Saturday, February 16, 2008

Feb. revivals: second half.

Mike here with what to catch for the second half of Feb. I had a bigger list planned. 17 films total. But with too many films to catch up to before the Oscars, I decided to pare it down to what I really want to catch. Anything with half a burning desire, I put up. So here we go:

THE PAWNBROKER- Sat Feb 16 at 7:45 and 10- Film Forum- Part of the Sidney Lumet retrospective. Rod Stieger plays the title role, a holocaust survivor, applying his trade in Harlem. Like Juliette Binoche in Blue, his character is suffering from loss and trauma, and despite (and perhaps abetted by) his profession, he wants no emotional contact whatsoever. But just like in Blue, life gives him no choice. Dark enough that despite critical praise, it didn't get the same love from that year as say, The Sound of Music or Dr. Zhivago. Stieger received his Oscar nomination, but most of the film's accolades came from overseas. Also notable for being Morgan Freeman's screen debut. Worth catching.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH- Sat Feb 16 and Sun Feb 17 at Midnight- IFC Film Center- Part of a series of 80s teen films getting the Midnight movie treatment. Here we get 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.

12 ANGRY MEN and/or FAIL-SAFE- Mon Feb 18 at 5:25 (Angry), 7:15 (Failsafe) and 9:20 (Angry)- Film Forum- Part of the Sidney Lumet retrospective. A double feature, though I don't necessarily need to see both. First, 12 Angry Men. If you're reading this, then you know this courtroom drama, set during jury deliberations, so there's no need to go much further about the story. A fun potboiler of a film. The great acting isn't the amazing part to me; the fact that Lumet kept things cinematically interesting despite being confined to 1 or 2 small rooms.

3 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay Adaptation. But it was a flop in its day. Star/co-producer Henry Fonda was so disappointed, he would never produce another film again. But it's considered a classic today. On the second AFI Top 100 list.

Next is Fail-Safe. From the same year and studio as Dr. Strangelove, with the same brutally dark black Cold War atmosphere as well. But while Strangelove treated it's material as black comedy, Fail-Safe treated its material as dark suspense thriller. A thriller where our technology is stronger than our ability to fix it. A thousand to one electronic glitch causes a bomber group to go past its fail-safe marks, and proceed to bomb the Soviet Union. A nervous general tries to help the Soviets shoot them down, civilian expert Walter Matthau advises to let the planes hit their targets to force a showdown once and for all; and President Henry Fonda must talk to the emotional Russian premier (with the help of nervous translator Larry Hagman), and eventually must make an offer of atonement that's should make every New York viewer very uncomfortable.

Well acted and well crafted. Because of Strangelove, a flop in its day, despite great reviews. But I'm guessing most of you reading this aren't very familiar with this film, so it's time to play catch up.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS- Tues Feb 19 at 8:30- Film Forum- Part of the Sidney Lumet retrospective. A lighter, complete change of pace from the darker Lumet films shown in the retrospective. The best of all Agatha Christie adaptations as far as I'm concerned. Albert Finney's Hercule Poirot is called upon by Martin Balsam to solve the murder of Richard Widmark. Here's his list of suspects: Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, Sena Connery, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, Wendy Hiller, Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Cassel (better known to art houses types recently for both The Diving Bell and The Butterfly and Army of Shadows). Fun film; the kind that is kind of hard to sit through after this, almost as though "this is the best, it's difficult to sit through weaker imitations". 6 Oscar nominations, including Finney for Best Actor, Screenplay Adaptation, and Geoffrey Unsworth's Cinematography. No Best Picture nomination. Paramount already had slots filled by Chinatown, The Conversation, and, oh yeah, Godfather Part 2. There wouldn't be a fourth film for the studio.

An Oscar did go to Bergman for Supporting Actress, mainly for one breakdown scene. Here's a quote from Lumet from the Forum website about this: “She [Ingrid Bergman] was so film-knowledgeable. She’d worked with such masters. So when she saw that I didn’t do a reverse shot of Albert Finney in their big scene together and there would be no cutaways, she gave me a kiss on the mouth. I almost left my wife! [laughs] I remember being pissed off that we got so many nominations and I didn’t get nominated.”The Lumet film I want to catch the most on this list. Let's do it people.

BLAZING SADDLES- Fri Feb 22 and Sat Feb 23 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- A midnight screening of Mel Brooks' comedy classic, that still works as incisive satire even today. Brooks told the story on Bob Costas' Later about how the Warner Bros. studio heads loved the film when they screened it the morning before it's big test screening. They told Mel how much they loved the flick, but they wanted a few changes. They then proceeded to give him a laundry list of what they wanted cut, of all which Mel just nodded his head and kept saying yes. "The bean farting scene, we want out, the sheriff is a niGONG, we want out, all n-word jokes, out, etc.". And after they were done giving notes and departed, Mel told his assistant "Fuck em. Send the film out as is.". Supposedly at the time, it was the most successful screening Warners ever had for a comedy. Oscar nominations for Madeline Kahn for Supporting Actress, Editing and Brooks' title song. If noting else, it would be better to spend 11 dollars to catch this then full price to catch Brooks' stage version of Young Frankenstein. Don't get me wrong, I was entertained. The cast was enjoyable (no Andrea Martin but I didn't miss her; the understudy was fine). But except for the Puttin' On The Ritz number, the stage version rarely rises above the film. The Producers, it is not. Even Spamalot at times rises above Monty Python and the Holy Grail a lot more than Young Frankenstein does. Anyway, let's catch this on this weekend if we can. Unless you prefer . . .

RISKY BUSINESS- Fri Feb 22 and Sat Feb 23 at Midnight- IFC Film Center- Part of a series of 80s comedies playing at midnight. If you rather do a midnight film that's a little more risque then Blazing Saddles, the film that made Tom Cruise a star also plays on this weekend. Wether you prefer Tom dancing around in his underwear, or you prefer Rebbeca De Mornay wearing none, the sleeper hit of the summer of 83 fits the bill. And a pretty good film to boot.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST- Sat Feb 23 at 4- MOMA- Part of the Milos Forman retrospective, and the only one I have any time to catch. The classic Nicholson film that won Jack an Oscar, as well as winning Best Picture. Personally, I prefer Jaws from that year, but that and Cuckoo's Nest leaves all other films from that year in the dust. Yes, even Barry Lyndon, though some years down the line, I may not feel that way. Jack plays McMurphy, who thinks he'll be free quicker if he gets transferred from jail to an institution and pretends he's crazy. Oops, doesn't work that way. Especially when going up against Nurse Ratched, who's right up there with Darth Vader, Gollum and Hannibal Lecter among great movie villians.

The rest of the story you're probably aware of, so no need to go further. Except for the fact that we should all thank God Kirk Douglas never got the chance to play McMurphy on screen. I don't even want think of that. I don't even want to think of Gary Sinise playing McMurphy. I saw him do that on Broadway; he was good for the most part, but there were sections where I thought "Gary's playing McMurphy as Beetlejuice." And compared to Jack playing McMurphy as a human being, forget it. It also helped that the screenplay is superior to the play (sorry, haven't read the book).

On both AFI Top 100 lists. 9 Oscar nominations, including Brad Dourif for Supporting Actor and Cinematography by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler. 5 Oscars, which not only included Picture and Jack, but also Louise Fletcher for Actress, Forman for Director, and for the Screenplay. The first film to win those major categories since It Happened One Night. It wouldn't happen again until Silence of the Lambs. I'm sure most of us haven't seen Cuckoo's Nest in a while, and especially on the big screen. Here's our chance.

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT- Wed Feb 27 at 7:30- Film Forum- Part of the Sidney Lumet retrospective. There's no such thing as a happy Eugene O'Neill play, and this sure as hell isn't Rebbeca of Sunnybrook Farms. But a film cited as one of the best theater-to-screen adaptations ever, and as one of the best ensemble peices ever, that it is. Starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell. Hepburn was Oscar nominated, and all three men shared the Best Actor award at Cannes, something I don't think has ever happened before or since. I don't think I need to sell this anymore.

PRINCE OF THE CITY- Thurs Feb 28 at 8:30- Film Forum- The last of the Sidney Lumet retrospective, and if the best wasn't saved for last, it's pretty close. A standout film that was too dark to be considered commercially appealing back in 1981. Considered to be Lumet's apology for Serpico. Terrific perf by Treat Williams. He plays a cop, tired of the corruption and what he has to do to keep his job. The scenes involving keeping a junkie informant from getting sick are difficult to watch, but tremendous as well. He turns informant and federal witness, but he can't count on the inner turmoil, or the damage he does to his cop friends, his only friends. These cop friends who try to do more to help him, then the feds who need his testimony, and need him to turn on his friends. Plenty of grey areas that the viewer must decide on their own. The names have been changed, including one Rudy Guliani as an arrogant young prosecutor. Co-starring Lindsay Crouse and Jerry Orbach.

Only recieved an Oscar nomination for Screenplay Adaptation. Not as fun as Raiders of the Lost Ark, not as Hollywood as On Golden Pond or Reds, not as British as Chariots of Fire, and even less successful then Atlantic City. Let's do this one.

Like I said, all of these I want to catch. If I HAD to narrow it down, like to go for Orient Express, Prince of the City, and the Midnight movies. Maybe even Cuckoo's Nest, and anything else would be a bonus. We'll see. Later all.

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