Tuesday, April 03, 2012

April revivals: first half

Hey, Mike here with a small-ish of revivals for the first half of April. It would have been a little bigger, but I'm not posting Titanic in 3-D. I've caught this mediocre film once in theaters. Never again. Ok, I'm sure the sinking ship will look good in 3-D; if there's only 1 director out there who will take tender loving care with regards to the 3-D process, it's James Cameron. But the script itself, no thanks. I realized when it came out this wasn't for me, more for 12-18 year old girls (and the emotional equivalent) for whom this was their Star Wars back in 1997-98. Have fun, but I won't push this onto others, as opposed to these flicks. Here we go:

RUGGLES OF RED GAP- Wed Apr 4, and Tues April 10 at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- Interesting timing for myself that this film comes along for a week-long run at the Film Forum. I've just come off from watching a production of The Man Who Came To Dinner. Watching it with an audience that not only gets a reference to actress ZaSu Pitts made in the classic play, but laughed long and loud at said reference. Unlike most people under 40 who didn't work in this production, I knew Pitts, if only from her appearances in It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Life With Father, the later as Elizabeth Taylor's mother. Now I have the chance to add a third film, a comedy, starting April 4th, and so can you.

Ruggles of Red Gap, not that different from say, Mr. Belvedere or Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster, is based on a popular book from the mid 1910s. Charles Laughton plays Ruggles, a "gentlemen's gentleman". A butler whose master lost him in a poker game. No, that's not the worst part. Ruggles is now under the employment of an uncouth American (is there any other kind?). No, that's not the worst part either. Ruggles must move to Red Gap, Washington! Hardly the epicenter of society, especially back in 1908. But by having himself referred to as Colonel and making goo-goo eyes at wacky widow Pitts, things could change . . . 

Features Laughton performing his version of the Gettysburg Address, something Laughton would perform on TV, stage and radio for the rest of his career. Directed by Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, The Bells of St. Mary), and Oscar nominated for Best Picture. It plays from April 4 through April 10, the only nights I can make:   

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)- Fri April 6 at Midnight- IFC Center- From IFC Center's retrospective of John Carpenter films at Midnight. Carpenter's second film, a mean and lean little B movie from 1976. A father kills a gang member who shoots his little daughter to death, a shooting that seems tame today but back in 1976 almost earned the picture an X rating for violence. The rest of the gang pursues the father. The dad hides in the nearest building, an old police precinct building scheduled to permanently close in a few hours. Inside the building is a newly promoted young Lieutenant, a veteran desk Sargent, two civilian workers, and a prison official guarding three prisoners, one of whom is a violent murderer on his way to Death Row. But they must all band together when the gang, with their silencers and automatic weapons, cut their power and lay an all night siege on the nearly empty precinct.

Wasn't warmly accepted when released in the States. A cheap ($100,000 budget) overly violent film with an unknown director and cast, who cares. But European audiences embraced the film, and as Carpenter's career grew, Assault on Precinct 13 received a critical re-evaluation and a cult following in America. Basically a re-working of the Howard Hawks film Rio Bravo, with a touch of the inside setup of Night of the Living Dead. Not a perfect film, mind you. The attempt at romantic sparks doesn't work. But as a straight up action film? It's a nice gritty little number, perfect for a Midnight screening:

BIRD- Mon Apr 9 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's series of films that made an impact at the New York Film Festival. Might be considered the best Jazz film ever made. A definite change of pace in Clint's career, where he gets to share his love of jazz, depicting the short life of Charlie "Bird" Parker. A radical change of pace for American film goers, when it came to Eastwood directed pictures. For the few who saw it in this country that is. In Europe, Bird placed Eastwood among the leading directors in film, as Bird won at Cannes. It took Unforgiven for the U.S. to feel the same way about him, though I get the change began when Bird played at the New York Film Festival.

Bird was going to be a tough sell. A two hour, forty-one minute film about one of the greatest jazz musicians, depicting his slide into alcohol and drug addiction, despite a wife who refused to leave his side no matter what, until his death at 35. This was before the Behind The Music style bio pics were in vogue, good luck selling this in 1988. Combined with the best known person involved with the film isn't on screen, and the lead wasn't box office, gulp. Clint made the film because he believed in the story, Warner Bros seems to have made the film to stay in the Clint Eastwood business. Maybe a few Oscar nominations might have helped, but only winning for Best Sound wasn't the plan I'm sure.

Speaking of sound, you get some lengthy scenes of Bird's music performed, restored back in 88 so they could sound great in Dolby Stereo. And years before Last King of Scotland earned him an Oscar, Forest Whitaker earned praise from critics for his performance in the title role. Pulling him up from a career of supporting roles (Good Morning Vietnam, Platoon, The Color of Money) to show he could carry a film in the lead, artistically at least. Forest even learned the proper breath control and finger playing to duplicate Parker's style, and the recordings did the rest. The love Bird had for his wife, family and friends are also shown , and how none of it was enough to stop him from sliding further into heroin addiction and an early grave.

So in Bird, I'm recommending a good film. Not a happy film, but a good one.

THE GRADUATE- Wed April 11, Sat April 14 and Mon April 16 at 7:30 and 9:30- Film Forum- A new 35mm print of the classic Dustin Hoffman-Mike Nichols film. On both AFI Top 100 lists and in my own personal top 40. An Oscar for Nichols for Director; nominations for Picture, Hoffman for Actor, Anne Brancoft for Actress, Katharine Ross for Supporting Actress, Buck Henry and Calder Willingham for Screenplay Adaptation and Robert Surtees for Cinematography. I could go on about the story, but if you look at revival lists like these, you probably know the story just as well as I do. So instead I'll take a different tack. I stumbled upon an online article a few weeks ago on the Flavorwire website: 12 Great Movies The Critics Got Dead Wrong by Jason Bailey. It featured mostly classic films like Wizard of Oz, All About Eve and Annie Hall, with a small piece from a contemporary critic, tearing the film a new one. I'll post a brief piece of what Pauline Kael wrote about The Graduate. I quoted her before when she got right regarding Purple Rain, I'll quote her again as she whiffed regarding her attack of The Graduate:

The Graduate only wants to succeed and that’s fundamentally what’s the matter with it. There is a pause for a laugh after the mention of ‘Berkeley’ that is an unmistakable sign of hunger for success; this kind of movie-making shifts values, shifts focus, shifts emphasis, shifts everything for a sure-fire response. Mike Nichols’ ‘gift’ is that be lets the audience direct him; this is demagoguery in the arts.” – Pauline Kael, Harper’s

Nobody's perfect but oy vey Pauline, oy vey. Alongside the link to the Film Forum regarding The Graduate, I'll also post a link to Jason Bailey's article. The link leads you directly to The Graduate, but it's easy to navigate yourself to the rest of the article.

Now as for The Graduate, it plays for 9 days at the Forum. I'm 99% sure I can make, but two of those days kinda conflict with another revival posted below. . . 

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING introduced by director Philip Kaufman and author Annette Insdorf of "Philip Kaufman" on Wed April 11 at 7:30- or Sat April 14 at 3:30 with no intro- MOMA- The only film from the Philip Kaufman retrospective that I will have time for. I wish I had time for The Right Stuff; for me it's the best film of 1983 over stuff like A Christmas Story and Terms of Endearment. But no, I'll have to settle for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which actually isn't a bad thing to settle for at all.

From 1988, though set in the 1960s. Young Daniel Day-Lewis' first starring role of note, and yes I'm not counting My Beautiful Laundrette so nobody give me any grief. Anyway, Day-Lewis is a doctor, with a beautiful girlfriend (Lena Olin), and an eye for the women. He leaves the big city for a spell, but comes back with a new girlfriend; a small town girl (Juliette Binoche) with whom he's equally passionate about. The potential difficult arrangement is pushed aside, because the big city I was talking about is Prague. It's 1968 Czechoslovakia, the three of them are together during the Prague Spring. Once the Soviet tanks begin rolling in however, nothing can ever be the same . . . 

An example of the kind of taste Philip Kaufman has in material (Unbearable Lightness is usually cited as one of the more successful book-to-screen adaptations), the kind of young actors he was willing to put into major roles, and the kind of film Orion Pictures liked to bankroll. If this was maybe 5 years later, Day-Lewis and Binoche would have been big enough names to maybe help this film's box-office chances. But this was 1988, and despite critical acclaim and Oscar nominations for Screenplay Adaptation and Cinematography, there was little audience for this ambitious picture. The respect for this film I feel has only grown, but not enough for consistent TV or revival screenings. It's age, lack of success, adult subject matter and nearly three hour length make screenings rare, so you should take advantage if you can.   

Your choice of two screenings. The first is on Wednesday April 11th, with an intro from Kaufman and Annette Insdorf, author of the new biography "Philip Kaufman". The second is on Saturday April 14th, without introduction. You tell me which one works best:

Let me know if there's interest. Happy Easter and Happy Passover, later all.

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