Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Revivals: the next few weeks.

Mike here, with posting number 100! Wow, didn't think I'd stick with it this long. I'm back with a revival list of what to see over the next two plus weeks. Instead of the usual longish list, I've narrowed it down to what I truly want to catch. And I think catching 3 out of these 4 films is entirely doable. And if we can get to all four? Well, let me list them first. Here we go:

LEON MORIN, PRIEST- Thurs Apr 23 at 7:45 and 10- Film Forum- A new 35mm print. A reminder to catch Melville's WW 2 drama. Go back to what I posted last time, such as it was, because I'm not writing any further. Moving on.

CATCH-22- Mon April 27 and Thurs April 30 at 8- MOMA- Part of the Mike Nichols retrospective. This is what director Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry cashed their "golden ticket" on, after the mega-success of The Graduate: a big screen studio adaptation of Joseph Heller's classic book.

Beset with production problems (problems with the script, artistic differences that forced recasting, the film going over-budget due to the cost of building a realistic base with mostly working flying bombers) and inevitable comparisons with the book, you might think this was doomed to failure. Despite changes from stage to screen, Heller gave the film thumbs up. And it did find approval from the New York Times type of critics (intellectual types?). But among war films, it was neither as funny nor as successful in capturing the cultural zeitgeist as MASH, nor as embraceable as Patton, and even failed as far as most audiences were concerned in comparison to the Clint Eastwood WW2 action comedy Kelly's Heroes. It wasn't even as popular at that time as The Out-Of-Towners starring Jack Lemmon, who desperately wanted to star in Catch-22 (just not Nichols and Henry's vision of it). That Catch-22 didn't try to be any of these things was apparently irrelevant. It wasn't a financial disaster like say Ishtar, but it was a financial flop and has been mostly dismissed. Maybe the Watchmen of its day, perhaps.

Captain Yossarian is trying to get out of flying more bombing missions during the later half of World War 2. But his superiors just keep raising the number of missions he has to fly before he can be discharged. Figuring he'll never live to see the end of the war, he tries to get out through insanity. But he can't because of Catch-22: basically, if one realizes it's crazy to fly suicide missions and you ask to get out of them, that means you're sane, therefore, you will fly any and all suicide missions. That doesn't stop Yossarian from trying to get out via feigning insanity. He finds Catch-22 doesn't officially exist, but the more people invoke it, the more power it has on all aspects of his life, therefore it exists. Or in simpler terms, Yossarian fights the power, but the power seems stronger than him, and us.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Then throw in following a similar non-linear structure as the book, of going back and forth in time, and oh boy. We're ok with that now, with films like Pulp Fiction, Memento and Watchmen, and shows like Lost and Heroes. But back then, apparently not. Tackling what makes a hero, what makes one truly sane, while attacking corrupt power, the idea that everyone dies, among other ideas: oh joy. Throw in the idea that our young Americans in the WW 2 setting should worry more about their own superiors then the enemy, not cool (but we're ok with that today in 24). Now throw into the mix that the audience should think of the still-raging Vietnam War while watching this, no wonder most audiences rejected this.

Strong cast, and I mean strong. Alan Arkin as Yossarian; some fans of the book felt a younger actor should have been cast, but Arkin works the struggle to maintain sanity in an insane environment well. Anthony Perkins as the chaplin. Jon Voight as Milo Mindbender, who will have the Americans make a profit on this war no matter what. Martin Balsam and Buck Henry himself as the COs. Bob Newhart as Major Major. Orson Welles as the insane general. Orson tried to direct this himself, but no go. Plus Martin Sheen, Art Garfunkle, Jack Gilford, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Charles Grodin, Norman Fell, Austin Pendleton and Bob Balaban.

Catch-22 is something you might think of afterwards either as an unknown success, or as a noble failure. I can't help you decide which; I can only recommend you to try to catch it yourself.

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN- Thurs April 30 at 9:30 for 7.50- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A cheap screening of this art house hit from 2002. From director Alfonso Curaon. Sort of a career reboot for himself, after the English language films A Little Princess and Great Expectations drew no audiences, and before he directed the third Harry Potter film and Children of Men. Co-written with his brother Carols, this is kind of like Summer of 1942, where two young men experience a life and sexual awakening with an older woman. Combined with aspects of the road film, but less fairy tale-like than Summer of 1942. Those who don't follow Spanish-speaking cinema may not know Maribel Verdu except for Pan's Labyrinth, but this combined with Amores Perros served as a good introduction for us to Gael Garcia Bernal. Also, a good introduction for us to Diego Luna, in one of his earliest adult roles, years before Milk. Both Cuaron brothers received an Oscar nomination for their Screenplay.Unless I watch Catch-22 that night instead, I'd be glad to watch this at a cheap price.

EASY RIDER- Fri May 1, Sat May 2, Wed May 6 and Thurs May 7 at 5:40, 7:50 and 9:50- Film Forum- A new 35mm restored print of the Dennis Hopper- Peter Fonda classic. Oscar nominations to the screenplay for Hopper, Fonda & Terry Southern, and to Jack Nicholson for Supporting Actor. In fact, this film took Jack out of Roger Corman films and guest appearances on The Andy Griffith Show, and put him on the A list forever. Now as for anything else about Easy Rider, I'll keep myself from screwing up now. Instead, thanks to imdb, I'll quote from a recent film article from Britain's Total Film magazine and website. Written last month by Chris Hicks, he listed Easy Rider as one of the most influential films ever made. I've cut and pasted the highlights. It may not be the best, but it's simple and that's all I'm asking right now:

Influential, how? The movie brats come of age.

Hippies, LSD, motorbikes: Easy Rider is a cultural landmark. The defining movie of the ’60s. Connecting with the long-haired kids (and earning millions for its trouble), Hopper and Fonda's crotch rocket-fetishing classic ushered in New Hollywood by breathing hip life into the square studio system.“You guys are finished,” Hopper ranted at Oscar-winner George Cukor. “We are in now... It’s our time.”
Money shot: Fonda and Hopper dropping acid in a New Orleans cemetery.

The other part about Easy Rider I will cut and paste is from the Forum's website about the restoration:

According to Grover Crisp (Senior Vice President, Film Restoration) Sony Pictures initially restored Easy Rider in 1999 through a complicated mixture of photochemical techniques and old digital technologies; however, there were many other issues that couldn’t be fully addressed at the time. For this new restoration, Sony began with a 4K scan of the best surviving 35mm film elements; following an extensive digital restoration, with the repair of all torn frames and scratches and the removal of all dirt from the image, a brand new 35mm negative was created, from which new 35mm prints have been struck.

This particular list, I want to catch as much as possible. Let me know ASAP. Later all.

P.S.: Here's a link to the film article from Chris Hicks that I mentioned before. Some films I never heard of, some I've never seen, and more then a few I've posted on lists in the past, as well as future postings, like Dr. Strangelove and Rashomon. Here it is:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More April revivals

Mike here with more April revivals. Can't list the entire month due to time constraints, but I'll post a few right now. Here we go:

LEON MORIN, PRIEST- Fri Apr 17- Thurs Apr 23 at 7:45 and 10- Film Forum- A new 35mm print. I've written in the past how new I am to the works of French director Jean-Pierre Melville. But after my introduction to Army of Shadows, I've tried to go see more on the big screen whenever I could. So far, it's resulted in my enjoying Le Doulos and Le Cercle Rouge. Now, here's another one. I know nothing about, but it's Melville, so I'm going. Don't know when, which is why I list 7 days and late afternoon and evening times. For the rest, I'll have to cut and paste from the Forum's website:

(1961) “Religion is the opiate of the people,” begins the confession of Communist widow Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, mon amour), provocative just to get some fun in the drab little village where she‘s been relocated during the Occupation. But when her confessor dryly replies “Pas exactement,” she begins a seemingly inexorable turn towards God — or is towards her handsome confessor, Père Jean-Paul Belmondo (in “an erotically charged performance” – BFI)? Fed up with being “an auteur maudit known only to a handful of crazy film buffs,” Jewish atheist Jean-Pierre Melville accepted an offer of real stars and an actual budget to adapt Beatrix Beck’s autobiographical novel, a book he already considered “the most accurate picture I have read of life under the Occupation,” then had to talk an initially reluctant Belmondo — hot from his star-making role in Breathless (in which Melville cameoed) — into taking the title role. Melville created a kind of fresco of the Occupation — play-it-safe baptisms of Communist and Jewish children; awakenings in the night by the sounds of shooting; parades of Alpine-hatted Italian Bersaglieri and marching band Nazis; arguments with pro-Petain and anti-Semitic co-workers; a Jewish colleague getting a shave, name change, and a ticket out; platonic same-sex crushes in a man-less world — but its center is Riva’s confusing, fascinating, tantalizing encounter with God and his servant Belmondo (successfully intellectual, sincere, and ultimately enigmatic in a definitely change-of-pace role), their mutual underplaying making even theological discussions subtly throbbing with emotional undertones. Shot by the great Henri Decaë (The 400 Blows, Elevator to the Gallows, Bob Le Flambeur). b&w; Approx. 115 minutes

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF- Sat April 18 at 2 and Sun April 19 at 5:30- MOMA- Part of the Mike Nichols retrospective. Among the best of the stage-to-screen transfers ever. I've been waiting a long time for this to play in a revival house. Hell of a first film for director Nichols. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (heavier and made up to look far older and tired in a successful attempt to de-glamorize) are George and Martha; bitter middle-aged alcoholics, who in order to keep any semblance of interest in their marriage, tear into each other and the young couple (George Segal, Sandy Dennis) who come to their little party. As the film goes on, the head games get more cruel and vindictive.

Not necessarily a happy film, but with Albee's words, a joy to behold. No matter the attempts to open up the film, the house still feels like a steel cage. Now the attempts to open the film, in particular the diner, doesn't hold as well, but everything else does. Some modern audiences might consider the acting as over the top at times, but I would disagree. I have a weakness/high tolerance to some excess, but it fits the piece.

13 Oscar nominations. Oscars for Taylor for Actress, Dennis for Supporting, Art Direction Costume and Cinematography for a black and white film. Nominations include for Picture, Burton for Actor, Segal for Supporting Actor, Nichols for Director, Editing, and Alex North's very good score. I hope the overture and closing music are played here. Also nominated was Ernest Lehman for his screenplay, despite the fact that the actors hated his version so much, they and Nichols went behind his back and replaced all but 2 lines back to Albee's original.
For me, best film of 1966. Excuse me if I'm not agreeing with the Academy with their choice of A Man For All Seasons. I want to go. let me repeat. I. Want. To. Go.

WORKING GIRL and/or WIT- Sat April 25 at 2 (Girl) and 5 (Wit)- MOMA- Part of the Mike Nichols retro . A pair of "chick" flicks. I put that in quotes because both, if you don't pay attention, fit the label. But the stories and the storytelling rises above the typical cliches.

First, Working Girl. I mean, yeah, the same story was told about a year earlier in the Michael J. Fox film, The Secret of My Success, but this has better dialogue, is more savvier politically, has better direction, a stronger cast, and had Fox pushing it as Oscar bait. Important in terms of inspirational women flicks without having the lead portrayed as either saint, know-it-all, or impervious to pain and heartache.

Melanie Griffith plays a woman either only looked at for sex by men, or as less intelligent based on her unprofessional hair and clothes (this late 80s NOO-YAWK look should get big laughs in the theater at some point.). She goes for a change after being cheated on by slime ball Alec Baldwin, and having her ideas stolen by wolf-in-sheep's-clothing boss Sigourney Weaver. Now not every woman who makes this change ends up with better prospects and Harrison Ford (in a great change of pace, especially in the 80s) for a boyfriend. But it struck enough of a social chord to go from a sleeper to one of the major hits of 1988.

That Griffin was and the crew was able to get through this film is a minor miracle. At the start of shooting, Griffin was still an active alcoholic, according to Julie Salmon's The Devil's Candy, and was almost fired by Nichols. When she gave up drinking, I don't if what she had was the DTs, but she was in jittery shape. Of course her first scene in that state was when she nervously tries to deal with Ford's character the first day they meet in the office building. Yes, I know it wasn't their first scene, shut up. She would also bloat up as well. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, looking for Griffin shot here, for the-then upcoming Bonfire of the Vanities, felt long lenses were used to keep Griffin's bloat from too obvious. So in a way, Melanie, like her character, always had problems and dickheads to deal with. Now her career wouldn't last too much longer, thanks to mostly bad career choices, including the aforementioned Bonfire, and mostly bad plastic surgery. But she, and we, will always have her performance in Working Girl.

Oscar nominations for Picture, Griffin for Actress, Weaver and Joan Cusack for Supporting Actress, and Nichols for Director. The omission for Screenplay is something you might consider a surprise, but I wouldn't have nominated over the scripts for Big, Fish Called Wanda, Bull Durham, Running On Empty or the winner, Rain Man. When Weaver lost to Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist, it was and is considered one of Oscar's biggest upsets. I'm indifferent, it's not like I bet on it. An Oscar for Carly Simon's song "Let The River Run".

Also, a cast that includes Olympia Dukakis, Oliver Platt, Philip Bosco, Nora Dunn, Rikki Lake, David Duchovny, and Kevin Spacey, who had to learn his part on the car ride over when the previous actor quit without notice. A note if you go and if you haven't seen this for a while, the film starts with a tremendous helicopter shot of the Twin Towers, so know that so you're not taken by surprise.

Next, Wit. An adaptation of Margaret Edson's award winning play that first aired on HBO in 2001. Emma Thompson (who adapted the play with Nichols) plays an English professor, forced to deal mostly alone with terminal ovarian cancer, and the lack of care and respect from most of her health care providers. This film has been/probably still is used, to show students of whatever health care career they're studying, NOT to behave. Though based on a number of imdb posts, that may not be working. In some cases, Thompson's death scene is a great time to start texting! Boy does it suck to get sick in this country . . . Heartbreaking film with a strong performance from Thompson.

If I had the time, I would post one of my favorites, The Graduate. But I can't go out of my way to make special time for this, so I won't. Go to the MOMA website for details.

Will try to post the first few days in May along with the remainder of the month. Let me know about what's up here now. Later all.