Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May revivals: Memorial Day weekend

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals to catch for the Memorial Day weekend. Normally, I only put a list together with the knowledge that's there's a better then 50/50 chance that I can make these screenings, barring those that conflict of course. But as of this writing, I still have no clue what I'll be doing for the rest of May, so I might as well post what I'm interested in, and see what happens. I'm not thrilled with the method of throw whatever on the wall and see what sticks, but I have little time to fret. We'll start with the Thursday before the weekend, a cheat but what the hell:

JESUS CHRIST: SUPERSTAR (with Q & A with Norman Jewison and Andre Previn) and/or THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (Introduced by Jewison and Robert Osbourne)- each for 9 dollars- Thurs May 26 at 6 (Superstar) or 8:45 (Russians)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Norman Jewison retrospective. Similar to Sidney Lumet in that he doesn't have a distinct visual style, but with an impressive body of work nevertheless. From time to time, this Canadian director has been curious about the state of race relations in America before during and after the Civil Rights Movement. Making films the like of In The Heat of the Night, The Landlord (which he helped make though didn't direct), A Solider's Story and The Hurricane, with Hollywood studio money makes him standout I guess.

Sorry that I won't have the time for Heat of, Moonstruck, or Fiddler on the Roof. I've previously done revival screenings of The Thomas Crown Affair and Landlord so I'm not planning on do that again right now. I also can't work up any major interest in And Justice For All and Agnes of God, not at all. But that still leaves us with some choice selections. All screenings are 9 dollars, and all of the ones I'm posting here will have either a pre-film introduction or a post film Q and A.

First, Jesus Christ Superstar. For once, it's not being relegated to Midnight, but a reasonable 6pm screening. Now, is this film an underrated gem, or noble failure? I can't help you, because despite seeing this once on Cinemax, I'm not sure. From 1973, but still with a bit of 60s glow to it, a group of hippie actors bus out to the middle of nowhere (great use of mostly Israeli locales), ready to play out the last whatever number days in the life of Jesus.

Andrew Lloyd Webber wasn't exactly pleased with the final cut, and from what I can tell, critical and audience reaction were mixed. Musical fans have been much kinder to it in later years. I guess the older people back in 73 didn't like it or refused to go, and the younger ones, as they got older and had more say in terms of media and so forth, spread the film's virtues. I wouldn't say this has a cult following, but its close. For me, it's a mixed bag. Up and down for the majority of the film, not happy with anything involving King Herrod. But they have a great Judas in Carl Anderson, and the last 20 or so minutes is a triumph of music, cinematography, performance, choreography and editing. So in the end, you'll have to decide if this is worth the risk. But if you take the risk, I'll be right there with you if you like. After the screening, director Jewison and the film's conductor Andre Previn (Oscar nominated alongside Webber for their work) will take part in a Jesus Christ Superstar Q & A.

Next, The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, a gentle, at times hysterical, satire from 1966. Most of Jewison's film work from the 1960s were comedies, and except for Send Me No Flowers (for Rock Hudson/ Doris Day fans), this is the only one worth paying attention to. A Russian Captain (Theodore Bikel) accidentally runs his submarine aground off the coast of a small New England town. Trying to avoid any possibility of World War 3, the Captain orders a small party to sneak into town to find stuff to get them free. The people they run into range from nervously helpful (Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint), to bumbling incompetent (Jonathan Winters) to blustery fear-mongering (Paul Ford). The misunderstandings start piling up and then, well, see the film yourself.

One of the few films at the time not to depict Russians as evil bad guys, and was a big hit on both sides of the Iron Curtain (when it could be show over there). Oscar nominations for Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing for Hal Ashby. Also a Best Actor nomination for Alan Arkin, as the Russian Second-in Command/ head of the Landing Party/ one of the few sane people in the whole film. It was his first major film role, and Russians' success launched his career.

This screening will be introduced by director Jewison and TCM's Robert Osbourne. I don't know if this will be a simple 5-8 minute intro/set-up of the film, or a lengthy 20-30 min Q and A, like what Osbourne did with Angela Lansbury a few weeks back for The Manchurian Candidate, but we'll see. 9 dollars for either film, 18 dollars for both:

THE CINCINNATI KID (with Q & A with Norman Jewison) and/or ROLLERBALL (1975; with Q and A with Jewison and Sony Pictures Classics President Michael Barker)-Sat May 28 at 3 (Kid) or 8:30 (Rollerball)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- More from the Norman Jewison retro. 2 films where I can, in theory, either catch 1 or both, and I have no clue which as of this writing. Rather than try to choose, I'll post both and see what happens. Both films are 9 dollars each.

First, The Cincinnati Kid, from 1965. Jewison got the chance to break away from comedy, to do this drama, which is basically a redux of The Hustler. Not on the same as the Paul Newman classic, but worth seeing. Young cocky poker player, with a slimy manager and a "good" girlfriend, tries to prove he's the best, against a legendary veteran. Instead of slimy George C. Scott, we have slimy yet complex Karl Malden. Instead of one main woman, we have two: the good girl played by Tuesday Weld, and the very naughty woman, played by Ann-Margaret. Instead of Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, we get a cool steely Edward G. Robinson. And speaking of cool, we get Steve McQueen in the lead. More than just a handsome face, he showed he had the chops to play off against actors of Robinson's and Malden's caliber. Remember folks, movie acting is always emotive.

Good sense of period (early 1930s New Orleans), tight editing from Hal Ashby, and a nice, slowly creeping claustrophobic feeling as the main game takes place. Great support from Rip Torn, Joan Blondell, Jeff Corey and Cab Calloway, and a good score from Lalo Schifrin (Dirty Harry, Mission: Impossible theme). Jewison himself will do a post-film Q and A.

Next, the original Rollerball from 1975. Another of those dystopian sci-fi films that go right along with the likes of Soylent Green, A Clockwork Orange, Brazil and Wall-E. Considered a little cheesy then and now. Ripped back then for its amount of violence. But it's doesn't feel as violent today, maybe in part because you can file this version of Rollerball alongside say, Unforgiven, under "violence with consequences". As in, there's a point to it and it isn't a cartoon, there are consequences.

James Caan basically plays a Brett Farve of the future (2018). It looks a little cheesy because of the 70s style fashion that hasn't aged, but otherwise, it doesn't feel that far off from a possible future today. Corporations run the world, nations are figureheads at best, about as powerful as the Royal Family. The violent sport of Rollerball, a cross of Roller Derby, Hockey, and WWE except with an acceptable injury/ mortality rate, is the corporate gift to the world. A way to "solve issues" between company-nations, and a sort of Circus Maximus to keep the population quiet. If the ruler of Metropolis gave the people Rollerball instead of a robot, maybe he would ran his utopia longer. No, I didn't give that last sentence much thought, why do you ask? . . . .

Caan is the best player in the game, despite being the age where most players walk away or have long been knocked out. John Houseman is his owner who tries to coax him into retirement. Because as long as Caan keeps playing, he's an individual who stands out among large sections of group think, which is intolerable. Caan's character isn't thinking that. He's not political. He thinks of himself only as a jock who likes his job, the locker room, and his lifestyle, except for the time when he had his wife taken away because some other corporate type wanted her and could just take her. But otherwise, Caan's character is ok with his life, but that's just too bad. If he won't leave on his own, then the world CEOs will have to change the rules, allowing Rollerball to become more and more brutal. Something has to give . . . .

Ok, if some people think of Rollerball has subtle as a brick, or a noble failure, I won't fight you. It has flaws. Runs too long. The Rollerball game is fairly well spelled out, but other aspects are not. Parts of the 1970s that made it into Rollerball's near-future world haven't aged well, with the computers and the sharp collars and jump suits coming immediately to mind. Though most of the performances, but Caan's in particular, are generally show don't tell, making the viewer work a little. That aspect has certainly aged well. But the story seems to have done an interesting job of predicting life today. One aspect is the idea of the history of world kept on computer, with Ralph Richardson playing a sort of History Custodian. Apparently, history is very easy to erase and change in the film, and hopefully the idea of Wikipedia controlling what history is without dissent should make you uncomfortable. And as for Rollerball's world run by corporations, are we truly that far off?

Like I said, a little heavy-handed, but the ideas last after the film ends. And if you like say, Gladiator, the actual Rollerball scenes have an effective Gladitorial feel, that becomes more effectively brutal as the film progresses. With a great centerpiece performance from Caan, we have another film in Norman Jewison's career that deserves more props than it gets. Hope you can catch it. At the screening, Jewison will discuss the film and United Artisits, the studio that made Rollerball, with Sony Pictures Classics President Michael Barker, who got his start with the studio. No idea if this conversation will be pre-film or post-film:

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS- Sat May 28 and Sun May 29 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's Girl with a Gun at Midnight series. A stretch for me in the sense that while the scene where Jodie Foster is holding then firing her gun is key, it's not like there's no film without holding a gun of some sort in order to do the job. But any excuse to screen Silence of the Lambs is fine by me.

This wasn't the first Hannibal Lecter film, but the underrated Manhunter went ignored about 4 1/2 years prior to Lambs. This, combined with the lack of box office names in Foster (despite having an Oscar to her name), Anthony Hopkins, and director Jonathan Demme, was probably why Orion Pictures made this a February dump (on Valentine's Day no less!). But great reviews, and huge word of mouth, helped give the soon-to-be bankrupt Orion one of its biggest hits and an almost instant classic. Amazing source (Thomas Harris' novel) probably helped. Oscars for Picture, Hopkins for Actor (who was thrilled he never had to work in theatre again thanks to Lecter), Foster for Actress, Demme for Director and Ted Tally's excellent script, plus nominations for Editing and Sound. On both AFI Top 100 lists.

I'm not going to break down the story of this classic in the horror and thriller genres. If you look at this list at all, then you know what Silence of The Lambs is, its virtues, and you really like it. Unless you're like this Queens girl I know who thinks Citizen Kane is overrated; oh please, snap out of it wench. I will say that you probably have seen this a ton of times on VHS, DVD, and cable, but have never seen it on the big screen. Or if you did, maybe back in 1991 or 92, or possibly a midnight screening like this one at IFC Center. Sorry to say, I never see Lambs available for viewing in a theater unless it's at Midnight. Sorry that this is the case here, but at least it's on Memorial Day weekend, so maybe getting up for work won't be a major issue:

But if you don't want to something so heavy as Midnight screening, there's always . . .

TRON- Sat May 28 and Sun May 29 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- Now here's some 80s throwback fun. A midnight screening of the 1982 Disney film that was a disappointment at the box office, but has a cult following so strong, we ended up with Tron:Legacy. This is literally the kind of film that gets screened either at 11AM or Noon for families, or Midnight, rarely any in-between. A lot of hype for the film, but the video game was/is a bigger hit. But it is fun, and for its time, it's look was a singular standout.

The story, eh, whatever. Jeff Bridges had his game designs stole, and gets sucked into whatever early-80s-form-of-the-internet world by the evil MCP (Master Control Program) He gets all Spartacus, freeing a few other programs (including the title character/program), and works on a rebellion against the MCP and his henchman (a wonderfully evil David Warner).

Oscar nominations for Costume Design and Sound, but not for Visual Effects, because the Academy said using computers to create visual effects was "cheating". I kid you not. But the look of the computer world, which was shot in black and white then colorized either via rotoscope or early photo-shopping techniques, alongside disc fights and light cycle scenes, are the most fun elements that still hold up. It's also fun to see a lot of The Dude in Jeff Bridges' character. And frankly, sometimes you don't need that much more for a Midnight movie. And because this falls on Memorial Day weekend, this too can be seen on a Sunday night as well.

A SOLIDER'S STORY introduced by Norman Jewison- Sun May 29 at 9:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The last of the Norman Jewison retro that I can make or have interest in (sorry to the merely passable And Justice For All). After Jewison was discharged from the Royal Navy post World War 2, he took a tour of the U.S. South, and witnessing segregation shook him up big time. Once his big screen directing career took off, he has tended to make films with some kind of political and/or social axe to grind. Not saying all all these films are heavy handed, but they have an emotional connection for Jewison. Remembering what he saw as a young man must have influenced his tackling A Solider's Story, adapting Charles Fuller's Pulitzer Prize winning play "A Solider's Play", to the big screen.

Howard E. Rollins plays a military lawyer, sent to investigate the murder of a black Master Sargent of an all black platoon, just outside an Army base during World War 2. He starts sifting through the obvious possibilities/suspects, like the Klan and white officers, and discovers there are plenty of suspects in the Master Sargent's own platoon. Most of the platoon was belittled and attacked, especially if they seemed overly jovial or uneducated. The lawyer must find who did, before the platoon and most of the on-base suspects, ship out to the European Theatre. And since the base is in a small Louisiana town during Segregation, there's only so far this lawyer can go, even if he is a Captain.

The filter of the procedural, gives us an interesting intro to a slice of American life and history. Even with a low budget, time and place is well captured, to the point that Herbie Hancock's electronic sounding score actually enhances, not distracts. A cast of somewhat unknowns (including Denzel Washington in his second film role) is uniformly excellent. As far as I'm concerned, A Solider's Story is the best film of 1984. I've generally taken grief for placing this ahead of say, Amadeus, This Is Spinal Tap and The Killing Fields. I'm willing to hear arguments regarding Spinal Tap, but I doubt you'll successfully convince me. You certainly won't convince with regards to Killing Fields or Amadeus, especially if you bring up Amadeus' Director's Cut. I should note that those who give me grief have never seen A Solider's Story, and now would be a good time to change at least that status.

3 Oscar nominations. For Best Picture, for Charles Fuller's Adaptation of his play, and, the element that gives the film its charge, Adolph Caesar for Supporting Actor. His performance as the murder victim shown in flashbacks; of a bitter, angry Sargent who hates Blacks who drag down his race. Who makes it his mission in life to weed through the weak puddinheads. A man who hates most country Blacks, probably hates the world around him, and possibly hates himself most of all. This multi faceted performance energizes A Solider's Story, and the highlight of the veteran actor's career. It was a shame that Mr. Caesar died of a heart attack, only about 2 years after his nomination.

Jewison himself, nominated as a producer for Best Picture but NOT for Best Director (Woody Allen for Broadway Danny Rose was nominated ahead of him) will introduce the screening. Due to the late time, there will be no post-film Q and A:

THE GENERAL with The Blacksmith- Mon May 30 at 7:30- Film Forum- Part of the Buster Keaton retrospective, only on Monday nights. It's a little annoying that this is on Memorial Day evening, but the film is too good to ignore, even if I'm not sure yet if I can make this at all.

A Buster Keaton comedy classic, though I would argue that it's more an action film classic. He plays a train engineer who is better at showing affection to his locomotive, The General, than to his girlfriend. But the Civil War breaks out, and all the men in her family enlist and are accepted as soldiers in the Confederacy. Keaton tries, but his engineer job makes him more valuable there than as a solider. But the girlfriend thinks he skipped out on enlisting and brands him a coward.

Some time later, they meet again. Somehow, she ends up on his train when it's hijacked by Union spies. Keaton must now to go to great lengths to save his train (and oh yeah, his ex) from the North, then get back to the nearest Confederate general with his train (and oh yeah, his ex) to warn him of a surprise Union attack. Rooting for the Confederates is not as hard as you might think, this isn't Birth of a Nation folks. It's an action comedy. And there are some good comedy set pieces, such as Keaton in the enlistment office. But it works best as an action film. Wonderful scenes shot in the Northwest; the only place where Civil War style trains and tracks were still in use. Wonderful stunt work from co-director/lead Keaton. Chaplin's films may be best remembered, but he couldn't do that kind of stunt work on a moving train. Deservedly a classic. And we get live piano accompaniment as well, as opposed to the canned electronic score that doesn't sound great when TCM plays the film.

Playing before it is the short The Blacksmith, where Keaton plays a blacksmith . . . . yeah I got nothing, sorry:

Let me know if there's interest. Later all, and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

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