Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with what to see for the rest of May. No time to waste so here we go (don't mind the conflicts, things will sort themselves out):

THE WAGES OF FEAR- Sat May 23 and Sun May 24 at 11am- IFC Film Center- From the director of Diabolique. 4 desperate macho men will get the reward of a ticket out of the hellhole, piss-poor little South American village they're all stuck in. That is, if they're willing to drive trucks filled with nitroglycerin over mountain sides and through jungles, in order to put out a fire at an oil refinery. They also battle each other, with macho posturing just as threatening as the elements. Starring Yves Montand.
Perennially in imdb's annoying top 250. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes. Diabolique is director's Henri-Georges Clouzet's best known film, but this is considered his best. I've never seen it, but I've seen the American remake from 1977, Sorcerer, which is underrated (released the same weekend that Star Wars went into wide release, thus forgotten). Would love to catch this, even if I'd need a coffee IV to help me. 11AM and not noon? Cruel, but I'm willing to deal with it with this flick.

PAPILLON- Sat May 23 at 5:45 (Papillon)- the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Steve McQueen retrospective. I like that this McQueen retrospective is happening, it's long overdue. But for me personally, the timing stinks. I've see most of the films don't fit time-wise for me. I don't think I can get people to come see The Towering Inferno on the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day (if by some miracle I can let me know ASAP), I caught The Great Escape and The Thomas Crown Affair fairly recently so it's too soon, I'm not willing to put my name on catching An Enemy of the People (Yes, McQueen did Ibsen in 1977. Consider this a noble failure.), and not one film here can be seen for 2 for the price of 1. And when I do find that The Magnificent Seven is doable on Saturday afternoon, I find out that it will be shown later that night on PBS' Channel 13. DOH!

Therefore, Papillon is the only film I can catch. A studio print. McQueen's last hit film. Years before The Shawshank Redemption, here was a prison survival film, with escape attempts here. Unlike Shawshank, this did not have universal critical appeal; just look up Ebert's review, though I don't know if he's since revised it. Unlike Shawshank, this actually drew an audience in theaters. Unlike Shawshank, this has since been ignored and is not considered a classic. I'm not saying Papillon is better, but I'm saying this should stop being ignored, and May 23rd is a good time to start.

Based on a true story, though its historical accuracy has been considered dubious. McQueen plays a man wrongly convicted and sentenced to a brutal penal colony. Along with the less macho more 'delicate' man played by Dustin Hoffman, years of abuse, survival and escape attempts are depicted. With McQueen never giving up. Good leads with great chemistry, despite McQueen supposedly annoyed by the existence of Hoffman. Strong film from director Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton, Planet of the Apes) and screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr. Oscar nominated only for Jerry Goldsmith's score. Not as happy as The Sting or American Graffiti, nor did it strike as dark a chord as The Exorcist. But still, give it a shot. Not sure if we're getting the 2 hr 12 minute version, or the 2 hr 30 minute version originally released in theaters. We'll see.

DR. STRANGELOVE- Sat May 23, Sun May 24 and Tues May 26- Thurs May 28 at 3:20, 5:30, 7:40 and 9:50- Film Forum- A new 35 mm restored print playing for a one week run. If you ever bother to put your eyes on this list more than two or three times a year then you know what this film is, and you don't need me to describe this to you. Several of you have seen this in theaters with me before. Some of you have even seen it twice with me before. One of the few dark satires to get it exactly right. Considered one of the best anti-war films ever made. But for those who hate that term (seriously, are you that dumb to refuse to put this into historical context), then consider this an anti-rigidity and anti-stupidity film instead, OK? An excellent mixture of farce and action. And accurate enough in terms of military capability and military speak, that the Air Force demanded answers and questioned Stanley Kubrick.

If you've never seen it with an audience, make time for it. On as many AFI Top 100 lists that it could qualify for. One of the prime examples of Oscar screwing up, when it comes to not giving a film Best Picture. Strangelove is usually Exhibit A, while something like Goodfellas and Raging Bull would be considered Exhibits B and C, respectively. One of my top 5 favorite films ever, and my second favorite Kubrick film, after 2001. And as good a cast as this has, 3 top performances from Peter Sellers . . . , the range this man had is stunning. I dare any of you to find the seams where his performances don't work.

A note that I copy and paste from the Forum's website about the actual restored print that will be shown:

This 35mm print is from a new 4K digitally-created negative (the original neg was destroyed over 40 years ago), made by New York-based restoration specialists Cineric using the best surviving film elements — the result is the sharpest Strangelove you’ve ever seen.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE- Tues May 26 at 6:30- the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- One night only screening of another film from 1973. This one, little seen, rarely shown on cable, and only coming out on DVD for the first time this week, through the Criterion Collection. Which means you can't see it through Blockbuster, only through Netflix. Very similar to The Departed, but without the histrionics or the fake sense of justice. A little slow for that time period I suppose, but in the era of The Sopranos, I guess we can embrace a moody, character-driven crime drama.

Set and shot in and around the South Boston area, depicting what it was at the time, based on the novel by George V. Higgins. Essentially mob-controlled, with police and assigned FBI getting payoffs, while politicians and journalists look the other way. Robert Mitchum plays a low level criminal who's best days are behind him (and everyone knows it, even him?), and who's looking at a third jail sentence that might as well be a life sentence. Trying to avoid prison and feed his family, he decides to try to snitch and make a big score at the same time. Referring to the people around as his Friends is like calling a big guy Tiny, if you remember the second sentence in this paragraph.

Peter Boyle and Richard Jordan lead the cast of character actors that fill out this flick. Never seen all of it, but have liked the parts I have seen. Wouldn't mind catching this at all.

That's all for now. Also included here are a few pics of the post film Q and A with Jonathan Demme at IFC Film Center last week for Swimming To Cambodia. The film was as wonderful as I remembered it, the Q and A was nice, and Demme has the energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. Not really a cinematic piece, so there was little technical stuff that could actually be brought up. More of a relaxed celebration of Spaulding Gray himself. Later all.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

May revivals: first half

Hey, all. Mike here with a list of what to catch for about half of May. I had a much larger list in mind, most of which at the Forum's Con film festival. GET IT, GET IT! CON! NO, NOT KHAN! CON! Like in CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, but because these are prison films it's CON Film Festival! HA! . . . . HA . . . . ha . . . . . ow, this hurts . . .

Anyway, finally I had to narrow it down to what I'm pretty sure I can catch so stuff like White Heat and Angels with Dirty Faces on Mother's day, and Birdman of Alcatraz in a few weeks? Well, have fun, but I doubt I'll make it, so I'll skip writing about it here. In the meantime, here we go:

EASY RIDER- Thurs May 7 at 7:50 and 9:50- Film Forum- A new 35mm restored print. I brought it up last time, so I won't go much more into it. Last day at the Forum.

SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA- Tues May 12 at 8 with a post film Q & A with director Jonathan Demme- IFC Film Center- Spaulding Gray's concert film gets a rare screening. You have less then two days from your probable reading of this, go to to get your tix, because you WON'T be able to get them on Tuesday the 12th. The film's director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Rachel Getting Married), does a post film Q and A afterwards.

Grey tells the story of how he was cast in a small role in The Killing Fields, the research and history he learned in preparing, his experiences while shooting, plus a few New York stories, usually involving his long suffering then-girlfriend, Renee. Released in April 1987, it (aided by some appearances on David Letterman's show) became a surprise art-house hit. Director Jonathan Demme seemed to simply place a few cameras around the stage, aimed for key close-ups while relying on a master shot for the most part, editing in a few shots from The Killing Fields, and expanding the lens a bit to show the maps of Vietnam and Cambodia when those slides come up.

Now this might not have been the case. Demme will surely explain how this was shot and edited in the Q and A. But Demme got what Steven Soderburgh didn't get in Gray's third concert film, Gray's Anatomy. That you don't have to do cinematic tricks to damage, er, enhance the story. Sometimes, it's about THE WORDS, STUPID (And I mean that with love, Steven). When you have a masterful storyteller like Gray, running at peak performance, you don't fuck it up. You can see, whether on Tuesday the 12th or on Netflix, how in 85 quick minutes, Gray and Demme had a film that deserved to stand along with other popular films that year, like The Untouchables, Moonstruck, Au Revoir Les Enfants, and Full Metal Jacket.

I WANT TO LIVE!- Fri May 15 at 7:25- Part of the Forum's Con film festival. From director Robert Wise, Susan Hayward won the Best Actress Oscar for the only performance she's truly remembered for. She's a woman of, let's say, ill repute, who may have been set up for a murder she didn't commit. This gets her the Death Penalty. Now the overall film will probably be liked more by those who support Dead Man Walking. It goes on the idea that she's completely innocent of murder, though the actual facts of the case aren't clear. How it got this far then is an argument for someplace else, and a criticism that can be aimed more to Wise and the screenwriters than to me.

But Wise shot and edited this black and white film like a noir, and let us know exactly how it feels to set up the gas chamber, and give the audience a clear idea of what will feel like in there. Combined with Hayward's heart-breaking performance, this was gut wrenching stuff for 1958. Now? Judge for yourself.

Nominations also for Wise for Director, the Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography and Sound.

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?- Sun May 17 at 5:20 (Sullivan's), 7:05 (O Brother), 9:10 (Sullivan's) and Mon May 18 at 1 (Sullivan's), 2:45 (Brother) and 4:50 (Sullivan's)- Part of the Forum's Con film festival. An interesting double feature. First, Sullivan's Travels, from writer-director Preston Sturges. Playing in the Forum for the second time this year. Consider Sturges to be the Sandy Koufax of film directors. A few years where he was one of the very best, then gone. Sullivan's is considered (arguably) the best in his career. Joel McCrea plays the director of simple entertaining films, who dreams of making an Important Film, "O Brother Where Art Thou". He goes out on the road, posing as a hobo, to learn about the common man, and gets a rude awakening. He also gets Veronica Lake, nice if you can get it. A classic in the comedy genre, though it works more than as just a comedy.

Next, O Brother Where Art Thou, from the Coen Brothers. Gee, where did they get this idea I wonder? Actually, I don't have too. A very generalized version of The Odyssey that's inspired by parts of Sullivan's Travels. George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are escaped cons during the Depression-era South in this comic-adventure with bluegrass music. They're looking for bank money while pursued by the law. More of a road movie then an actual prison flick. Fargo might be the best and the most praised, and The Big Lebowski may have the most reverent cult. But this was the Coen brothers' most popular film, before No Country For Old Men. Holly Hunter, John Goodman and Charles Durning are among the supporting cast. Oscar nominations for the Screenplay and the Cinematography. An interesting double feature.

COOL HAND LUKE and THE DEFIANT ONES- Wed May 20 at 7:10 (Luke) and 9:30 (Defiant)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's Con film festival. A double feature I really want to catch. First, Cool Hand Luke. The classic prison film that turned Paul Newman from American big time leading man to American Icon. Paul plays the title role, the anti hero who goes against authority. But some of that authority, are those in charge of the chain gang/ prison he's in. He may be right in going against the authority that applies "justice" with contempt and stupidity, and he may even inspire the fellow prisoners into cheering him. But they don't or won't help Luke, and he has to bear the punishments or the "bad hands" on his own.

This film is best known for the line "What we have here is a failure to communicate.", but it caught the cultural zeitgeist more for it's depiction of a man who refuses to conform. In 1967, that was big stuff. Also noted on the first episode of Cheers for being one of the sweatiest films ever made. Lots of men, working, fighting, running, all under the heat. Tons of character actors throughout. Among them, George Kennedy in his Oscar winning role, Strother Martin as the sadistic Captain, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Wayne Rogers, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, Joe Don Baker and James Gannon. Oscar nominations for Newman for Actor, Screenplay Adaptation and Score.

Next, The Defiant Ones. Dated, and maybe a little preachy for today. but still good. Important film during the civil rights movement. I don't get to post many Sidney Poitier films, so to catch a 2 for 1 with this, is good enough for me. I couldn't get anyone interested a couple of years ago with In The Heat of the Night, I drew the preachy line with Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, and most of the others just don't get a screening around here. Come to think of it, Tony Curtis films have been more available to me over the past 7-8 years then any of Poitier's. Well, I should say, Spartacus and Sweet Smell of Success have been available, plus The Boston Strangler as well. Nothing else, and that's not a bad thing to me. Though some of you would argue Boeing-Boeing deserves a second chance, but anyway . . .

Curtis and Poitier plays convicts chained together, who gets an unexpected chance to escape. They hate both each other and the color of the other's skin, but they must work together to stay out of the chain gang. Oscars for the Cinematography and for the Screenplay (one of the writers was blacklisted; Nedrick Young's credit wasn't restored until after his death and I think his widow ended up with his Oscar). Nominations for Picture, Director Stanley Kramer, Curtis and Poitier for Actor. Theodore Bickel for Supporting Actor, Cara Williams for Supporting Actress, and Editing. Curtis was the one who insisted that Poitier receive equal billing. When they lost the Oscar to David Niven, Curtis apparently to this day complained that Niven won "his" Oscar. Whatever.

I don't want to do just one or the other, I want to catch both.

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER- Thurs May 21 at 9:15- the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Steve McQueen retrospective, called Yesterday's Loner: Steven McQueen. A studio print. Director Robert Mulligan's attempt to do a screwball-style comedy, but with some serious social stuff floating around. Good Italian Catholic girl discovers she's pregnant and seeks an abortion. The one night stand guy tries to help, and also tries to help show her he loves her. Or is he just trying to do the right thing without knowing the girl at all?

Imagine Knocked Up, except with more serious elements, and with a cast and director who are actually capable of handling dramatic situations. Now throw in the idea that all this abortion stuff (bad phrasing, sorry), occurs about 10 years before Roe vs. Wade. Now throw in some screwball/romance elements, and you get the idea of how this film stuck out from among the rest during Christmas of 1963. McQueen is the one night stand guy, and he's playing against type. Stiffly on occasion, but effectively. Natalie Wood is the "good" girl, who's more struggling and emotional, who could be easily dismissed as bitchy. In other words' human. Has a nice feel for New York as well, she works in Macy's, after all. Nominations for Wood for Best Actress, the Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction and for Edith Head's Costume Design. Worth catching.

That's all for now. Next time, among the options, a few more McQueen films,and the return of Dr. Strangelove. Later all.