Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May revivals: Memorial Day weekend edition

Hey all, Mike here with what to catch revival-wise, for the Memorial Day weekend. Options beyond Sex and The City 2 (the first was a major disappointment to a fan like me, and this doesn't look like an upgrade) and Prince of Persia (the trailer/commercials make this look like shit). When I wrote last time that I didn't have any reason to post more than a few films for May, I should have looked at this upcoming weekend a lot closer, because WOW, look at the choices.

Mostly comedies, with two exceptions, that are playing at the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center. Comedies from across the ages, or something like that. Now none of them are available to see like a double feature for one price. The Walter Reade does offer a pass to see as many pictures as you like this weekend, but it's only cost effective if you go for at least 5 films. I've posted 9 comedies, to give you an idea that it's worth it, even if you/we/ different we(s) only catch one. In fact, the first one is the comedy I want to see most on this list:

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE- Fri May 28 at 5:15- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- This is one of my favorite comedies. Not the best in this weekend series, but my favorite. Thanks to that late unlamented form of home video known as CED Disc from RCA, this was my introduction to both Cary Grant and Frank Capra. I almost wore that disc down, along with other films, but that's for another time.

Despite the play having been done to death in community theater, this Capra comedy is still gold to me. Grant plays a man who comes home to find his beloved aunts are serial killers, who thoughtfully kill lonely old men, and then bury them in the basement with the aid of the uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. It's a good thing his serial killer brother returns home on the same night; looking like Boris Karloff and accompanied by his "doctor" who looks like Peter Lorre and is played by Lorre.

Grant thought it was his weakest, most over the top performance. History has been quite kind, disagreeing with Cary. Pitch perfect cast and production. If I had to see only one comedy in this weekend, this would be the one, and not just for sentimental reasons. It is available on DVD, but only in a no-frills version put out by Warner Bros over 8 years ago, give or take. So Netflix may not necessarily come through for you right away. Catch this.

THE PARTY- Fri May 28 at 7:45- Walter Reade- A Peter Sellers/ Blake Edwards team-up that was not a Pink Panther film. The only one that wasn't a Pink Panther as a matter of fact. Also not a big hit, but should have more love for it than it gets. Sellers plays an Indian actor, who completely ruins a Hollywood film to the point that the producer fires him. But said producer forgets to dis-invite the actor to his splashy party in his mansion. Hilarity ensues.

Actually, it has quite a number of funny set pieces, especially around the dinner table. Shot without a script, but with a 56 page outline instead, allowing for a mostly improvised picture. Shot in sequenced to try to heighten the mayhem. Culture clash comedy abound. But the clashes come mainly from the facts that Sellers' character is not only an obvious outsider, but that he goes out of his way to be polite. No matter whether he's ignored, insulted or looked down upon. HE will not be rude. Be a klutz however . . . . Since this was released in 1968, you have hippies and drug humor as well. A little too much sappiness at the end (with hippies and an elephant!), but the set pieces and Sellers' performance carry the day.

Sellers' character helped to inspire Mike Meyers create the universally planned The Love Guru. Just mentioning fact here. Also of note, the female lead is Claudine Longet. If she's remembered at all, it's probably not for any of her acting work, but for shooting and killing her skier boyfriend during a heated argument in 1976. Her murder trial had similar notoriety as O.J.'s first trial. She claimed the gun went off by accident, and the jury only found her guilty of criminal negligence. She was also remembered around that time for a popular SNL skit with Chevy Chase and Jane Curtain. They played broadcasters of a ski tournament. Every one of the skiers were be doing well until WHOOPS, they were accidentally shot by Claudine Longet. Anyway, almost ten years before all of that, she was the ingenue of The Party.

THE JERK- Fri May 28 at 9:45- Walter Reade- The Steve Martin- Carl Reiner comedy, where Martin plays a man who grew up a poor black sharecropper's son, gets a rare revival screening. A big hit in theaters, despite a lot of critics hating it. I don't care what the Rotten Tomatoes website might say, I think David Ansen of Newsweek, and Janet Maslin of the NY Times where the only big reviewers supporting The Jerk, while Roger Ebert and Rex Reed led the opposition. Reed in particular, has been brutal to Martin's films, at least through the mid 80s anyway. But times have changed, the film keeps getting deserved new fans, and the critics by and large, have moved in lockstep with fans, proclaiming The Jerk a comedy classic of the late 70s. Moving on.

THE SHINING- Fri May 28 through Sun May 30 at Midnight- IFC Center- The Stanley Kubrick- Jack Nicholson horror classic is back at IFC Center, playing all Memorial Day weekend at Midnight. I've brought it up before, and will do so again until it is seen. Yes, some of you did it with me before, but that was 2001, so give me a break.

HEAVENLY CREATURES- Sat May 29 at 7:30 and 10- 92nd Y Tribeca- 200 Hudson St. @ the corner of Canal St.- Part of their Obsessed with the 1990s series. As in films from the 1990s where obsession leads people to do nasty things series. Not Peter Jackson's first film, but the one that drew major international attention and a Screenplay Oscar nomination for him and wife/partner Fran Walsh. Based on the true story of two teenage girls, Juliet Hume and Pauline Parker, who savagely beat Pauline's mother to death, when their parents become concerned with the girls' obsessive relationship to each other. With a mixture of tones-fantasy to reality and vice versa, from humorous to dark- that marked Jackson as a major talent and made us comfortable with the possibility that he might be able to handle Lord of the Rings. Not saying that I knew it would be great, but I wasn't frightened by the combo of Tolkien and Jackson.

Also notable for the casting of two relatively unknown actresses in the two leads: Melanie Lynskey (from Two and a Half Men and a lot of indie film character work) as Pauline, and Kate Winslet (who you might have heard of) as Juliet. Unless of course, you rather see something funny that night. Therefore, you can catch instead . . .

UP IN SMOKE- Sat May 29 at 9:45- Walter Reade- A sleeper hit from the fall of 1978. Of all the successful films Paramount had at that point in 78, including Grease Foul Play and Heaven Can Wait, I'm sure the studio heads didn't expect this much success. Cheech and Chong honed their act for over ten years before making the first of 7 films together, but this as good as it gets, and I'm not being sarcastic here.

Simple story of two stoners, who just want to keep getting stoned, but always have to deal with The Man. Sometimes the Man is on their side, in the form of Tom Skerritt, but usually it's in the form of incompetent Lt. Stacey Keach. Fun film. It means a lot more to the West Coast than East Coast, but Up In Smoke is liked all around. And it's late on a Saturday night. If you don't have anything better to do and prefer comedy over Heavenly Creatures and Sex and the City 2 . . .

WHAT'S UP DOC?- Sun May 30 at 4- Walter Reade- The names Barbara Striesand and Ryan O'Neal may annoy the hell out of you, but they are a terrific couple in this 1972 film. Peter Bogdanovich's homage to the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s fits right along with the other films in this retrospective. Most of you under the age of 34 don't know this film, but this is a good time to start. There's a plot here, but it's both a little too elaborate to bring up, and not that important in the long run. Let's just say, complications upon complications upon misunderstandings upon strange accents upon a car chase upon a hysterical courtroom scene all build up. Screenplay by Buck Henry, Robert Benton and David Newman. Great supporting cast includes Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendelton, Kenneth Mars, Michael Murphy, John Hillerman and Randy Quaid.

DUCK SOUP- Sun May 30 at 6- A Marx Brothers film, among others, whose double entendre and subtle political commentary help push for the Production Code. An AFI Top 100 film, in my personal top 100, and one of the best comedies ever made. "I can't call off the war. I've paid a month's rent on the battlefield.?" When the Sylvanian ambassador insults Groucho?s Rufus T. Firefly, president of Freedonia, the country's going to war, and so do Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Margaret Dumont. A big enough flop in its day that it cost the Marx Brothers their contract with Paramount, but a classic now, thanks to tv screenings and college students discovering this back in the 50s and 60s.

FEMALE TROUBLE- Sun May 30 at 9:45- For those who like John Waters films, here's a Midnight cult-classic doozy from his 70's days. When the parents of Dawn Davenport (Divine) neglect to get the deviant high schooler the one Yuletide gift she longs for- a pair of cha-cha heels- she throws the tree over on her mother and leaves, only to have a sexual encounter with a slob (also Divine) who picks her up hitchhiking. Nine months later, she has a daughter, Taffy (Mink Stole). Dawn's life turns around when she marries Gator (Michael Potter), a hairdresser. Gator's employers the Dashers have a philosophy that "crime equals beauty," and they turn Dawn into their own private superstar, photographing her committing outrageous acts. Rated X for a reason.

BALL OF FIRE- Mon May 31 at 1:45- Walter Reade- Screwball comedy from director Howard Hawkes. Barbara Stanwyck, in arguably her sexiest and funniest performance, plays a singer trying not to get killed by the Mob. She accidentally runs into straight laced English professor Gary Cooper, who's out and about trying to learn how "real people" speak. And things get screwier from there. Oscar nominations for Stanwyck for Best Actress, Screenwriters Billy Wilder and Thomas Monroe for the Story, the Score and the Sound recording.

SLEEPER- Mon May 31 at 4- Walter Reade- Sleeper, is technically sci-fi, but one of Woody's best slapstick comedy. Waking up 2000 years later to a world run by a police state, consider this one part The Fugitive, one part Woody slapstick. With Diane Keaton. If you're the type who prefers Woody's funny films as opposed to his serious ones, Sleeper is Exhibit A.

Sorry that I was brief with a few of them, but I had to keep this list smaller than War and Peace. I left off Metropolis at the Forum because I saw it and enjoyed it. It's not clear if it will play until at least June 1 or June 3, but it looks probable. Go see this further restored film. Feels more like action/romance with a dash or two of sci-fi. More cross cutting and heightened editing, plus sub-plots that make supporting characters and the film as a whole make actually sense! I also left off the restored version of the original Breathless, opening at the Forum this weekend. But since Breathless is playing for two weeks, I'm saving it for the first half of June list.

So let me know if there's interest. Later all.

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