Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January revivals: small list





Hi all, Mike here with a short revival list for the month of January. Very short list, as in a three film list. Sorry, but life is getting in the way now, so on with the list we go:



THE THIRD MAN (1949/1950) and THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947/48)- Fri Jan 23 at 8:25 (Man) and 10:30 (Lady)- Film Forum- A double feature from the Forum's Orson Welles retrospective; both for one admission. Plays for two days and nights, but  I'm only posting the night screenings for Friday, January 23rd. If the Saturday day/night screenings on Saturday, January 24th, are the only ones you can do, go for it. Note that Lady From Shanghai is a restored DCP, while Third Man will be a 35mm screening.

First, The Third Man, from 1949. Though in America, it came out in 1950, where it would rise to classic status at about the exact same time as Sunset Blvd., All About Eve and Harvey. Talk about when being the third or fourth best film of that particular year meant a lot more than usual. Seriously, it's seems to me to be among the least seen of all the post silent flim era flicks I would label classic, at least stateside. As the older audience dies out, younger ones may not know it. But once they see it, boom, it's got them, and they'll probably see it everytime it comes on TCM as well. Film students must also have to see this at least once I would imagine. If not, then it's probably not all that reputable a film school.

Simple fish out of water story, where American Joseph Cotton, who seems to hold black belts in screwups and stumbling blindly into situations, attends a funeral for his friend in post-war divided Vienna. And yet things, as usual in these kind of film noirs, are not what they appear to be. Thus, what I said about the story being simple, eeeeehhhhh, not so much. The film seems to exist entirely in states of gray, with camera angles that seem to have made it the Blair Witch Project of its day.

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

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

An Oscar for the black and white cinematography, nominations for Editing and Reed for Director. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes, on the first AFI Top 100 list (though not the second!), number one on Britain's similar film list, Japan's number one film on it's own similar list of non-Japanese films, and in my personal top 100. Not sure where exactly, but it's somewhere. It would be higher in my mind if there wasn't so much zither music. Yes, it fits, and after 60 years, we can't exactly do anything about that now, but still. That damn zither theme can still pop into my head from time to time. Despite that, you will enjoy it, whether you've seen it a bunch of times, or for the first time.

Next is The Lady From Shanghai, from 1948. Orson plays an Irish sailor (dialect questionable, later abandoned) who save platinum blond Rita Hayworth from muggers. In gratitude, her husband, a rich criminal lawyer (Everett Sloane-Citizen Kane) hires him to be their seaman for a cruise from New York to San Francisco, cutting through the Panama Canal. Now if you know film noirs, you can imagine how much a femme fatale Hayworth's character could be, and you can imagine, and the twist and turns that come right at you.

But here, the twists and turns feel far more out of nowhere. Partly due to the script, and partly because after a disastrous preview, Columbia Pictures took the film away from Welles, and came up with their own edit. An edit where numerous re -writes and re-shoots blew up the film's budget. The blame for this would fall to Welles, even though he had nothing to do with it, since his original cut came on time and on budget. The Lady From Shanghai flopped in the U.S. with both critics and audiences, and gave a permanent black mark to Welles' Hollywood reputation. But it gained respect and an audience in Europe. Below is a recent quote from a film website that I don't remember. Sorry, but in my haste to cut and paste the paragraph, I missed who I should give credit to. Google on your if you want: 

After the release of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI ('48), "friends avoided me," Orson Welles told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. "Whenever [the film] was mentioned, people would clear their throats and change the subject very quickly out of consideration for my feelings. I only found out that it was considered a good picture when I got to Europe. The first nice thing I ever heard about it from an American was from Truman Capote. One night in Sicily, he quoted whole pages of dialogue word for word."

So yes, thanks to European critics/audiences, plus TV viewings over the years, The Lady From Shanghai did gain some sort of cult status here. In part because of good casting, though Hayworth has little to do but look good. In part because of the enjoyably stylized way this story is told. In part because a chunk of the dialogue is funny, intentionally funny as opposed to Welles's wandering accent. And in part because of the fantastic Hall of Mirrors climax; a scene that would heavily influence the likes of Enter The Dragon, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and almost any film that plays with funhouse mirrors:



ANNIE HALL (1977)- Fri Jan 30 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- Part of the Moving Images's Gordon Willis retrospectives. In honor of the great cinematographer who died last May. Not all of his films, just the very best of an illustrious career. I won't have time for some films I've caught from previous revival lists, such as Interiors, Klute, and the first two Godfather films. And as much as I would love to catch the likes of The Parallax View and Broadway Danny Rose, I'm afraid I will miss those screenings as well. There's a chance I can see something from the end of the series, but for now, there's Annie Hall.

Now for years, I waffled back and forth between which film was my favorite of Woody Allen's career, Annie Hall or Manhattan. While the borough of Manhattan has never been more beautifully captured on film with Manhattan, and it should be seen on either the big screen or at least on a 50"-70" TV screen, Annie Hall became my number Allen film back in June 2012. Superior dialogue, best use of Diane Keaton, and a marvel in editing, especially considering the much longer murder mystery story this was a part of.

But that's about all I'll say about this film. Blah blah, Woody Allen's best film right along with Manhattan. Blah blah, on both AFI Top 100 lists and in my own personal top 100. Blah Blah, Multiple Oscar winner including Best Picture. Blah blah, Diane Keaton becomes movie icon and feminist icon of all time. Blah blah, the Annie Hall character was to women then as Juno is to young women right now. Blah blah, one of the best romantic comedies ever made, despite the dramatic/sad tinges to it. Blah blah, just see it, all right



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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Revivals: post Christmas edition









Hey all, Mike here with revivals for the post Christmas Day winter break, for those who can take a break that is. But don't worry, plenty of weekend options here. This list runs into early January, since that kinda counts as a long weekend for some as well. I tried to keep the descriptions as brief as possible. No time to waste, here we go:



THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) or THE DEAD (1988) for 10 dollars- Fri Dec 26 at 2:30 (Falcon) or 8:30 (Dead)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Two films from the John Huston retrospective. Separate admission only, unless you go for the 5 films for 5 dollars deal for this retrospective. Ten dollars for each film otherwise.

First, The Maltese Falcon. One of the best ever and an AFI Top 100 film (both lists), Falcon made Bogart a leading man for life and was also Huston's directorial debut. Proof that Tarantino did not have the best start to a film career. Okay maybe Welles did, but no one went to see Citizen Kane when it came out, but they did go to see Falcon in the same year. And oh by the way, its one of the best films ever made. I'm sorry did I say this already instead of going on about the film? If you know this site is known to you at all, then this is the kind of film you know well. "The kind that dreams are made of". I hope we can go.

Next, The Dead, Huston's last film. Released posthumously in 1987, Huston's adaptation of James Joyce's short story might have received the best reviews of Huston's career. Or at least on par with the likes of Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann are a married couple in Dublin, attending the 1904 Epiphany dinner of his elderly aunts. But amid the good cheer the husband goes through his own epiphanies, and not all of them are pleasant. Oscar nominations for for son Tony Huston's Screenplay and the Costume Design, with a cast that includes Dan O'Herlihy and Deep Space Nine's Colm Meaney, and a lush Alex North score:
  



DIE HARD (1988)- Fri Dec 26 at 11:50pm- 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.



THE FLY (1986)- Fri Dec 26 at Midnight- IFC Center- The Fly, Cronenberg's only big career hit, the surprise hit of the summer of 86, and one of the best films of that year. At that time, despite the praise, saying something like that was considered surprising, daring, or greeted with a "oh, please". History says differently, if you can get by the Oscar winning, and at times disgusting, makeup effects.

But underneath the horror film aesthetic, is a well done tragic love story, where the love suffers terminal problems, when one of them suffers a crippling disease or addiction. This kind of story, as Cronenberg knows well, has universal appeal. Instead of say, AIDS or drug addiction, or the ravages of aging as Cronenberg has stated in more than one interview, you have Jeff Goldblum transforming into a man-sized insect. His physical deterioration and changing behavior does mimic disease, aging and addiction, despite the disintegrating fly vomit. With Geena Davis, at her most beautiful, turning in her best performance.



WISE BLOOD (1979/80) for 10 dollars- Sat Dec 27 at 3:30 and Thurs Jan 1 at 6:15- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From the John Huston retrospective at Lincoln Center, one were there are two possible dates I can do. From 1979, released in the U.S. in 1980. Huston's dark dramedy adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's novel. Haven't seen it, would like to see it. But for the rest of this post, I'll have to cut and paste from Lincoln Center's filmlinc website:

“Where you’re going doesn’t matter,” insists the impassioned young hero of Huston’s deepest, thorniest reflection on religious faith. “And where you are ain’t no good unless you can get away from it.” Brad Dourif gives the performance of his career as Hazel Motes, a recent war veteran who comes to a small Southern town advocating with Pentecostal fervor for the “Church of Christ Without Christ.” Huston fills the fringes of the movie with an indelible cast of American eccentrics, including the great Harry Dean Stanton as a (possibly) blind preacher. Adapted from Flannery O’Connor’s legendary first novel,Wise Blood is a comic, unsettling parable about, in the novelist Francine Prose’s words, “a Christian in spite of himself.”



HEALTH (1980) with Go To Health- Sat Dec 27 at 4- MOMA- HealtH (the way the title is spelled; no typo.). Inspired by (his feelings of anger toward) Watergate, HealtH depicts a convention, where several people battle to win an election for president of a health organization that lobbies Washington. Lauren Bacall plays one candidate, who claims that every orgasm takes 28 days off a woman's life, while she occasionally slips into a coma. Glenda Jackson plays another candidate who can't talk without lapsing into a bored speech. How you can tell if she can be effective when she doesn't know how to present herself (a topic Altman would later cover on HBO's Tanner 88). Paul Dooley (co-writer and frequent actor for Altman) plays an independent candidate who claims to be for the little guy, but you have to wonder . . . James Garner plays bacillus campaign manager, and Carol Burnett plays the Presiden'ts personal observer ("I just want everyone to know the President is very pro-health!"). A young Alfre Woodard plays the hotel manager, and Dick Cavett plays himself.

The film was supposed to send up the condition of the American political process in the 70s. Bacall playing a variation of an empty platitude Dwight Eisenhower, and Jackson play a variation of the useless Adlai Stevenson. It was supposed to be released during the 1980 presidential campaign, but after one disastrous screening, 20th Century Fox essentially buried the film and called it "unreleasable". One week in L.A. in Sept 1980, one week at the old Film Forum in 1982, and then mostly buried. A 1983 summer screening on CBS, and the rare screening on Fox Movie Channel, plus several showings at Film Forum and similar type of revival houses. Not the best Altman, but pretty decent.

Preceded by Go To HealTh, a documentary where Cavett interviews the cast. Seen by even fewer people than HealTh itself:



CITIZEN KANE (1941)- Thurs Jan 1 at 7:30 and 9:50, Fri Jan 2 at 2:50 and (tentative for me) 9:50, Sat Jan 3 at 2:50 and (tentative for me) 7:30 and 9:50, and Wed Jan 7 and Thurs Jan 8 at 7:30 and 9:50- Film Forum- A DCP restoration of the film that kicks off the Forum's Orson Welles retrospective. Ok people, show of hands, how many of you have ever heard of Citizen Kane? Ok, good. If you even bother to look at this list at all, you at least know of Orson Welles' film. Didn't expect to see any hands from those under 18 anyway. Now, how many of you know more about Kane than just Rosebud, even if it's aided by memories of HBO's passable version of the making of Kane, RKO 281? Similar number of hands, fine.

Seeing this on the big screen as opposed to watching it on TV, there's a world of difference. In terms of storytelling, pacing and emotional depth (as well as innovative in its use of visual effects, make-up and music), as modern a film as what we have now in release, and a lot better than all but a hand full (I'm trying to be nice and not be considered a snob. I probably failed at that a long time ago). Now, how many of you have actually seen Citizen Kane from beginning to end? Ok, the number of hands have dropped, but I'll let you decide if that would be a fairly low number. I mean, some of have seen it through the very occasional airings on TCM. Maybe 1 or 2 of have seen it/ own it on DVD. New York/ New Jersey people as recent as the early 80s saw this on one of Channel 9's Million Dollar Movie airings. Or maybe 1 or 2 of you saw it in a film class or some sort. Now, how many of you have actually seen this on the big screen? Yeah, that's what I thought. The 1 or 2 of you who saw this with me at the Forum, when Kane ran for a week back in March 2004, or the one who saw it with me at the Forum last April.

A flop in its day (when you do a thinly veiled attack on William Randolph Hearst, and he still wields considerable influence, it's amazing no one burned the negatives behind RKO's backs), a classic today. First, in France, where it was screened shortly after WW 2, and had the praise and backing of filmmakers like Goddard. Then in the mid to late 50s, when it aired on TV and had a major re-release. 9 Oscar nominations, including Picture, Welles for Actor and Director, Herrmann for his Score, and Editing for Robert Wise. An Oscar to Welles and Joseph J. Mankiewicz for the Screenplay. Number one on both AFI Top 100 lists, and along with Casablanca and The Godfather, always in the conversation for greatest American films ever made. That it's in my personal top 6 should be a little obvious.



MCCABE AND MRS MILLER (1971) with Zinc Ointment- Fri Jan 2 at 7- MOMA- From MOMA's Robert Altman retrospective.Unlike other Friday nights there, this one isn't free, we'll have to pay to see this. 

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:



TENTACLES (1977)- Fri Jan 2 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The last from the John Huston retrospective that I will be able to post, and boy do we have a doozy of a bad film. Henry Fonda's evil corporation does some oil drilling off the coast of whatever beach town, California. They shouldn't be drilling out there but DAMMNIT, we need energy! Anyway, the drilling somehow messes with the octopus population, and said octopus population somehow become maneaters.

Awful action, questionable editing, terrible score (both in quality and inappropriateness), a campy awful ripoff of Jaws. Not the only ripoff of Jaws, but notable in terms of cast and shoddiness. The money went straight to the cast: with Huston (a rare lead role as a reporter who uncovers the drilling), Fonda as the evil businessman (a handful of scenes, sitting in a chair), Shelly Winters (as Huston's sister; all over the place with a terrible scene when she tries to reach her son via walkie talkie), and a stiff Bo Hopkins as the actor who could do the "action scenes" (but darn it, I liked him in The Wild Bunch and Dynasty). If you like bad movies, Tentacles is for you: 



VIDEODRONE (1983)- Fri Jan 2 at Midnight- IFC Center- From IFC Center's David Cronenberg retrospective. Videodrone, from 1983. One of the few studio films from director David Cronenberg. James Woods stars as a sleazy cable tv programmer, who gets hooked to Videodrome, an S and M, snuff-ish film show, that tends to distort things, physically and mentally, for the viewer. If you don't know this, I won't spoil it much more, except this is NOT for the physically or emotionally squeamish. Cronenberg's statement on overdosing on the varying visual media, and trashy TV (sounds timely, doesn't it?). Featuring a quite sensuous Debbie Harry:




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

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.