Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Early December Revivals

Hey, Mike here with a list of some December revivals to see. Normally, I would split the month in half. But because in large part to the Thanksgiving weekend, I'm already behind in writing time. So it's easier to split up December in thirds, and just post revivals playing in early December. Maybe I'll actually write this way for December, or maybe my next post will include all December films, and maybe go through January 2nd. We'll see. But in the meantime, here we go with the list:

ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS- Sat Nov 27 at 8 and Wed Dec 1 at 6:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of a film retrospective honoring Italian screenwriter Suso Cecchi D'amico. The only film I'm posting from this series, with her frequent collaborator, director Luchino Visconti. I'll just repost what I wrote last month, which I'm afraid is what I cut and pasted from IFC Center's website and use it to push the Walter Reade screenings. Incidentally, IFC is pushing the idea that they have the original director's cut, which is 3 minutes longer than what the Walter Reade is scheduled to screen. Not going to worry about what difference that makes now:

A chronicle of family loyalty and disintegration, it is one of the most powerful and emotionally charged movies ever made. Rosaria Parondi and her five sons journey north to Milan to seek a better life but the industrial north proves just as unforgiving as the desolate south. Simone becomes the first brother to find success – but his career as a boxer flounders when he meets Nadia, a beautiful prostitute. When Simone’s possessiveness drives Nadia away, she falls in love with his younger brother, Rocco. The lovers set in motion a shattering chain of events for which the family’s traditional values leave them unprepared. ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS is the most dramatic and spectacular film of the director’s astonishing career. Visconti’s sweeping operatic style of film making influenced the work of directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. – Milestone Films

THE GRAPES OF WRATH- Thurs Dec 3 at 7 and 9:30- Film Forum- The last day to see the new 35mm print, in time for its 70th anniversary. Recently released ex-con Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) miraculously reunites with his family. The Oklahoma land has been devastated by the Dust Bowl, Tom's immediate family was evicted from their farm, and Tom joins up with his entire family the night before they have to leave after being evicted. The family moves to California in search of work. They've been warned work is scarce, but they have no choice. They have no money, the family might not make to California intact, and the camps they visit seem bereft with corrupt sheriffs, unsanitary conditions, and/or a looming threat of violence. But the Joads keep moving forward; almost on blind faith, since there's little around them to give them hope.

We're never going to experience what the average moviegoer experienced when Grapes of Wrath first came out. That sense of You Are There, feeling the Great Depression, we can certainly empathize with. But the feelings of, My God this is how it was, or My God this is how it is, or look how far we overcome, or one thinking back on who didn't survive the ordeal. Arguably John Ford's best. If some of you prefer say one of Ford's films with John Wayne or How Green Was My Valley, I won't argue with you, but I won't agree with you either. With a performance from Fonda that elevated him from leading man to superstar, with the dye of American Icon starting to cast. Oscars for Ford for Director, and Jane Darwell for Supporting Actress as beloved Ma Joad. Nominations for Picture, Fonda for Director, Screenplay, Editing and Sound. On both AFI Top 100 lists. Hope you say yes and catch it.

LITTLE BIG MAN- Sat Dec 4 at 1:45- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The only film I'll post from the Arthur Penn retrospective, because it's the only one I have time for. A favorite "forgotten" Dustin Hoffman film from 1970. A Western Comedy-Drama that mixes Fable, History, and even a bit of political activism. Hoffman plays a 110 year old man (under impressive make-up from Dick Smith who did the makeup work on The Exorcist and The Godfather), who looks back on his life. How he went back and forth as a young boy and man, from the world of the Indians to the world of the white man in the old West. Meeting characters as varied as Wild Bill Hickok and General Custer. Maybe there's a bit of legend in his tale, but it's his tale and he's gonna tell it his way.

Terrific script and lead performance from Hoffman who is in the Guinness Book of Records for playing the largest age span of a character (17-121). With good support from, among others, Faye Dunaway (a favor after Penn's Bonnie & Clyde made her a star?), Martin Balsam and Richard Mulligan (chewing the scenery, countryside and possibly the horses, as Custer). But the supporting performance you'll probably leave the film remembering most, is Oscar-nominated Chief Dan George, as the tribal chief who adopts the orphan boy who grows up to be Hoffman. Many scenes in Little Big Man take place among the tribe, and it's probably the most humane, well rounded depiction of Native Americans ever on film. Definitely better than say, the typical John Wayne Western or even Dances With Wolves. And that humanity is important, since it needs to effect you so that the attacks by the Army. Any similarities between the Vietnam War and the Army-Indian battles are intentional, even though the scenes at times, matched up with government records of the encounters. An artistic/political decision supposedly made by Penn and screenwriter Calder Willingham (The Graduate, Paths of Glory), that didn't thrill the novelist who originally conceived Little Big Man, Thomas Berger.

Maybe Little Big Man is a little too long and meandering. But it's an interesting journey, that I prefer to think of as eccentric as opposed to weird. Essentially forgotten today, and just because it's a Western, it's ripe for re-discovery. And you can do that on Saturday, December 4th.

ANTONIO GAUDI- Sun Dec 5 at 5:45 and 9:45, and Mon Dec 6 at 1, 2:35 and 5:45- Film Forum- The earliest film I'm posting of the Toru Takemitsu retrospective. A film composer of great renown, whose score for Ran is on a shortlist of favorite film scores of mine. Incidentally, Ran will be screened at the Forum on Sunday Dec 12 and Mon Dec 13. I'm unavailable to attempt it this time, but if you've never seen it and DON'T own on Blu-ray, see it in a theater.
Antonio Gaudi, the 1984 documentary, I've never seen. Seems like a combination of Empire (Warhol's single shot film of the Empire State Building) and Koyaanisqatsi. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara shows the work of 19th Century architect Gaudi. Specifically, his buildings and a park in Barcelona. Lovingly and exactingly photographed, with composer Takemitsu taking Catalan songs from Gaudi's time, and twisting them into a score that comes off as a combo of Catalan songs and something you'd hear in Ran. I wasn't planning on posting this, but interest for this was expressed to me, so I post it, with when I can catch it.

THE FACE OF ANOTHER- Tues Dec 7 at 8:35- Film Forum- Part of the Takemitsu retro. Tatsuya Nakadai (Yojimbo, Ran) plays a businessman, with a horribly scarred and burned face. He's fitted with a lifelike mask with a different face than his original. Does his wife find him more attractive, or even realize that this is her husband and NOT a complete stranger? Is he living his life as though he has a whole new personality to go along with the new face? Does he even have the power to retain even parts of his own personality? Never seen this film, but it seems interesting.

SAMURAI REBELLION- Fri Dec 10 at 9:30- Film Forum- Part of the Takemitsu retro. Another Toshiro Mifune samurai film, but not directed by Kurosawa. Mifune is stuck with his Lordship's mistress. She falls in love with his son, and they have a child. But now his Lordship wants her back, now. Yeah, Mifune's not taking this well, and out comes the sword. Featuring another confrontation with Tatsuya Nakadai (featured earlier in this retro in The Face Of Another), who fought each other in the climaxes of Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Never seen it, but sounds interesting.

And now your choice of two comedies from the 1980s, that are playing at midnight on the same weekend:

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION- Fri Dec 10 and Sat Dec 11 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- An underrated comedy back in 1989, though it was still a hit that holiday season. The last hit film Chevy Chase had as the lead in a picture. Not the best film from the Vacation series, but a major improvement over the passable European Vacation. While it hasn't received the holiday canonization that say, A Christmas Story received, it's still appreciated around the holidays, and I'd say it's acceptable second-tier holiday fare.

I'd say the film has aged well in part because the basic story is something quite a number of families have gone through. As opposed to the other Vacation films, the Griswolds aren't leaving home. Their families are; the in-laws, elderly aunt and uncle and, to the test of Clark Griswold's decreasing patience, red neck relative from Hell, played by Randy Quaid. Adapted by John Hughes, from one of his own short stories that was published in National Lampoon, there is no shame here in sentiment. Mixed in with jokes about electrocuted cats, rabid squirrels, annoying old people and prissy yuppies who get their comeuppance of course. And credit director Jeremiah Chechik, to handle the balance of varying styles of comedy (wordy, slapstick and a little sick- not a style but get off my case) and holiday sentiment. Credit that returning actress Beverly D'Angelo apparently never gave her director until years after its success. She, according to a radio interview by Chechik, wasn't happy that a rookie director was directing her in such a big movie, and made sure she was loud enough that cast and crew knew her feelings. He paid her back, by eliminating almost all her close-ups. Take note of this; compared to the other Vacation films, D'Angelo seems barely in this at all.

Kudos also to the casting director, for filling the supporting roles with a lot of talent. Among the supporting players, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Randolph, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Brian Doyle Murray, William Hickey, and in the roles of the Griswold kids, unknown child actors Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) and Juliette Lewis (you've heard of her.). Overall, good holiday midnight fun. But if you rather see something more New York, and a lot darker, there always . . . . .

AFTER HOURS- Fri Dec 10 and Sat Dec 11 at Midnight-ish- IFC Center- Part of IFC's retrospective, where they let their staff members pick a film for Midnight. So far I've liked The Jerk and Point Blank, and have treated The Last Dragon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cruising like they have the plague. Now here's something I want to catch. A midnight (ish) screening of Martin Scorsese's sleeper hit from 1985, that seems to have been unfairly forgotten. A change of pace (a dark comedy) and a minor career comeback for Scorsese, after the his emotional breakdown after "The King of Comedy", the film being shunned at the box office despite good reviews, and the money problems that forced a major delay in "Last Temptation of Christ".
A New York City yuppie (Griffin Dunne) has a 'very strange night' when he goes out on a late-night date with a woman he just meets, which turns into a nightmare when he's trapped in an unfamiliar neighborhood (Soho) and has one mishap after another in his quest to get home. Dunne is ably supported in the comic mishaps with a strong roster of performers (Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Cheech and Chong, Linda Fiorentino, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara, Will Patton, Bronson Pinchot, etc.)

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and M (1931) and/or SUNRISE, A SONG OF TWO HUMANS- Sat Dec 11 at 1:30 (Hunter) and 5 (M) and/or 8 (Sunrise)- MOMA- A potential double or triple feature at MOMA, combining a restored film with two classic films from MOMA's German Weimar film retrospective. A triple feature might quite frankly be exhausting, but for one admission, a double or triple feature would be interesting.

First, Night of the Hunter. One of the better film noirs. Robert Mitchum's best performance as a corrupt preacher willing to kill, as he marries widow Shelley Winters to force her kids to tell him where their late father hid money from a robbery. Any comparisons to Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, where evil creeps into little America is understandable. It's easy to think of film villains like Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and Gollum, or get caught up in a newer one, like Capitán Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth. It's sometimes easy to forget the older villains. I find Mitchum's preacher more insidious than his later turn in the original Cape Fear. When I watched Do The Right Thing when it first played in theaters, I admired the Radio Raheem monologue about Love and Hate on his hands. Didn't realize it was stolen from Mitchum's character here. The moral: keep watching good films. And also, if we keep giving Spike Lee less credit, the world will be a happier place to live in. Sorry, sitting through his recent WW 2 film didn't thrill me at all.

Initial reaction from 1955 audiences made this film a huge bust. It prompted first-time director/ acting legend Charles Laughton to never direct again. A cult classic today and maybe even more than that. Selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1992. if you haven't seen it, let's do it.

Next, M. If Metropolis wasn't the big hit everywhere for director Fritz Lang, than M, Germany's first sound film, certainly did the trick. A serial killer/rapist of children strikes constantly in a German city, with few clues on how to stop him. The police and a group of mobsters/petty thieves work in different ways, to catch the killer. With an ending that not only doesn't support vigilantism, but warn of the kind of social hysteria that would allow the Nazis to flourish not too long after M's release.

Two thirds of M was shot in sound, and the rest was shot like a silent film. With parallel editing, and more fluid motion than what you might expect from a film shot that early. I do warn of a ten minute sequence of both the police and the crooks planning that feels like exposition city, and temporarily slows the film to a crawl. Still, we wouldn't be paying that much attention to M, if it wasn't for Peter Lorre's chilling, creepy, sweaty, and ultimately human portrayal of the killer.

Finally, Sunrise. A new 35mm print of F.A. Murnau's silent film classic. Might be subtle as a brick, and at times a little on the hammy side in terms of some its performances, but it's still considered a classic, despite its disappointing box office. George O'Brien plays a farmer who loves his wife. Until he goes into the city and falls for some sort of tramp. She convinces him to kill his wife. But can he?

Winners of the first Oscars for Janet Gaynor for Actress (who also won for two other films she starred in, something that would never happen again) and for Cinematography. It also won for Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production, as opposed to Best Picture as we know it, which Wings had won. The Unique and Artistic Production category was discontinued afterwards by the way. Sunrise was not on the first AFI Top 100 list, but made it to the second list. I wonder if it should be on that second list, as opposed to films I enjoyed that were dropped, like Fargo, Dr. Zhivago, The Third Man and Fantasia. I'd like to find out.

Some offbeat Japanese films, Visconti, Fonda, Scorsese, Mitchum, Lorre, one of the first winners of the Best Picture Oscar, and a Chevy Chase comedy. Can't get more eccentric than this people. Let me know if there's interest. Later all.

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