Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December revivals through Christmas Eve

Hey all, Mike here wish all a happy festivus, and posting films to catch from now through Christmas Eve. Actually, I could post something everyday from Friday the 18th through New Years Day. But to keep things semi-clear, I'll chop it in2, and only post stuff through December 24. Trust me, this damn list is long enough. Here we go:

THE THIRD MAN- Fri Dec 18- Tues Dec 29 at 5:30, 7:40 and 9:50- Film Forum- The Forum brings back this classic, just under the wire for its 60th anniversary. Though in America, it came out in 1950, where it would rise to classic status at about the exact same time as Sunset Blvd., All About Eve and Harvey. Talk about when being the third or fourth best film of that particular year meant a lot more than usual. Seriously, it's seems to me to be among the least seen of all the post silent flim era flicks I would label classic, at least stateside. As the older audience dies out, younger ones may not know it. But once they see it, boom, it's got them, and they'll probably see it everytime it comes on TCM as well. Film students must also have to see this at least once I would imagine. If not, then it's probably not all that reputable.

Simple fish out of water story, where American Joseph Cotton, who seems to hold black belts in screwups and stumbling blindly into situations, attends a funeral for his friend in post-war divided Vienna. And yet things, as usual in these kind of film noirs, are not what they appear to be. Thus, what I said about the story being simple, eeeeehhhhh, not so much. The film seems to exist entirely in states of gray, with camera angles that seem to have made it the Blair Witch Project of its day.

Standing out in the colorful supporting cast are Trevor Howard with what appears to be a permanent British stiff upper lip, and Alida Valli, who can keep many men's interest, but keeps pining for the one who treats her like shit. And, oh yeah, Orson Welles; who brought charm, gravitas, and the memorable, though historically inaccurate, cuckoo clock monologue. The only part of the film not written by Graham Greene, who adapted his book with some uncredited help.

Oh yeah, he didn't write the ending either. Director Carol Reed didn't like the book's ending, but still wasn't sure what to do. But he came up with a solution, over Greene's objections. At the end of shooting, just placed his camera and himself far away so the actors couldn't hear him say cut, and let it roll. Whatever would be, would be. Hey, it worked.

An Oscar for the black and white cinematography, nominations for Editing and Reed for Director. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes, on the first AFI Top 100 list (though not the second!), number one on Britain's similar film list, Japan's number one film on it's own similar list of non-Japanese films, and in my personal top 100. Not sure where exactly, but it's somewhere. It would be higher in my mind if there wasn't so much zither music. Yes, it fits, and after 60 years, we can't exactly do anything about that now, but still. That damn zither theme can still pop into my head from time to time. Despite that, you will enjoy it, whether you've seen it a bunch of times, or for the first time. And you have 12 days to catch it.

7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS- for free, subject to availability- Fri Dec 18 at 7- MOMA- A simple story for this musical from director Stanley Donen, a huge hit from 1954. In 1850 Oregon, Howard Keel brings home a wife, Jane Powell. Surprise, her new husband lives with his six brothers, all of whom expect her to take care of them. Well, it might be over a century before women's lib, but honey, she's gonna make sure things are gonna change. An Oscar for the Score, nominations for Picture, Screenplay, Cinematography, and Editing.

Which kind of gets us closer to why one should pay attention to this film at all. Michael Kidd's Choreography on the big screen makes this worth the price of admission, which in this case is free (subject to availability). It's used as a constant example, along with Lawrence of Arabia, as to why films on TV should be seen in widescreen, as opposed to pan and scan. Kidd's highly athletic dances, with quality editing, music and cinematography, makes it a worthy addition to any revival list. Even one as crowded as this.

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE- Fri Dec 18- Thurs Dec 24 at 12:50, 3:55 and 7 - With an introduction from Donna Reed's daughter, Mary Owen on Friday Dec 18th at 7- IFC Center- Once again, IFC Center shows the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart classic for a week. It will be screened on its own, as opposed to what the theater usually does, which is to pair it with Bad Santa and charge separate admissions. It's only shown once or twice a year on NBC, and not much more after that, if at all. So if you're in the mood, here it is. I'm sorry that you don't get a little bell with the title of the film on it, like you do with the recent DVD release, but how bad do need to give out angel wings?

I listed all three times of its week-long run. I wouldn't be available for all of them, but it's easier to just list them all and move on. Donna Reed's daughter, Mary Owen will introduce the 7pm screening on Friday the 18th.

THE SHINING- Fri Dec 18 and Sat Dec 19 at Midnight- IFC Center- Once again, they show the Kubrick horror flick at midnight. Now that IFC Center has expanded to 5 screens, stuff like this, A Clockwork Orange, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and anything the theater has done at midnight, will probably be constantly shown. Like it's the 70s or early 80s all over again. Anyway, now this is holiday fare. Yeah, yeah, because there's SNOW in the film, yeah, that's it . . . Oh just go with it, and if you haven't seen it, just go. M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY- Sat Dec 19 at 8- MOMA- The French comedy classic that had a successful two week run at the Forum, plays for two days at MOMA. But this is the one screening I can catch. Anything else about the film, go back a couple of lists ago.

THE HURT LOCKER- Mon Dec 21 at 7- MOMA- This film gets a one night screening. This Iraq War set action film found a bit of an art house audience, but sorry to say, I know very few people personally who took the time this summer to see Kathryn Bigelow's film. But for the next few months, with winning critics awards for at least Picture and Director from to New York to Boston to L.A. and other cities in between, a bunch of Golden Globe nominations (not a sign of excellence, but I'll take what I can leach on), upcoming critics' best of 2009 lists and the Oscars with their expanded Best Picture nominee slots; the point is, The Hurt Locker will be brought up quite a bit. When I get into my own top 10 of 2009, let's just say this film will be ranked quite high. This is screening at the moment at AMC Empire (barely) and the Quad, and later this month on the Sunday night and Wednesday afternoon after Christmas. So this won't be the only chance you'll have to catch this. But at least it will be better than the Quad's windshield of a screen.

THE KING OF COMEDY- Tues Dec 22 at 7:40 and 9:50- Film Forum- Part of the Madcap Manhattan retro, from director Martin Scorsese, for one night only. Not an obvious choice, but trust me, it fits. For those who haven't complained about people getting famous without doing much of anything, like the Salahis who crashed the White House dinner. They are the type who rather be Kings and Queens for a day, then 'schmucks' for a lifetime. Thus they seem to make this film as relevant as ever. Big flop from early 1982, but also one of that year's best film.

Similar to a musical where the songs all happen in the context of a show or in fantasy. Here, most of the comedy is in the context of the talk show or in fantasy. Mostly it's a dark drama. Robert de Niro plays an obsessed fan, who takes a chance encounter with his talk show host idol too much to heart. This lets his fantasies of becoming a comedy icon grow bigger than usual, and his behavior becomes more irrational, and potentially dangerous.

De Niro is loser incarnate, and it cuts close to the bone. It's almost like Willy Loman never did anything, then kidnapped his brother for those riches. But most critical attention went to Jerry Lewis, in his first serious role of note, as the talk show icon. A role Johnny Carson turned down after much deliberation, because the role was written to close to his reality (at least when he hosted The Tonight Show in NYC). Lewis was long dismissed at this point, and this role gave his career a whole new lease on life. We see him in de Niro's fantasy scenes, and is just as impressive as someone not happy with his celebrity status, and even less happy by his privacy being interrupted by this nut. Stealing scenes from both de Niro and Lewis was Sandra Bernhard, as an even more obsessed fan.

Came out in Feb. 1982 to major praise. When it expanded beyond 2 or 3 screens, it was DOA. I'm guessing there wasn't a lot of love for an ending that neither went to the comfortable Hollywood route, nor did it go a Taxi Driver-esque route. Maybe the stalker story was too close after John Lennon's murder by a crazed fan. Maybe a film that looks like a comedy but isn't AND is very much a New York film, turned off the rest of the country as a whole. Home video and TV could only do so much. Not the coolest in comparison to other Scorsese-de Niro pictures, and because it was made by Fox instead of Warner Bros, it doesn't get packaged with their other works. But I'm guessing most of you haven't seen this ever, or since the 80s or early 90s. Now is the chance to change that.

THE THIN MAN with or without MY MAN GODFREY- Wed Dec 23 at 6:30 (Godfrey), 8:20 (Thin Man), and 10 (Godfrey) and Thurs Dec 24 at 1 (Thin Man) and 2:50 (Godfrey)- Film Forum- Part of the Madcap Manhattan retro. Now this is closer to what people would probably think of in terms of madcap Manhattan, as opposed to King of Comedy. A William Powell double feature of the biggest hits he ever starred in. Both very good, and if isn't wasn't for the fact that I saw the second half of the double feature earlier this year at the Forum, I would push catching this hard. As is, if it's only the first film I get to catch, I'm ok with that, but you're probably missing out.

First, The Thin Man. What was supposed to be a quick programming filler for MGM would become so much more. A classic screwball comedy/ mystery with Nick and Nora Charles, drinking and laughing their way through, when a murder case falls into their laps. Though not very interested at first (they are on their honeymoon and Nick is either drunk or hungover), the case still goes on around them. So let's have some fun, let's solve it! There's more to it than that, but the mystery is mostly secondary. Perhaps not as easy to solve at first, this was an adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett novel after all. The pacing and mixture of comedy, mystery and romance, especially between detectives of the opposite sex working on the same case, brings stuff like Moonlighting to mind.
But we're not remembering this film today unless the dialog was snappy, and if the chemistry between Powell and Myrna Loy wasn't there. And we get both in spades. While Powell is the more physical comedian, Loy (one of my favorite actresses of all time in every way), as the difficult task of playing someone not very bright in terms of sleuthing, and yet be a completely irresistible partner that can keep her husband intrigued and interested forever. The best acting partners the other would ever have.

The first of a series of Thin Man films. They were basically the same, except this is the only one with Nick visibly inebriated for the majority of the film. Blame the Production Code on that one. Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Powell for Actor and for the script.

Followed by My Man Godfrey. Caught the screwball comedy earlier in the year and loved it. In this screwball comedy classic, Carole Lombard's rich girl character (think Paris Hilton, minus STDs and plus 100+ I.Q. points), on a whim and in scavenger hunt mode, brings in homeless man William Powell to become the family butler. He turns out to be more than meets the eye, not the least of which being brighter then the rest of the family. Why Powell's a hobo probably wouldn't hold up today, not without a big storyline about him getting treatment, put on medication, etc. But the rest of the comedy holds up quite well. Powell may always seem to have the upper hand on Lombard, but that's the script, and not for lack of trying. But Powell has the advantage of playing a straight man while also going into depth with his character, while everyone else around him are batshit nuts.
6 Oscar nominations; Powell for Actor, Lombard for Actress, Gregory La Cava for Director, plus 2 for Supporting Actress and one for the Screenplay.

Just enough digs into the differences between the poor and the mostly blissfully out of touch rich, without the feeling of a soapbox. Wonderful cast; afterwards it's difficult not to wonder what if in terms of how Lombard's career would have been if a plane crash hadn't taken her life. Like I said, if I don't get to see only The Thin Man in this double feature, I'm ok with that. But the two together would make a great night.

That's all for now. The second half of this list is about twice as big as this one, with some good choices as well. Later all, and Happy Chrismukkah.


Lauren said...

"Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" also features a pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar as one of the brides! :)

The music's kinda forgettable - literally, I can't remember any of the songs - but the dancing is really something. If you like Gene Kelly-style choreography, you'll like Michael Kidd.

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