Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June revivals: second half

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals to catch for the rest of June. A long list of films, with a larger-than-usual number of them deemed as box office flops. Some of them may surprise you. A few have gotten a second chance and became either a Classic or a Cult film. But most of them haven't received a re-evaluation, and maybe it's time to change that. Don't worry, there are a few hits sprinkled in there. Like I've written before, I don't decide what gets revived, I just sort through what I'd like to see and think I can make as of when I post the list. Speaking of the list, let's get it on:

THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST- Thurs June 16 at 7- The Theater at MAD- Museum of Arts and Design- 2 Columbus Circle- Another place for (occasional) revival screenings. The former "lollipop" building that was a place for homeless to sleep outside of (as depicted in Season 1 of The Real World but occurring way beforehand), it's been cleaned up for about 3 years, where the Museum of Arts and Design as occupied ever since. They've done occasional revival screenings there, and currently they've held a David Bowie retrospective. I'm sorry I haven't heard about this until recently, and that the only film I can post from it, is this one.

A couple of years ago, there was an online article, 9 Acts of Film Blasphemy, a compilation list kind of article written by 3 writers at A.V. 2 sentences from this article fit my thinking:

"All movies about the life of Jesus court blasphemy, since they require writers, directors, and actors to offer personal interpretations of what Christ was really like."

"It speaks to the infantile level of religious dialogue in this country that the life and death of Jesus can be fetishized (The Passion Of The Christ) and exploited (The Da Vinci Code) to mainstream riches, while a genuinely spiritual work like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ gets protested into the ground."

Ok, the second sentence is a little extreme. The biggest crime The Da Vinci Code commits is being lackluster and forcing Ian McKellan to perform exposition like he was reading the phone book. The Passion was, to me, one of the best films of 2004, but not one I've ever wanted to see from beginning to end ever again. And once I saw Ben-Hur at the Ziegfeld and saw how the crucifiction was done and thought "Oh, so that's how a talented filmmaker pulls this off", I though a little less of Mel Gibson's film. But the last half of the second sentence, regarding The Last Temptation of Christ getting protested into the ground, boy was that true.

The near round the clock protests at the Ziegfeld which was forced to end its engagement sooner than planned, its release never able to expand to about 97 screens, the attacks in France by an extreme Fundamentalist group, the refusal by Blockbuster Video have it on its shelves. Last Temptation is right there alongside Kundun; Scorsese films practically no one has seen. Instead of writing further, I'll let a brief portion of Roger Ebert's review speak for me:

To be fully man, Jesus would have had to possess all of the weakness of man, to be prey to all of the temptations--for as man, he would have possessed God's most troublesome gift, free will. As the son of God, he would of course have inspired the most desperate wiles of Satan, and this is a film about how he experienced temptation and conquered it.They (screenwriters Scorsese and Paul Schrader) have paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard.

What pray tell is wrong with that? If you choose to comment, be nice because I will delete the nasty stuff. Otherwise, come see the film:

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN- Fri June 17 at 4 for free (subject to availability)- MOMA- I posted this on the last list. Now you can see it for free, subject to ticket availability.

An art house hit from 2002. From director Alfonso Curaon. Sort of a career reboot for himself, after the English language films A Little Princess and Great Expectations drew no audiences, and before he directed the third Harry Potter film and Children of Men. Co-written with his brother Carlos, this is kind of like Summer of 1942, where two young men experience a life and sexual awakening with an older woman. Combined with aspects of the road film, but less fairy tale-like than Summer of 1942. Those who don't follow Spanish-speaking cinema may not know Maribel Verdu except for Pan's Labyrinth, but this combined with Amores Perros served as a good introduction for us to Gael Garcia Bernal. Also a good introduction for us to Diego Luna in one of his earliest adult roles, years before Milk. Both Cuaron brothers received an Oscar nomination for their Screenplay:

DIAL M FOR MURDER in 3-D- Film Forum- Fri June 17, Sat June 18 and Mon June 20- Thurs June 23 at 4:30, 7 and 9:30- In a last minute scheduling change, the Film Forum is bringing back Dial M For Murder in 3-D. It screened for 2 days and nights there last summer, and every screening was sold out. And we're talking the original 3-D method; with two projectors as it was back in the 50s, not Real 3-D like with Avatar. A Hitchcock classic, that may not have strayed all that successfully from its stage roots, but is still quite good. Ray Milland finds out his wife, Grace Kelly, is cheating on him and is getting ready to dump him. Seeing his wealthy lifestyle about to be taken away from him, he plots his wife's murder. Complications ensue, etc. . . .

Cool performances from Milland, Kelly, and character actor John Williams, reprising his Tony winning role as the dogged Chief Inspector. Talkier then usual from a Hitchcock film. I'd argue it's about as talky as Hitchcock and Kelly's other 1954 film together, Rear Window. Window had a better script, with sly insights and is a better realized film. Dial M is a more straight forward, ably executed mystery, with a great scene involving Kelly and a large shiny pair of scissors.

Now at about this time, 3-D was enjoying about the same kind of popularity it's having at the moment. You had studio heads pushing to have films made in 3-D, but unlike now, where pressure can be applied to have films that were never shot in 3-D converted (Clash of the Titans and probably its upcoming sequel, The Last Airbender, probably Thor), the pressure in the 50s had to be applied in pre-production. So while Hitch was forced to shoot it in 3-D he must have said something along the lines of "Screw them", and did as little as possible in terms of 3-D. Playing a little with perspective, a few low angles, some objects blocking some actors, not much. Hitch basically looked at 3-D as a fad, shot in 2-D and 3-D simultaneously, and just tried to make a good film, which he did. The 3-D version was released first but didn't play too long, followed by the 2-D classic version. It was re-released in 3-D in 1980 (I thought it was 81, but imdb disagrees), but in a flat version that wasn't popular, and different from how it was screened back in 1954, and different than how it will be screened in the Forum. If you want to experience what it was like to watch a 3-D film in the 50s, but with coffee brownies and air conditioning, catch Dial M. Do note that if the same print from last year is used again, there will be noticeable scratches:

BRINGING UP BABY- Fri June 17, Sat June 18, and Tues June 21- Thurs June 23 at 7:45 and 10- A new 35mm print, and a possible back-up option at the Forum in case Dial M For Murder sells out. A prime example of 1930s screwball comedy at its best. From director Howard Hawks, with Katharine Hepburn as the eccentric heiress type, and Cary Grant as the stuffed shirt type. There's a story here, but it's too light to bother going into it here. The Philadelphia Story might be the best film they ever did together, but this was Hepburn and Grant's best display of on-screen chemistry. Even though a leopard is ready to steal scenes at any given moment. A flop in its day, was placed in the National Film Registry for preservation in 1990, and is one of the films that made it to both AFI top 100 lists:

CONAN THE BARBARIAN- Fri June 17 at 10:30- 92Y Tribeca- 200 Hudson St.- One of my favorite bad films. This god awful, so full of itself, yet still fun film, made Arnold Schwarzenegger a Hollywood leading man, for better or worse. Don't blame me; I was too young to help this film be one of the top grossing films of the summer of 1982. There are so many hot chicks here, your head will spin. Sandahl Bergman is just one of them. Max Von Sydow and James Earl Jones are in full paycheck mode here. Written by Oliver Stone and director John Milius; it's amazing they ever worked again after this crap. For fans of fun junk like The Warriors, here's another one. Enjoy:

GLORIA (1980)- Fri June 17 and Sat June 18 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center Midnight series of A Girl and a Gun. Ok, it's more like woman and a gun, because I won't go around calling Sigourney Weaver, Pam Grier or Susan Sarandon as girls. Adult women, generally forced to use a gun(s), generally facing long odds. And the title character faces very long odds.

From 1980, the initial set-up (and probably this film as well) is something that had to have inspired Luc Besson when he created The Professional. But instead of the cinematic pyrotechnics we usual get from a Besson flick, we get the more grounded realism you'd expect from writer/director John Cassavetes. Buck Henry, a mob accountant planning on going to the FBI with his books, is slaughtered alongside most of his family, by men under mob orders. But I said most of his family, because Dad helps his 6 year old son escape, to their only friend, their neighbor Gloria. She's an aging gun moll who doesn't like kids, and especially doesn't like this orphan, who doesn't care much for her either. But they need each other, because the kid has his dad's evidence on some mobsters, she knows these mobsters personally (and some intimately), and they're soon on her trail. So Gloria can't be blamed if she ends up taking a shoot first, ask questions later approach. It doesn't help that the police think Gloria's kidnapped the boy, so they're after her as well.

A bit on the melodramatic side, but I don't mind some melodrama excess, as long as I enjoyed the ride. And compared to the hideous Sharon Stone remake from 1999, this is a classic. A pretty good NYC film, with Gloria's confrontation with some hoods on a crowded subway possibly the highlight for me. And if gets a little much, Gena Rowlands' Oscar nominated performance is the glue that holds things together. And a nice change of pace from your typical Midnight movie:

THE LITTLE PRINCE- Sat June 18 at 4- Anthology Film Archives- Part of a series of Movie Musicals from 1970s and early 1980s, that tried to do something special in the genre, and was rejected by audiences. Maybe they were accepted later on with a cult following of some sort or have enjoyed some positive critical re-evaluation. Better than calling this retrospective Musical Flops from the 70s, which is why Grease, Cabaret, and All That Jazz are not in this retro, but The Little Prince is.

From 1974, Stanley Donen's adaptation of the classic children's story, about a pilot who crashes on to a distant planet, and meets the title character, a young man who is brought back to Earth and learns about the importance of life. With music and lyrics from Lerner and Loewe, who received multiple Oscar nominations for their work. With Richard Keily as the pilot, and musical performances from Gene Wilder and Donna McKechnie. Almost with a musical performance, and possibly the only reason why the film seems to be remembered at all, is Bob Fosse, dancing for the final time, performing the Snake Dance. He wanted to do some work that his young daughter could see him in, so he agreed to do his dance in the desert. With moves that it seemed would be later copied by Michael Jackson circa Thriller:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN- Mon June 20 at 6:45, Thurs June 23 at 9:30 and Sun June 26 at 8:30- Anthology Film Archives- 32 Second Ave, just off of E. 2nd St.- Another of Anthology Film Archives' series of 1970s/80s Musicals that failed to draw an audience. From 1981, from director Herbert Ross (The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl) and acclaimed British writer Dennis Potter, who successfully adapted his highly praised BBC mini-series to the big screen. The last of the MGM musicals and a kick in the teeth to those musicals that offer too fantastical a release from reality, especially the Fred and Ginger and Busby Berkeley kind of musicals.

Steve Martin, in his first dramatic role, is a struggling song sheet salesman during the Depression, trapped in a loveless marriage. He'd like to live the happy life depicted in the songs of the day, but to no avail. He escapes from his depressing circumstances, by escaping into his fantasies and indulging in whatever immediate pleasures he can get. That includes having an affair with a schoolteacher (Bernadette Peters), and trying to start his own business with no money or support. This won't end well . . .

Critics at the time were not praising this to the hilt, Pauline Kael not withstanding. Even critics who liked portions of it, like a Vincent Camby or Roger Ebert, were vocal about its problems, like its grimness and chilliness. But since then, we've been able to accept the darkness in something like Chicago, so maybe Pennies From Heaven was just ahead of its time. Fred Astaire, who couldn't stop one of his scenes from being used in the picture which led to Martin and Peters then performing said number, felt the 1930s was an innocent time, and that the film was vulgar and cruel. Since Pennies From Heaven took the position that his kind of films widened the chasm between fantasy and reality in an era where poverty crushed many. Astaire himself created the dances that were among the most popular of said destructive fantasies, so Fred must have taken it real personal. As for the audiences, who were faced with upbeat advertising and critics saying something and had the option of On Golden Pond or Raiders of the Lost Ark (still playing even at that point), they stayed away from Pennies From Heaven in droves.

3 Oscar nominations, including Potter for Screenplay and Costume Design for Bob Mackie. Much praise for Gordon Willis color and B/W Cinematography, as well for the lead performances by Peters and Martin. Now Steve may not have been a dancer on the level of Vernel Bagneris performing to the title song, or to Christopher Walken's showstopping Let's Misbehave. But unlike Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Steve Martin actually danced, and did quite well. This film screams for re-evaluation:

NEW YORK, NEW YORK- Tues June 21 at 6:30- Anthology Film Archives- A Martin Scorsese musical that failed with some of the same critics that praised Taxi Driver to the hilt; up against Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit, The Deep and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, it was DOA at the box office. It has since gained respect in the intervening years, though the amount of respect is arguable.
Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), an aspiring saxophonist meets and is at first rejected by singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli). They continue to bump into each other, a friendship blossoms, followed by romance, and then marriage. All the while, both musicians struggle to succeed at their craft, which begins to put an unbearable strain on their relationship. Eventually, this weight becomes too heavy to handle. Scorsese's love for this era of music - as well as cinema - is overflowing throughout the picture. Most striking is the brutally realistic depiction of a disintegrating marriage, filmed in a series of long, tense takes. 
Critics were literally split, between Wow, Ugh or some great moments and some crap moments. No legion of great reviews, the musical being no longer a popular genre, and going up against Star Wars as it began to expand widely, killed New York New York. Whether you deem this as underrated gem or as noble failure, you can decide now. Screened in its original 2 hr 35min cut, as opposed to its 1981 re-release cut with 8 additional minutes or its radically recut 2 hr 15 min version. Decide for yourself:

MOMMIE DEAREST- Thurs June 23 at 8- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A special screening of the cult classic from 1981, in time for Gay Pride Week. This film has been given the MST3K treatment every so often, and June 23 will be the 10th anniversary of Chelsea Classics, so funwill be had I'm sure.

Adapted from the payback novel by Joan Crawford's adopted daughter, this is how Crawford will be thought of forever more. Even though the accuracy of the tale gets questioned more and more as the years pass. That doesn't make this a good film. But it also doesn't mean it's not fun to watch. I don't know if this was supposed to be serious or camp, and I'm not sure if everyone else involved knew what tone to take either. It seems Paramount advertised it as a serious film, though it was released in September so that it couldn't be confused as an Oscar contender (totally a guess on my part). But back in Sept-Oct 1981, when the wire hanger scene came up, a pop culture moment was born. And you can watch Faye Dunaway's A list film career end, though who thought it was a good idea to have Diana Scarwid start playing adult Christina Crawford at age 13?!?!? No wonder she went from an Oscar nominee to a Razzie award winner in about one year's time. If you want to enjoy yourself, catch this campy crappy fun film. And don't forget the wire hangers:

THE SHOUT- Fri June 24 at 7 for free (subject to availability)- AMMI in Astoria- Part of the Jerzy Skolimowski retrospective. He has acted a few times, including the role of a KGB man in White Nights, and as Naomi Watts' father in Eastern Promises. But he's best known as a writer/director. Has alternated between films spoken in his native Polish, and English language pictures. Has also alternated between a few big budget projects, and films that are more art house fare. One of Skolimowsi's art house films is posted next as part of a double feature, The Shout would be considered as one of his big budget efforts.

Alan Bates is a mysterious man, who slowly but surely, bullies his way into the life of a sound engineer, played by John Hurt. The stranger wants the man's wife (Susannah York) and his lifestyle, and has a weapon to keep it. A shout the stranger claims he learned from Aborigines. A shout that could kill a person. And Bates' character seems crazy enough to do it.

Not a box office hit but with good reviews, and the respect for The Shout has grown over the years. If you've seen Roman Polanski's The Tenant, figure The Shout is in similar territory. I have to figure M. Night was inspired by this picture. His pictures and The Shout seem similar, except for the heavy use of scores by M. Night, and the weak quality of M. Night's screenplays from Signs on. With Tim Curry and Jim Broadbent in supporting roles.

This screening is free, as part of the Museum's free Friday admissions after 3pm. Tickets for the film are available on a first come, first served basis:

SCOTT PILGRIM Vs. THE WORLD and MOONLIGHTING (1982)- Sun June 26 at 1 (Scott) and 4 (Moonlighting)- AMMI in Astoria- An offbeat double feature at AMMI. 2 different retrospectives, and you can see one from each, for one admission. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a flop from last summer, but it seems as though it didn't matter what kind of business it did. Edgar Wright's film seemed almost packaged to become a cult flick, destined to be seen over and over on DVD and cable. This film falls under the Moving Images's Great Adaptations retrospective, probably because there were enough good reviews that kept the film from disappearing too quietly. Time will tell if a Cult will actually form around this film. I still haven't seen it which is why one reason why I won't do a long post about this. That and if you're under 32 and you look at this list with any kind of regularity, you know what this film is about and you don't want me to get all snarky about this. Instead I'll spend the time bringing up the second movie, for which you'd have to be over 36 and/or British and/or Polish and/or a huge Jeremy Irons fan to have any clue what I'm talking about.

Moonlighting, from 1982, part of the Jerzy Skolimowski retrospective, made while he was in self-imposed exile in England while Poland was under martial law. Skolimowski's most successful film, both critically and commercially. Irons is the young foreman of a group of Polish workers, who have arrived illegally in London, to work on a house of a rich Polish businessman. They blow what little money they have early on the trip, so all they can really do is work in this strange land, where Irons' character is the only one who speaks English. But as it gets harder to keep the food supply for his workers running smoothly, the unthinkable happens. Martial law is imposed in Poland, where Irons worries for his wife and family back home. Trying to keep the workers satisfied, trying to keep them in the country to finish the job, trying not to let them starve, Irons' character has to resort to almost any means necessary to keep things intact. Including shoplifting for stuff, including forcing his men to work 18 hours a day, including controlling every bit of news from the outside. Any comparisons between a Communist government and the foreman's tactics are intentional, but the strain it puts on this lone (and alone) man is just as palpable.

On almost every top 10 list from major critics back in 82, and was a minor art house hit. By the early 1990s, Moonlighting seemed to have almost disappeared from the face of the Earth. It is on DVD, but good luck finding it. This film contains proof that Irons doesn't have to play a villain or some sort of sleaze in order to be really good at his craft:

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH- Tues June 28- Thurs June 30 at 7 and 9:35- A new 35mm print of the original director's cut. Nicholas Roeg's sci-fi cult classic from 1976, with David Bowie as an alien. He must get water to his dying planet or get his people off the dying planet that lacks water (I forget which, it's been a while), so he comes to Earth, poses as a human, and forms a company that serves as a multi-national front, while he builds a return ship. But he doesn't plan on dealing with falling in love or at least in lust, or the enjoyable trappings of wealth, or the U.S. government, and business greed and ruthlessness. Bowie has never been perfectly cast as he was here, with strong support from Rip Torn, Candy Clark, and Buck Henry. If you never saw it, you'll find it interesting. One of those films that doesn't spell everything out for you, so you'll actually have to think a little, God help you (Tee-Hee!). For sure, of its time. Plays through Thursday July 7th, I'll only re-post it if I haven't seen it by then:

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

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