Wednesday, September 29, 2010

October revivals:first half. Mostly heist films. Long list.

Hey, Mike here with revivals to catch for the first half of Oct. Sorry if most of them are from the Forum's Heist films retrospective. But either I wasn't happy with what theaters had, or the alternatives were as interesting. I promise there will be more of a mix for the second half of the month but for now, it's mostly heist pictures. Let's start with something from September:

BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI- Thurs Sept 30 at 7:30- Film Forum- One last day to catch the restored version of the David Lean classic. This is the one I'm catching for sure, and I hope you do to.

CHARLEY VARRICK and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (1974)- Fri Oct 1 and Sat Oct 2 at 3:30 (Varrick), 5:35 (Pelham), 7:40 (Varrick), and 9:45 (Pelham)- Film Forum- The start of the Forum's Heist retrospective. First, the original Taking of Pelham1 2 3, not to be confused with last summer's mediocre remake. I did this film before in Sept 2004, and I liked it enough that I nominated it a couple of times in a Movie Night group I was involved in. It was eventually voted for, but we never got around to seeing it. This might be their only chance to see it. For the rest of you who haven't seen it . . .

A subway car is hijacked by terrorists who go only by color names like Mr. Blue and Mr. Brown (Gee, I wonder where Tarantino got the idea for Reservoir Dogs? Oh, he was doing a homage? YEAH RIGHT!) They demand one million dollars or they will kill the hostages one per minute. From there, it becomes a mental cat and mouse game between the hijacker leader (Robert Shaw) and the Columbo-esque Police Lt. (Matthau) who just happened to be on duty at the time. Depicts a New York that was dirtier and more dangerous then most readers under 32 can remember. But it feels like NYC in every other way: from the different type of people that make up this city, to subway and traffic problems in Manhattan, to the way humor is used by New Yorkers in even the oddest or toughest moments. If you're a fan of films like Reservoir Dogs or Inside Man, this is for you.

Next, Charley Varrick, from director Don Siegel. This was his follow-up to Dirty Harry. It's probably his best film that's been seen by the fewest people; I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino was at least mildly influenced by this when conceiving Jackie Brown in terms of character development. Walter Matthau in the title role, plays a small time bank robber, who accidentally knocks over a bank that launders Mafia money. Now he has the law and the mob after him, and must use all his smarts to try to get out alive. Everyone is treated as a recognizable human being, including Matthau's crazy partner (Andrew Robinson, the killer in Dirty Harry), John Vernon's charismatic mob boss, even Joe Don Baker's genteel, psycho mob enforcer. Ok, the stuff involving Matthau and Felicia Farr (the wife of Matthau's friend, Jack Lemmon) has aged badly, but that's the only major quibble.

A major flop in the U.S. despite very good reviews, but a big hit in Europe. It's never been released on VHS, Universal cares so little about the film the DVD isn't even in Widescreen, and this has only enjoyed the rare screening on AMC and TCM. For fans of caper films and/or modern film noir, here's a treat you probably never heard of. Let's do this one. “The narrative line is clean and direct, the characterizations economical and functional and the triumph of intelligence gloriously satisfying.” – Andrew Sarris.

THE TERMINATOR- Fri Oct 1 and Sat Oct 2 at Midnight- IFC Center- I brought up the Ah-nuld/ Cameron classic back in the spring. It's back for at least one midnight screening weekend, so I dutifully post it, in case there's interest. I went over it back then, so I'll just keep on moving . . .

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW and BLUE COLLAR- Wed Oct 6 at 7:50 (Odds) and 9:40 (Blue)- Film Forum- 2 more heist films, both with a social conscience, but with elements that let the medicine go down smooth. First, Odds Against Tomorrow. A Robert Wise film from 1959, set in NYC. 3 men at the end of their ropes. Ex-cop Ed Begely Sr. seems to have planned the perfect bank robbery. But tensions in his gang, between Harry Belafonte and perennial tough guy Robert Ryan, as one of film's most believable bigots, threaten to do more damage to the gang than the cops. With Shelley Winters as Ryan's girlfriend, Gloria Grahame as their neighbor looking for a little love, and small roles by Cisely Tyson and Wayne Rogers. Written by Abraham Polonsky, forced to write under a pseudonym since he was still being blacklisted. Good use of NYC and upstate NY locations, with the earliest uses of zooming and infrared photography.

Next, Blue Collar, from 1978. Paul Schrader, essentially cashing in his golden ticket after writing Taxi Driver, by making his directorial debut here, co-writing the screenplay with his brother Leonard. Life in a Detroit auto factory isn't good for three friends: Harvey Kietel, Yaphet Kotto and, in a rare dramatic role, Richard Pryor. They decide to get even by breaking into their local union's safe. But instead of large amounts of money, they find files that link the union to the mob. Not good for them.

Shot as realistic as possible, though this time, union corruption is the target of 70s malaise and anger, as opposed to typical attacking the corrupt government or corrupt industry bosses. This combination probably meant doom at the box office, though from the early 80s on, Blue Collar has had a passionate following, by people who point at this an undiscovered treasure. Praise for the three leads, who didn't get along (Pryor was probably the one with the most, uh, anger management issues, powdered or otherwise), yet played convincing friends. And perhaps more convincing as friends who might turn on each.

THE HOT ROCK with or without THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (1967)- Thurs Oct 7 at 7:30 (Rock) and 9:30 (Crown)- Film Forum- A light hearted double feature. The second film I've caught before at the Forum, so I don't have to see it. It's the first film, that never gets a revival screening, that I'm pushing. The Hot Rock, from 1972, adapted by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy, All The President's Men, Misery) from Donald E. Westlake's novel, is a forgotten New York movie. Think of this as The Gang That Couldn't Steal Straight. Robert Redford leads a crew (including George Segal and Ron Liebman), hired by an African ambassador, to steal a large diamond from the Brooklyn Museum. But that's just the start of funny and shake your head complications that make you think either "Only in New York" or "Jeez, Clouseau had an easier time getting the Pink Panther diamond". With Zero Mostel as a shifty lawyer, and featuring a zippy score from Quincy Jones. I'm sorry, nobody says zippy anymore. Barely on DVD, though not in a slapped together condition, as Universal did to Charley Varrick. Chances are, you've never heard of this film, and now's a good time to get to know it.

Double featured with the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair. The Pierce Brosnan remake is ok at times, but is deservedly gathering dust with those who are not Mr. Skin fans, when compared with the original. Steve McQueen plays the title role, and is in ultra-cool mode. He's a bored multi-millionaire who gets his kicks from planning bank robberies. He thinks he's fighting the system, but excuse me, with his status and influence, isn't HE essentially part of the system? But Crown might meet his match in high class private eye Faye Dunaway, who isn't afraid to commit a crime or use her sexuality (but damn you if you throw it in her face). The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse game between them.

I enjoy Norman Jewison's film very much. But I'll admit to some dated moments here, though thanks to 24, the multiple pictures in picture isn't one of them anymore. Has a very 60s feel to it, especially in the Oscar nominated score, the Oscar winning "The Windmills of your Mind", and the ending. The leads help this endure. McQueen may not be the prototype for the polo playing 60s-esque Master of the Universe. But he's Steve McQueen, so he's cool. And Faye Dunway gets to be stylish, sexy, and smart as whip. Mix the 2 together in that chess seduction scene, and it becomes unforgettable. I'm confident that if you're reading this, you probably haven't seen this, unless you came with me in April 2008. And I'm just as confident you'll enjoy it. But if you only want to see The Hot Rock, I'm fine with that.

RESERVOIR DOGS- Fri Oct 8 at 5:40 and 9:20- Film Forum- As much fun as I might have been having at Mr. Tarantino's expense, if his films weren't any good, I wouldn't bother posting any. One of his other films will be on the next list, but here's Quentin's first film, Reservoir Dogs. Usually I can only find this as a midnight screening, but here's a day (and one day only), where it plays at normal times. If you look at sites like this, then you what this film, so I'm just moving on. Long list after all . . .

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and THE KILLING- Sat Oct 9 at 4:45 (Asphalt), 6:50 (Killing), and 8:20 (Asphalt) and 10:25 (Killing)- Film Forum- Two tough minded film-noirs starring Sterling Hayden. Both films feature heists gone wrong, not because of faulty planning, because of double crossing, one unexpected flaw, and saps who fall for bad dames. First, The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston's film from 1950. Tough guy Hayden is brought in by criminal mastermind Doc (Sam Jaffe, Oscar nominated), to lead a gang in a jewel heist. The heist is intricately plotted, elaborately filmed, but things slowly fall apart. Jean Hagen is the femme fatale that causes problems, and Marilyn Monroe has a small role.

With other directors, The Asphalt Jungle would be considered one of the landmarks of their career. But in the case of Huston's (Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, African Queen), it could probably be considered second tier. But oh what glorious second tier. Oscar nominations not just for Jaffe for Supporting Actor, but also for Huston for Director and Screenplay (with Ben Maddow) and for B and W Cinematography. I've only see this film in piecemeal, never in one shot. I'd love to change that now.

Next, The Killing, the first Stanley Kubrick film of note. From 1956, Hayden stars as the leader of a criminal group, brought together to rob a race track. The classic film noir notes are touched on: the likable anti-hero leader, the dumb loser jerked around by the femme fatale, the eccentrics in the gang, the precision of the plan, and the twist of fate that causes things to fall apart. Cited by Premiere, formerly remembered as a quality movie magazine back in the 90s and barely hanging in there as a website, having one of the best endings in movie history. And for those who can't tolerate Kubrick or can't stand the time, it's only 85 minutes, so you'll get out at a decent time.

I've never done a screening of Asphalt Jungle before, I've done The Killing twice. I don't have to catch them both,but I wouldn't mind.

THIEF- Thurs Oct 14 at 3:30 and 8:30- Film Forum- Michael Mann's first time directing a theatrical film might be considered as an example of style over substance, but oh what glorious style. One of United Artists' last flops, from 1981, it tells a familiar story. James Caan is a top safe cracker who agrees to do one last job for a crime boss who'll let him retire afterwards, or will he? He wants to make (or steal) enough money so he can retire and raise a family. All the obsession he brings to his profession, he transfers to pursing his dream, ignoring his own instincts. He'll pay for that.

If this had come out 3-5 years later, when Michael Mann's style was firmly established in the hit series Miami Vice, it might have been more successful. The energized cinematography, slick editing, electric rock score, it's all there. Plus, a strong centerpiece performance from Caan as the tough as nails thief; anxious to have something resembling a normal life, and unsure if he can get it, or keep it. Not the best film on this list, but look at as a Mann template coming into place, as it tells a familiar story told in an interesting way, with a great lead performance ably supported by the rest of the cast (Robert Prosky, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, William Petersen, Dennis Farina). It's only available in an out of print DVD, with little to no extras. It's rumored to be given the Criterion Collection treatment, but that can't possible come for another year or so. So this is your best chance to see this rarely screened film.

BOB LE FLAMBEUR and BAND OF OUTSIDERS- Fri Oct 15 at 7:15 (Bob) and 9:10 (Band)- Film Forum- More films from the Heist retro, both French films that, similar to Hot Rock, Pelham, Varrick and the Tarantino films, doesn't mind throwing in a bit of humor. Only these pictures got there first. First, Bob Le Flambeur, the first standout film for director Jean-Pierre Melville, that was a major influence on the French New Wave. Bob is a broken down, middle aged gangster/gambler, deep in into his current losing streak. He's known by everyone and friendly with almost all. Even with those in the police who tell him to give up planning heists. But when he hears about a casino holding the winnings for the Grand Prix, he has to plan one more heist. Some of you might be familiar with the decent 2003 remake starring Nick Nolte, The Good Thief. But it's time to know the original classic. And for people who have looked at these lists for a while, you probably heard me wax poetic about Melville (Leon Morin: Priest, Le Doulos, Le Circle Rouge which plays at the Forum on October 10, and especially Army Of Shadows). So I want to catch this, probably more than any film on this particular list.

And since I would be there anyway, I might as well catch a film released during the New Wave, Goddard's Band of Outsiders. Anna Karina talks two guys, who seem to have gained their criminal smarts strictly from watching American crime films, into robbing the villa she's staying at. The two friends try to bed the girl with as much zeal (if not more), than in the actual heist. But what happens if the people around them, start finding out about the would-be heist?

For those of you who don't know Goddard, or find him an impenetrable director to tackle without having EVER seen a film of his. Famous for scenes such as the race in the Louvre, the minute of silence where everything is quiet, and the Madison dance scene, that seems to have inspired Tarantino for the Travolta/Thurman dance scene in Pulp Fiction.
Consider Band of Outsiders a gateway film. If you have no interest in Goddard after this, then hey, at least you tried. And since we've already paid to see Bob Le Flambeur, why not stay and catch Band of Outsiders?

That's all for now. Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sept revivals: second half. Small list edition.

Hey all. Mike here, apparently late with regards to posting revivals for the rest of September. But that's only for two reasons. First, I lost the desire to try to catch On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Maybe another time, sorry Streisand fans. No, sincerely, I would consider catching it at some point, no sarcasm here. But if I don't feel any kind of burning desire, there's no point in pushing it. And second, the little Tornado/ Macroburst thingie. I'm ok, despite Time Warner Cable's insistence that I share the pain with their half-assed repair efforts. If they are not half assed, then they let the perception form as such, and that is not my problem. Seriously, I know it could have been far worse. It was a few blocks in different directions, and I know I dodged a bullet here.

But I'm just fine with the list being small: 2 AFI Top 100 films and a fun flick to catch at Midnight. Pretty respectable I think. Here we go:

DOUBLE INDEMNITY for 7.50- Thurs Sept 23 at 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A cheap screening of the Billy Wilder film noir that's on both AFI Top 100 lists. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are both cool as they plot her husband for the insurance money, but pesky investigator/moral compass Edward G. Robinson keeps getting in the way. I shouldn't be that way; if Eddie G. didn't turn in such a humane performance as basically both the audience's stand-in and the incorruptible everyman (as opposed to MacMurray's fine performance as the corrupted everyman), maybe this film would be slightly less better remembered. That last sentence probably made little grammatical sense, but I have little time, so I'm just moving on. Except that it's not like Eddie G. created the performance out of a vacuum. He did Wilder as a director, and Wilder and Raymond Chandler as screenwriters (the screenwriters detested each other. Reading a little about makes me think it was karma that Wilder had to deal with Monroe for Some Like It Hot). And let me not forget the source material: James M. Cain's novel, based on actual murder case from the 1920s.

7 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Wilder for Director, Stanwyck for Actress, and Wilder and Chandler for Screenplay. Surprisingly nothing for MacMurray or Robinson. No wins, since Going My Way was a juggernaut that year. On the short list for the best film noirs ever made. While I can't put this above Laura, which was released the same year as this, I enjoy the dance Wilder and cast do around the Production Code. And only for 7.50.

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI- Fri Sept 24, Sat Sept 25, and Tues Sept 28 - Thurs Sept 30 at 4:30 and 7:30- Film Forum- The classic David Lean film, the first of his big epics, gets a one week run at the Forum. A 4k digital restoration with 5.1 Dolby Sound that supposedly shows the picture in its original aspect ratio, unseen either on screen TV or video since its original 1957-58 release. I'm just parroting what it says on the Forum website. Those with knowledge about aspect ratios and why Bridge's was messed with so often can tell me at their leisure, I'd appreciate it in layman's terms, please.

Kwai follows the stories of two men. Alec Guinness, in his best known role before Star Wars, is Colonel Nicholson, whose British stiff upper lip demeanor is beaten out of in a Japanese POW camp. Though not really; it seems to get twisted with more than a little insanity, as he takes his Japanese commander's orders to have the prisoners build a bridge further then anyone might expect. William Holden plays a cynical American, who recovers from his physical wounds from the camp in a hospital, and his psychic wounds by falling in love with a nurse there. But all that optimism is crushed, when Holden is forced to lead a commando group in a borderline suicide mission. To lead them back to the POW he just escaped from, and blow up any bridge that might be built nearby. Fascinating and powerful.

Oscars for Picture, Director, Guinness for Actor, Cinematography, Editing and Score. Also an Oscar for Screenplay Adaptation. But the two screenwriters, Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman, were blacklisted and credit went instead to the author of the book this was based on, Pierre Boulle, who didn't speak or write in English. It took until 1984 for the Academy to award them their Oscars. Wilson had already died and Foreman died the day after the announcement. The film is also on both AFI Top 100 lists and in my personal top 100. Only available on DVD with good sound but with a sub par picture (even on widescreen, you don't see the entire picture). Now if you prefer TV, it comes out on blu-ray on November 2, but seeing something like this on TV (no matter how large your screen is) as opposed to the big screen is, to quote Larry Miller, the difference between shooting a bullet and throwing it, and you are therefore, useless to me. Just go already.

PURPLE RAIN- Fri Sept 24 and Sat Sept 25 at Midnight for 9.99- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- The only midnight screening I had any interest in catching this month, screened at a cheaper price than at IFC Center. For the rest, I'll repost what I wrote the last time I listed it:

"Pauline Kael once said in the late 60's that the time then was ripe to create more musicals with the present (then) rock stars like Janis Joplin. That's what made the musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s successful: they were populated with the top recording artists of the day (Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Crosby et. al.). That's what the studios could do: setup a musical with one or many of today's contemporary recording artists."

I think that fits in the case of Once, where you had recording artists doing their songs. And it certainly applies to Prince with this film. Can't imagine a good actor from that period pulling off these kind of songs, no matter who wrote them. Not the greatest film ever made, and not what you call great acting by Prince. But with performances of songs like "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy" and the title track, the sleeper hit of the summer of 1984 literally rocks whenever the music comes up. Watch how Prince went from successful rock act to icon status. Granted, he would later throw it away with crap like "Under The Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge", change his name to a symbol with no real meaning, and basically become strange to the point of uninteresting. But watching and listening to him here, anything seemed possible back then. Prince did win an Oscar for music, in a category that no longer exists.

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