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.

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