Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April revivals: first half

Mike here with what to catch revival-wise for the first half of April. A short list, so before that: I was glad to catch Night and the City at the Forum. At times, a little too stylish and slick, with a wasted Gene Tierney. But with enough humanity to give resonance to people's downfall. But what really got me excited was catching Costa-Gavras' Z. Exciting and well paced, when suspense thrillers and political corruption/cover-up films are brought up, Z belongs among the very top. While I think Arnold White's comment in the New York Press about this film being too politically grey and intolerable for the Clooneys "and their ilk" to be a little much (I'm not defending Syriana, but I will defend the qualities of Good Night and Good Luck), every decade or so, there will be revival screenings and renewed attention to Z. You have one more day to catch it at the Forum as of this writing, but it should be out there somewhere on DVD, though not the kind you'll find at your typical Blockbuster. As for the list, here we go:

BRUTE FORCE- Thurs Apr 2 at 7:20- Film Forum- Part of the Jules Dassin retrospective from 1947. I probably wouldn't have gone for this film-noir at first, but it seemed interesting, and interesting enough to be in the Criterion Collection. I know, so was Armageddon, shut up. Also, it's only playing for one screening only, making me further curious. Similar to Escape From Alcatraz, a convict wants out of a tough prison. Unlike Alcatraz, the warden is a weakling. It's the guards that run the prison, as well as some of the more powerful prisoners. Hume Cronyn plays the main guard who takes pleasure in beating prisoners to Wagner: I have to think Francis Ford and/or John Millius might have been somewhat influenced for Apocalypse Now. Burt Lancaster is the convict who has enough. But his plan leads to a rather brutal, bloody (for 1947) ending. One screening only, so let me know.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT- Fri Apr 3 and Sat Apr 4 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- A cheap(er) screening of the Richard Lester classic that defined Beatlemania, influenced MTV until it became a place for reality shows, made most musicals that told their stories in stodgy ways to become Dead Musicals Walking, and briefly made the Beatles the seeming heir to the Marx Bros in comedy. Ok, Paul is stiffer then a tree in Yellowstone here, but John, Ringo, and especially George, make up for that. And oh yeah, there are few decent songs. All My Loving, And I Love Her, Can't Buy Me Love, the title song, and others. C'mon folks, this film is fun.

NEVER ON SUNDAY and TOPKAPI- Sun Apr 5 at 5:10 (Sunday), 7 (Topkapi) and 9:15 (Sunday)- Film Forum- Part of the Jules Dassin retro. Both films played separately in last year's United Artists retro at the Forum, now they play together. First, Never On Sunday. Dassin cast himself as an American scholar who falls in love with a free spirited hooker, played by his future wife, Melina Mercouri. There's more, including a partial Pygmallion subplot, but since I haven't seen the film, I'll try to neither play spoiler (despite being an almost 50 year old flick), nor inaccurate screw-up. Nominations for Mercouri for Actress, Costume Design and Dassin for Director and Screenplay, an Oscar for Song. Not bad in the year of West Side Story, The Apartment and Psycho.

Next, Topkapi, from the recently deceased Jules Dassin. Raffi may his best film, and probably the best heist film ever made. Sorry that I'm not posting it now. I've seen it twice on the big screen already, but it plays on Fri April 3 and Sat April 4 at the Forum if you want. But Topkapi, this comedy/thriller deserves some love. Mercouri stars in another film directed by her now husband Dassin. She pulls in a group of jewel thieves, including Maximillian Schell and Robert Morely, for a heist. A small timer (and possible idiot), played by Peter Ustinov spies on them. The complications rise, the police apply more pressure, and this little idiot actually thinks he's controlling the situation. Featuring a heist scene that De Palma would expertly copy (I mean do a homage to) in the first Mission: Impossible film. In fact this film inspired the original series. Great location shooting, and an Oscar for Ustinov for Supporting Actor.

Let me know if there's interest. Needs to be ASAP, since all of these films are between the 2nd and the 5th. For the second half, among the options, is a Mike Nichols retrospective at MOMA, and more Melville at the Forum. Later all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March revivals: second half

Hey, all. Mike here with what to catch for the second half of March. Let's not waste time. Here we go:

Z- Thurs Mar 19, Sat Mar 21, Wed Mar 25 and Thurs Mar 26 at 7 and 9:30- Film Forum- A new 35mm print. One of the best films of 1969, and considering that year produced Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Army of Shadows, that's saying something. From director Costa Gavras, who has tackled controversial subjects through the filter of a thriller throughout his career, but rarely ignores the chase or the sugar, so that the medicine goes down better. Z has been so good, that the rest of his films, including the well done Missing, pale in comparison.

Here, we have a drama-thriller, shot in the style of a documentary, as the accidental killing of a rising politician, turns out not to be accidental. Oscars for Foreign Language Film and Editing. Nominations for Picture, Director and Screenplay Adaptation. Won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes Unanimously, as well as Best Actor for Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist, 3 Colors: Red). There is more about the film, but I'm afraid I'll have to cut and paste from the Forum's website:

(1969) Police general Pierre Dux (later head of the Comédie Française) lectures sunglassed-indoors cohorts on ideological mildew — “isms” — now “infecting” society; then, as Mikis Theodorakis’ music throbs, Dux’s helmeted and truncheon ed police studiously look elsewhere as a raging, chanting mob fills the city square awaiting the emergence of charismatic deputy Yves Montand from his SRO ban-the-bomb address — but what are those two punks doing careening in on that three-wheeled kamikaze? “Just an accident” exhales legal honcho François Périer as he leaves it to tinted-eye glassed magistrate Jean-Louis Trintignant (Best Actor, Cannes) to wrap things up nicely. But the crowds are painting big white Z’s in the street... Too much of a hot potato for French producers, Greek expat Costa-Gavras’s adaptation of Vassili Vassilikos’s novel of the real-life Lambrakos case was skillfully filmed on a shoestring in Algeria (doubling for Greece), and utilizing a pulsating score pieced together from previous Theodorakis works (with the composer’s blessing: he was under house arrest in Greece) and an incredible cast including Renato Salvatori (Rocco and his Brothers) and Marcel Bozzuffi (soon to be the shot-in-the-back poster boy for The French Connection) as the two punks; and the iconic Irene Papas, the only actual Greek in the cast, who’s told “He’s gone” by New Wave camera legend Raoul Coutard, cameoing in a break from his breakneck documentary-style shooting. All of which, combined with Costa-Gavras’ bullet-quick editing, gave Z an immediacy, authenticity, and excitement, that, along with perfect timing — premiering so soon after the right-wing colonels’ takeover in Greece — made it a worldwide smash and the winner of both the Cannes Jury Prize (awarded unanimously) and the Best Foreign Film Oscar (it was the official entry from Algeria).

THE OTHER- Thurs Mar 19 at 9:10- the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Robert Mulligan retrospective. This was scheduled before his recent death, to show there was more to this underrated director's career than just To Kill A Mockingbird. A 1972 horror/mystery from the novel by Tom Tyron, who adapted it for the screen himself. Sneaks up on an audience.
Lonely twin brothers on a farm play a "Game" their grandmother taught them. What that game is and why there are sudden "accidents" around the boys, I don't dare spoil. You might recognize some of the adult actors, like Star Trek's Diana Muldaur, Little House/ Highway To Heaven's Victor French and a young John Ritter. But the memorable adult actor is famed acting teacher Uta Hagen as the grandmother. Let's just say a definite impression is made by her. Also notable here, just like in some of Mulligan's other work, are strong acting work from child actors will the burden of having to carry most if not all of the picture. Martin and Chris Udvarnoky are the creepy twins. They never acted in another film after this, as opposed to the child actor from this film . . .

THE MAN IN THE MOON- Sat Mar 21 at 4:30 and Tues Mar 24 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Robert Mulligan retro. "Ordinarily they say that cliché, a 'coming-of-age movie,' and I reject that term. I think it's 'coming to life…when you become aware that sooner or later you're going to have to walk out the front door.”—Robert Mulligan. A quiet story set down South in the summer of 57. A 14 year old girl comes to age, experiencing first love with the new neighbor, a 17 year old boy. Then experiences first jealousy, when her 17 year old sister falls in love with him. Not a hit in its day, but I don't know anyone who hasn't seen that hasn't liked it.

Sam Waterston was the best known actor at the time; years before Law And Order, but he was playing the type of gentle Southern father he would begin to perfect later on in TV's I'll Fly Away. But the film is best known as the launching pad for Reese Witherspoon as the young girl. Not playing a type, but playing a kid, we feel and empathize with every new experience she encounters. Even when she comes off bratty or petulant, we don't hate her for it, and it doesn't feel contrived, it just is. I know grammatically, that last sentence doesn't make the sense kind of sense as opposed to hearing it aloud. In other words, you don't see the seams in Reese's performance. A pleasant surprise from any actor, stunning when you consider a fourteen year old, in her first film (with only a few commercials to her credit at best), pulling off this kind of work. No surprise that she would become a leading actress, even if she did have to slog through films like S.F.W. and Overnight Delivery to get there. Just another notch in the belt of director Mulligan, who pulled out strong work from child actors, going back to at least To Kill A Mockingbird.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD- Wed Mar 25 at 6:15- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- And speaking of which, the film mentioned in the first sentence of the obituaries of both director Mulligan and Gregory Peck. Their careers were defined, especially Mulligan's, by this gentle story of childhood and race. Usually considered one of the best novel to screen adaptations ever made. Right up there with Twilight. Wow, I hate myself for writing that sentence.

On both AFI Top 100 lists. Oscar nominations for Picture, Mulligan for Director (understandable since it lost both categories to Lawrence of Arabia), Mary Badham for Supporting Actress (forever known as Scout; another example of a quality child performance in a Mulligan film), Cinematography and Score. Oscars for Gregory Peck for Actor ( over Peter O'Toole for Lawrence? Considering he was nominated 4 times before he then, I suppose this was one part career achievement award for Peck), Art Direction, and Screenplay Adaptation for Horton Foote. Most of us are pretty familiar with this on TV, but I'm pretty sure anyone looking at these lists on a regular basis has never seen it on the big screen. Here's a chance to change that.

NIGHT AND THE CITY- Fri Mar 27 at 7:50 and 9:50- Film Forum- The start of the Jules Dassin retrospective. Some of you have seen his best film, Riffi. This film, Night and the City is consider a noir classic. Con man Richard Widmark tries to keep from getting killed by gangster Herbert Lom, with the aid of girlfriend Gene Tierney (Laura) in London. Why are gangsters after him? Because this little man has con schemes that are to big for him to pull off, and he deludes himself into thinking he can get out of any jam. The crappy 1992 remake with De Niro and Jessica Lange has been long forgotten, but this one is still remembered. And as one of my last potential films to catch before my Film Forum membership expires (God knows when I'll be able to get around to its renewal), I want to catch this badly.

VIDEODRONE- Fri Mar 27 at Midnight- IFC Film Center- Part of a David Cronenberg at Midnight retrospective. 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.

Major emphasis on Z. Anything else I can see is a bonus. Let me know. Later all.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

March revivals: first half

Mike here with what to catch for the first half of march. I hate that I have to cut and paste more then usual, but for the most part, I'm dealing with films I'm not familiar with. So bear with me, here we go:

LAWYER MAN and BLONDE CRAZY- Tues Mar 3 at 6:50 (Lawyer) and 8:30 (Blonde)- Film Forum- More films from the Depression-era retrospective. Don't know them, but they look interesting. Lawyer Man, only because after seeing William Powell in My Man Godfrey, I'd like to catch him in something else that's not Life With Father, Mister Roberts, or one of the Thin Man films. Those I know. But Blonde Crazy, a pre-Code film starring James Cagney just starting out in this comedy/drama/ caper flick sounds VERY intriguing. And both films are under eighty minutes! For the rest, I'll cut and paste from the Forum's website:

(1932, William Dieterle) Fast-talking William Powell, with ever-loyal secretary Joan Blondell in tow, moves from schlmiely Second Ave. mouthpiece to natty Park Ave. assistant D.A. Approx. 72 min.

“A fast-paced, snappy little melodrama. Its active libido is resolutely Pre-Code.” – William K. Everson

(1931, Roy Del Ruth) Hustling bellboy James Cagney moves from gin procurement to the shakedown racket, aided and abetted by Joan Blondell ("The most alluring chambermaid you've ever seen." - Time Out New York). Approx. 79 min.

Cagney demonstrates particular genius for quick witted, fancy-footed, no nonsense characters.”– Bruce Bennett, Stop Smiling“A chipper, hard-boiled, amusing essay in petty thieving.” – TIME (1931)

CUTTER'S WAY- Fri Mar 6 for free (subject to availability) at 8, introduced by director Ivan Passer- MOMA- Also known as Cutter and Bone. A forgotten film from 1981. One of the last of the 70s style character study films made by Unitd Artists, before Heaven's Gate's failure had the company sold to MGM. Kind of similar to Jeff Bridges' later film The Big Lebowski, but not played for laughs. A character study of two friends who are Vietnam vets, back in a day before Magnum P.I. became a megahit, and before the release of First Blood; when a Vietnam vet was usually depicted either as a deranged killer, or a damaged avenger.

Bridges plays the cynical part time gigolo, who tries to care for his junkie depressed wife, but beyond sex and drugs, can't give her any real intimacy. But he's stable next to John Heard's Bone, in one of the better performances you've probably never seen. This one armed, one eyed drunk with a bad leg, can rail against anybody and anyone, but then plays the cripple card when someone has enough of his shit. So this very un-PC character represents at times, the films post-Watergate anger and distrust of authority. The film twists into a modern noir, when Bridges' Cutter sees a young girl murdered, the murder is connected to someone powerful, and Heard's Bone finds a way to let's say, channel his aggression.

United Artists decided to change it's distribution pattern, after the film got good reviews and something of an audience, PULLED it from release, and re-released only in art house theaters. It helped the film make a profit, but over time, it buried the film, making its recent DVD release almost like opening a time capsule. Of the people who look at, or might consider looking at this list, only 1-3 might have even heard of this film, never mind have seen it. For the rest of you, it's time to rediscover it.

The film will be introduced by its director. It is also playing on a Friday, when the screenings are for free. Tickets will be released sometime after 4:30. This may require some planning.

THE FLY (1986)- Fri Mar 6 and Sat Mar 7 at Midnight- IFC Film Center- Part of a midnight screening retrospective of David Cronenberg films. 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, you have Jeff Goldblum transforming into a man-sized insect. Though his physical deteritation and changing behavior does mimic disease and addiction. With Geena Davis, at her most beautiful, turning in her best performance.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN- Tues Mar 10- Thurs Mar 12 at 7:40 and 9:50- Film Forum- A new 35mm restoration.Heard of the film, don't know much about it, but it looks interesting. A little over the top and melodramatic, but interesting. An Oscar for its early color Cinematography, nominations for Actress Gene Tierney, and Art Direction. After that, I don't know much else, so once again, I'll cut and paste from the Forum's website:

(1945) Always elegantly coiffed Gene Tierney (in Oscar-nominated role and fresh from her starring role in Preminger’s Laura) and best-selling author Cornel Wilde meet cute — she’s reading his latest book — in a super-luxurious railroad car lounge and, despite her engagement ring, it’s instant attraction. And next thing Wilde knows, he’s on horseback watching as she strews her father’s ashes on a New Mexico mountaintop — as Alfred Newman’s score thunders — and suddenly, he’s the new fiancé of someone with a very possessive passion. Big Mistake? A drowning coldly watched from behind the screen’s most menacing pair of sunglasses, a miscarriage via intentional staircase fall, a death by poison, and a murder trial with a very surprising defendant getting hammered by relentless DA/spurned lover Vincent Price ensue, amid splendiferous settings, all viewed via sumptuous, Oscar-winning photography by Fox Technicolor specialist Leon Shamroy. Screenplay by Jo Swerling (Man’s Castle and other Depression films), with a colorful cast including Jeanne Crain, Ray Collins (Citizen Kane, Perry Mason), and Darryl Hickman. 110 min.

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.