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.

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