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.

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