Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jan. revivals this weekend

Mike here with what to catch revival-wise, this coming weekend. I didn't expect to be doing this, but these two are too good to pass up. Maybe using 3 variations of 2 in the same sentence should have been, but anyway . . .

Two forgotten films from 3 of the biggest American males of the 1970s and 80s, and both with either a live intro and/or a Q and A. Here we go:

PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK- Fri Jan 30 at 7:40- with an appearance from Director Jerry Schatzberg, co-Screenwriter Joan Didion, and co-star Kitty Winn- Film Forum- A new 35mm print, of a film I'm guessing only one or two of you have seen, and which some of you have probably never heard of. The Panic at Needle Park is a good film, but difficult has all hell to get through.

Al Pacino made his leading man debut here, about a year before The Godfather. He plays a loser-type who meets the love of his life in good-girl girlfriend Kitty Winn (won Best Actress for this at Cannes). We see them get together, and slowly fall apart through drug addiction.Pacino shines, and you'll spend time wondering why Winn stopped acting after the mid 1970's after you see her. But the characters' progressive downward spiral made this too tough to draw an audience back in 1971, and except for the occasional screening on Fox Movie Channel and a token DVD release, it still remains under the radar. Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne wrote the screenplay, researching and living with addict couples for months. The film's failure drove them away from pushing their own ideas through film, and having them be more writers for hire when it came to movies. Worth catching.

The film's director, co-writer, and co-star, all make appearances at the one screening I've singled out. It's playing for a week, so if you can't catch at this time, go to the Forum website for other times. Seeing Kitty Wynn is the major curiosity. After she made the first two Exorcist films, she seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Not that bad, she married, had kids, and did the occasional stage play in California. Didn't think she'd be interested in coming back out here to do something like this, but go figure.

TRUE CONFESSIONS- Sat Jan 31 at 6:45 with a post film Q and A with director Ulu Grosbard- and Tues Feb 3 at 1- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Another film, like Panic in Needle Park, written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, who adapted his own novel here. A forgotten film from 1981 that was far from a hit. When Gene Shalit and the New York Times are the only ones giving raves, while everyone else gives 2, 2 and a half, or 3 stars, the audiences will not run. Especially when there isn't a ton of money to promote something not easily defined correctly. This was made by United Artists, but released under the MGM/UA banner, when they hadn't found their promotional traction yet. In a way, another indirect victim of Heaven's Gate flopping.

People of a certain younger age, I tell them about this film and they're like "HUH?!?! WHEN? WHO'S IN IT? NO WAY!". I'm afraid that makes them think this is something a lot more fast paced, which would be a mistake. But not make it a bad film in any way. And while you may or may not be as enthused as I am, catching a kind of film noir starring arguably two of the best American male film actors (then and now), is not a bad thing. And I'm not talking about Righteous Kill here.

Shot years after Chinatown, but many years before L.A. Confidential or The Black Dahlia, with a heavy amount of character study. Also a strong sense for historical detail. The story, set mostly in late 1948, is about two brothers; one a police detective, the other a monsignor working the business end of his diocese. Both are and/or have let some corruption go by in order to get things done, or at least make their lives a little easier. Both are unhappy with their lives, and hide their unhappiness, to varying degrees of success. Things come to a head when the case of a murdered young woman, similar to the Black Dahlia case (arguably the most famous unsolved American homicide of the 20th Century), leads to the Catholic Church's biggest contractor/donor. The fallout causes problems for the brothers, in a world that seems to be passing them by.

Starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall, one year after De Niro's Oscar winning turn in Raging Bull, and one year before Duvall's Oscar winning gentle turn, in Tender Mercies. You might think De Niro would play the angry cop, while Duvall plays things close to the vest as the priest. Wrong. Years before De Niro and Bill Murray switched roles and types in Mad Dog and Glory, De Niro and Duvall played against type. Duvall as the hard boiled cop, and De Niro as the priest who tries to keep at least a placid exterior for different reasons. Another edition of Acting 101, people, American male edition. You buy them as brothers, as opposed to 1989's Family Business, that tried to make us believe Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick could all come from the same family tree. They're a pleasure to watch, even when the film slows down. I admit, it gets a little slow on occasion, but the good definitely outnumbers the weak moments. Duvall gets most of the praise, where the slow burn turns to righteous, blind justice. De Niro took heat for being too soft after last being seen as Jake La Motta, and some feel this might have been his weakest performance of the 1980s (either this or Falling In Love). But as a change of pace, it's never dull to watch, and I think the performance deserves a re-evaluation.

A strong supporting cast helps. Charles Durning and Burgess Meredith are among the cast. The film's director, Ulu Grosbard, will do a post film Q and A, so some planning may need to be done beforehand. If this can't be done, an early afternoon screening, with no Q and A plays next Tuesday.

Let me know. Later all.

P.S.: The Times critic who gave True Confessions a rave was Vincent Camby. The man who described Heaven's Gate basically as a four hour tour of one's living room. A review that both gives me a smile, while I vehemently disagree at the same time. The link is below. Take it as you will:

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