Thursday, July 31, 2008

August revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the first half of Aug. I could have done a longer list, but what would I really prefer catching? I narrowed that down. A lot easier to do with the first half of this month, as opposed to the second half. I do not look forward to having to cut that list down. In the meanwhile, here we go:

RASHOMON- Fri Aug 1 at 7:15- the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Back to Kurosawa-Mifune territory with the first of their films to make a worldwide cultural impact. Set in feudal Japan, a rape and murder occurs in the woods. The story of the crime is told from the perspective of four different characters; a bandit (Mifune), a woman, her husband, and a woodcutter. The only two things about the incident are clear, that the woman was raped and her husband is now dead. However, the other elements radically differ as the four participants and/or witnesses relate their own stories (with the dead man, eerily speaking through a medium). As each account is revealed, the only thing that's black and white is the film's photography.

Put Kurosawa on the international film map, with a plot device and/or story-telling style that has been copied ever since. The idea of something happening, and being looked at differently through flashbacks that are rarely the same, was radical back in the early 1950s. Now with other films and tv doing variations, it seems common, even cliched. But this was the best. Memento, most Tarentino films, and Catch-22 are only the most famous variations (note I said variations, so I don't want to hear from nit-pickers). An Oscar nomination for the Art Direction. An honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, apparently the only time there was basically a unanimous choice in this category.

THE ROAD WARRIOR- Fri Aug 1 and Sat Aug 2 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- The first successful Mad Max film in the U.S. I mentioned a few months back how much of a mega hit the first Mad Max was in every country except this one. And Warner Bros must have figured this out when they changed the film's title from Mad Max 2 to this. This wasn't breaking box office records like E.T. was doing that same summer, but it found a big enough audience in theaters (and blew up big time on home video), that a third Mad Max film was eventually made.

Not only the best Mad Max film, but for me, one of the best action films ever made. Mel Gibson is in full anti-hero, as Max is in no mood to help one group that's low on brute strength, but high in both brain power and precious gas reserves. But another brutal group, full of men in masks and punk looks, is looking to pillage and do far worse, forcing Max to help. Some good action scenes, but the greatness comes in the final car chase lasting quite a while. Swarms of unrelenting evil, attacking Max in his tanker, at speeds that seemed at least 80mph.

A triumph of editing, cinematography and script writing. No, seriously. The stakes are raised by the time we get to this car chase, with an ending that we were not expecting. Yeah, you say that 25 yrs later, but when you first experience the scene? I don't think so. Have never seen this on the big screen and would really like to.

RAISING ARIZONA and MILLER'S CROSSING- Sat Aug 2 at 5 (Arizona) and 7 (Crossing)- MOMA- A Coen Brothers double feature. There could be a triple feature, but I've caught Blood Simple enough times that I have no burning desire to catch it again. But it's been awhile with these two, so on the list they go.

First, Raising Arizona. Narrated by Nicolas Cage, playing a dumb ass early variation of The Dude, as an ex-con who wants to start a family with ex-cop wife Holly Hunter. No conception success, so they get the bright idea to steal a newborn quintuplet from a millionaire. They take Nathan Jr., they think. Problems arise when they have to explain how they suddenly got a baby, the arrival of his ex-con buddies (John Goodman and William Forsythe), and the bounty hunter willing to do anything to get Nathan Jr. back. Very broad comedy, but unlike Intolerable Cruelty and Hudsucker Proxy, this Coen Brothers film is actually fun and funny.

Followed by Miller's Crossing. Released among the glut of gangster films back in the fall/winter of 1990. Goodfellas is the only one better than this from that time, and is among the best films from that year. That it barely found more of a U.S. audience than The Krays or State of Grace means less then you think. So I'm guessing most of you reading this have either never seen this, or haven't seen this since the 90s on video.

A stylized gangster film set during the Prohibition era. Albert Finney's Boss character refuses to bow to pressure from a rising upstart who refuses to take "the high hat" any longer. Gabriel Byrne, playing his best friend and right hand man, begins a complicated scheme to save his boss. Even it costs him their friendship and possibly his life. Because Byrne's character is something of a cold fish for whom most of the fireworks going on with him are internal, you might have trouble going for this film.

For me, the style is substance here. A bit intellectual, but then I didn't say it was the best film of that year, just one of. Good cast helps. Among them is Homicide's Jon Polito, Marcia Gay Harden in her first major film role, and early screen appearances by Steve Buscemi and Michael Jeter. Cinematography by future director Barry Sonnenfeld, who come to think of it, did the same thing for Raising Arizona as well.

But if you know the film at all, then your first thought would be to John Turturro as weasel extraordinaire Bernie Bernbaum. Specifically, the scene in the woods where he goes to great lengths begging for his life. The desperation, the loss of self confidence in the face of one's demise, the knowledge that you have nothing to give that could change your killer's mind so you just beg and cry and beg some more. If John wasn't locked in to at least character film work forever with his work on Spike Lee films, then this cemented it.

Both films are worth catching separately, but I much prefer catching them together. Let's do this please.

RIFIFI- Fri Aug 8 and Sat Aug 9 at 5:30, 7:45 and 10- Film Forum- The start of the French Crime Wave film Retrospective. One of the great film-noirs ever made, and it's French, but directed by an American. Jules Dassin, forced to work outside the U.S. after being named by others to the House Un-American Activities Committee, then eventually blacklisted after refusing to name names.

This was his first film after all that, shot on a very low budget. Very simple heist story, where an ex-con plots the perfect robbery, gets others to help, they pull it off, things go wrong from within and from outside afterwards, and revenge is sought after. The story is simple. The execution of it is spectacular. Famous for its long robbery sequence (about a fourth of the entire film!), done with no music, no dialogue, and no sound effects unless absolutely necessary. A scene that's been copied most famously by Brian De Palma in Mission: Impossible.

I've seen this only once, as a re-release back in 2000. I tried to talk someone into seeing a cheap screening of American Psycho, but he talked me into this instead. American Psycho was one of the best films of 2000, Rififi is one of the best films ever. Haven't seen this since that night, but would like to do this again.

THE THIEF OF PARIS- Tues Aug 12 at 7- Film Forum- I've never seen this one, but the combo of director Louis Malle and one of my all-time actress crushes, Genevive Bujold. Set in turn of the century Paris, filled with gentlemen thieves. The focus is on one thief played by Jean-Paul Belmondo (Le Doulos), who steals his family's jewelery when he's cheated out of the woman he loves. What happens from there, I have no idea. But I'd like to catch it.

This is followed by Borsalino. But apparently, this is the English language version. That to me means poorly dubbed, so I have no interest in staying.

LA PISCINE and PURPLE NOON- Wed Aug 13 at 7:35 (Piscine) and 9:50 (Purple)- Film Forum- Part of the French Crime Wave retrospective. Interesting double feature that I've never seen, but I'd like to give a chance. First, La Piscine, or The Swiming Pool or The Sinners, depending on where it was released. Alain Delon and Romy Schnieder are vacationing in St. Tropez, when her ex-lover and his daughter (the ex, not Delon) come along. There sex, murder and betrayal.

Honestly, there's nothing about this story that screams I Must See This. An excuse to see two hot European actresses in a film that's supposedly slow, possibly dated, but decent is all the excuse I need. The two I'm referring to are Schnieder and Jane Birkin, as the daughter.

If anything, I'm more interested in the second film, Purple Noon. An early adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Basically, if you're allergic to Matt Damon or Gwyneth, this is the version you can at least sit through. Alain Delon (again) became a French star forever playing Thomas Ripley. Like I said, never saw it, and would really like to. And since we can see both films for one admission, let's do it.

Definitely want to do the Coen brothers flicks, followed by The Road Warrior (if you can stay up). Rififi and at least the Malle film as well. Anything else is a bonus. Later all.

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