If you've heard of it, then i don't need to go into it. If you've never seen it on the big screen, this is as good a time as any. And if you've never seen on the big screen and can stay up late, why won't you?

THE PASSIONATE THIEF (1960/63)- Sat May 28 at 8:45- Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Anna Magnani retrospective. From 1960, released in the U.S. in 1963. 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:

THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)- Thurs June 2 at 7- Metrograph- Since I don't see myself posting any revivals during the first 5 days of June, and since I don't want to do a write-up of just one film, here it is on this list. From the Brian de Palma retrospective. I may not post many films from this retrospective, I'm warning you now. Partly due to time, partly because I have no interest in Mission Impossible, Snake Eyes, and Bonfire of the Vanities (not making the same mistake twice). And partly because I've seen both Wise Guys and Femme Fetale  before, never again.

The Untouchables, from 1987. David Mamet reinvented the 50s TV hit as a morality tale, with naive and saintly Elliot Ness having to go into grey areas in order to stop evil, in the form of Robert De Niro's Al Capone. But aided by Ennio Morricone's terrific, Oscar-nominated score, this is more Brian De Palma's triumph. High opera, directed to near perfection. The train station sequence is a classic, the bridge by the Canadian border and the rooftop sequences, are very close. Amazing this almost didn't happen, based on Mamet's far talkier early drafts. According to producer Art Linson, it was De Niro who gently forced Mamet to make massive re-writes, for which Linson and De Palma are eternally grateful.

Part of the one-two punch in the summer of 87 that elevated Kevin Costner, as Ness, to A list status. Introduced us to both Andy Garcia and Patricia Clarkson. But putting Sean Connery back to A list status in the U.S. might be what's best remembered here. His scene in the church with Costner and his death scene (sorry for the spoiler, but if you don't know the film by now . . . . ), probably won him his Oscar. 

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mid-May revivals

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the middle of May. Once I get back in the groove of movie watching, what do I do? Fall behind as usual. Let me not waste time, here we go with the list. I'll try to keep the descriptions short:

KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979) with a post film Q and A with director Robert Benton by writer Michael Schulman- Thurs May 12 at 7:30- IFC Center- The end of the Meryl Streep retrospective. The Academy Award winner regarding divorce, what makes a good parent, and a whole bunch of stuff that the zeitgeist of 1979 perfectly. May not be an AFI Top 100 film like Apocalypse Now, and may not be adventurous filmmaking like Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. But it's still a pretty darn good drama. Oscar nominations for Justin Henry for Supporting Actor (among the best child performances on screen ever), Jane Alexander for Supporting Actress, Editing, and Nestor Almendros' underrated Cinematography. Oscars for Best Picture, Dustin Hoffman for Actor (over Peter Sellers for Being There? Interesting.), Robert Benton for both Direction and Screenplay Adaptation, and Streep, in a A list creating performance, for Supporting Actress.

After the screening, writer-director Benton will participate in a Q and A with Michael Schulman, author of a new Streep biography. This may or may not sell out, but the house should be at least 3/4 full. Some planning in advance would be needed:  

AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)- BAM- Fri May 13 at 4:30 and 9:30- Part of BAM's Labor of Love's: 100 Years of Movie Dates series. Ouch, there isn't a single good date depicted in this film, but that's not what this retrospective depicts, so, ok then.

One of the best films of 2000, we follow one Patrick Bateman. A successful Wall Street banker-type with a lovely fiancee (Reese Witherspoon) and a respectable amount of wealth for someone so relatively young. But none of this satisfies Bateman. Becoming a Master of the Universe isn't satisfying either; not when something as small as a somewhat more attractive business card can send you into a tailspin. So he has a mistress and hires prostitutes from time to time. But none of this satisfies Bateman either, even if he beats his prostitutes. No, the only thing that seems to give poor Patrick any satisfaction is killing someone. Anyone who stands in his way. Anyway powerless to stop him. Anyone will do. Like any addiction, Bateman can only be satisfied by killing more and more. Like anyone with a few remaining twinges of a conscious, he wants to stop, or be stopped. But . . . . well the ending I leave to you to decide how you feel.

Controversial from the get-go, thanks to the source material. Ideas to humanize Patrick as opposed to giving him twinges of conscious (as was the plan in an attempted DiCaprio- Oliver Stone adaptation) were shot down by both fans and Gloria Steinem. The subdued approach and the aim to make this a comedy/satire of manners by director/ writer Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner works. In part to give the violence consequences when it does occur/ threatens to occur. In a East Coast variation of Fight Club, we see him get everything he wants or "needs", it gives him nothing. And despite keeping it in the late 80s to maintain the attack on Reagan/ Bush 1 era yuppie/preppie-types, narcissism, and overall thinking, it felt just as relevant in 2000 as it did then. And unfortunately in 2014, this film feels as relevant as ever. Right down to the type of profession that has gotten away with financial crimes with slaps on the wrists, if even that much.

But that didn't make the film a hit in 2000. Audiences and critics were divided. Even though the film toned down the book's brutality, the scenes that did stay in that avoided the dreaded NC-17 rating (the Hip to be Square scene, the chainsaw sequence), pissed some people off. And since some of the satire was subtle, I think some people from the day confused said subtlety with approval by the filmmakers. The ending didn't help. It made enough money to avoid being considered a flop and supposedly has developed a cult following. But if you're talking about films remembered from the year 2000, you're talking about say, Cast Away, Gladiator, Crouching Tiger, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, maybe X-Men because of Hugh Jackman's star-making turn. 
Speaking of star making turns, that might be the reason why anyone watches this film anymore. Christian Bale, rising from nearly forgotten child actor to British art house lead (and former Jesus of Nazareth) to leading man in American films. A few missteps and some underrated American art house films were to come before Batman Begins, but as far as I was concerned, American Psycho showed us an actor who would be around for a long while to come. Narcissistic yet occasionally empathetic, funny yet dangerous enough to make you think what he could have done as Hannibal Lecter. Able to switch on a dime; whether we're talking about the Hip To Be Square scene (opposite Jared Leto), or the scene were Bateman brings his smitten secretary (Chloe Sevigny) back to his apartment with some hard decisions to make . . . 

In some ways, it was appropriate for Christopher Nolan to cast Bale in his series of Batman films. Though with Bateman, he seems more akin to Harvey Two-Face Dent than Bruce Wayne. The monster gains more control over time, but that other face, clean, handsome, keeps popping up. Is it a mask? Is it that last sign of positive humanity left in him? Is it guilt mixed with the need to be punished? A face that contorts farther as his behavior goes ignored, possibly excused? No matter how bat shit the film gets (still more muted than the novel), Bale allows you to believe it and follow it. And even this performance polarized critics and audiences. Too on the nose, too over the top were some of the complaints. But it's not a complaint of mine. We got a three-dimensional person, whose heights tend to be on the bloody side (or are they?). Go see this if you've never seen it before, or even if you've seen the Broadway musical:

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) Sat May 14 at 6 (post film Q and A with director Amy Heckerling) and 8:30 (introduced by Heckerling)- The Metrograph- 7 Ludlow Street- Hey, lookit this. we have a new place to include for revivals screenings. The Metrograph, near the F train at East Broadway and the B and D train at Grand Street. A place that can show DCPs and film, where you can eat lunch or dinner while you watch, and where special events are done from time to time. I've never been here and I am very curious. So I'll start posting films from this location with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. 

A sleeper hit from the summer of 1982. A film Universal had no confidence in, and seemed to try to just dump out there. Word of mouth, plus some key good reviews from Siskel and Ebert among others, turned the distribution scheme into a happy accident. Just as the film was dying out on the West Coast, it starts to play big in the East Coast. Sometimes, studio execs are so lucky . . . From Amy Heckerling, who would never direct a better film. So what is this film best remembered for? The realistic glimpse of high school life during a certain time from soon-to-be-very-well-known Cameron Crowe? The compilation of young acting talent, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stolz, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, and Anthony Edwards? The shots of Cates rising from the pool, and Leigh lying on the couch? Or for the casting of Sean Penn? His ascent in the acting world, begins with his perf as the iconic partying surfer dude. His scenes with Ray Walston as Mr. Hand still hold up today. I'm guessing all who read this have seen this film. I'm guessing maybe one at best, actually saw this film on the big screen. Time to correct this . . .

Director Heckerling will do a psot film Q and A after the 6pm screening, and will introduce the 8:30 screening. Since I've done a screening here before, I don't know how things are run at the Metrograph, or how quickly special event screenings sell out. So some mucho planning will need to be done:

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966) for 10 dollars- Thurs May 19 at 7- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- A cheap-ish screening, complete with Hedda lettuce screening. Among the best of the stage-to-screen transfers ever. I've been waiting a long time for this to play in a revival house. Hell of a first film for director Mike Nichols. Richard Burton and Taylor (heavier and made up to look far older and tired in a successful attempt to de-glamorize) are George and Martha; bitter middle-aged alcoholics, who in order to keep any semblance of interest in their marriage, tear into each other and the young couple (George Segal, Sandy Dennis) who come to their little party. As the film goes on, the head games get more cruel and vindictive.

Not necessarily a happy film, but with Albee's words, a joy to behold. No matter the attempts to open up the film, the house still feels like a steel cage. The attempts at opening, in particular the diner, doesn't hold as well, but everything else does. Some modern audiences might consider the acting as over the top at times, but I would disagree. I have a weakness/high tolerance to some excess, but it fits the piece.

Not on the first AFI Top 100 list, but on the second Top 100 list. 13 Oscar nominations. Oscars for Taylor for Actress, Dennis for Supporting, Art Direction Costume and Cinematography for a black and white film. Nominations include for Picture, Burton for Actor, Segal for Supporting Actor, Nichols for Director, Editing, and Alex North's very good score. I hope the overture and closing music are played here. Also nominated was Ernest Lehman for his screenplay, despite the fact that the actors hated his version so much, they and Nichols went behind his back and replaced all but 2 lines back to Albee's original. For me, best film of 1966. Excuse me if I'm not agreeing with the Academy with their choice of A Man For All Seasons. I want to go. Unless you want to see the other Liz and Dick film playing in Manhattan that night:

BOOM!(1968)- Thurs May 19 at 10:15- Film Forum- The end of the Forum's Noel Coward retrospective. Sorry this is the only film from the retrospective I'm posting. But I've done Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit before, I'm in no hurry regarding Bunny Lake Is Missing, and they're not screening the original version of The Italian Job. They can't show that film, yet they're screening Boom? Oh I'm sorry, Boom!

From director Joseph Losey, apparently in a state of constant drunkenness. Written by Tennessee Williams, who adapted his infamous flop, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. His favorite adaptation of all his work; aw Jeez. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the most beautiful terminally ill person you've ever seen. On her personal island mansion, surrounded by nurses and bodyguards, she meets two people. One is the Witch of Capri (Coward), and a young poor poet (Burton, in a role even he felt was miscast) who seems to fulfill her every need, and who might be the Angel of Death.
The 1968 poster child for a My Year of Flops fiasco (all credit to Nathan Rabin for that). Everybody took it seriously, except the 1968 moviegoing public. The beginning of the end for both Williams's career success, and Liz Taylor as an A-List movie draw. If John Waters appreciates the excessive, over-the-top drama, you know it has fiasco written all over it. In an interesting, if not good way:   

DESTINY (1921)- Fri May 20 and Mon May 23 at 6:20, Sat May 21 at 4:40 and 6:40, plus Mon May 23 at 10:10- A DCP restoration of Fritz Lang's silent film, which was a major influence on both Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel. I don't know this at all, so I'll have to go the old cut and paste route, from the Forum's website:

(1921) In a vaguely 19th-century German village, a tall, sepulchral stranger builds a high wall around his property sans doors or windows, then Lil Dagover’s lover disappears — could the stranger be D...? (The German title translates as The Weary Death). So, is “love stronger than death?” The stranger gives Dagover visions of lovers at bay in an Arabian Nights Bagdad, in a Renaissance Vienna at Carnival, and in a highly stylized China, complete with special effects admired —
and copied — by Douglas Fairbanks. But there is one final test. Acclaim abroad reverberated back to make this Lang’s first smash hit: both Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel got the movie bug after seeing it. DCP. Approx. 98 mins.

A FACE IN THE CROWD- Sat May 21 at 3- The Metrograph- Part of the Metrograph's Budd Schulberg retrospective. Not the best film Elia Kazan has ever directed or even the most subtle, but a potent one nevertheless. And I know some of you have caught this before, either with or without me. But for those who haven't, who've probably caught most of the other films I'm listing hear, this is the one I want you to catch. A passionate gem of a film that, with this current election cycle, remains as potent and as relevant as ever.

From 1957, Patricia Neal works on the radio, and gives a chance behind the microphone to a hobo type, with possible anger issues, played by Andy Griffith. So basically, by sheer force of personality, this early Howard Stern/ Rush Limbaugh type goes from small time Southern radio voice, to big time National radio voice, to selfish, borderline power-mad egomaniacal personality on this new fangled medium called television.

The writing and directing team behind On The Waterfront, went out of their way to make a large chunk of this film as unsubtle as possible. This was on purpose, since this was more a call to arms of the way TV and advertising was changing America, and not in a good way. Is right up there with Network, in terms of standout films that not only attacked and critiqued media, but also in terms of how despite the changing times, audience sizes and technology; the accuracy it has about our current times is uncanny. the idea of politicians packaged like a new car or a fast food place, or that the audience will follow some wannabe demagogue on TV and almost blindly follow what the person says (unless the audience feels blatantly tricked). Boy, that human nature crap hasn't changed at all.

Of course, this wouldn't work if we didn't at least empathize with the characters, and this certainly wouldn't work if the performances weren't outstanding. Neal, Walter Matthau (as the bitterly observant East Coast type), and Anthony Franciosa (as the slimy manager), are just the better known names in a wonderful cast. Lee Remick makes her fresh faced screen debut. But if you just think of Andy Griffith as the sheriff of Mayberry or as Matlock, his performance in A Face In The Crowd will shatter those perceptions. Funny, driven, ravenous, tender, lonely, subtle, brutal. Griffith bounces from one to another of these states and more, and you never see the seams. You see the cruel glint in his eye early, but you can sympathize with him for long stretches. In effect, you can understand why Neal's character would throw away her principals a piece at a time to love a man who may not be the misunderstood kind-hearted person she thinks he is. Very good film, one you really need to make time for at some point

ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)- Sat May 21 at 5:30- Also part of the Metrograph's Budd Schulberg retrospective. You can only choose between A Face In The Crowd or this on Saturday, May 21. Can't really go wrong, no matter what your choice is.
Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. Consider this a film-noir/drama. Kirk Douglas stars as a disgraced newspaper man, forced to work in a lowly newspaper in Albuquerque. But when a man seems doomed to die in a cave-in, Douglas will do anything to cash in, by making this national news, and make himself a name again. But the feeding frenzy from the newly arrived media and the townspeople, even the trapped man's wife, seem even creepier than Douglas.

This was Wilder's golden ticket film. Yes he had some hit films already, but this was the dream project he got to do after the success of Sunset Blvd. But the critics attacked this as being over the top and unlikeable, as well as inaccurate in its depiction of the media, and it became the first major flop in Wilder's career. But similar to Network; by the time we got to the mid 80s, where you had the baby Jessica story (the girl trapped in the well) played in the media with similarities to Ace, the Wilder film seemed prophetic. And this was before we had more cable channels and more media outlets that desperately need a steady diet of sellable news. It may not have helped in 1951 that the only likable person in the picture, was the poor schmuck trapped in the cave in, but it seems to fit the noir style.

I'd also say it's similar to A Face In The Crowd. Not big hits in its day, both dark as hell, but both better appreciated today. Maybe A Face is appreciated much more among film fans. And in Wilder's career, it would later be dwarfed, with films like Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie coming down the pike. But Ace In The Hole is rarely screened on TCM, is only available on DVD through the Criterion Collection, so chances are high that you haven't seen this. We can change that now:

PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)- Sat May 21 at 8:40- Film Forum- A DCP screening from the Forum's Robert Downey Sr. retrospective. A black comedy that I believe was Downey's biggest indie hit. A CEO of a Madison Avenue ad firm dies, and thru weird voting by-laws, the Board of Directors accidentally vote in the token black member of the board, Putney Swope. He's played by Arnold Johnson, though his lines were later dubbed by Downey since Johnson supposedly screwed up his lines constantly. Most of the white people are fired, more women and minorities are hired, and the business tries to be more ethical under Putney's stewardship. Yeah, good luck with that in the world of advertising in the face of commerce.

Cited as influence on the likes of the creators of Kentucky Fried Theater (and Movie), the creators of The Groove Tube, The Coen Brothers (who must have been inspired by this in part of The Hudsucker Proxy), Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Louis C.K. Never seen all of it, but I am curious: 

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

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.