Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April revivals: second half

Hey, Mike here with what revivals to catch for the second half of April. I managed to catch the free screening of The Birds at Huntington Cinema Arts Centre, where Tippi Hedren did a pre-film Q and A. Barely got in. Apparently the Cinema Arts Centre had planned to make tickets available when the box office first open that day, about 8-9 1/2 hours before the scheduled time. But my guess as to why this didn't happen? Somebody at TCM told them hell no, first come first served at the line, deal with it. So of course the Arts Centre was doing something they didn't want to do and barely seemed capable of handling: having a couple of hundred draped around adjoining buildings to for a sort of frenzy just like it seems to be done in Manhattan and elsewhere. So of course the locals are pissed "This isn't Manhattan, why is this happening?" and "Why isn't my membership being recognized?", were among the comments I heard on the line. My internal responses were: "Because TCM wants it to happen" and "The screening is free to first come first served, and this isn't the Arts Centre's screening so stop whining.".

But got in I did. Ben Mankiewicz (pushing too hard to be funny), was a last minute replacement host for the (presumably) Robert Osbourne. Though you probably can't tell from my lousy pictures. Curse me for forgetting my camera, forcing me to use my cell phone camera. Among the highlights of the Hedren Q and A:

-She was a model and single mother who moved from NYC to L.A., and almost regretted the move because of no work, until Hitchcock chose her basically because of seeing her in a commercial. He gave her a contract to be in his movies, and despite having zero experience in developing a character, she got the lead role in The Birds. Hitch like the idea of helping her become a better film actor. She was a blank slate who had nothing to unlearn.

-For her last major scene, trapped in the attic with attacking birds, Hitchcock told her how it would be mechanical birds for that scene. She found out it would be real birds when an assistant director, looking down and ashamed, quickly told her what was up minutes before coming to set, and ran off. Looking at the set, it was obvious to Tippi that Hitchcock lied, there was never any intent to have mechanical birds used.

-The scene was shot for 5 days. Birds going at her, thrown at her, attached to her costume so that they could attack easily. At one point, one of them scratched her cheek and nearly took out an eye. Cary Grant, visiting the set on the third day, called her the bravest woman he ever met. In the middle of the fifth day, after a take, she stepped off the set and had a big cry. She spent the weekend in the hospital for exhaustion.

-By the end of her next film with Hitch, Marnie, Tippi had already told him she would not sleep with him. Tippi feels he got his revenge by blackballing her. Pay her money per the contract she signed when cast in The Birds, tell directors who inquire that she's not available, to the point that it became almost impossible to resume work.

-She's not bitter about the experience, or of Hitchcock. If anything, she pities Hitch, for being such a miserable man.

There's more, but I forgot some of it, and some of it I don't to write up, because I want to get on with the list at some point. There was more about her Shambala Preserve, home to a large number of big cats, but it's better to post a link of the site so that you can see for yourself. I don't think I can do justice:

Now on with the list. Here we go:

MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE and IT'S A GIFT with The Dentist - Fri April 22 and Sat April 23 at 6:15 (Trapeze), 7:40 (Gift) and 9:30 (Trapeze)- with Fields' grandchildren introducing the 7:40 screening on the 22nd- Film Forum- The start of the Forum's W.C. Fields retrospective. Now despite how I write and what I write about about films, I don't profess to know all about them. There are holes in certain eras, most or whole careers of varying actors and directors. The career of W.C. Fields is one such chasm. Million Dollar Legs and David Copperfield, that's the list for me. This is one chasm I'd like to fix, and this would be a good start. Sorry that I'm only posting what I'm pretty sure I can catch as of this writing, but those are the rules around here.

Being screened for the first two days are Man on the Flying Trapeze (where Fields has unlikeable relatives except for his daughter, and one lie/excuse piles on top of another causes problems), It's A Gift (which features the famous scene of Fields trying to save his store from a blind customer) and The Dentist (the Forum says it'll be the unedited version, whatever that means). Don't worry about this being a long night; The Dentist is a 22 minute short, and both feature films are under 75 minutes. For the 7:40 screening of Trapeze on Friday April 22nd, Fields' grandchildren, Ronald J. Fields and Dr. Harriet Fields will introduce the screening:

CLUE- Fri April 22 and Sat April 23 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- The 1985 comedy gets another midnight screening. This has a major cult following in L.A. In NYC, not so much. I don't know why I like the film so much. It has a good beginning, an extremely mixed middle and endings of varying quality. But I like it, no rational reason why. Though its cast (Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Lesley Ann Warren, Michael McKean) sure helps. From director Jonathan Lynn of future My Cousin Vinny fame:

GIORGIO MORODER'S METROPOLIS- Thurs April 28 at 7 and 9- 92ndY Tribeca- The other film from the Giorgio Moroder retrospective, and I don't think I could come up with a film that was more divided if I tried. Unless I posted a late night screening of The Room. The divide there between those who consider The Room to be an awful film, and those who consider it a highly entertaining awful film, is wide indeed.

By the mid-late 80s, there was a few versions of Fritz Lang's Metropolis out there, all around 90 minutes or so, and each missing a ton of footage. In 1984, Moroder released his own cut of Metropolis. He supposedly found footage different from the other prints, but he also trimmed existing footage from his edit to make the picture run faster. 80-something minutes in length, some shots colorized or tinted, subtitles instead of title cards, and Moroder's own music running throughout. Some of it was his own score, and some of it were songs performed by acts such as Queen, Pat Benatar, Billy Squier, Adam Ant, Loverboy and Bonnie Tyler.

Some critics like this version, Siskel and Ebert in particular. But even in his thumbs up review, Gene Siskel ripped the Moroder songs, calling the lyrics "stupid". And that, was the rallying point for those who hated this version. The best that can be said is that it introduced a generation from 1984 to about 1989 (when the last laserdisc version was released) to Fritz Lang's film. In my case it took Queen's song "Radio Ga-Ga", a top 5 hit that gave Queen American success after the Flash Gordon debacle, for me to even hear of Metropolis. The video contained clips of the Moroder cut.

The film is only officially available on VHS and laserdisc from the 80s, though you can find a bootleg of a "restored" DVD for around 11 dollars through either Ebay or Amazon. But due to laws surrounding copyright, public domain and/or perhaps pressure from Kino regarding distribution of Metropolis:The Complete Version, Moroder's cut can't get an official DVD release. The 92ndY Tribeca will give this version a rare 35mm screening. I'm not sure about it, but I'm willing to take a risk. Hope the print isn't too shoddy:

TOP GUN- Sat April 30 at 12:30 (maybe) and Mon May 2 at 7 (preferable)- AMC Empire, Loews 34th, Loews Lincoln Square, Loews Village 7, Bay Terrace in Bayside, Loews Nassau Multiplex in Levittown- plus in theaters in L.A., Miami, S.F., D.C., Pittsburgh, Columbus and elsewhere- In time for its 25th anniversary, Top Gun, like with recent screenings of Taxi Driver and Back To The Future, will have 2 screenings. And like the films I've just mentioned, it will be a digital screening with 5.1 Dolby Sound. Also like Taxi Driver and Back To The Future, it will play in select AMC theaters in New York, as well as a bunch in other cities, like L.A., Miami, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, D.C., Columbus and other cities. Check the AMC link under Top Gun listing to see if there's one near you.

Though I can't call Top Gun a great movie. I have some trouble calling it a good film. Not back in junior high, high school or early college, but now . . . . . But it is fun, and should be seen at least once. You might run far away afterwards, but see it once. You have fun action, zippy editing, a passable romance, an even better bro-mance, and lots of cool shots of F-16s flying around. It wasn't expected to be a big moneymaker for Paramount back in the summer of 1986. It needed to have major success, but it was expected to run second to say, Sylvester Stallone's Cobra. What's Cobra? EXACTLY! Top Gun dominated the 1986 box office, in perhaps the best year of box office Paramount ever had: few flops and lots of hits, including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Star Trek 4, Crocodile Dundee, Pretty In Pink, Children of a Lesser God, and Friday the 13th Part 6.

In the book The Man With The Golden Touch by Sinclair McKay, he describes the era of Top Gun as "a noisy period of yobbish right wing American swaggering". Well, it IS swaggering, it is noisy at times, and has been used a symbol of Reagan Americana that was acceptable by a mass audience. Not the whole story, but something you couldn't get away with making say, two years later. And let's face it, the story is familiar yet entertaining, and the dialogue goes back and forth from memorable, to crap, to both. And Tom Cruise's Maverick is an asshole. A swaggering asshole. But he's OUR ASSHOLE, and he helps us against them Russkie bastards! That is, if he didn't keep writing checks his body can't CASH!

Again, who cares? Cool planes, cool flying, and a good cast that includes Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer, Tom Skerritt. Michael Ironside, the bald guy from Back To The Future, Tim Robbins, Heroes' and Adrian Pasdar. But if you're like me, you'll wonder "Why is Meg Ryan in a small role, and not in Kelly McGillis' lead role?" Yes, Ryan was new, younger, and wasn't a lead in Oscar nominated films Reuben Reuben and Witness. Ryan steals the film wholesale in her few scenes, and it didn't take long to pass McGillis by.

Oh yeah, should I bring up the plot? Again, who cares?!?! Just go and have fun:

THE BANK DICK and NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK- Sat April 30th at 5:30 (Bank), 7 (Sucker) and 9:30 (Bank)- Film Forum- Part of the W.C. Fields retrospective. 2 more comedies that I'm not familiar with but would like to catch. The Bank Dick, where Fields is a drunk who accidentally stops a robbery, is made a guard at said bank AND THEN it ratchets up from there, and Never Give a Sucker An Even Break, where Fields arrives at Margaret Dumont's home (out of an airplane without a parachute!), and tries to get in with Dumont's virginal daughter. There's a lot more to both films, especially the more surreal Sucker. Both I'd rather not spoil for those who haven't seen them, let's just enjoy them:

Let me know ASAP. For those who wanted to hear specifically what Siskel and Ebert said about Moroder's version of Metropolis, as well as see a 30plus second clip of it, there's a link below for you to see that entire episode of Siskel and Ebert: At The Movies from the summer of 1984. 32 minutes in length, with a few commercials from that time. Plus a few films some of you might not have ever heard of, though I can only imagine posting The Bostonians on a future list. If it ever comes out of whatever vault its trapped in that is:

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

April revivals: first half

Hey, Mike here with a list of April revivals for the first half of the month. Like to take a little time about The Manchurian Candidate screening, sponsored by TCM on Saturday, April 2nd. Very good experience overall, with a few of my pictures included in this list. Was glad I ignored the instruction of someone who worked for the School of Visual Arts, who said to only arrive at the screening one hour before showtime. Sounded like someone who never worked attended any kind of free screening in NYC, because I got there an hour forty-five minutes beforehand, and if I arrived fifteen minutes later, I might not have gotten in at all. SVA has a nice 490 seat theater, a former twin run by Clearview Cinemas, converted to a single screen.

Started promptly at 7:30, with a very quick intro to Robert Osbourne, who took most of his solo time to publicize the TCM Classic Film Festival. That festival takes for a few days out in L.A., generally with new prints of older films, screenings of little seen or long forgotten pictures, and introductions and Q and A's with someone involved with the film, its restoration, or its history. But since it's out in L.A., I no longer care so moving on.

Moved on quickly to bringing on Angela Lansbury. A mostly standing ovation coming, big time standing ovation when she exited. This, along with quick commercials for the TCM festival and for Time-Warner Cable (turns out they co-sponsored the screening), tool up a half-hour, before the film started a little after 8. Among the highlights of Ms. Lansbury's answers, please excuse the paraphrasing:

-She did Gaslight when she was 17, her first film. Nervous and with practically no experience in front of a camera. She was brought to set on her first day by her director, George Cukor, and introduced to the actors she was working with that day, Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman among them. Lansbury noted that not only did was she treated warmly, they treated like an equal; like an actor with the talent to do a good job, and will deliver. Lansbury never forgot this treatment, bringing it to her show, "Murder, She Wrote". Every episode, whoever the guest star or two was that was key to that particular episode, Lansbury would visit them at their trailer their first day, and chat with them. Generally they were astonished a lead of their series would do such a thing, but something Lansbury felt was important to do.

-She didn't like The Manchurian Candidate remake. Felt the cast did a good job, singling out Meryl and Denzel in particular. But what was the point of this remake, as far as she was concerned, if there was no suspense whatsoever to it?

-She didn't feel there was much to her film career. Manchurian Candidate and Bedknobs & Broomsticks were the highlights of her film career as far as she was concerned. Wished she had the chance of different roles, maybe like what Lana Turner had. Lansbury had to turn to theater, in roles in Mame and Sweeney Todd, to find the level of challenge and stardom (My word) she wanted. Lansbury appreciated the comment from an audience member, that for all the hoopla about Lana Turner, that Lansbury was more famous than Turner ever was.

- Despite the roles, she has enjoyed her career, having worked "the best". Among the actors cited were Boyer, Bergman, Spencer Tracy, Kate Hepburn, and Bette Davis. She note that she worked with Davis on Death On The Nile; not much of a film, but great fun to make.

There was more, but you had to have been there. Now on with the revival list:

THE FACE OF ANOTHER- Thurs April 7 at 8:10- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's 5 Japanese Divas retrospective. 5 actresses who made a big splash mostly in the 50s and 60s, and were a big deal there for the rest of their careers. I'm not interested or have no time for most of the films there, including films by Kinuyo Tanaka, Isuzu Yamada (Throne of Blood), and Hideko Takamine. But I would to try a film from Machiko Kyo (Rashomon), one that I posted last December: The Face of Another.

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.

THE IDIOT- Fri Apr 8 at 4:30 and 7:30- Film Forum- The other film from the Forum's 5 Japanese Divas retrospective. The "diva" acknowledged here is Setsuko Hara, but the main reason I'm posting is that it's another Akira Kurosawa- Toshiro Mifune team-up. It's the only one of three Kurosawa films in this retrospective that I haven't seen, and I'd like to try it. Rashomon and Throne of Blood are the films I was referring to by the way, see them on your own.

Not that I'd expect this adaptation of the Dostoyevsky classic to be an easy hoe. This was Kurosawa's favorite book, and his loving first cut was 4 hours, 25 minutes, which he then cut to three hours for the film's premiere. When told by his studio that the film was too long by half and demanded it to be cut down, Kurosawa reportedly said "In that case, better to cut it lengthwise". Since then, The Idiot has only been seen in a 2 hour 46 minute cut which is what will be screened at the Forum. This should be a challenge, and possibly a fragmentary challenge, but hopefully an interesting challenge:

HOOP DREAMS- Sat April 9 at 12:30- AMMI in Astoria- 36-01 35th Ave.- Part of the Museum's sports documentary series, and almost inarguably, the best of the bunch. For almost 3 hours and over the course of about 5 years, director Steve James covered 2 the lives of 2 teenagers, Arthur Agee and William Gates. They have basketball skills that could get them out of the inner city. But this ain't Rocky, people: the road is paved with metaphorical land mines, and questions about the kids troubles, the unfairness of their varying situations, and their own immaturity, are not unfair to ask. But they are not Supermen, just kids trying.

I don't want to say this launched a love affair or newfound respect for documentaries. But Hoop Dreams is one of the landmarks of the genre, almost doing in its way, what Pulp Fiction did that same year for crime films (and films in general). Oscar nominated, but for its Editing, NOT for Best Documentary. I won't even bother to mention what was nominated instead. Worthy subjects, but not worthy films. A great chance to catch Hoop Dreams in the early afternoon, and check out the Museum of the Moving Image in the late afternoon:

THE BIRDS- Wed April 13 at 7:30- introduced by Robert Osbourne, with a pre-film Q and A with Tippi Hedren by Osbourne- Huntington Arts Center- 423 Park Avenue in Huntington- A free screening of the Hitchcock classic. sponsored by TCM. The last standout film in Hitch's career, though I feel Frenzy is underrated. The Oscar nominated Visual Effects may not hold up, but the decreasing family security and the increasing claustrophobic attacks (even in the great outdoors!), still make this film interesting and watchable. And like the recent screening for The Manchurian Candidate, there will be a pre-film Q and A, this one from the film's star, Tippi Hedren.

Click the link I leave under this paragraph, find the button to click for tickets. It will lead you to a pdf you can save for printing/copying purposes. One major difference in turning in your flyer for tickets. Unlike previous screenings where you stand outside for at least 90 minutes with your flyer, Huntington Cinema Arts Centre is apparently changing the unwritten policy. According to someone at the Arts Centre box office (sorry I couldn't get the guy's name), you need to turn in the flyer for tickets on April 13th as soon as you can at the box office (10AM is when its open) so the standing should be somewhat minimal. Still general admission, with probably a healthy number of seats blocked off for VIP types. So its mostly first come first served for seating purposes:

FLASHDANCE- Thurs April 14 at 7- 92ndY Tribeca- Part of a Giorgio Moroder retrospective. It's been I think, almost two decades since we heard an original Moroder film score. But if you were around for film scores and songs from the late 70s thru the mid 80s, Moroder's work in films like Scarface, Top Gun, Midnight Express and Electric Dreams made an impact. Flashdance was where Moroder's music was the most commercially successful. The film itself barely kept the musical genre alive, and its MTV style editing and music helped make it a sleeper hit of the spring of 1983, and then (because of word of mouth), one of the summer hits of that year as well.

The film is ok, but the dancing and music make it something to watch. It made Jennifer Beals a star, playing a steel worker by day, a nightclub dancer at night, as she pursues her dream of getting into ballet school. Some of that star wattage dimmed when it was revealed how many dancers (of both genders) it took to do the dancing Beals couldn't do, and the wattage dimmed even further after her weak performance in The Bride. It took years of 90s indie film work, followed by TV work on The L Word to bring respectability back. She also became a major sex symbol from this film, especially the scene where she's sitting, wearing a one shoulder-bearing sweatshirt, and nothing else.

Oscar nominations for Editing, Cinematography, and for the hit Michael Sembello song "Maniac". An Oscar for Moroder and Irene Cara for the title song "Flashdance, What A Feeling"; a big hit for weeks on end in 83. Overall, not a great film, but certainly a good looking and sounding film for sure:

THE STEPFATHER (1987)- Fri April 15 at 10- 92ndY Tribeca- A cult film from the late 80s gets a rare revival screening.Fans of Lost, especially those not active in late 80s/ early 90s stuff, were probably floored by veteran actor Terry O'Quinn as Locke. But those of us who remember Quinn from this film, were happy to see him finally get something worthy of his talent. Big gap between this film and the start of Lost.

O'Quinn plays a man who believes in the American family ideal (circa 1950s like in Leave It To Beaver), who makes himself available to single, house-owning mothers. He marries them, but the wives and the kids, all tend to have that deadly combination of being of the 1980s as opposed to the 1950s, as well being fallible human beings. But that sends O'Quinn character over the edge, slaughtering the family, wiping all trace of his previous identity, assumes a new identity, and repeats the process with a new family. And this new family in the film, where the stepdaughter sees right through him yet has no sway, and the wife while nice doesn't blindly follow her new husband, it looks like the stepfather is getting that old itch again. And keeping that axe sharp . . . .

Not a perfect film by any stretch. Most of the cast can't keep up with O'Quinn's work, a side plot involving a brother of a previous slaughtered family takes up too much screen time, and turning the stepfather into a kinda of Jason/Freddy type near the end is a major disappointment. The Stepfather has been called a satire of Reagan's America, but that doesn't work with me very well. For that kind of satire, head straight to John Carpenter's They Live and ignore the rest.

But I'll give A.V. Club Scott Tobias credit for comparing this film, and the lead character in particular, to Robert Mitchum's in Night of the Hunter, and Joseph Cotton's in Shadow of a Doubt. But give more credit to screenwriter Donald Westlake for interesting script. But without Terry O'Quinn's scary good performance, there's not a reason to pay attention to the film. It helped with word of mouth, turning the film's box office performance from flop to merely disappointing.

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?- Sat April 16 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- The big hit of the summer of 1988 where Bob Hoskins is a film-noirish gumshoe, tracking a killer while dealing with all types of people, human and animated. This Disney film is a blast on the big screen, and innovative in its time for the mixing of animation and live action. 4 Oscars, including an award for visual effects that still holds up today, and a special achievement in animation:

Let me know ASAP. Later all.