Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July revivals: second half

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals to catch from now through August 1st. I haven't caught The Circus at the Forum, which launched the Charlie Chaplin retrospective. Screening times listed from the last list haven't changed, so check there if you have interest. I'm surprised the Grease Sing-Along was pulled out of NYC after Sunday. I thought business for it was ok. I heard rumors that it will open at AMC's Roosevelt Field cinema, but there's nothing listed on the AMC website. I'll keep an eye out, but if it appears there or elsewhere, I'd go, but I won't do a special posting for it. We had our chance, and it might have to wait for the next list after August 1st, if it lasts that long. Anyway, on with the list:

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY- Thurs July 22 at 12:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Clint Eastwood retro, and the best in the bunch. The epic of Leone's Man With No Name trilogy; you definitely go on a journey here, aided with Morricone's most famous score, especially the theme. Eastwood's not so nice Good, Lee Van Cleef's evil to the core Bad, and Eli Wallach's not much better Ugly, fight each other, and try to work their way around something called The Civil War, to get their hands on buried gold. Probably, the best of the Spaghetti Westerns, due in no small part to Wallach's great performance (note that I RARELY use that phrase), the cinematography and Morricone's score.

This is the Reconstructed Italian version (don't worry, the words are still spoken in English). 2 hrs. 55 min. long, including 15 restored min. that Eastwood and Wallach had to go back and re-dub a couple of years ago. The print has been cleaned up, and has a remixed 5.1 Digital Dolby sound. I've done this twice at the Forum in the past 4 years, but I need no excuse to go back, especially on the Walter Reade's larger screen. In my personal top 100.

MURDER BY DEATH for 7.50- Thurs July 22 at 7 and 9:30- Clearview Chelsea Cinema- A cheap screening of a 1976 comedy I enjoyed growing up. Just like Arsenic and Old Lace from the Memorial Day weekend list, Murder By Death was a film I watched quite a bit on CED disc. Look up CED disc on YouTube if you don't know what I'm talking about. Adding "RCA" and "Selectavision" in the search bar should help. Sorry for the digression. I'm not saying Murder By Death is a great film, but it is fun.

A spoof of famous detective books/films. Truman Capote invites a group of the most famous detectives in the world to his mansion, to solve a murder. It's a foggy, rainy journey, with traps along the way. But the detectives do arrive: a Charlie Chantype (Peter Sellers), a Sam Spade-type with his secretary (Peter Falk and Eileen Brennan), a Nick and Nora Charles-type (David Niven and Maggie Smith), a Hercule Poirot-type with his chauffeur (James Coco and James Crommwell in his film debut), and a Miss Marple-type (Elsa Lanchester). With Alec Guinness as the blind butler, and Nancy Walker as the deaf mute maid. Imagine when these two get into a discussion.

Written by Neil Simon, but don't go looking for a well mapped out mystery. That's not the goal. Simon stays loyal to the rhythm of each detective, and moves from one laugh to another. Give credit to director Robert Moore (best known as a stage director before his 1984 death), and the Art Direction people for their finely tuned indoor and outdoor sets. The cast is in tip-top shape. Amazing, considering how much time was wasted on set over who was top dog: Sellers (whose Return of the Pink Panther was an Austin Powers-sized hit) or Falk (whose Columbo was a hit as well). Throw in the rest of the cast apparently pissed at them, and the seeming stunt casting of Capote (who wasn't an actor and is only adequate at best), and I think it's a minor miracle the film came off at all.

No great piece of film work, just fun. Enjoyable enough that I can watch this either at 7 with an intro and commentary by Brini Maxwell, or the 9:30 without.

CITY LIGHTS- Fri July 23 at 8 and 9:45, Sat July 24 at 1,2:45 9:45 and Sun July 25 at 9:45- Film Forum- I had never seen more then a few clips of City Lights. Specifically, the scene where you find the Tramp sleeping in the Virgin Mary statue's arms, and the well choreographed boxing scene. I'd never seen City Lights from beginning to end, until I saw it double featured with Modern Times last May. Hearing and reading enough stuff about how great it was, and Woody Allen's fawning at how the last 30 seconds are the greatest ending ever in film (an ending Allen did an homage for his ending of Manhattan), piqued interest further. While I liked the film a lot, and laughed hard at some scenes, like his dealings with a drunken millionaire who was the Tramp's best friend (until the rich man sobered up), I came away with the feeling of eh. Good film, yes, great film, nah. Maybe the line from Pretty Woman is appropriate, that I'll like and even grow to appreciate it, but never love it. I enjoyed Monsieur Verdoux more, perhaps because I had no preconceptions going in, as opposed to City Lights. But I'm willing to try again.

STAYING ALIVE- Fri July 23 and Sat July 24 at sometime between Midnight and 12:10AM- IFC Center- The John Travolta retrospective had already begun, with Saturday Night Fever. It wasn't posted for two reasons. 1) IFC Center once again took too long to post their schedule (though kudos for already posting their other midnight movies for the next few weeks). 2) If I didn't go to Saturday Night Fever two Labor Day weekends ago where there were normal times, 12:05 AM this particular weekend wasn't going to cut it. But for something this craptastic, I have to post it.

Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, might have been successful back in the summer of 1983, but bad enough to put John on the downward career spiral that only talking baby movies can save someone from. Travolta returns as Tony Manero, this time directed by Sly Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Tony tries to make it as a dancer. His Broadway debut could be marred by being torn between wanting to be either with his good girlfriend, or the bitchy leading lady who could make or break his career.

Now this film is fun. And I mean fun in terms of being god awful. Most of the connections between Tony and his family/friends in Brooklyn, the heart of Fever, were either cut out or dropped at the last minute. You mean to tell me if all his family and most of his friends are alive, well, and like Tony, that only Tony's mom would come to attend his Broadway debut? By herself, on a cold winter's night, from Brooklyn to mid town, while Times Square and the subways were still shit holes at night back then? Most of the acting is lousy, the dialogue is even worse most of the time. And the Broadway show, Satan's Alley, you will either laugh or pick your jaw off the floor. Either way, your mouth will be open. And as for the music, as much as I enjoy the cheesy 80s fun of "Far From Over", Frank Stallone's music (yes, brother of Sly), is a poor substitute for the Bee Gees. And when Staying Alive is used at the very end, just like it was at the start of Fever, you'll truly wish the Bee Gees were used throughout. If you're into bad films, bon apatit or however you spell it.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK- Sat July 24 at 5 for 5 dollars- Any of you ever hear of Indiana Jones? Ever see Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen? If you did, it might have been at a revival screening, usually at midnight. But for some of you, wasn't it in 1981? Maybe 1982, when it received 8 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Director and won 5? Maybe 1983 during it's spring re-release? If the answer was yes to any of these questions, then you probably paid only 5 dollars at most to see it. And that's how much you'll pay if you see it's only screening for a while: 5 dollars for adults and kids alike. It's not the Ziegfeld or even the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. But for this Spielberg-Ford-Lucas classic, the Leonard Nimoy Thalia will do. On both AFI Top 100 lists and in my personal top 35. If you're ambitious, we can do a double feature of this, followed by City Lights. It leaves little time for dinner, but think about it.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL- for free- Bryant Park- Park opens at 5pm, film starts at sundown- Mon July 26- A film, unlike say, The China Syndrome playing this month, should play just fine with the Bryant Park crowd. A lot of fun on a warm summer night, without the pesky nudity and crucifixion that keeps Life of Brian off the Bryant Park crowd. And since it's Python, if you can't hear the film from one of the many speakers, you'll probably be sitting near a fanatic who says the line, like someone singing at a concert. Whether this sounds like a blast to be around fans, or it feels like the seventh level of Hell, is up to you. I understand either way, but post it anyway in case there's interest. I would be easy to spot; I'll be the one with the killer rabbit puppet. Wait, they'll probably be at least twenty guys doing that. Never mind about that . . . .

ANIMAL CRACKERS with or without SO'S YOUR OLD MAN- Tues July 27 at 1:20 (Animal), 3:15 (Man), 4:50 (Animal), 6:50 (Man) and 8:20 (Animal)- Film Forum- Part of a series of films shot in New York in the long defunct Paramount Studios in Astoria, Queens. Most were for Paramount Pictures, some were indies. Shorts, both live action and animated, were also done there as well. The two films here were for Paramount.

The main push here is for Animal Crackers. Let me sidetrack a little. One of my favorite websites to peruse is avclub.com. One of their interesting sets of articles are called Gateway To Geekery: for those pop culture things that might seem daunting to tackle, these articles give the (possibly uninitiated) reader a brief explanation of the subject, why its popular, what are the best things to start with, and the worst thing to start with. These Gateways articles tackled subjects as varied as French New Wave, Superhero comics, P.G. Wodehouse, Cinema verite, Monty Python and Douglas Sirk. The last Gateways article, written by Leonard Pierce earlier this month, tackled the Marx Bros., and the initial Gateway into their comedy was Animal Crackers.

I wrote in the past how Marx Bros. film plots are not that important, a fact emphasized when some peon tried to cock-block me years ago at the Forum (separate story). Just enough plot to give them a reason to be around so that anarchy can reign. Groucho plays Captain Spaulding, a famous explorer who's invited to a swanky Long Island mansion, accompanied by his stenographer, Zeppo. Chico and Harpo are uninvited guests. When a painting is stolen, the brothers try to find it. Actually they don't try very hard, not when there's mischief and chaos to create.

Successful in its initial release, Animal Crackers was out of sight for decades, due to copyright disputes between Paramount and Universal, until it's acclaimed 1974 re-release. It's never been talked about in classic terms, like Duck Soup, but all Marx Brothers films with all four brothers are worth catching, and Animal Crackers is no exception.

Double featured with So's Your Old Man, a W.C. Fields silent film that gets a rare screening. It would later be remade into a talkie, You're Telling Me. But So's Your Old Man is NOT available on DVD, so like me, you probably haven't seen this. Fields is drunk constantly, tries another of his get-rich quick schemes, and it doesn't work out so well. That's all I know. Preceding the W.C. Fields film, is the animated short, Koko's Earth Control, a 1928 animated short where a clown and his dog discovers levers that control the Earth, and things get a little out of control.

If I can only see one of these, it would be Animal Crackers. But since both are short, and So's Your Old Man is never screened, I wouldn't mind seeing both. One day/night only.

MONSIEUR VERDOUX- Wed July 28 at 7:45 and 10- Film Forum- Part of the Chaplin retro. I loved it when I saw it, and if anyone hasn't seen it yet, and that's probably most of you reading this, I'd love to bring you around. Mix of drama, dark comedy, broad comedy; not bad for a serial killer film, which it basically is. But no reason to be scared, the film is discreet. As for the rest, I'll re-post what I wrote about the film back in June 2008:

a long forgotten Charlie Chaplin comedy. The blackest he ever made. No Little Tramp business here, as he plays a dapper looking man who, after the stock market crash of '29, supports his family by marrying, then killing other women. Exactly the kind of film post WW 2 film audiences were demanding to see . . . Before the film came out, Charlie had the kind of negative publicity that Britney and Lindsey would think there but for the grace of God go us, or whatever their equivalent would be. But being an actual artist with a point of view (along with a strong sexual appetite that leaned toward much younger women to put it kind), seemed to make Chaplin more of a danger. Imagine the way critics have sharpened the knives, ready to rip into M. Night's films now. Then imagine some of these critics feeling they must defend the masses against whatever political statement Chaplin would make with this film. Then consider the only media around are in newspapers, magazines and radio, thus giving these critics some more sway. Throw in other reporters more interested in asking Chaplin about allegedly sleeping with underage girls or being condemned by members of Congress then the film's content.

Monsieur Verdoux was DOA. A major financial flop that was pulled after a month or some. Not everyone hated it. The Times back then gave it a very good review. It was named Best Film by National Board of Review, and Chaplin himself received an Oscar nomination for the Screenplay. A 1964 re-release gave the film some much needed respectability and even an audience. I guess those dealing with the Cold War felt the film to be quite fresh. But except for the rare TV screen, it's been out of sight, out of mind. Now's the time for major re-evaluation.

THE GOLD RUSH and/or THE CHAPLIN REVUE- Thurs July 29 at 6:15 (Revue), 8:30 (Gold), and 10 (Revue)- Film Forum- Part of the Chaplin retro. A not so typical double feature. First, The Gold Rush, my favorite of the 20s Chaplin films. He had to bring back the Little Tramp, after his previous film, A Woman In Paris, flopped without the character. Here, the Tramp goes off to Alaska to find gold, though he might be more successful in finding love instead. That is, if the elements don't do him in, or doesn't get kicked off the boat on either end of the journey. Famous for the shoe eating scene, and the cabin teetering over the cliff sequence.

This turned out to be Chaplin's return to form, and his favorite of his films from the 20s. In 1942, Chaplin re-released the film, with newer music, added sound effects and Chaplin himself narrating, replacing title cards for audiences who no longer cared for silent films as they used to be. So you see, decades before Spielberg, Lucas, and Ridley Scott came up with director's cuts, Chaplin did it before them. This version of The Gold Rush received 2 Oscar nominations for Sound and for Score, and this is the version the Forum will screen.

Next, The Chaplin Revue. Chaplin found another way to repackage his shorts. He took three of his early silents, and wrapped them around narration, used not for the shorts, but for construction of his Studios, and rehearsals of him and his actors. The three comedies are: Shoulder Arms (1918), set a month before WW I's end where Chaplin is a Private who falls for a French nurse, A Dog's Life (1918), where the Little Tramp adopts a stray (get those tear ducts ready, but in a good way) and The Pilgrim (1923), where Chaplin is a an escaped con posing as a pastor in a Western town, with a plot not far off from the de Niro- Sean Penn remake of We're No Angels.

This would be a good double feature, though if one insists on catching only one of these, we'll see. Note that if you prefer the double feature starting at 8:30, the Chaplin Revue is almost two hours long, so we're talking until midnight on a work night. The timing I'll leave to you, unless you prefer a more modern film . . .

FOUL PLAY for 7.50- Thurs July 29 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A cheap screening of a big hit from the summer of 1978. A romantic comedy with a mixture of a Hitchcock-esque thriller thrown in. Goldie Hawn accidentally receives something from a murdered man, people try to kill her, and she can only rely on police detective Chevy Chase. They of course, fall in love.

This might come off as a Hitchcock spoof, though if anything, it goofs on the idea of the swinging singles scene of the 70s. But it's really a sweet hearted romantic comedy, with enough effective thriller elements to pose a convincing threat to our leads. And while the supporting cast (including Burgess Meredith, Billy Barty, Brain Dennehy and a put-upon Dudley Moore) is fun, if there's no chemistry between Hawn and Chase, Foul Play would be doomed. And while it might feel dated (especially with the Oscar nominated song "Ready To Take a Chance Again", sung by Barry Manilow), Hawn and Chase, combined with some zippy pacing and some enjoyable uses of San Francisco location make this light-hearted fun.

Can be seen either at 7 with commentary by Brini Maxwell, or at 9:30 without commentary. Unlike Laura or Murder By Death, Foul Play isn't some kind of sacred cow to me, so I'm up for either screening. If you prefer this over Chaplin that is. And speaking of him . . .

MODERN TIMES with Sunnyside- Fri July 30 and Sat July 31 at 2, 4:30, 7 and 9:30- Film Forum- My favorite Chaplin plays yet again, by itself, for two days. For those of you out there who've never caught this before, now would be a great time. Don't think I need to go further, because if you even glance at these lists occasionally, you know Modern Times, and you're at least aware of how great it could be. In my personal top 100.

But unlike previous screenings, Modern Times will play with another Chaplin short, Sunnyside. Instead of playing the Tramp, Chaplin plays a farmhand who loves the farmer's daughter, even though the farmer hates him. With Chaplin's first film score, and an ending that's either a dream (his character dreams of nymphs earlier on) or reality.

CARRIE- Fri July 30 and Sat July 31 at Midnight(ish?)- IFC Center- Part of IFC's John Travolta retrospective. He's barely in this, but it's a key early appearance, and Carrie plays well late at night, so why not. The Brian De Palma classic where Sissy Spacek (Oscar nominated) plays the awkward girl who goes nuts, and wont be laughed at anymore. With Travolta, Amy Irving, William Katt and Nancy Allen when they were all quite young, and Piper Laurie (also Oscar nominated) as the mother of all demented mothers. It's Brian De Palma, so we not talking subtle here. But it is among his better films. Another film of theirs, Travolta and de Palma that is, plays later in the IFC retrospective, and I'll get to it next month.

THE GREAT DICTATOR- Sun Aug 1 at 1, 3:30, 6 and 8:30 and Mon Aug 2 at 1- Film Forum- Part of the Chaplin retro. A screening of Charlie Chaplin's first talking picture. And a politically bold one for its time; a satire on Fascism and full scale attack on Hitler. Chaplin wrote, directed and starred as both the renamed Hitler and the dictator's double, who happens to be a Jewish barber. Then one day, the two are mistaken as one another. . . let the hilarity ensue. 5 Oscar nominations, including Picture, Chaplin for Actor and for the Screenplay.

Praised more for its audacity and willingness to be confrontational, years before we knew what exactly was going on with the Nazis, and it's place in history as one of the only films willing to do this back in 1940. Praised for all of this, as opposed to the quality of the film itself. So here is a chance to decide if this still holds up as entertainment, or works more as an important piece of film history and nothing more. Or both, minus the nothing more part.

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

P.S.: Oops, I just noticed I used a picture from a stage production of Animal Crackers done by Parkside Players this past May. Too late to change that now. Photo credit to Deborah Erenberg.

P.P.S.: Here's the link to the avclub article about the Marx Brothers that I was referring to earlier:


Dr. Harriet A. Fields said...

While enjoying "So's Your Old Man" the latest film of our grandfather, W.C. Fields, added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, do walk across the street to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. The W.C. Fields Exhibit now through August 21, consists of artifacts and memorabilia we, my brothers and I, inherited from our grandfather. The W.C. Fields Exhibit chronicles the world's modern entertainment heritage. For more information enjoy and share the Official W.C. Fields Web site www.wcfields.com.
Dr. Harriet A. Fields, granddaughter

mike said...

Thanks for sharing this. For the record, the Library for the Performing Arts is uptown from the Film Forum. You can take the 1 train there, and it's a quick walk. The library is next to the Metropolitan Opera House. I've enjoyed the library for quite a number of years now, and I'm glad to hear about the exhibit. Just wished I heard about the film series earlier; I would have caught The Bank Dick at least.