Saturday, July 30, 2011

August revivals: first third



















Hey, all. Mike here with what to catch for the the first few days of August. Normally I cut the month up in half. But the amount of possible screenings to catch, and the coming of the U.S. Open, both the qualifiers/practices as well as the Open itself, means I'll have to post a little differently. The first third of August goes up now, and I'll figure out the rest as we go along. Here we go, starting with a couple of reminders for late July:



THE PUBLIC ENEMY and BLONDE CRAZY- Sat July 30 at 6:25 (Blonde), 8 (Enemy), and 9:40 (Blonde)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's Pre-Code retrospective. Remember what I brought up the Production Code with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Pawnbroker? Well, the Forum is doing a retrospective of films that pushed barriers in terms of sex (hints of it in any case) and violence, forcing Hollywood studios to essentially self regulate(censor), so that local state and federal governments didn't do that for them. There is plenty more about this, and I'll let you look it at your leisure. But I will say that at this point in film history, with a Depression going on, studios needed all the income they could get. And while there was a Production code when these two films were released, they was no way to enforce them.

A James Cagney-Joan Blondell double feature from 1931. First, The Public Enemy, starring a charismatic, tough, fast talking Cagney, in a role that made him a star forever. He moves up the ranks, from a punk in the Chicago slums, to a quick tempered gangster with Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke and Blondell around him. He also has a good guy brother who wants no part of the criminal life. But this makes the brother vulnerable to attack, and Cagney's character will seek vengeance. Features the famous scene where Mae Clarke's face met Cagney's grapefruit with force. An Oscar nomination for its story.

Next, Blonde Crazy, which is much lighter fare, akin to The Sting. I saw this last year, and Blonde Crazy was a very pleasant surprise. A con man/person film with bits of romance and comedy thrown in, with terrific leads in Blondell and Jimmy Cagney. Both work in a hotel, see the chiselers out there in Wall Street getting away with stuff (DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?!?!?!?), so why don't they go out and get their's? As long as they stay together, they can't be beat. But they learn it's when they separate that they have trouble standing up to the big bad world out there. This one is ripe for a remake:




MUPPET HISTORY 101 and SLAP SHOT- Sun July 31 at 1 (Muppet) and 4 (Slap)- AMMI in Astoria- At 1pm is Muppet History 101, presented by Craig Sherman, the President of the Jim Henson Legacy, a non-profit organization that essentially spreads the word of Jim Henson and his work, as well as organizing exhibits at places like BAM, the Museum of TV and Radio, and I presume, this current exhibit. Among the things that will be shown in the 80 minute presentation are, according to the Museum's website, are rare or unusual commercials, TV appearances from the 60s, guest spots on the Jimmy Dean and Dick Cavett shows and, possibly the highlight of all this, the pilot for The Muppet Show. This is where they have a different backstage boss in Nigel (who would be the conductor for most of the show's run), and only cameos by Kermit and Miss Piggy (the later in a Planet of the Apes sketch).

Next, Slap Shot. Part of the Paul Newman retrospective. A minor league hockey team figuratively stinks on ice. They don't win much, they're in a working class town losing jobs hand over fist, and the team is ready to be sold. Newman, the veteran player-coach eventually sees only a couple of ways to success. Have the players think the team will stay afloat by being sold and moved to Florida, and have 3 child like brothers who had been sitting on the pine, play in games. Their violent play, bashing opposing players and refs alike, energizes the fan base and starts to actually help the team. Never mind that it no longer resembles the game of hockey or that the fans, new and longtime alike, are now interested in the violence AND ONLY the violence. If it's good enough for the Philadelphia Flyers and most of minor league hockey, it's good enough for them.

One of the few sports films where the actors (surrounded by former players), actually look like they can play. The comedy builds slowly but pays off, and the surprising number of dramatic scenes keeps the film grounded in reality. Newman, in his last team-up with director George Roy Hill, said in Time Magazine back in 1984 that this was the most fun he ever had with a film role and it shows. No Mr. Sensitive here, 70s macho sexist here, complete with hideous clothes and an almost bullet proof cockiness. Good supporting cast includes Michael Ontkean (Twin Peaks), Lindsay Crouse, Jennifer Warren, Melinda Dillion, Swoosie Kurtz, Paul Dooley and Strother Martin. But the guys who play the Hanson Brothers, Jeff and Steve Carlson and David Hanson, have been cult figures ever since:

http://www.movingimage.us/visit/calendar/2011/07/30/detail/muppet-history-101
A STAR IS BORN- Sun July 31 at 7:30- Part of the Judy Garland retrospective. A restored 35mm print in its original 3 hr, 1 min running time. Now that number is according to both Lincoln Center's filmlinc website and imdb, though Wikipedia puts up different running time. For the purposes of my convenience, I'll stick to the 3hr 1 min time. Warner Bros. executives cut out 30 minutes after the film's premiere, before it was released. Director George Cukor fought it, to no avail. Not only was a lot of A Star Is Born cut, but a musical number, Born in a Trunk was added. In 1983, a version that restored all but 5 minutes was released, but the shortened cut seemed to be what was usually screened on some stations and revival screenings. Now, before the film is released on Blu-ray in mid June, the full 1954 version will be screened for one day only, twice. May or may not be the best version of this story, but one that holds up.

Cukor's fist musical and first color film, where Judy Garland plays the unknown who becomes a star, and James Mason plays the leading man who discovers her, marries her, and falls apart due to depression and alcoholism. Bogie, Gary Cooper, Brando, Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant all turned down the role; they all apparently didn't want to be perceived as loser has-beens, though Grant was supposedly afraid of working with a probably unreliable drug addict like Garland.

Grant seemed to be right regarding the difficulties it would take to work with the actress. Illnesses both real and imaginary (or made up?), fluctuating weight and difficulties from alcoholism and drug addiction made it a problematic shoot. And that was before Warner Bros. decided that A Star is Born had to be their first CinemaScope picture, forcing Cukor to scrap everything that had been shot and do it all over again. No wonder she didn't get cast in another film until Judgement At Nuremberg.Garland (singing mostly Ira Gershwin tunes) and Mason were both Oscar nominated, as was the Art Direction, Costume Design, Music and the Gershwin- Harold Arlen song "The Man That Got Away". That song might just be the highlight of the film. This is rather a unique revival opportunity, and one I hope you take advantage of:



OUR HOSPITALITY with The Haunted House- Mon Aug 1 at 6:45- Film Forum- Part of the Buster Keaton retrospective. In this one, he plays a City Slicker type, who travels from NYC to Virginia to claim an inheritance back in 1831. Of course he was sent up North as an infant to avoid his family's Hatfield-McCoy- esque feud. The Civil War kinda feel and use of primitive trains was a precursor to Keaton's The General, and there's a famous (at least back then) waterfall rescue scene as well.

Preceded by The Haunted House. Any film where a bank teller deals with a bank robbery, counterfeiters, a "haunted House", and literally Heaven and Hell, can't be all bad:




THE BLUES BROTHERS- Mon Aug 1 at 9 and Sun Aug 7 at 4:30- Anthology Film Archives- 32 Second Ave- Part of the Anthology Archives retrospective of musicals from the 1980s. From 1980, though it has much more of a 70s vibe. The story is basic. Jake and Elwood Blues is on a Mission From God, to raise money to keep their childhood Catholic orphanage from going under due to taxes. Of course there is no respect for property, so the law is after them. It just gets worse as the boys try to get the band together, and get harassed by cops, rednecks, neo-Nazis, and Carrie Fisher as one crazed, trigger-happy, explosives-happy, flame thrower-happy, ex-fiance.

Dan Aykroyd never wrote a screenplay before, and it shows. He turned in a 324 page screenplay, and left it to director John Landis to make a film out of this mess. So there is a reason for the film being a bulky, excessive mess at times. Never mind that there's no such thing as an organized religion in this country whose school, church, ANYTHING, going into tax default. There isn't a lot for John Belushi and Aykroyd to do in terms of comedy. I think I like them here more for the good feelings going in than what they do at times. Car chases feel like a crutch at times, but luckily, some of it is really good.

But this film succeeds with its musical numbers. Dan and John get a few numbers at the end, but they/Landis/the script generously let others get their moment in the sun. James Brown with the Rev. James Cleveland Choir is the standout for me, with The Old Landmark. Aretha Franklin performing Think, Ray Charles performing Shake A Tail Feather, Cab Calloway performing Minnie The Moocher and John Lee Booker performing Boom Boom also stand out for me.

The Blues Brothers was successful at the box office, but with it's budget overruns and having to compete with The Empire Strikes Back and hits with smaller budgets (Friday the 13th, The Blue Lagoon, Airplane), the veneer of smash hit was not on this film. Plus, the critics took a giant crap on it, especially some of the New York reviewers like Janet Maslin, Rex Reed and Kathleen Carroll. Reviewers since then have become much kinder to The Blues Brothers, and the audience for has made this a cult film of sorts, thanks to massive success on cable and home video. Therefore, I expect a crowd for this:



PURPLE RAIN- Tues Aug 2 at 9 and Fri Aug 5 at 7- Anthology Film Archives- Part of the Anthology Archives retrospective of musicals from the 1980s. For the rest, I'll repost what I wrote the last time I listed it:
"Pauline Kael once said in the late 60's that the time then was ripe to create more musicals with the present (then) rock stars like Janis Joplin. That's what made the musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s successful: they were populated with the top recording artists of the day (Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Crosby et. al.). That's what the studios could do: setup a musical with one or many of today's contemporary recording artists."

I think that fits in the case of Once, where you had recording artists doing their songs. And it certainly applies to Prince with this film. Can't imagine a good actor from that period pulling off these kind of songs, no matter who wrote them. Not the greatest film ever made, and not what you call great acting by Prince. But with performances of songs like "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy" and the title track, the sleeper hit of the summer of 1984 literally rocks whenever the music comes up. Watch how Prince went from successful rock act to icon status. Granted, he would later throw it away with crap like "Under The Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge", change his name to a symbol with no real meaning, and basically become strange to the point of uninteresting. But watching and listening to him here, anything seemed possible back then. Prince did win an Oscar for music, in a category that no longer exists.



TRUE STORIES- Thurs Aug 4 at 7 and Sat Aug 6 at 9:15- Anthology Film Archives- Part of the Musicals of the 1980s retrospective. A cult film from 1986, starring and directed by Talking Heads' David Byrne, and written by Byrne, character actor Stephen Tobolowsky (Memento, Lost, Heroes, Groundhog Day), and Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart). Actual tabloid stories are combined to tell a story in a small Texas town. Interesting cast includes Byrne as narrator, John Goodman (possibly his best screen performance), Swoosie Kurtz and the late Spalding Grey. Quirky, fun film, with Byrne using his sensibilities to great effect. Imagine a happy David Lynch projected on screen. That includes a number of Talking Heads songs and stylized costumes to match. 2 opportunities to catch this:



EASTER PARADE- Fri Aug 5 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Judy Garland retrospective. Not the first time Judy and Fred Astaire ever appeared in the same film, but the only film they would ever work together in scenes. Astaire plays the professional ditched by dance partner Ann Miller. He finds a new partner in young Garland, whom he is determined to make a star by the next Easter Parade. They also fall in love, he's determined to keep it professional, Miller's character is jealous, . . . You can see the happy ending coming a mile away and so what? It's about the singing, dancing, costumes and the performers you like. The biggest hit Judy and Fred ever had. An Oscar for the music, with the classic songs, Steppin Out With My Baby and the t:itle song:

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL for free- Fri Aug 5 at sundown- the deck of the Intrepid- Pier 86- W.46th and 12th Ave.- The classic Spielberg film, on both AFI Top 100 lists and my own Top 35, gets a free screening on the deck of the Intrepid. Bring your own beach chair, your blanket, your own food, your own drinks. Leave the alcohol at home though, they won't let you in with it. At least one film at the Intrepid this summer has already been rained out, and there are no rain dates, so you have been warned. The film itself you probably know, so I'll move on:



MONSIEUR VERDOUX- Sat Aug 6 at 2- the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space- A long forgotten Charlie Chaplin comedy. No matter how many times I post it, it's still forgotten by people I know unless I get them to see it myself. Now being screened in HD, as opposed to a 35mm print.

The blackest comedy Chaplin ever made. No Little Tramp business here, as he plays a dapper looking man who, after the stock market crash of '29, supports his family by marrying, then killing other women. Exactly the kind of film post WW 2 film audiences were demanding to see . . . Before the film came out, Charlie had the kind of negative publicity that Britney and Lindsey would think there but for the grace of God go us, or whatever their equivalent would be. But being an actual artist with a point of view (along with a strong sexual appetite that leaned toward much younger women to put it kind), seemed to make Chaplin more of a danger.
Imagine the way critics have sharpened the knives, ready to rip into M. Night's films now. Then imagine some of these critics feeling they must defend the masses against whatever political statement Chaplin would make with this film. Then consider the only media around are in newspapers, magazines and radio, thus giving these critics some more sway. Throw in other reporters more interested in asking Chaplin about allegedly sleeping with underage girls or being condemned by members of Congress, than the film's content.

Monsieur Verdoux was DOA when first released. A major financial flop that was pulled after a month or some. Not everyone hated it. The Times back then gave it a very good review. It was named Best Film by National Board of Review, and Chaplin himself received an Oscar nomination for the Screenplay. A 1964 re-release gave the film some much needed respectability and even an audience. I guess those dealing with the Cold War felt the film to be quite fresh. But except for the rare TCM screening, it's been out of sight, out of mind. Now's the time for major re-evaluation:



KING KONG (1933) and TARZAN AND HIS MATE- Sat Aug 6 at 8:20 (Tarzan) and 10 (Kong)- Film Forum- Double feature from the films before the Production Code retrospective. First, the original King Kong, the one where Fay Wray screams her head off. I liked it as a kid, thanks to those endless Kong triple features WOR-TV used to do on Thanksgiving weekend. But I hadn't seen it since 1991, until a few years ago, at a midnight screening at Landmark Sunshine. There, I began to appreciate this film real fast. Moves great, thanks to not being bogged down by back story that the remakes felt were needed. And while I quite like Peter Jackson's version, and I can have some fun with the 1976 version (despite some MASSIVE problems), this is superior, if for no better reason then how Kong itself is handled. This is an ape, and no attempt is made to humanize it. It's an ape, and it doesn't have any moral issues about squashing people or flinging them like confetti, and doing this multiple times. On both AFI top 100 lists, and on my personal top 100 list as well.

Next, Tarzan and His Mate, the second Tarzan film. Tarzan deals with two men. One wants his old girlfriend Jane back, both want elephant ivory, and Tarzan isn't letting them leave with either. Or maybe without the ivory. Oh I don't care, they stay together, don't they? With an infamous nude water scene (mostly from the rear and with a double for Maureen O'Sullivan), that practically screamed (for its time) for some sort of Production Code to come into effect. Actually, the violence in the film also didn't help in regard to a Production Code either.

Anyway, King Kong is one of the best action films ever made, and I've caught it on the big screen before. But the chance to catch both films is too good to pass up. I would want to catch both, not just one:



QUADROPHENIA- Sat Aug 6 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- Here's a taste of of the kind of movie that played at Midnight, circa 1979 until around 1983 or 94. While this film is out in several DVD editions, not all are the same length and all have issues regarding image quality. So this screening may be the way to watch and hear it as it was intended. Or at least, better than any version in the U.S. that you can watch via Netflix.

From 1979, Quadrophenia isn't a musical with The Who's music, but a drama that's a throwback to Britain's Angry Young Man type of story. The kind of movie that might fit in well with a Mike Leigh drama, but which uses several songs from The Who's album of the same name, plus other music from the era to create a you-are-there kind of feeling. Set mostly in London back in 1965, we have a young man frustrated with his working class surroundings, disillusioned with his parents, stuck in a dead end job, addicted to amphetamines. He's walking around all angry, but is probably walking around with undiagnosised depression. He lives for the highs of the Mod life; partying at night, clashing with the Rockers, and trying to get lucky with the cute blonde. But all highs eventually come down, and this young man's disillusionment has just begun . . . . All scenes played for maximum realism, a more mature Midnight movie than you might expect. Featuring Who songs such as The Real Me, 5.15 and Love Reign O'er Me (all mixed differently from their original recordings), as well as period-ish songs such as James Brown's Night Train, The Chifons' He's So Fine, and The Ronnettes' Be My Baby.


THE DARK CRYSTAL and NOBODY'S FOOL and/or TWILIGHT- Sun Aug 7 at 1 (Crystal), 4 (Fool) and 7 (Twilight)- AMMI in Astoria- Another potential double or even triple feature. More of the Jim Henson series, and the end of the Paul Newman retrospective, in films written and directed by Robert Benton.

First, The Dark Crystal. If you're a fan of Lord of the Rings kind of fantasy, or a fan of 80's films, here's this effort from Jim Henson. Jim and co-director Frank Oz's (with an uncredited assist from Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz) attempt to do a Lord of The Rings-style film with the latest in animatronics technology, received only minor acclaim and decent U.S. business in the Christmas of 1982, but became one of the biggest films to ever hit Japan and France up to that point. It still has a fervent cult here. Puppetry effects at their height, with the Muppet-esque cuteness cut down very low. A children's film that, despite some lulls, keeps the adults entertained, without being cheesy or insulting to the kids.

Next, Nobody's Fool, Newman's last leading man triumph, from 1994. Newman plays a likable loser in a small Upstate New York town. He was never much to his family, but he treated friends and colleagues as they though THEY were family. Things slowly change however, when his adult son comes to town, with his own son and in need of help. Slowly, by connecting easier with his grandson then he ever did with his own son, Newman's character just might turn his life around.

There, the plot in a nutshell. But you're going into a film like this to watch a character piece, not a plot-heavy blockbuster. Good supporting cast; ranging from the known actors who were credited (Melanie Griffith and Jessica Tandy in her last role), the uncredited (Bruce Willis in his best bit of acting in the 90s), to character actors (Phillip Bosco, Josef Sommer, Pruitt Taylor Vince), to those who weren't well known yet (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Nip/Tuck's Dylan Walsh, The Shield's Catherine Dent, and Justified's Margo Martindale). But it's Newman's show all the way, carried quietly, carried abrasively, but pleasantly carried none the less. Oscar nominations for Newman for Actor, and Benton for his Screenplay.

Next, Twilight. Not the pretty sparkly vampire movie, but the 1998 film that was the last team-up of actor Newman with writer-director Benton. Now here's a film whose reception made my head shake a bit. There are people out there who complain about too many blockbuster types for teenagers, and not enough adult fare. I'm sure it's been a common cry post Star Wars or post E.T., just that in 98 you didn't have as large a World Wide Web as now. Anyway, when adult fare actually comes along, in the form of Newman's Twilight, audiences ignored it in droves. Maybe it was considered too talky. Maybe the private eye genre was considered tired and not worth the 10 dollar admission. Maybe its early March release gave it the image of a studio dump. Whatever the reason(s), this particular Twilight, a character study/modern noir, should be looked at again.

Newman plays a private eye/ ex-cop, who doesn't work anymore. He lives with the rich actors (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon) he used to do jobs for, after getting hurt doing a job for them regarding the actors' teenage daughter (Reese Witherspoon). But Newman is forced back to work delivering a package. The task begins spiraling out of control, involving the disappearance of Sarandon's first husband, and the sad realization that Newman's character may have far fewer friends then he though. Superb supporting cast, including Stockard Channing, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schriber, The West Wing's John Spencer, Justified's Margo Martindale and M. Emmet Walsh. Also good in a supporting role, is James Garner who, just like Newman's character, also wearily has had to clean up the messes of those richer and more powerful. The museum's website says Twilight is a meditation on aging and death, but that's only intermittently successful. Just enjoy the performances, they make the film.

You can all 3 films for one admission. But if you want to have the time to check out the Jim Henson exhibit, you may have to either skip Nobody's Fool, or make a beeline after the exhibit after Nobody's Fool and skip Twilight. But better, in my opinion, to skip one of the Newman flicks then to skip The Dark Crystal:





JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG- Sun Aug 7 at 2:45- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Judy Garland retrospective, and a major change of pace from either The Dark Crystal or the Newman films. The film in this retrospective with the least amount of screentime for Garland, but among the best films on her resume. A somewhat rare revival screening of the Oscar winning film, one of the better on-screen courtroom dramas. Based on one of the secondary Nuremberg trials, though somewhat fictionalized. Spencer Tracy stars in this all-star cast, as the Chief Justice in the case of four judges for passing judgements that allowed the Nazi party to flourish through the furthering of the racial purity and eugenics laws. He wants to understand how a people could allow a group like the Nazis to thrive. But he's surrounded by a people who's either looking to the future, trying not to starve in the present, or looking so far wistfully in the past that can't (won't?) acknowledge their involvement in WW 2 German history, no matter on what scale.

Big names in this cast. Burt Lancaster as one of the judges, who pre-Nazi rulings make him the most shocking of all those who sided with the party. Marlene Dietrich as a German general's widow/ friendly acquaintance to Tracy, who's the symbol of being particular about what moments in history one chooses to forget/ignore. Richard Widmark as the ultra-aggressive prosecutor. Maximilian Schell as the attacking defense attorney. And in what amounted to cameos, play witnesses called to testify, Garland in her first film after Star is Born, and in a heartbreaking turn, Montgomery Clift as a man of low IQ, who was sentenced to sterilization. All big names in the service of being part of an ensemble for the greater good, with Tracy as the central lead. Great performances from all. Plus early turns from Werner Klemperer (Hogan's Heroes) as one of the other defendants, and William Shatner as a court officer who aides Tracy.

11 Oscar nominations in total, including Picture (losing to West Side Story), Tracy for Actor, Clift for Supporting Actor, Garland for Supporting Actress, and Stanley Kramer for Director. Oscars for Schell for Actor, and Abby Mann for Screenplay, adapting his own television script. I won't categorize this as Oscar-bait, and I agree with West Side Story winning it over this, but it's well done drama. Judgement isn't screened often, so take advantage of this opportunity, people:



YOJIMBO- Sun Aug 7 at 3- the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space- W. 95th and Bway- If you don't want to do Nuremberg, you can always try the Kurosawa-Mifune classic. In my personal top 100. I've brought it up before and I'll bring it up again, since I still know too many unaware of this. The only thing I'll add is that Symphony Space is touting that the screening will be in HD, clearer than any previous 35mm prints. We'll see. Anyway, I've brought it up last time, so read the coherent paragraphs from the last post, and I'll move on . . .



SEVEN CHANCES with The Balloonatic- Mon Aug 8 at 7- Film Forum- The last of the Buster Keaton retrospective, even though the Forum just announced that every film they've screened in this retrospective will be screened in a marathon on Labor Day. But since that's when I'm at the U.S. Open, it's a conflict and therefore, something I won't post.
In Seven Chances, Keaton has the chance to save his brokerage firm by inheriting seven million dollars from his grandfather's will, but with one condition. He must be married by 7pm on his 27th birthday. Which wouldn't sound so bad if that wasn't THE VERY DAY he finds out!. The film got mixed notices on its release, but treated better as time went by. Featuring up to 500 potential brides, and a famous boulder chase climax. Don't recall how The 3 Stooges re-worked this, but better to see Seven Chances then the stillborn 1999 film The Bachelor, which did nothing but kill Chris O'Donnell's leading man film career and give Renee Zellweger employment.

Preceded by the Keaton short, The Balloonatic, where Keaton gets stuck in a hot air balloon flown out of Coney Island. Eventually it brings him to an outdoor adventure he wasn't expecting:



AIRPLANE! for free- Bryant Park- screening begins at sundown- Mon Aug 8- A free screening of Airplane at Bryant Park. Not the first film from the series, but the first one that I'm thinking will work quite well. Not all the verbal gags, but it's popular enough that you'll probably hear some of them from people around you. And the visual gags should work great.

Airplane was not a high priority for Paramount. The film's writers/directors David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, or ZAZ, only had years of doing comedy at their Kentucky Fried Theater in L.A., and one film with a very minor cult following, Kentucky Fried Movie, under their belts when tackling this. That a sitcom actor (Robert Hays) and a former model (Julie Hagerty) were making their film debuts* as Airplane's leads, and that the biggest name in the cast, Jimmie JJ Walker, has a wordless cameo, well that just lowered Airplane's profile on the Paramount lot even further. The early reviews were mixed, some were even horrible. It took almost 10 months of release, from summer of 1980 thru early 1981, but by then, it became the biggest sleeper hit from '80. And eventually, a comedy classic, with too many quotable lines and scenes to bring up here. I've taken flack for putting this in my top ten of 1980, while leaving out Ordinary People and some other films all together. It's fluffiness of style, is compensated by superior execution:



MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS or A STAR IS BORN (1954)- Tues Aug 9 at 6 (St. Louis) or 8:15 (Star)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The last of the Judy Garland retrospective that I will post. Either Meet Me or Star is Born for Tues Aug 9. The Walter Reade rarely schedule double features, and they're sure as hell won't do it now. However, the Walter Reade is selling 3 packs (my term); 1 ticket for 3 films for 21 dollars, so it's a good buy if you are catching 3 films in the series. Otherwise, you pick which one. I lean more toward Star only because I've never seen the full director's cut, but I'll see either one. That is, assuming I didn't catch this on July 31st of course.

But for now, Meet Me in St. Louis, with possibly the only happy family ever depicted on film. Second happiest if you count Leatherface's family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, we see a family enjoying their last days of togetherness, before a potential move to New York. Yes, the film is a color feast for the eye; otherwise it wouldn't be in this retrospective. But this film should be considered the best showcase of Judy Garland's talents. Is it her best performance? Probably not. That would be the next film on this list. Her most memorable performance? No, that would be Oz. But for the full package, catch Judy here. With The Maltese Falcon's Mary Astor as the loving mother, Margaret O'Brien as the scene stealing kid sister, and Leon Ames as the epitome of the loving patriarch. 4 Nominations for Meet Me: for Screenplay (based on the stories written by Sally Benson about her and her family), Score, Color Cinematography (It lost to a film about Woodrow Wilson?!?!? A film that is only seen by 10 people a year on Fox Movie Channel), and for Song (The Trolley Song- "Clang Clang Clang Went The Trolley . . .". Shot in one take!) Also featuring the holiday favorite "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".



AN UNMARRIED WOMAN- Wed Aug 10 at 7:30- 92Y Tribeca- 200 Hudson St.- Part of the Paul Mazursky retrospective. An early-ish form of the dramedy, and a very New York film as well. skyJill Clayburgh briefly reached superstar status as a woman on her own, after her picture perfect marriage is ripped apart by her husband, who dumps her for another woman. Through trial and error, she becomes something she wasn't in her marriage: comfortable with herself, her personality, her sexuality, and her independence. But when she falls hard for another man, is she willing to change again? And if she doesn't, is she willing to be alone again, temporarily or otherwise?

During that time, with the work of NOW, especially their push for the ERA Amendment, An Unmarried Woman hit the cultural zeitgeist like a ton of bricks. A woman unsure of her self, muddling through, but determined to do it, and doing it without a man swooping down to solve the problem. And with a performance from Jill Clayburgh, probably the most influential in the feminist movement, that didn't contain the past tics of Diane Keaton's Annie Hall perf, or the future tics of Julia Roberts' Eat Pray Love perf. A highly naturalistic performance, which was needed for that ending. An ending that made some happy, and made others waiting for the Prince Charming ending, quite upset.

One of the best films of 1978, with Oscar nominations for Clayburgh for Actress, and Picture and Screenplay for Mazursky. Yes, let's not forget his script and direction; Clayburgh's performance was wonderful, but it didn't come from a vacuum. Clayburgh and Mazursky won or were just nominated by almost every other award from critics, guilds, etc. Clayburgh even won Best Actress at Cannes, while Mazursky was nominated for the Palm D'or. Try not to miss this one people:




Let me know regarding interest. Later all.

*P.S. For some of you, yes, I know Julie Hagerty was in All That Jazz before Airplane. But her small role was cut out, so as far as most people are concerned, Airplane is her first film. I have enough trouble trying to keep things clear in these descriptions. Do you think I could have fit this cleanly into the Airplane pitch? Of course not . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens




I'll try to keep my thumbs-up comments (not my trademark obviously) to a minimum. Much like the advertising that has kept a good deal of what you get from this film under wraps, I'll try to do the same so that you'll go see for yourself. Better than some of the other comic book films out there. Sounds like faint praise, considering X-Men First Class (the best of the series), is the only other film that would be fun on home video/cable to see again.
A good blockbuster, but a liking of Westerns helps. Not mandatory, but very helpful. Cowboys and Aliens is a Western first and an action film a close second, with just a few touches of sci-fi. Some of you might say "there's just 1 thing I had a problem with" with the story. Shut it; you get just the info needed to let the story happen without insulting anybody's intelligence. Besides you're paying to seeing something called Cowboys and Aliens, were you expecting Allen or Malick? A summer blockbuster need not fall into these categories to be fun. Though if you don't know the actors playing any of the supporting characters, you won't care what he/she does, or what happens to them. I cared about say, Clancy Brown or Sam Rockwell or The Shield's Walton Goggins, because I remember them from other performances, they got the chance to provide just enough atmosphere and could raise their status from one-dimensional to two-dimensional. But like I wrote before, the bare minimum info about people here. Enough to have a rooting interest against an enemy that has obvious technical advantages, and just enough arrogance to underestimate what they're dealing with.
I'm grateful this isn't played for camp, and I'm grateful to director Jon Favreau maintains high-ish emotional stakes, and only indulges a few scattered moments of humor here and there. I'm also grateful that he maintain his ideal of Westerns being only only shot in film and (more important to me), he avoided shooting or converting this in 3-D. It's hard enough to maintain an Unforgiven/Searchers style of Western, with an Independence Day/ War of the Worlds of 1953 aesthetic, without the studio threat of either shooting in a style you don't want forced on you, or be involved in a crap conversion style. Thank you Mr. Favreau. Kudos as well to visual effects that blend pretty well. The CGI creatures themselves, see for yourself.
Besides, how can you not have fun with the two leads? Don't worry, the idea of Bond versus Solo/Indy goes away quickly, and we can settle down and get into who they're playing. Daniel Craig plays a character whose DNA seems to be some Magnificent Seven/ Butch and Sundance hybrid, and Harrison Ford as the sort of man who would have been a good fit in the world of Unforgiven. Both may be good men doing not so good things, but there's no point in staying the course, when they face a credible threat bigger than both of them. So just sit back and enjoy the 2 hours of moderately dark fun in an air-conditioned theater.