Friday, August 15, 2008

Aug revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the rest of August. Plenty to chose from, but I had to leave some stuff out. Some of the French crime films didn't make the cut. The Lindsey Anderson retrospective at Lincoln Center, not making it here. Most of the Charlton Heston retrospective; well in this case, either I caught it already on the big screen (Ben-Hur, Touch of Evil), or it's inconvenient. Though I will bring it up again once or twice in September.

The U.S. Open, with its free practices and qualifiers, as well as the tourney itself is something I enjoy this time of year, and it makes a deep cut into what I can post. You go to the filmlinc website for more info on those above retros if you want to go on your own. In any case, there's stuff here now. Here we go:

BARTON FINK- Sat Aug 16 at 2- MOMA- Part of the Coen brothers retrospective. Most of their screenings have either sold out or come real close, so planning ahead will be needed for all of these that I mention. Written during a time period when the brothers were having a bout of writer's block during the creation of Miller's Crossing; it was produced after the gangster film. John Turturro plays the title role of a playwright going out to Hollywood in 1941 to write a wrestling picture. Writer's block sets in after the first sentence, as he has a room in the hotel from hell. Fink tries to get help from a drunken writer (John Mahoney, as a stand-in for William Faulkner), the writer's girlfriend (Judy Davis), and the salesman next door who seems to have both wrestling skills and the "common man's touch". To say things go wrong is a mild understatement.

Strong cast also includes Miller's Crossings Jon Polito and Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub and Oscar nominated Michael Lerner, as the sleazy studio head. Oscar nominations also for Costume Design and Art Direction. Overall, a hit when compared to Miller's Crossing, even though this didn't make back its production budget either. You either like it, or admire but turned off by it. If you haven't seen it, decide for yourself.

LE CERCLE ROUGE- Sat Aug 16 at 6:40 and 9:30- Film Forum- Part of the French Crime Wave retrospective. Don't know much about this one. It got an art house re-release/re-discovery earlier this decade, thanks in part to John Woo. I remember the Forum playing the trailer for this ad nauseum. I remember making fun of this whenever with whoever I was with, whenever it played. Since then, I've caught up with some of this film's director, Jean-Pierre Melville, work (Army Of Shadows, Le Doulos). That means I REALLY want to go see this.

Highly stylized gangster film as usual, but this time in color. 3 major leads, Gian Maria Volontè, Yves Montand, and Alain Delon all meet with all the trappings you expect from a carefully planned jewel heist film. You know, sweating out the details, human behavior interfering with the perfection of it all, betrayals and the police around getting close. Like I said, haven't seen it but really want to.

BOB LA FLAMBEUR- Sun Aug 17 at 8 and Mon Aug 18 at 4:40- Film Forum- Part of the French Crime Wave retro. But if you're in the mood for a lighter version of Melville, try this; one of his earliest successes from 1955. Praised more for its coolness and style than depth. Alain Delon plays the title role, as an old burned-out gangster/gambler, who nevertheless, on a dare, decides to try to take down the 800 mil in a casino vault, by any means. I never saw it, but I did like the remake Neil Jordan did early this decade, The Good Thief with Nick Nolte. I liked that one, and I really like Melville now, so I'd like to try it.

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE- for free at Bryant Park- Mon Aug 18 at dusk- Park opens at 5pm- The Bryant Pk film series comes to an end with something appropriate. In terms of popularity of comic book films, this was the first to get respectability, three decades before Dark Knight. For years, my favorite comic book film. Treats the story with respect and with cinematic flair. Everything at Krypton, Superman's first day at Metropolis, and the final attempt to save Earth should look great on the big screen. And with John Williams' score for the opening credits in the middle of the park, kick ass, baby. A little longer than the usual choice at the park, but a hell of a way to end the series. Park opens at 5.

RAISING ARIZONA and/or MILLER'S CROSSING- Fri Aug 22 for free (subject to availability) at 6:30 (Arizona) and 8:30 (Miller's)- MOMA- I mentioned this as a must see double feature on the last list. Someone was listening, because both films sold out. Now it plays again, only this time it's for free, subject to availability. Mucho planning will be needed to pull off even one of these films.

FARGO- Wed Aug 27 at 6- MOMA- Yet another Coen brothers film that might be difficult to get into without planning. Chances are, if you're even glancing at this list for any reason, you've heard of this crime dramedy; where a very pregnant and very persistent sheriff figures out most of the parts, to a stupidly planned and executed kidnapping.

The Coen brothers' best film. Oscar nominations for Picture, Supporting Actor for William H. Macy (forever known for more than just ER and his work with Mamet, thanks to this), Editing, Cinematography, and Director. Oscars for Frances McDormand for Actress, and the Coen brothers for Screenplay. Yes, this actually lost to The English Patient for Best Picture. I guess Oscar owed them one, which might explain the near clean sweep this year for No Country for Old Men. On both AFI Top 100 lists. A great film to catch, but promises not to be easy to get into. So you might prefer trying on that night . . .

DIABOLIQUE- Wed Aug 27 at 9:50- Film Forum- Part of the French Crime retro, and along with Breathless, the best known and one of the more imitated of the entire retrospective. Simple story of two women, the wife of an evil headmaster and her friend (Simone Signoret), who decide to kill him. They succeed, but the story is no longer simple when his body disappears.

Classic film. Perhaps it shouldn't be considered in the horror genre. Thriller yes, but not horror. Unless one considers Psycho a horror film, so fine. Ignore the lousy remake, no matter how hot and good Isabelle Adjani is, and watch this one. Actually, there was a decent TV movie remake of this from 1974, with Tuesday Weld, Joan Hackett and Sam Waterson, but see the original.

ELEVATORS TO THE GALLOWS- Sat Aug 30 at 1- Film Forum- Part of the French Crime retro. Louis Malle's first film. A man and a woman plot the murder of her husband, succeed, and then things begin to fall apart. An almost real time escape attempt from the police before they discover the body. Made stars out of director Malle and Jeanne Moreau as the descendant to Barbara Stanwyck's character in Double Indemnity, and the ancestor to Kathleen Turner's character in Body Heat. Due to the U.S. Open, that weekend, it's 1pm or nothing as far as I'm concerned.

SOYLENT GREEN- Sun Aug 31 at 9:10- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Walter Reade retrospective of Charlton Heston. Surprisingly, this is the only one I have time for this month. If you're over thirty and you know this film, and you know what Heston screams at the end, then you've never seen it on the big screen and we should. If you don't know what Heston screams (and you never saw Phil Hartman's parody on SNL), then you're either useless, or under thirty, which makes you sperm for the following paragraphs.
I will admit it has its cheesy 70s elements. Any time Heston fights Chuck Connors, there's more than a bit of cheese there. And the way Leigh Taylor-Young's character is treated is a little cringing, though partly intentional. In this film's world, if you're a hot chick, your best way to survive is to be "furniture". To be semi-literate at best. To be in some white man's apartment and be used for anything this male would need (not necessarily as dirty as you might imagine).

But I rank this film among the best dystopian pictures ever made, along with Brazil, Children of Men, Blade Runner and Wall-E. Yes, Wall-E qualifies. This isn't better, but deserves mention for this type of picture. And for a sci-fi film, it goes for the realistic then the 2001 futurism style every chance the filmmakers had.

Set in a New York of the future (11 years away!), where the greenhouse effect and overpopulation has gone into overdrive. No vegetation and no cows, turkeys or chicken. Where the main source of food are cracker-like wafers from the Soylent company. Everyone would be vegans in this world if the Soylent crackers weren't in such short supply, causing mass starvation and riots. When Joseph Cotten, a high ranking executive from the company is murdered, it's up to Chuck Heston, NYPD detective to find out the killer. Considering this is one of those evil corporation films as well (according to a recent list of those kinds of films on, things get considerably more complicated.

The films' best scenes are always between Heston and Edward G. Robinson. Despite the nagging and the back and forth, the love and friendship between the actors/characters shine through. According to imdb, the dinner scene between them was completely improvised. Also according to imdb, Heston was the only one on the film to know Robinson was dying of cancer. Both actors use their knowledge, feeling and love to the fullest effect in Robinson's last scene. Mixed in with what the film is trying to get across at that point, and it devastates. Robinson died 9 days later.

I know the timing, a Sunday night on the Labor Day weekend, is lousy. But unless you're away, what else do you have to do that night? This and Elevator to The Gallows will not be easy, and Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing and Fargo might be even harder to get into. But Le Circle Rouge should be doable, and anything else is a bonus. Let me know.

P.S. The following is off topic, but is being written upon request. I enjoyed watching Seussical at St. Gregory’s in Bellerose. A surprise to me, considering how resistant I was to it when it was done on Broadway. Special props to Cas Marino as the Cat in the Hat, as well as to the actors who played Horton and Gertrude respectively. Not problem free; couldn't go from lights to sound without distraction, there were still problems with actors finding their lights (because sometimes, the lights weren't there), and one young actor isn't quite ready yet. But after reading a bad review, I had low expectations. I was surprised with how much fun I had. There, obligation fulfilled, later all.

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