Thursday, August 11, 2011

August revivals: second half

Hey, all. Mike here with a revival list for the rest of August. A decent mix and match I think. No time to waste, here we go:

THE SET-UP with or without CROSSFIRE- Sat Aug 13 at 2:40 (Set-Up), 4:05 (Crossfire), 5:55 (Set Up), 7:10 (Crossfire) and 8:50 (Set Up)- Film Forum- The start of the Forum's Robert Ryan retrospective. A man who grew to share the Quaker beliefs of his wife, and spent a career mostly playing bigots, psychotics and other people he found detestable. Rarely did he get to play a leading man role, but luckily he got to play a man he admired, in Robert Wise The Set-Up.

A boxing film that, running in real time, matches Raging Bull in brutal ring action. Ryan plays a boxer who seems to be the only one who doesn't believe he's over the hill. His wife thinks he's done and wants him out of the game. His trainer doesn't believe in him either. So much so that he bets a gangster that his fighter will take a dive, without telling his guy. Since this is also a film-noir, the pain will be shared all around I'm afraid . . .
The combination of Wise and Ryan doesn't disappoint, and Ryan's past as an amateur boxer gives us an added bit of realism to these dark proceedings.

Next, Crossfire. Never seen it, and frankly it isn't a priority for me to catch. Police Captain Robert Young and Sgt. Robert Mitchum try to figure out who killed a former solider who was Jewish. Oscar nominations for Picture, Screenplay, Director Edward Dmytryk, Gloria Grahame for Supporting Actress, and Ryan for Supporting Actor. Ryan's only Oscar nomination in fact, as a bullying bigot, with far more vulnerability than you'd expect from this kind of character:

THE DARK CRYSTAL with puppeteer Kathy Mullen followed by either ON THE TOWN or THE FOG OF WAR and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY- Sun Aug 14 at 1 (Crystal), 4 (Town), 5 (War) and 7(Eternity)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- 4 films, from 3 different retrospectives, playing in 1 day, all available for 1 admission.

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. For this screening, Kathy Mullen, the puppeteer who worked Kira the Gelfling, will be there. I don't know if she'll be doing an introduction or a post film Q and A, but she'll be at the screening.

Next, On The Town, part of the Museum's new Frank Sinatra retrospective. Been waiting for a while for a film retrospective to come along about the Chairman of the Board. I won't post most of them, due to time constraints on my end. But I am glad that the Museum has been discerning in what they've chosen to screen. Visit any of the links below, and once you do a little searching, you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, On The Town from 1949. 3 sailors have fun and find love while on shore leave in NYC. There it is, the plot in a nutshell. But when 2 of those sailors are Gene Kelly and Sinatra, attention must be paid. When directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, with a screenplay written by Comden and Green (based on their stage show), attention will be paid and fun will be had. Great use of NYC locations, for the first musical ever shot on location. It was only 5 days worth, so not nearly as much as you'd think, but enough to have the terrific New York New York number. An Oscar for the music.

Next, The Fog of War, from 2003. The last film in the Errol Morris retrospective, and one of the best films of 2003. Basically, it's one long interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, giving us his "lessons of war", based on his experiences in World War 2, running the Ford Motor Company, and being Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ. If you're looking for a lot of personal history, you won't get much. If you're looking for any mea culpas, you won't get a lot there either, though not for lack of trying by Morris. The best you can expect is acknowledging how much he got wrong with regards to Vietnam You won't get all his "lessons" even; they are in sources other than this film. But you have an engaged, bright man, whose highly articulate philosophy, aided or not by clips footage and tapes from WW 2, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, make for a surprisingly watchable film. Especially with Morris' use of his Interrotron. The camera is focused in close-up on McNamara. He had almost all the time in the world to state his case, but he had no metaphorical place to run and hide. An Oscar for Best Documentary.

Last but not least, From Here To Eternity. It feels like a soap opera, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In 1941, Montgomery Clift's character is transferred to an Army rifle company in Hawaii. He turns down his Captain's push to represent the company on the boxing tournament. So the Captain, with the aid of most of the NCOs, including Burt Lancaster's First Sargent, intend to make Clift's life hell. His only friends are his girlfriend, social worker/civilian Donna Reed, and Private Maggio (Frank Sinatra), who makes the mistake of getting in bad with the Sargent of the stockade (Ernest Borgninie). Lancaster meanwhile, has an affair with the Captain's wife (Deborah Kerr), who would leave her husband for him, if only Lancaster would put aside his dislike of officers and become one himself. It all plays out as important and all-consuming, but December 7, 1941 is coming . . . .

A hit the second it was released, with the iconic Lancaster-Kerr kissing on the beach scene, with arguably career performances from Lancaster, Clift and Sinatra. A career resurgence onscreen at least for Frank, no film retrospective would be complete without this. 12 Oscar nominations; nominations for Lancaster and Clift for Actor, Kerr for Actress and for costuming and score. 8 Oscars, including Picture, Fred Zinnemann for Director, Screenplay, and Sinatra and Reed for the Supporting categories. On the first AFI Top 100 list, though not the second. Probably the best film screened on the 13th at the Moving Image.

Now in terms of what one can do, you can see up to 3 films for 1 admission: start with Dark Crystal, decide on either On The Town or Fog of War, and finish with Eternity. If you choose to do 3 films, you should have just enough time to check out the Jim Henson exhibit and other items in the museum, especially if you chose Fog over Town, though it may mean little time for food coffee. But if you did Dark Crystal followed by Fog or Eternity, or if you chose to skip Dark Crystal altogether, then this leaves plenty of time to see all the museum pieces, have food/coffee, and then catch the later flicks. It's up to you:

ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW with or without LONELY HEARTS- Wed Aug 17 at 6:35 (Lonely), 8:30 (Odds) and 10:20 (Lonely)- Film Forum- 2 films from the Robert Ryan retrospective. First, Odds Against Tomorrow. A Robert Wise film from 1959, set in NYC. 3 men at the end of their ropes. Ex-cop Ed Begely Sr. seems to have planned the perfect bank robbery. But tensions in his gang, between Harry Belafonte and perennial tough guy Robert Ryan, as one of film's most believable bigots, threaten to do more damage to the gang than the cops. With Shelley Winters as Ryan's girlfriend, Gloria Grahame as their neighbor looking for a little love, and small roles by Cisely Tyson and Wayne Rogers. Written by Abraham Polonsky, forced to write under a pseudonym since he was still being blacklisted. Good use of NYC and upstate NY locations, with the earliest uses of zooming and infrared photography.

Next, Lonleyhearts, which I admit I can catch or not with no regrets. But since you can see this as well for one admission with Odds Against Tomorrow, why not? Montgomery Clift, in full sensitivity mode wants a job at a big newspaper. Said paper's editor in chief, Ryan in full jerkoff mode, sticks him with the Ms. Lonelyhearts column. With Myrna Loy as Ryan's depressed wife, and Oscar nominated Maureen Stapleton (in her screen debut), as someone who writes for advice, and whom Clift gets too close to:

THE WILD BUNCH- Sun Aug 21 at 1, 5:40 and 8:20- Film Forum- Part of the Robert Ryan retro. The Wild Bunch, the film that John Wayne complained destroyed the myth of the Old West. Follows a group of older outlaws, still robbing and shooting to make a living. The times have changed, they've gotten a lot older and their foes are seemingly younger and stronger. They want to rob to retire, but that only gets a group of bounty hunters after them, led by a former member of the group. They escape to Mexico for one last go. But dealing with the corrupt forces there and the bounty hunters on their tail, the old group of outlaws basically to go out on their own terms. Violent, bloody, and taking hundreds of the enemy with them. Holden is the leader of the Bunch, Ernest Borgnine is his best friend, and Robert Ryan is their former friend; a bounty hunter forced to pursue them without relent. Plus Western stalwarts like Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and future director Alfonso Arau (A Walk In The Clouds) in the cast as well.

Sam Peckinpah's film was approved mainly to compete with what they thought was the similar Buthch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Similar, Warner Bros.? Oops. He wanted to show a certain macho code that was not holding up in the start of the 20th Century. But no matter what code you live by, betrayal is unacceptable. From others and especially from yourself. Another thing Peckinpah wanted to show was the violent world of this time. Not sanitized like in most Westerns, but closer to what was shown on the news in Vietnam. He wanted to horrify his audience with its brutality. The climatic shootout was supposed to convey this. With 6 different cameras all shooting at different speeds, its an amazing combination of choreography, cinematography and editing. Despite about 20 minutes cut before its release to avoid an X rating, the violence was still considered controversial. But what shocked Peckinpah was how much of his audience was thrilled by the violence as opposed to being repulsed by it. Oops for Sam. When Warner Bros tried to re-release the film back in 1994 with 10 extra minutes, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating, complaining about the violence! It took a year of resubmission before an R rating was finally granted.

2 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay. On both AFI Top 100 lists. May or may not be on my Top 100 list, but very close. If you don't know it, this is a great chance to change that:

DIRTY HARRY- Mon Aug 22 for free at sundown- Bryant Park- A free screening that concludes the Bryant Park summer film series. The film that transformed Clint Eastwood from mere movie star into American icon overnight. The picture ruffled political and social feathers big time, while drawing large audiences. Siegel's biggest hit ever features an iconic Eastwood performance (making him #1 at the box office that year and for years to come); a quintessentially 70s Lalo Schifrin score; great shots in Scope of Siegel's favorite city San Francisco. Also a new high in movie violence, pushing the envelope more then anything not named A Clockwork Orange for its time.
Now is this film a study in psychopathology that presents Harry as the moral equivalent of the unhinged serial killer he is pursuing? (The original newspaper advertisements promised a duel of two psycho killers: "Harry's the one with the badge."). or is Harry, the Miranda-trampling San Francisco homicide detective, a right-wing fantasy of ultimate police authority and contempt for the Constitution? ("If anybody is writing a book about the rise of fascism in America, they ought to have a look at 'Dirty Harry', . . . The movie's moral position is fascist. No doubt about it." " wrote Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times review) I side with director Siegel's assessment, the only opinion he would ever give about this: "I find it very difficult to explain my reasons for making a film like Dirty Harry, other than I'm a firm believer in entertainment." A must-see, with a few scenes that should work great in Bryant Park.

BOB AND CAROL AND TED AND ALICE- Wed Aug 24 at 7:30- 92Y Tribeca- 200 Hudson St.- Part of the Paul Mazursky retrospective. Now people familiar with films have probably heard of this film, but figures since it's just about married couples switching partners, that's all they need to know about it. And these people are probably over 50 and saw the film when it first came out, or on network TV/syndication. If you're under 50 the chances you haven't seen this film are high. Hell, even I haven't seen all of it. But I seen enough to know it's more than just sex for thrills.

Now whether it's more than just a Sixties time capsule is something I can't help you with. You'll have to decide for yourself. From director/co-writer Paul Mazursky, two married couples, Dyan Cannon & Elliot Gould, and Robert Culp & Wood, are best friends. Despite the sexual tension between them, nothing is done about it. Until the late 60s comes along. Therapy, special "Institutes", and the notion of free love, tests the ideas of love and friendship between the four of them. Praised for its insight and snappy dialogue, and oh yeah, the cast. Nominations for the Screenplay and Cinematography, as well as Supporting nods to Cannon and Gould.

THE ICEMAN COMETH- Thur Aug 25 at 7- Film Forum- Not the last of the Robert Ryan retrospective, but the last that I'll post. Lee Marvin and director John Frankenheimer come together for this ambitious adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's classic, daunting play. Marvin plays a man in 1912 who comes to an old haunt, a dead-end bar full of drunks, with intentions that may not be honorable. Almost 3 hours, but if you're willing to take the risk. The cast includes Jeff Bridges, as well as Fredric March's last performance, and one of Ryan's last performances as well.

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA- Fri Aug 26 at 5- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- On the first day of Lincoln Center's films on an ocean liner series. I'll post one for each day I can do it, the weekend of the 26th. Sorry that I won't include Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but I caught it at the Forum a year ago. Sorry that I also won't include any of the 3 Titanic films. But I'm sticking with the one film from each day I want to see most. Besides, the 1997 Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet's breasts and a ton of CGI, will supposedly get a 3-D re-release, and maybe then I'll post that as option. Or not, moving on in any case . . .

The plot for A Night at the Opera is simple. The brothers, coming from different points of the story, try to help out two young opera singers (one of whom is played by Kitty Carlislie) become opera stars and overcome the machinations of the egotistical opera star who tries to stop them at every turn. Don't worry, there's still plenty of time for Chico to mangle English, Harpo to play the harp, and Groucho to insult Margaret Dumont.

The Marx Brothers first film for MGM and their first film without Zeppo. A supporting actor would, from this film on, carry out the duties of a Zeppo, singing songs and handling the romantic sub-plot. Another first was that instead of the brothers creating havoc toward all in their line, they confined their attacks to whoever was the villain of the film. The brothers were sent out on the road before filming, to sharpen material for potential bits. One memorable bit is the Contract scene between Groucho and Chico. But the standout bit, which is probably why this was included in this series of ocean liner films, is the stateroom scene. More and more people come into Groucho's room until its fit to burst. A scene which has been homaged in stuff such as Seinfeld and Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want To Have Fun video. On the second AFI Top 100 list, and worth coming out to see.

THE LADY EVE- Sat Aug 27 at 5- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's retrospective of films that take place on an ocean liner. The Lady Eve, as close as writer-director Preston Sturges could get to sex comedies back in the early forties. Where con artist Barbara Stanwyck targets rich "dope" Henry Fonda. Naturally, there's all that falling in love, the thawing of cold cynical hearts, misunderstandings, none of this necessarily in that order and often repeated. We expect good work from Stanwyck, smart snappy patter from Sturges, and good support from the likes of Charles Coburn and William Demarest, but who'd expect Fonda to pull off deadpan pratfalls? Highly recommended:

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE- Sun Aug 28 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's retrospective of films that take place on an ocean liner. I've been waiting for this film for awhile. The best disaster film ever made. One part action film, one part adventure film and one part religious parable, a group of passengers try to survive when the ocean liner they were on completely capsizes. They're attempting to reach the bottom or outer hull of the ship, which is the thinnest part of the ship and is above the surface. It's a theory that help will come in that direction, and that theory comes from a young boy, but those who haven't given up feel it's the only way to survive and see The Morning After (the title of the Oscar winning song). Gene Hackman plays an atypical hero, an ultra-self-righteous, Captain Ahab-esque, defrocked preacher whose personality clashes with loud doubter Ernest Borgnine may proof more problematic than the fires and leaks the group encounters. Throw in aspects of The Flying Dutchmen, Ship of Fools, other survivors wandering the ship like they were in the desert, and all the survivors looking for salvation of some sort, and you got parables right in your face. Or you can enjoy the strong acting and good action set pieces. Fine cast that includes Red Buttons, Jack Albertson, Leslie Neilsen, Roddy McDowell and Oscar nominated Shelley Winters. A special Oscar for its Visual Effects. 8 nominations in total, including Cinematography, Editing and for John Williams' fine score.

That's all for now. Because of the U.S. Open, I may not post anything going on in early September, and may not get around to anything before September 7th. We'll see. Later all.