Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jan revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the second half of January. Normally around this time, I'd worry about catching potential award nominees/winners, so this list would have to be strict in terms of what I absolutely want to catch and make time for. But I've been catching a lot more new releases over the past three weeks, so I can post a few more maybes. Now I might have to do that next month, but for now, I can afford to make this list a little longer. Of course I'd like to catch as many on this list as possible, so I won't sort out the maybes in case they turn you off. So here we go:

LABYRINTH - Fri Jan 15 - Sun Jan 17 at Midnight - Landmark Sunshine Cinema - It appears to be a Martin Luther King Jr. weekend tradition: midnight screenings of Labyrinth down in the East Houston area.

A flop back in the summer of 1986. A cult following today. Personally, I think the cult is bigger in say, L.A. and Chicago than here. It feels to me that; if there is more of a following in terms of mid80s Jim Henson work, then it would be more for Fraggle Rock then for this flick. When you hear those from 26-30 in NYC, who had HBO back then, talk lovingly about the show, or even Tina Fey, when she compared Paris Hilton's wig with a Fraggle, you might come to the same idea I did. That said, tell me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Labyrinth the only Jim Henson film to be re-released in a 2 disc DVD set to actually sell pretty well? Someone's rocking out to this.

While babysitting, Teenager Jennifer Connelly gets sick of her little brother, and wishes him taken away by some goblins. Why a mid 80s teen would pick goblins, who knows? But she gets her wish, as Goblin King David Bowie does exactly that. Jennifer goes off to David's Goblin castle to keep the rugrat from becoming a goblin. And of course, has to go through the title set of mazes to get there.

Executive produced by George Lucas, but hey, at least it's better than the other film he produced from that summer, Howard The Duck. Directed by Henson, who co-wrote the story. Monty Python's Terry Jones wrote an early version of the screenplay, with some kind of uncredited re-writing from Elaine May. Hell, I'll give this a shot. And because this falls on a four day weekend, Landmark Sunshine Cinema will also have a Sunday night Midnight screening, to go along with the Friday and Saturday night ones. If you don't have to work the next day, the Sunday nighter might be fun.

THE HIDDEN FORTRESS - Sat Jan 16 at 3:40, 6:20 and 9 - Film Forum- Part of the Akira Kurosawa retrospective, and probably the most fun film that I can post from this series. A samurai film that isn't heavy handed or solemn. Here, a gutsy princess is protected from evil men by someone who is good with a sword. They're accompanied by two companions; one tall and skinny, the other short and round. And they constantly run into a likable rogue, whose capable of coming in to save the day. DOES ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? Seriously, I know Kurosawa was so upset with Sergio Leone virtually copying Yojimbo into A Fistful of Dollars that Akira sued the filmmakers. Yet did he ever consider legal action against Lucas? Anyway, a good mix of action and humor, with a great early set piece with hundreds of extras making a prison break. Sorry that it's only a one day/night screening, but come on out.

HIGH AND LOW - Fri Jan 22 at 6:30 and 9:15 - Film Forum- Part of the Kurosawa retro. Adapted from an Ed McBain 87th Precinct novel, so if this feels at least a little like Law and Order, at least you can know one of its descendants. Now in this film noir, especially the start and end, you have a morality play. And inside all of this, you have a breakdown of those who rose from the ashes, so to speak, in Japanese society after WW2, and those who never got out of the slums.

Toshiro Mifune plays a cash strapped businessman who ponders whether or not to pay a ransom demand. And you have another Japanese star, Tatsuya Nakadai, as the super cool policeman investigating the aftermath. Very good film. Shot in black and white, except for one cool shot. Worth catching.

BATMAN (1989) and/or SLEEPY HOLLOW- Sat Jan 23 at 5 (Batman) and 8 (Sleepy)- MOMA - Part of a Tim Burton retrospective. Not just the films are covered, but also Burton's drawings and other artwork are covered as well. Both films can be seen for one admission. Now I've brought up the 1989 Batman before. Underrated in the wake of Christopher Nolan's two Batman flicks, but as I said, I brought it up before, and I'm not in the mood to go through it again.

Actually I'm not really in the mood to do anything thorough about Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton's reworking of the old Headless Horseman story. Successful back in the holiday season of 1999, forgotten today.

More important for Depp's career then for Burton's. You might not remember, but back in the 90s, Depp had zero hit films between Edward Scissorhands and this. Sorry, Ed Wood was liked, but was a flop at the box office, as was Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Donnie Brasco and Don Juan DeMarco did ok, but only in relation to budget, and Pacino and Brando respectively, deserve most of the credit in terms of draw. So at some point, you need something people will run to see, or you can make invisible art films till the dawn of time. Sleepy Hollow changed that, even if it seemed like Depp played Ichabod Crane as one part Sherlock Holmes, and one part fourteen year old girl who falls in love with Christina Ricci's breasts.

Sorry about that last comment, but Paramount seemed to have spent about as much advertising dollars highlighting Christina's assets as they did on the cool looking Headless Horseman. Note above street billboard picture. Actually back then, when combined with The Opposite of Sex and Buffalo 66 the year before, we thought we would be talking up Ricci as a major leading film actress right now. Now, after weight loss that made her head look larger than her body (I knew jealous women who would use that as a reason for unnecessary hatred toward her), and not-so-great film choices (forget Speed Racer, if you could watch more than ten minutes straight of Prozac Nation, you're better than me); well let's just say that with four films coming up according to imdb, let's hope for her sake one of them is decent.

Whoa, I just noticed my rambling. Too late to edit now. Let's just say, Sleepy Hollow may not treat the original source as sacred and untouchable, but it looks and sounds great, and has a fun cast surrounding Depp and Ricci. This includes Miranda Richardson, Michaels Gambon and Gough, Jeffery Jones, and 3 Sith Lords: Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid and Ray Park. Good luck finding Christopher Walken. Nominations for the Cinematography and Costume Design, an Oscar for the Art Direction. Anyway, seeing the two films together should be fun.

THE BAD SLEEP WELL - Tues Jan 26 at 6:40 and 9:30 - Film Forum - Part of the Kurosawa retro. Never seen it, but would like to. Toshiro Mifune doesn't believe his father committed suicide, and is willing to tear apart his father's company to find out the truth. So yes, it does follow the Hamlet template, and is now set in the corporate world. But Kurosawa is more interested in depicting the corporate corruption running rampant in Japan by 1959/60. If there's a theme, it seems to be a reworking of a famous Benjamin Franklin saying. For this film, it would probably be: Those who sacrifice Honor for security deserve neither. Seems interesting, though I have been warned about it being a little on the slow side, so there's a small heads-up on that.

THE SEVEN SAMURAI - Fri Jan 29 at 8:20 and Sat Jan 30 at 1, 4:40 and 8:20- Film Forum - Part of the Kurosawa retro. In my personal top 35, and the first film that tends to get mentioned when one brings up Kurosawa/Mifune. One part epic and one part first modern action film.

A peasant village, filled with mostly vain, selfish people, are under constant attack. So they hire unemployed, noble samurai to protect and defeat the villains. Seven in total, mostly noble, except for Toshiro Mifune's character, who seems to be one part man, one part wild animal. Some great action set pieces, while we take the time to get to know each samurai and enough of the peasants, so that said action set pieces carry heavy emotional resonance.

The kind of big budget epic that this, along with Godzilla shot at the exact same time, almost drove Toho Studios to bankruptcy. Luckily for the studio, it became (I think) the biggest hits they ever had. Oscar nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design, but NOT Foreign Language Film. Ok, so La Strada wins, it's Fellini, I can't say crap about that. But the Japanese representative that was nominated was The Burmese Harp. What the hell is The Burmese Harp? Somebody please tell me who've seen it . . .

Anyway, as I said, in my personal top 35. There are not that many films better as far as I'm concerned. And while I'm at, I like Avatar. I do, quite a bit. But, if you think Avatar as good as an action epic can get, you're over 21, you claim to like film and you haven't seen Seven Samurai, then I challenge you to get up and see this. What, you can't read subtitles and this isn't in 3-D? Oh, shut up and see this already. It's playing for two days, I just post what I can probably be available for. You don't even have to go with me, just do yourself the favor and go. It's on the Criterion Collection, so you can rent it if you prefer. Just see it already.

But I do warn you; the film is three hours, twenty-seven minutes, and the Forum might have an intermission. They did back when I saw it on 2002. A side story; I saw it on Sept 10, 2002. That was the date when I went that night. It was so long, it was after midnight when we came out. We felt elated, coming out of the film. But that's when we realized it was now Sept 11, 2002, so some melancholy set in. Nothing else, just a side story that came to mind. There's no good lead-in from that to the last film on this list, so I continue.

THE EVIL DEAD (Uncut director's print) - Fri Jan 29 and Sat Jan 30 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema - A midnight screening of the cult horror classic that started Sam Raimi's career. A horror classic that, despite the ultra low budget this must have been shot on, holds up well. The screening is billed as some sort of uncut director's print. Don't know what that means exactly, except maybe no intentional darkening of a certain tree scene.

Heaviest emphasis for me is on all things Kurosawa, followed by the Burton double feature. Anything else would be a bonus. Let me know. Later all.

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