Saturday, February 27, 2010

March revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the first half of March. May not be as many films as I normally post, but high quality here. Maybe I'm being a little picky, after convincing a couple of people to see The Atomic Cafe for free at MOMA a few weeks back. Bad enough that the short before it, the something something of Burning Ants, was an ambitious yet pretentious piece of crap, that one cute girl walked out on. But then The Atomic Cafe laid an egg. Not with me, but with friends. When I heard afterwards one didn't get or understand it, my head couldn't stop shaking. Not like it, understandable. But not get it, no.

You can easily find it on DVD. Those of you in NYC, it's probably in at least 2 out of every 5 libraries near you. I'd love to hear feedback from those who've seen it recently. Now on with the list. Here we go:

FIVE EASY PIECES- Mon Mar 1 and Wed Mar 3 at 7:50 and 10- Film Forum- A new 35mm restoration. One of those early 70s films where the cynicism of the lead character is supposed to match what was going on in the country at the time. Jack Nicholson, in his first non-Roger Corman lead of note, is basically a rebel without a cause or a clue. He runs from his upper-class background, but doesn't appear to be any happier working rigs, bowling and getting drunk and having sex in cheap motels. His relationship with a waitress named Rayette doesn't seem to perk him up either. But things come to a head when he must come home, after his father suffers a debilitating stroke.

Nicholson's second team-up with director Bob Rafelson, and the first of his famous lead roles, that struck to the core of America when released. Might be hard to believe that a small, character driven film could do that. But smaller media, no Internet, a (possible) general rejection of large musicals and westerns that didn't star John Wayne in favor of different kinds of pictures, and lots of critical raves helped Five Easy Pieces find an audience. His character was based partly on him, as well as partly based on screenwriter Carole Eastman's brother. Nicholson wrote part of his monologue to his voiceless stricken father.

Not to say the Nicholson character is likable, even with the famous chicken salad diner scene. It's ok if you come away thinking he's a complete asshole. Back in this time, you could have a completely unlikeable lead, and as long as it wasn't an expensive picture, not only would a major studio (Columbia Pictures in this case) back it, they would assume the director knew what he was doing, and would not insist on changes or softening. Strange concept, I know. So this character belongs with other anti-heroes from this time period, like Dirty Harry, Popeye Doyle and Alex from A Clockwork Orange.

Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay, Nicholson for Actor, and Karen Black for Supporting Actress as Rayette, who it's hard not to have your heart go out to in the end. Let's catch this. Now, cut and pasted from the Forum's website, a brief word about the restoration:

For this new restoration, Sony Pictures began with a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and the 35mm Separation Masters. Following an extensive digital restoration to repair torn frames, scratches and the removal of all dirt from the image, the restored files were recorded back to a new 35mm color negative, from which new 35mm prints have been struck.

THE ABYSS- Fri Mar 5 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of a retrospective of films, alternating between what has been directed by James Cameron, and what has been directed by his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. In honor of both of their films and themselves competing for Oscars: Avatar and The Hurt Locker. I could have posted the start of it, Point Break, but there's a fine line between fun crap and complete shit. There are those who've made it a cult hit by embracing the absurdities, but I remembering seeing this in when it was first released and thought "This is one of the worst films I've ever seen.". And it still is!

Not that everything James Cameron has touched has been gold. The Abyss has probably had the most divided opinion of all of Cameron's directorial efforts. Right from its release to today: Is it too long? Visually stunning enough with some great action set pieces that makes up for the ending? Does it feel like there's something missing? And oh yeah, what about THAT ENDING? Some of those comments went away when the Director's Cut was released 4 years later, but this is still the least embraced of Cameron's films. Ok, not Piranha 2, but every other film has more passionate devotees than The Abyss. It feels like this is the cult film of his career.

Personally, I liked the film enough to post it here. Would never be in my top 3 of Cameron's flicks, and definetly not in the top 10 of 1989. But the visual effects are fantastic, deserving its Oscar. And a lot of joy I get from both Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio; they're our eyes down below in an underwater experimental oil rig. They're trapped below as World War 3 might explode above them. Trapped with a Navy SEAL growing more paranoid by the second, a hurricane battering the rig, a Trident warhead possibly ready to go off on its own, and what exactly are these brightly lit things swimming around them?

At the very least, a better script than Avatar, though you'll have to decide about the ending for yourself. I'm not sure if this is the original 2hr., 26min. cut, or the director's cut that's about 25 min. longer. Won't know until March 2nd or 3rd probably. But if you've never seen it, and you can stay up, this should look good, and sound great, at IFC Center.

THE WIZARD OF OZ- Mon Mar 8 at 9:45 and Sat Mar 13 and Sun Mar 14 at 1- Film Forum- Part of the Victor Fleming retrospective. Afraid I'm going to a bad movie buff, and not post many films from this retrospective. Just a few, so if you decide to go to me and say "BAD! BAD MOVIE BUFF!", I'll understand. Just don't hit my nose with a rolled up newspaper, or rub my face in something.

Anyway, director Fleming had a long career, but is truly remembered for two films he worked on. Since he was part of the MGM studio system, his total involvement in both pictures wasn't total and absolute. In fact, the films are better remembered than Fleming ever was. Of course the two films was the next one on this list, below, and The Wizard of Oz. A flop or box office disappointment (depending on who you ask) in its day, a classic thanks to decades of screenings on CBS, and now, on TNT. In the top 10 of both AFI Top 100 lists. Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Art Direction, Color Cinematography (losing in these categories to Gone With The Wind) and Special Effects. Won Oscars for Original Score and for the song "Over The Rainbow". You might have heard of this song. Call it a hunch.

The scheduling for Wizard is a little off. It's playing on Sunday, March 7, but it's timing is either too early or too close to Oscar time, so I didn't bother post it. I also didn't bother to post it's Monday March 8th afternoon screening either. So I'm left with a late-ish Monday night screening, two 1PM screenings the following weekend, and no idea yet what works best for me. We'll see, but I'm determined to catch it this time.

GONE WITH THE WIND- Sat Mar 13 and Sun Mar 14 at 3 and 7:30 and Mon Mar 15 at 1- Film Forum- Part of the Victor Fleming retrospective. Do I really have to go on about this. If you're looking at this page at all, you know this. The question is, will you be willing to spend the three hours, forty-six minutes to see this classic? The Film Forum may not be the Ziegfeld, where it has played several times over the last decade, but it will do. Now I've liked the portions I caught on TV, but I still haven't seen all of this from start to finish. This WILL change in March, by hook or by crook.

Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feb revivals: second half

Hey all, Mike here with what to catch for the rest of February. No time, here we go:

RAN- Wed Feb 17 and Thurs Feb 18 at 1:30, 4:30 and 7:30 - Film Forum- The end of the Akira Kurosawa retrospective, the last two days of Ran's two week run. If you haven't seen this on the big screen before, this is not what I would call a last chance anytime soon, but it's close. Anything else about it, just go to the last post and go from there.

WEST SIDE STORY or FUNNY GIRL- The Ziegfeld- Thurs Feb 19 at 4:30 (West Side) and 8 (Funny Girl)- Also, the last day of these two popular 1960s musicals run at the Ziegfeld. They will never ever look or possibly sound any better than here. Unless you have a 48 inch HD TV screen with a stereo sound system of some sort. But frankly, if you had such a thing, you wouldn't read posts like this, or own both films, so chances are, this is as good as it gets for you.

THE RED SHOES- Fri Feb 20- Thurs Feb 25 at 7 and 9:35- Film Forum- The new 35mm restoration that played to sellout or near sellout screenings at the Forum last November, returns for a one week engagement. Somebody asked me whether I'd catch this, not knowing that I went in November. I responded, then realized afterwards that the bulk of my response works in the context of this posting. I'll post it here, leaving out what isn't your business:

"Caught it back in November when it last played in at the Forum, and now that I have a membership, I'd go again. A great print, and a wonderful film. But I hate to break this to you, but unless you're into dance and/or theatre, it's considered more of a chick flick for one's mom or grandma. It outwardly seems too moldy for some women under 35 these days. Some negative attitudes seem to come for those who just hear its ballet and walk away, or were forced to watch it on commercial TV, where the running time is padded to 2 and a half to three hours. It kills the pacing, and I totally understand why someone would walk away from The Red Shoes based on that.

But on the big screen, the pacing is very good. The artistic risks taken are stunning, especially for something in the late 40s. Limiting what we know of people based mainly on what we see, with little in the way of exposition. Jamming a 15-plus minute ballet in the middle of the film. Unafraid to make the main characters unlikeable, or at least weak. But if one cares about film, just wait till they see this. The dancing is terrific as well."

So if you missed the restored print last November, or haven't seen an uninterrupted screening before, you have another great chance now.

STARSHIP TROOPERS- Fri Feb 19 and Sat Feb 20 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of the Paul Verhoeven retrospective. An over the top sci-fi action film from 1997. Less sci-fi and more dark satire. Imagine mixing an episode of 90210 with John Wayne's The Sands of Iwo Jima. Then set it in the future as the gung ho American Marine types go off into space to fighting evil killer CGI bugs, as we're informed of what happens via some global Fox News-like network. Wait a sec, does it seem like we actually started this war with the bugs? Oh never mind, let's see some kick ass action set pieces! Wait a sec. Why do the Earth leaders look like they're wearing Nazi uniforms, and why is Neil Patrick Harris wearing a pseudo-SS uniform? Whatever, go Earth!

I feel this is under-appreciated, but I also feel I'm in the minority. Mediocre acting, aside from the likes of Harris and the ever reliable Michael Ironside doesn't help. But the cool extended action scenes and sneaky satire, is pure Verhoeven. As to whether you'll like it or not, try it, if you can stay awake that is. It is a Midnight screening after all.

COFFY for 7 dollars- Thurs Feb 25 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinemas- A cheap screening of the 1973 film that made Pam Grier a sex symbol and blaxploitation star. Simple tale, told in a somewhat cheesy, overlong manner. But fun. I mean, one can't survive on a film diet of Ran and West Side Story alone. Grier is a nurse, whose sister gets her mind destroyed by heroin addiction, and whose cop friend gets beaten into a coma. She goes undercover as a hooker, to take down the pimps, pushers, evil whiteys, and traitorous bruthas. Over the top by our standards, but if you're a fan of blaxploitation pics, this isn't Foxy Brown, but it will do. Can be seen either at 7, with intro and MST3K-like commentary by Hedda Lettuce, or at 9:30 without the commentary.

WHITE HEAT for 6 dollars- Fri Feb 26 at 8- Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre- 54 Journal Square in Jersey City- I step out of NYC, to potentially catch this Jimmy Cagney gangster classic. Yes, this is the film with "Top of the world, Ma! Top of the WOOOOORRRRRLLLLDDDD!!!!!!!"

Now I've never been to this theater, or to Jersey City for that matter. But it's a cheap price, and supposedly it's easy to get to by PATH train, so I'm willing to give it a go. As long as there's no snow to deal with, sure.

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY- Fri Feb 26 and Sat Feb 27 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- The Gene Wilder cult classic gets a midnight screening. It may not be as loyal to the original Roald Dahl book as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it's a better film. Dahl wrote the original adaptation, but a massive re-write caused Dahl to badmouth the film every chance he got. And while there was better usage of the Oompa Loompas and the budget to go hog wild on the look, the family/daddy issues, especially in the last half-hour, drags the film down when compared to Willy Wonka. Maybe I like this film so much strictly for Wilder's performance. I'm ok with that.

Now considering this was not a hit back in 1971 but only became a cult classic thanks largely to NBC broadcasts in the late 70s into the 1980s, most people have no idea what this film looks like on the big screen. I include myself in that statement, but I would like to change that.

I'm leaving the screening of Five Easy Pieces,starting at the Forum on Friday February 26 for a week, until the March list. That's when I can get to it. Otherwise, let me know about the rest. Later all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2009 films to catch up with

Mike here. With Oscar nominations out, a good number of you feel it's time to catch up with nominated films you haven't seen. So let me be your guide. I'm looking at this not only as what nominated films I haven't seen yet, but also to form a Best of 2009 list I generally post just a few hours before the Oscar telecast.

To aid us all, I'll post films that have received a 2009 release in New York and break them down in the following way:

films Oscar nominated in at least one major category that's still in theaters,

Oscar nominated films in minor categories still in theaters,

Oscar nominated films in at least one major category on DVD,

minor Oscar nominees on DVD,

and films that did not receive a nomination but stood out in 2009 in some way that it (probably) deserves to be seen as much if not more than a few of the nominees.

Along the way, I'll post comments, maybe a quickie review, with some but not all. For the record, I consider Picture, Director, the four Acting categories, the two Screenplay categories, Foreign Language, Documentary, and Animated Film to be major categories. The order posted it strictly out of convenience. Here we go:

Major nominations in theaters: Up In The Air, Crazy Heart,

Precious (comes out on DVD two days after the Oscars ceremony, so unless you have a screener, try to find it if you haven't seen it by now.),

Avatar, The Last Station, The White Ribbon, An Education

The Blind Side (please don't make me repeat my rant from the last post. If you haven't seen it by now, just wait for DVD/cable.),

A Single Man (a good performance from Colin Firth that resulted in a deserved nomination. A good performance from Julianne Moore as his lonely alcoholic fag-hag friend, for which I was surprised there was no nomination. A well done visual execution of the Mad Men era, visually. The rest of rookie director Tom Ford's choices take a long while to get comfortable with, but it pays off for the patient viewer. Even a surprising bit of humor, considering the loneliness and suicidal tendencies depicted. So good start for director Ford, but next time, please pick up the pace more.),

Invictus (almost out of theaters, so hurry),

Fantastic Mr. Fox (barley in one theater on the lower East Side, and it's almost gone. Doesn't come out on DVD until March 23rd),

The Princess and The Frog, (after President's weekend, will probably be difficult to find.),

Nine, The Lovely Bones (Yes, I know both have received lousy reviews, but they qualify. I haven't seen either one, and I only know one person who recommends both. Hopefully the facts that he paid a combined one dollar to see them because of SAG connections and he had nothing else to do didn't influence the thumbs-up.)

The Messenger, The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (both also barely in theaters; at the Village East and Cinema Village respectively.)

Minor nominees in theaters: Sherlock Holmes (I'm ok with the idea of a physical Sherlock Holmes. The idea of him turning the breaking of a man's body into a science is cool. But showing the breakdown in slow motion, then show the whole thing at super speed, then repeat the whole process ten plus minutes later, oh come on. I can learn to deal with an ass-kicking Watson, though it takes major adjusting after seeing Nigel Bruce on the constant verge of a heart attack after all those Basil Rathbone pictures. But giving Holmes only a minor mystery to solve, then spend half the film being a Victorian superhero, oh please. Throw in a lame main villain, a badly written Irene Adler with a miscast Rachel McAdams, now we have problems. But the action scenes were mostly fun, especially the shipyard scene, the whole film has an impressive look and good score, and how can you not like Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock. But guess what? The film has no ending! It takes its cue from Young Sherlock Holmes, and I didn't care for that either. Back to the Future had the same kind of ending, but they still made sure their first story could stand on its own, and Sherlock Holmes failed that standard.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Young Victoria

Major nominees on DVD: The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, In The Loop, Up (if you haven't seen any of these nominees in theaters, and chances are you haven't seen Hurt Locker and In The Loop, or if you can only catch up with so many flicks on DVD, stick with these four and fill in the rest where you can. Hurt Locker, In The Loop and Up have been re-released in at least one theater in Manhattan.),

A Serious Man, Julie and Julia,

Coraline (Director Henry Selick's best film up to this point. Sorry Nightmare Before Christmas fans, but there wasn't a lot of meat to that bone of a story. It was the characters, music and overall dark tone that sold Nightmare to me. But it's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to some of the dark territories Coraline goes, especially in its more frantic second half. While this and Fantastic Mr. Fox can't keep up with its CGI compatriots in terms of box office, its nice that both films do honor to the idea of using stop-motion animation to tell feature length stories. Though I wish Coraline wasn't passive in the final fight, after being a tough cookie for so much of it.),

District 9 (I guess I'm surprised how many people I know really disliked this picture. Yeah, they could have ditched the mockumentary style earlier for my taste, and the villains in Avatar are more complex. But about ninety minutes of well crafted tension, leads to twenty minutes of payoff. Better action in those twenty minutes than in the typical Michael Bay film, and an everyman lead performance from Sharlto Copley that made every other community performer and career union background actor jealous. I mean, no acting experience, and he's the lead and does it well?!?!?

Not the one of the ten best films of the year for me, but at least it continues to be recognized as something good, so I'm fine with that.)

The Cove, Food Inc. (Two films nominated for Best Documentary; the likely winner and its major competitor, respectively.)

Departures (won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 09.),
The Baader Meinhof Complex (Nominated for Best Foreign Film in 09),
12, Katyn (two of the other nominees for Best Foreign Film of 09. 12 is a Russian remake of Twelve Angry Men. When you think about it, Russia is a country where you can buy the idea of an white male jury these days. Most of the film is pretty good, with enough Russian history and different ethnicities to make the story their own. But the last fifteen-twenty minutes, with its twists and melodramatic ending may not be for all tastes. Katyn is the opposite of uplift, usually showing humanity at its worst. Considering that what is depicted happened to director 's family, especially his father, the sense of need to tell the truth is palpable. Depicts what happened in World War 2, when Germany and Russia both invaded Poland. The Russians take over 10,000 Polish soldiers hostage, slaughter all of them, and blame the Nazis for decades, crushing citizens who say or try to prove otherwise. Slow, but brutal and haunting.)

Minor nominees on DVD: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bright Star, Coco Before Channel, Il Divo, Star Trek, Paris 36, Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen (yeah, good luck getting me to see what the Razzies refer to as Tranies Too.).

And now, other films that helped to round out 2009 in NYC:

Gomorrah (was in my top 10 of 2009 list despite not having a 2009 NYC release. For those who gave me grief without having actually seen this, you can catch it on DVD, and see how far it goes on your list. Or not. I won't repeat my rave from last year's list here.),
Sugar, Seraphine, Anvil! The Story of Anvil,

Antichrist (still playing at IFC Center, but also available on IFC On Demand. Not for under 17, mainly because it will go over their heads, and not for the squeamish, either. You'll either like it or you won't, but don't consider this a recommendation.),

Moon, Broken Embraces, Sunshine Cleaning, Where The Wild Things Are,

I Love You Man (my favorite comedy of 2009, especially after repeat viewing. Leisurely paced and the set-up is a little too cutesy for my taste, but not a bad thing that effects it overall.),

Watchman, 500 Days of Summer, Tyson, The Hangover,

Public Enemies (Johnny Depp and a very few gunfights that aren't marred by the herky-jerky digital camera movements, are the long term parts of the film that keep things interesting, and give this a thumbs-up. The script's efforts to take real life events into Heat redux, the mostly unsuccessful use of you-are-there camera shots in action scenes, and a very dull Christian Bale hurt this film),

Bruno (not quite as funny as Borat, particularly after the scene on the Jerry Springer show. But there are still some big belly laughs, like the Jerry Springer show, and the finale.).

There's your list, have some viewing fun. Later all.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Feb revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with what to catch for the first half of February. Normally at this point, I would have done a post of my crappy Oscar nomination picks. But this year, it seems to be anti-climatic in most of the categories, that I obviously just didn't bother. Just a couple of surprises. Two pleasant surprises in The Hurt Locker getting the most nominations (tied with Avatar), and In The Loop getting a Screenplay nomination. They will be very high on my top 10 of 2009.

But an unpleasant surprise was The Blind Side getting a Best Picture nomination, combined with the hype of Sandra Bullock have a good chance of winning Best Actress. Now Blind Side was ok; a wonderful true story told in a bland Lifetime movie style. Bullock's performance holds a chunk of the film together. It seemed too by the numbers; set up family happy time, set up poor boy time, spread out growth salvation and struggles at alternating even intervals, throw in a very annoying PG version of The Wire, then get to the happy ending. Insert the raising or lowering of the boy's IQ, depending on what is needed. The difference between trauma and lack of trauma that the kid's suffering isn't always clear, and are you telling me he really didn't know football well until high school?

Not a bad movie, the family and the teenage boy are appealing, you want them to succeed. And since you know it's a true story, nothing permanently bad will happen in the end. Something you can wait to catch on TV. But watching Charlie Rose last night, and seeing Stephanie Zacharek compare Bullock's work with Julia Roberts' work in Erin Brockovich, and then compare both the performances and the films on an almost equal footing . . . oh, please. Has it really been almost 10 years, has everyone forgotten the multi layered film, with very good performances, well constructed script and quality direction. And Ms. Zacharek compared this to The Blind Side? Either she was basking in the glow of fun company on TV, or she's a hack. Will have to read her reviews and decide for myself. In the meantime, on with the list. Here we go . . .

YOJIMBO and SANJURO- Wed Feb 3 at 5:25 (Yojimbo), 7:30 (Sanjuro) and 9:20 (Yojimbo)- Film Forum- Part of the Akira Kurosawa retrospective. A double feature of another Toshiro Mifune-Kurosawa team-up. Here, Mifune plays arguably his most famous character, a wandering ronin, in Yojimbo and it's pseudo-sequel, Sanjuro. Yojimbo is where Mifune plays both sides of warring clans in a small town against each other to maximize profit, until it goes too far. Sanjuro is where Mifune helps a clan of young samurai wannabes, with an old world viewpoint and philosophy, battle against the corrupt, power hungry faction that controls a small city. In both films, Toshiro plays a man with a gruff, almost belligerent exterior, that hides a code of honor. Also in both films is Tatsuya Nakadai, as a formidable villain. You don't have to them in order, which is good considering if you intend to catch the double feature at night, you won't be able to. Yojimbo itself is in my personal top 100, and the evening would end on a high note.

DERSA UZLO- Thurs Feb 4 at 1, 3:45, 6:30 and 9:15- Film Forum- Part of the Kurosawa retro. From 1975 (released in the U.S. in 1977), Kurosawa directed and co-wrote this adaptation of the novel Dersu, okhotnik, finding the story appealing after his failed suicide attempt. A Russian captain in the late 19th Century bonds with the Asiatic hunter who saved his life. After years of friendship, the hunter finally agrees to live with the captain and his family in the city. But after all those years in the wilderness, is it too late for the mountain man to live in society again?

Not a big hit, but a return to creative prominence for Kurosawa. A Foreign Language Film Oscar (the first Academy Award a Kurosawa film ever won I think), was among the international awards this film received. The start of Kurosawa's late in career re-boost, similar to say, what Clint Eastwood experienced with Mystic River. Kurosawa followed this up with two films even better. First, Kagemusha, one of the best of 1980 that I just didn't have the time to commit to again, but you should see if you can on a large screen tv. This was followed by . . .

RAN- Fri Feb 5- Thurs 18 at 1:30, 4:30 and 7:30 - Film Forum- The end of the Kurosawa retrospective, this gets a two week run. I won't bother breaking it down to particular days, I'll just post the run and the three screenings it has each day, and let you decide when and if you want to catch it.

Never mind that this is the best version of King Lear ever put on screen or TV. There may not be a better screen version of a Shakespearean play ever. Do you know of any on this level? Tell me in your comments, I'd like to know.

Tatsuya Nakadai (previously mentioned in the Yojimbo/Sanjuro section, as well as High and Low on the last list) stars in the best known later-in-life film of both his and Kurosawa's careers. The old man Great Lord decides now is the time to retire, and splits his vast kingdom among his sons. But two of his sons are greedy bastards, want what they want, and don't have much love for a father who may not have been a very good guy at the height of his powers. And this old man gets to watch as his family, his kingdom, his good name, and his sanity begin to fall apart and die out. I haven't even gotten into all the surrounding characters; the scheming wives, lieutenants, servants and so forth. Never mind the massive collateral damage that occurs to them, and especially to those who don't have a name worth remembering, yet must serve one of these factions, and must serve with honor.

The kind of film that would be tough to see on a non-HD TV I would imagine. But if it was an HD channel or DVD with a great sound system, that would be good. So on the big screen, like Dr. Zhivago, the score and cinematography just cause Ran to soar. It's the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it. From a Larry Miller joke I like to quote often . . .

Worldwide acclaim, awards, and good box office followed Ran, propelling Kurosawa back to among the top living filmmakers back in 1985, assuming he ever fell out of that list back then. An Oscar for the Costumes, nominations for Art Direction, Cinematography and Kurosawa himself for Director. It was trampled by the Out of Africa juggernaut; funny how that sounds now, or as recent as 1990 for that matter. Kurosawa was nominated as Director for the first and only time and lost to Sydney Pollack. Kurosawa's film mentioned above, Dersa Uzlo, did win Foreign Film, and normally the director gets the Oscar, but I'm not sure if he actually received it. He did eventually receive an Honorary Oscar, as you can see above, pictured with presenters George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Ran was also barely accepted in Japan as well; he couldn't get funding for Ran there (like most of his later in life films), and when it was nominated, it was mainly for the costumes and lighting. I'm guess I'm surprised and not surprised at all by this. If I knew more people who have actually seen Ran, maybe I'd feel differently. But it plays for two weeks, so you have your shot.

TOTAL RECALL- Fri Feb 5 and Sat Feb 6 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of a series of Paul Verhoeven films screened at Midnight at IFC Center. One of the better action summer blockbuster flicks, and one of the best films of 1990. I'd argue with anyone about the former statement, and as for the later; let's just say there were quite a good number of quality films released that year, but filling the last 2 or 3 slots for a top 10 list is not that easy. You try it, and don't you dare put stuff like Home Alone or Kindergarten Cop there. Not that we should think of this as flaw-free, mind you. But Verhoeven rarely stints on excess. If there's a chance to make something emotionally or visually over the top, good Paul never seems to miss out on the opportunities. I suppose that makes it appropriate that the first Verhoeven retrospective around here in recent memory should be playing only at Midnight.

Here, in the biggest commercial hit ever made out of one of Phillip K. Dick's stories, set in 2084, a mild-mannered man wants to take a quick vacation, by having an adventure downloaded into his brain. But it causes a problem, when it appears he's actually some form of secret agent, the secret agent has info and said secret agent's personality and memories are, let's say, on hold. Then you have all these men coming out of the woodwork trying to kill him.

So it's similar to those innocent man-on-the-run kind of flicks, like Hitchcock's The 39 Steps or North By Northwest. But then you add Arnold Schwarzenegger, character actor types like the ever reliable Michael Ironside, gun battles all over, Sharon Stone (two years before Verhoeven's Basic Instinct) sweating in barely there clothes, and this is before the trip to Mars and the appearance of mutants. The action scenes are good, and the mix of dark humor, cheesy humor, high quality visual effects and editing, make this what a lot of more recent summer blockbusters fail to be, fun.

Oscar nominations for the sound, a special achievement Oscar for the visual effects. Meaning there wasn't enough votes to consider any other 1990 film than this. Considering Terminator 2 was only about 13 months later, we can think of Total Recall as the last of model/matte painting/makeup kind of big budget film, as opposed to the CGI blockbusters after that. Not that I'm trying to hate CGI heavy flicks like say, Lord of the Rings, Watchmen or Avatar, but there's a difference.

Oh yeah, did I mention the violence? Not sure how that aspect holds up today. But for 1990, the bloodshed and body count, things Verhoeven have never been shy about depicting, stood out to the point that Total Recall was originally given an X rating. It took slight trims and alternate angles of some of the more outrageous deaths to get that R rating. All and all, a fun film that luxuriates in its excesses. Let's do this, shall we?

THE SHINING- Fri Feb 5 and Sat Feb 6 at 12:10AM- IFC Center- But if you prefer a better, albeit, longer film at that time, you have another chance with The Shining. Don't worry, this will probably again down at least several times this year.

CRUMB with ABDUCTEES- Sat Feb 6 at 8:15 - MOMA - Part of a series of praised, moderately successful documentaries that premiered at the Film Forum. Crumb is shot over 6 years from the late 80s to the early 90s, trying to give us a look into the life and mind of Robert Crumb, big deal artist in the underground comic movement, and probably best known for the creation of Felix the Cat. We see a man coming from a bullied childhood (from both other kids and at home), who eventually made himself successful through his pen. You should laugh with this film, as Crumb is interviewed, along with his wife and ex-girlfriends, among others. But you'll definetly be uncomfortable as well, because if you think Robert Crumb is strange, wait till you see his mother and older brother Charles. I'd say what is shown between Robert and Charles make the heart of the film. And seeing Charles and younger brother Maxon might just scare the crap out of you, and if you come from a heavily dysfunctional family, even you might say, there but for the grace of God go I.

Director Terry Zwigoff had trouble making this documentary, no money, little experience, and suicidal depression. But Crumb launched his career, with films like American Splendor, Ghost World, and Bad Santa, among others, to follow. If you think you can handle this, let's go for it.

Preceded by Abductees, a British documentary short from 1995. Using animation, images, and hypnotherapy to tell the stories of patients who claim to have been alien abductees. I know nothing else about it.

But for something that's relatively more fun, try this next one . . .

THE ATOMIC CAFE with THE SMELL OF BURNING ANTS for free (subject to availability)- Fri Feb 12 at 7 - MOMA - Part of MOMA's series of standout documentaries that premiered at Film Forum. From 1982, this dark comedic film is comprised entirely of U.S. government films, ads, and TV and radio broadcasts, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. They're to teach the population, that everything will be cool, if we ever end up in nuclear conflict with those damn Commies. No narrators, no talking heads, and no multiple viewpoints. Just one; that the government churned out propaganda to keep the citizenry docile, which seemed to work as far as the filmmakers are concerned. Among the people in the shorts, you can look at Presidents Truman and Ike, Vice President Nixon, and future Presidents LBJ and Reagan. Others appearing on-screen include Krushchev, Einstein, General MacArthur, J. Edgar Hoover, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Senator Joe McCarthy, and some guy named Stalin. And shorts that range from duck and cover, to soldiers being told it's ok to be near a nuclear explosion (you have goggles), to the effects of nuclear tests on Pacific islanders who live nearby.
It became a big hit in Britain, at the time of the debate about cruise missile deployment against the Soviets, and became a film to rally around during the disarmament movement overseas. Here in the states, not so much. Here in New York however, it developed a major cult following, and was a Midnight movie fixture downtown for years. Now it can be seen for free, subject to ticket availability. Preceded by a 1994 documentary short, The Smell of Burning Ants, about a young boy struggling to grow up.

WEST SIDE STORY or FUNNY GIRL- The Ziegfeld- Fri Feb 12- Thurs Feb 19 (no screenings on Wed Feb 18), at 1, 4:30 and 8 (when each film plays is explained later)- Two of the more popular musicals to have ever played at the Ziegfeld, either as a re-release or as a revival screening, play together for a one week run. Separate admission I'm afraid. They space the films out too far for double feature purposes. West Side Story, one of the best musicals ever made and in my personal top 100. If you've never seen this on the big screen, wow. What a great place to catch it. An even better large screen experience than Ran. And Funny Girl, that made Barbara Streisand an Oscar winner and an A List star forever and ever; just in case her concert and TV appearances and her albums hadn't done that already. The songs, especially My Man (sung, not lip-synced), should sound great on the Ziegfeld's speakers.

That's all for now. Let me know. Later all.