Friday, July 09, 2010

July revivals: first half

Howdy, Mike here with what to catch for the first half of July. Hope you haven't melted from the 98-100 degree temperatures we've been dealing with. I'm posting this later than I wanted to, so let's get to it:

GREASE SING-A-LONG- Now until whenever- AMC Lowes Village 7 at 7 and 9:45- There have been unofficial Grease sing-alongs off and on. I think I posted one of them when they played the Ziegfeld some time back. This, and the minor popularity (based on Universal's promotion, anyway) of the Mamma Mia! seems to have convinced Paramount/Viacom to take the bulk of the money now, and sell their own official Grease Sing-A-Long. Whether this makes this fun musical the fun film of this summer for you, or painful to the point of running into traffic, is entirely up to you. Me, I can take it, or I would never post this.

Right now, AMC Lowes Village is the only theater showing it, though only at night. No idea how long and if it will play elsewhere. But Paramount has links on their Grease website, imdb and elsewhere, for people to click to "demand" that it plays near you. Similar method they used to slowly push out Paranormal Activity. To me, it will play elsewhere, it's just a matter of when, though it may not play for long. We'll see.

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER- Mon July 12 at 4:20 and 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The first film of the Clint Eastwood retrospective that begins on July 9. Like I've said before with other retrospectives, if I can't make it in any way, I don't bother posting the film here. This Eastwood series is a unique case, where I've either paid to see the films first-run (Unforgiven plus everything from Space Cowboys through Invictus, except for Piano Blues), or I won't bother posting since it's inconvenient and I've caught it in another revival house (Unforgiven and A Fistful of Dollars). It should also be noted that you can either see these films either individually, or get a 5 film pass (worth it if you're a member, 50/50 if you're not). Prices are at, where you can decide what works best for you.

This retro covers a few key films of Eastwood's career where a Leone or a Don Siegel (his main directorial influences), plus every film he's ever directed. Unless you're an Eastwood fan from his Rawhide/ film Westerns/ Dirty Harry days, or a fan during the first years of VHS or laser disc, there will be more than a few films you may not know. Like, for example, High Plains Drifter, Eastwood's first of 4 Westerns* that he directed. Unless you paid to see it back in 1973, or you watched it whenever it played on TBS' Saturday night Eastwood triple feature (his and the Duke's films alternated), or you watch everything that airs on TCM or Encore's Western channel, this is an Eastwood film you don't know.

High Plains Drifter is probably the darkest film Eastwood ever directed, and was only his second directorial effort. If you only go to chick flicks, or you heavily favor chick flicks, stay far away from this. Kind of a mixture of the classic Western Shane, with Camus' The Stranger. A mysterious gunslinger rides into a small but prosperous Arizona mining town. The townspeople, far from the cream of humanity and wondering why the stranger is kinda familiar, hires him to defend them from 3 evil men seeking revenge on them. The outlaws stole from the town and brutally killed the previous sheriff. So the gunslinger agrees, though the price is he gets anything he wants, and I do mean anything.

If you don't know the film, I won't go any further. But after while you wonder who's worse, the cruel outlaws or most of the slimy townspeople. And as far as Eastwood's Stranger is concerned, he plays out similar to Gary Oldman's line in The Dark Knight: is the Stranger the hero the town needs, or exactly what the town deserves?

Like I said, far from a chick flick, but recommended. Most though not all of the darkness here may seem tame, but it had to be shocking back in 73, especially if Dirty Harry/Man with No Name is doing some of it. But only Eastwood could get away with it, and he already feels self assured in his choices here. Filled with recognizable character actors, and great California Sierra mountains and Nevada visuals. I hope you're up to it.

LAURA for 7.50- Thurs July 15 at 9:30- Clearview Chelsea Cinema- A cheap screening of the classic film noir; one of my favorites of the genre. Detective Dana Andrews is obsessed with murder victim Laura, played by Gene Tierney. Among the suspects are outwardly suave Vincent Price and ultra prissy, ultra acidic critic Clifton Webb (Oscar nominated). We see flashbacks from Laura's life that fascinate the detective more. And then . . . . sorry, if you never saw it, I'm not spoiling it. Though do look for a young (ish, kinda) Judith Anderson.

Among the best of the noirs. Amazing how much sexual tension there were able to get past the Production Code. An Oscar for the Cinematography, additional nominations for director Otto Preminger (a replacement from Rouben Mamoulian; Otto chucked Rouben's old footage, reshot everything and changed the ending- WOW!), Art Direction and the Screenplay (3 writers were nominated, not Ring Lardner Jr., who did some script doctoring). What I'm surprised wasn't nominated was David Raskin's score, which includes "Laura's Theme", which is hard to forget if you like the film. I prefer to catch Laura without any jokes from Hedda Lettuce, which is why I'm only posting the 9:30 screening and not the 7. But if you prefer that one, go, as long as you treat yourself to Laura.

PALE RIDER- Fri July 16 at 6:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Eastwood retro. This is the third Western Eastwood directed. Came out in the summer of 85, around the time of another Western, Silverado. Pale Rider was successful at the box office, while Silverado, not so much. But over the years, Silverado became a well-liked Western, and Pale Rider was slowly being pushed to the shadows, so to speak. Then Eastwood came out with Unforgiven, making most old fashioned-ish Westerns seem obsolete, Silverado and Pale Rider included. At this point, Pale Rider seems to be sold only on some slapped together DVD, maybe with some other Eastwood film that didn't do well, like Blood Work or White Hunter, Black Heart. But if you like watching a regular Western done well, go for this.

Pale Rider is basically another remake of Shane. Not nearly as dark as High Plains Drifter, with enough realistic dialogue to distinguish between the not so educated prospectors trying to survive, the well educated Bad Guys trying to get them out, and the speak softly and carry a big stick and lots of gunfire Preacher, played by Eastwood. Michael Moriarty plays the leader of the miners, L.A. Law's Richard Dysart as the rich heavy, with Chris Penn and Richard Kiel among the goons.
Now if you're ambitious, you can do an unofficial double feature with a film that's playing down in the Forum, though it's playing for a week so Friday is not necessarily a priority . . .

THE CIRCUS with The Idle Class- Fri July 16- Tues July 20 at 3:20 (Sat only for me), 5:30 (Sat. only for me), 7:40 and 9:50- Film Forum- The start of a Charlie Chaplin retrospective. The only one to get a week long run, and the only one I'll post on this particular list. I'll post more on a late July list, as well as an early August list. This retrospective includes all his feature length pictures, including all his sound films, plus quite a number of Chaplin's shorts.

Simple film where the Lil Tramp joins a circus to elude the police. He becomes a clown and discovers a horrible truth: he can't get laughs on purpose, only when he's his normal, bumbling self. Chaplin won his first Oscar, an Honorary one encompassing his acting, writing and direction. He wouldn't win another one until another Honorary Oscar was given to him 43 years later. This was officially his last silent film. City Lights and Modern Times were both mostly silent, though each had its own nods and changes to accommodate the Sound Era, but I'm not breaking this down now. But also included in this print is music Chaplin added to the beginning (including his own singing!), for The Circus's 1969 re-release.

Also playing with The Circus is the 1921 short, The Idle Class, where the Tramp sneaks onto a ritzy golf resort, and a drunken woman mistakes him with her husband. Chaplin plays both the Tramp and her husband. Haven't seen either film, but I really want to.

Now on Saturday, you can use The Circus as part of an unofficial double feature with one of the three Eastwood films below. Whether you want to do The Circus first or second is up to you . . .

FIREFOX- Sat July 17 at 3:20- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- A simple action/espionage tale. A forgotten hit from the summer of 1982. During the time when E.T. and Poltergeist (ok, fine, Rocky III) dominated. Leading men like Harrison Ford (Blade Runner), Al PAcino (Author! Author!), Jeff Bridges (Tron), Kurt Russell (The Thing), Steve Martin (Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid) and Robin Williams (Garp) couldn't draw an audience, yet Clint did with Firefox. But if you don't know this film, don't feel bad. History kind of made Firefox's story obsolete or unnecessary or dated or whatever term(s) you think fits. Maybe it needed a hot chick spy with dyed red hair, now THAT'S relevant . . .

Clint plays a Vietnam vet fighter pilot, brought back by the government to get into the U.S.S.R. and steal the Commies new secret super weapon, the Firefox. A fighter jet faster than any other, where you only need to think to activate the weapons. I'm sure there's more, but who cares. Clint's never been a spy before, so he needs plenty of help from the inside people. And because he's a Vietnam vet in a movie, he must be suffering from some sort of trauma. He has flashbacks (depicted on screen), and said flashbacks always seem to happen at an inconvenient time for those trying to help Clint steal the plane.

Sorry about that, I'm just trying to get the weak or dated aspects out of the way. Director Clint runs a tight ship here. The plot moves at a respectable pace. Actor Clint, as a fish out of water, taking on them evil Ruskies, is always fun. And for a pre-Top Gun film, the aerial scenes and fight sequences work well, though they too might come off dated.

Not one of the great works of Clint's career. Just an adult spy/action film done well. With a decent supporting cast, filling the types of upbeat Americans, clueless Americans (how dare you doubt Clint?!?!?!), eccentric Brit, salt of the earth Russian, and Commie Bastard. A good film, but the weakest of the three I'm posting for Saturday. You can see this first, then go downtown to see The Circus. Unless you prefer . . .

BIRD- Sat July 17 at 6 and Mon July 19 at 1- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Might be considered the best Jazz film ever made. A definite change of pace in Clint's career, where he gets to share his love of jazz, depicting the short life of Charlie "Bird" Parker. A radical change of pace for American film goers, when it came to Eastwood directed pictures. For the few who saw it in this country that is. In Europe, Bird placed Eastwood among the leading directors in film, as Bird won at Cannes. It took Unforgiven for the U.S. to feel the same way about him.

Bird was going to be a tough sell. A two hour, forty-one minute film about one of the greatest jazz musicians, depicting his slide into alcohol and drug addiction, despite a wife who refused to leave his side no matter what, until his death at 35. This was before the Behind The Music style bio pics were in vogue, good luck selling this in 1988. Combined with the best known person involved with the film isn't on screen, and the lead wasn't box office, gulp. Clint made the film because he believed in the story, Warner Bros seems to have made the film to stay in the Clint Eastwood business. Maybe a few Oscar nominations might have helped, but only winning for Best Sound wasn't the plan I'm sure.

Speaking of sound, you get some lengthy scenes of Bird's music performed, restored back in 88 so they could sound great in Dolby Stereo. And years before Last King of Scotland earned him an Oscar, Forest Whitaker earned praise from critics for his performance in the title role. Pulling him up from a career of supporting roles (Good Morning Vietnam, Platoon, The Color of Money) to show he could carry a film in the lead, artistically at least. Forest even learned the proper breath control and finger playing to duplicate Parker's style, and the recordings did the rest. The love Bird had for his wife, family and friends are also shown , and how none of it was enough to stop him from sliding further into heroin addiction and an early grave.

So in Bird, I'm recommending a good film. Not a happy film, but a good one. If Saturday isn't doable, it plays the following Monday as well, but only in the early afternoon. On the Saturday, you can start with The Circus and then go uptown for Bird. It can also be done the other way around, though that doesn't leave a lot of time for traffic or mass transit problems. Unless you prefer to catch a different Eastwood picture . . .

HEARTBREAK RIDGE- Sat July 17 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From 1986, the last hit Clint would have until Unforgiven. Long enough to make some Hollywood types wonder if audiences were done with going to Eastwood films.
Set in 1983, Eastwood plays a Marine. A Gunnery Sergeant, Korean and Vietnam War survivor and Congressional Medal of Honor winner. He's burned many bridges with his hard drinking, take no lip from dumb superiors, ways. He's almost at retirement age, with no prospects on the horizons, and an ex-wife who doesn't want him back no matter how hard he tries. So Gunny will end his military career his way: by taking a recon platoon of the biggest screw-ups around, and mold them into hard core Marines. Now Gunny might seem a little too humane and therefore weak, when compared with Full Metal Jacket's Sgt. Hartman. But maybe that's why one character is alive in 1983 and one isn't.

Cliches are abound at times. It seems the platoon is only missing a guy named Brooklyn. The jerk of a Major has no combat experience, and wants Gunny out. His only friends seem to be his old war buddy on base, and the widow of another buddy. But Gunny has subtle shadings, and Eastwood mines them and plays them for all they're worth. The supporting cast (Marsha Mason as the ex, Mario Van Peebles, Everett McGill, Eileen Heckart) keeps things flowing, the film is quite funny at times, and the combat scenes in the film's later portion are done well. Yes, there was combat for U.S. troops back in 1983, look it up. Overall, the most fun of the 3 Eastwood films I've listed, playing on Saturday the 17th. You can do The Circus first, then go uptown for Heartbreak Ridge, unless you prefer to see The Circus on a different day altogether. It is playing for a week after all.

Let me know what you want to do, people. Later all.

* P.S., the other Western of the 4 Eastwood directed Westerns written above, The Outlaw Josey Wales, will not be on this list this month, because of bad timing for me. It kills me that I'll miss out on it, especially on the Walter Reade screen. Also, I don't consider Bronco Billy a Western. If you do, you're wrong. I was considering putting that one on the list as well, but it doesn't look likely. Go to for yourself to see when they play and see if you can catch them on your own, if you like.

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