Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Late July revivals

Hey, Mike here with the rest of the interesting revival options for the month of June. A minor cheat with the inclusion of one film on August 1st, but with the choice I made, I'm sure you won't complain. Before I go on with the current list, a special thanks to those who came out to the recent Hello, Dolly! screening on Sunday July 22nd at the Walter Reade. Thanks for pushing for Hello Dolly for a birthday gathering, and letting me be a part of the outing despite my major reservations about the film and pushing aside my alternative option of The Red Shoes, good move. While I wouldn't use this film as a person's gateway into movie musicals, this works so much better on the big screen than on TV. The pacing doesn't feel off until we got to the second half of the film with too many dancing waiters sequences (get on with the story). And you never buy Walter Matthau and Barbara Streisand as a potential couple though you buy their performances individually, and you buy Tommy Tune only as a dancer, a hell of a dancer, but not as an actor.

But you buy everything else. The Yonkers section is great, all the songs work, I tolerated Michael Crawford far better than I thought I would, Ernest Lehman's screenplay improves upon the stage book, the amount of long takes used for the musical numbers were impressive, and the 70mm restoration just popped in ways that it's impossible to comprehend without seeing for yourself. An MGM-esque musical that came at the unfair time when audiences were moving away from most forms of "old school" filmmaking. Good film and good day overall. Now on with the list:


INHERIT THE WIND- Thurs July 26 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of the Gene Kelly retrospective. The best adaptation, including the 3 TV versions, of the classic Jerome Lawrence/ Robert E. Lee play. A somewhat to more-than-somewhat dramatized account of the Scopes Monkey trial that feels quaint at times. Not in terms of timeliness; sorry to say the film feels as relevant as ever. And not in terms of filmmaking or performances, but in terms on how the sides view each with a form of respect. Yes, there is a mob depicted but the rest of the time, between Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Brady (Fredric March), there's are signs and feelings of mutual respect between men of sharply opposing views that seems missing for a long time now.

The big draw here is the acting, especially the scenes between Tracy and March. You can tell this film was drawing the best from its actors leads as well as from the supporting players (Harry Morgan, Claude Atkins and Dick York among them). I feel this adaptation is better than the 3 TV adaptation, and even an improvement over the play. Minor changes and additions done on the transfer from stage to screen, most involving Kelly's role as the reporter. All improvements as far as I'm concerned, though you can't always tell, based on Kelly's merely ok performance. 4 Oscar nominations, including Tracy for Actor and for Screenplay Adaptation. Sorry I couldn't post more films from the Kelly retrospective, but instead of ending it like the Walter Reade will with Xanadu, but it end on a high note with Inherit The Wind:

HEROES SHED NO TEARS and HARD BOILED- Fri July 27 at 7:30 (Heroes) and 9:20 (Hard)- 92ndY Tribeca- 200 Hudson St.- For one admission, a John Woo double feature. The first film, I don't know. The second, one of my all time fun favorite action films. First, Heroes Shed No Tears, shot in 1984, but shelved until the success of A Better Tomorrow. Members of the Thai government hire an elite Chinese group of mercenaries to capture a powerful drug lord. Those who survive succeed in capturing the drug lord. But things get difficult once they try to bring him back through some jungle terrain. On the one hand, the surviving henchmen are on their trail. And on the other hand, they all must deal with a powerful Vietnamese colonel who wants revenge on the mercenaries' leader. And, oh yeah, there are also the natives of the jungle, with their own weapons. This was John Woo's first gun fight film, and the bullets, knives and explosives, boy do they fly and go off over the 90 or so minutes. Or so I hear. I don't know the film, but I am curious.

Now if you're an American of a certain age who enjoy action films, you were introduced to John Woo before his American films, the darn good Face Off and the mediocre Hard Target, were released. You were probably introduced to one of two films either via cable or bootleg VHS. The film you were introduced to is probably one of your favorite action films. It could have been The Killer for you, but for me it was Hard Boiled from 1992. Chow Yun-Fat secured his status as action hero extraordinaire, as a Dirty Harry-like cop, trying to avenge the death of his partner, while investigating gun runners who are fighting over territory. Tony Leung (The Lover, Infernal Affairs) plays a hit man with a secret, who sides against the more violent gun runner. Both men collide, when said gun runner and his mob hold a hospital full of people hostage. This mob has superior fire power that keeps the police helpless, and the cop and the hitman with a secret can only rely on each to take out the gang. One floor at a time, one room at a time.

The film is pretty good before you get to the hospital. Yun-Fat and Leung are charismatic, the gun fights are stylized and interestingly shot. But the last hour takes place in the hospital, and that's when Woo ratchets everything up another level. The firefights are incredibly complicated at the start and increase in complications as it goes on. The mix of quick edits and single shot extended action scenes have to be seen to be believed. And oh yeah, there's a little humor in there too. No one will ever confuse John Woo with say, Woody or Mel Brooks or even Judd Apatow. But Woo sneaks it in throughout, and is a pleasant surprise during the second half. Overall, I can sit through Heroes Shed No Tears, if it means I get to enjoy Hard Boiled in all its glory:

PIXOTE for free, subject to ticket availability- Fri July 27 at 8- MOMA- 11 West 53rd Street- A free screening, subject to availability. A brutal, dark film from director Hector Babenco (Kiss of the Spider Woman) back in 1981. Consider this as kind of like Larry Clark's Kids; similar style of realistic filmmaking. It depicted a sub-world in Brazil, where abandoned or orphaned poor kids formed their own circles, staying out of school and going into either prostitution or crime in general. Played in a lot of cases by kids playing a variation of themselves. For them, it seemed like there were only two ways out: jail or death, and most of them didn't have to wait for the end of the 1980s to find out which would be their fate. Bleak yet powerful. Tickets for the 8pm screening become available on a first come first served basis at 4pm that afternoon:

CHARLEY VARRICK- Sat July 28 at 7:45- Film Forum- - 209 West Houston St.- Part of the Forum's 100th anniversary of Universal Pictures retro. I really want to make a push to see this, but first, a little story. At a recent birthday brunch before a revival screening of Hello Dolly (pretty darn good by the way), one of the leads, Walter Matthau, was brought up. Specifically how every role he played was crotchety and/or grumpy. Now had I been more awake (seriously I still needed caffeine at that point in the brunch), I would have brought up his performance in this film. Maybe A Face in the Crowd as well, but definitely Charley Varrick.

From director Don Siegel. This was his follow-up to Dirty Harry. It's probably his best film that's been seen by the fewest people. Walter Matthau in the title role plays a small time bank robber who leads his gang in stealing from small banks. Smaller payoffs mean less security to deal with and less scrutiny from the law. But the gang accidentally knocks over a bank that launders Mafia money. Now he has the law and the mob after him, and must use all his smarts to try to get out alive. Everyone is treated as a recognizable human being, including Matthau's crazy partner (Andrew Robinson, the killer in Dirty Harry), John Vernon's charismatic mob boss, even Joe Don Baker's genteel, psycho mob enforcer. Ok, the stuff involving Matthau and Felicia Farr (the wife of Matthau's friend, Jack Lemmon) has aged badly, but that's the only major quibble. Even the planning, time, and detail that goes into the Mob's efforts to clean up the various messes left by the robbery, the efforts of the law to catch up with Varrick, and Varrick's own efforts to get himself out of this mess is realistic for a movie. And all of it pays off.

A major flop in the U.S. despite very good reviews, but a big hit in Europe. It's never been released on VHS, Universal cares so little about the film the DVD isn't even in Widescreen, and this has only enjoyed the rare screening on AMC and TCM. For fans of caper films and/or modern film noir, here's a treat you probably never heard of. Let's do this one. “The narrative line is clean and direct, the characterizations economical and functional and the triumph of intelligence gloriously satisfying.” – Andrew Sarris.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE MUMMY (1932)- Mon July 29 at 9 (Wolf Man) and 10:25 (Mummy)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's 100th anniversary of Universal Studios retrospective. Horror films were what made Universal its initial big bucks. Now here is a double feature of two seventy minute or so horror films that rely more on atmosphere, quality black and white cinematography, and more than a little pathos then some blood and guts. Now don't get me wrong, if I hated bloody gross out effects in horror films, I would never have posted the John Carpenter version of The Thing. But let's have a little variety in our film choices, people.

Start things off with the original talking version of The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr.'s best known role, as tragic Larry Talbot returns home and is bitten by gypsy werewolf Bela Lugosi. He tries to deal with this, but ends up confronted at moon rise by father Claude Raines and the other townspeople hunting him, including Ralph Bellamy. The effects obviously don't stack up when compared to say, An American Werewolf in London. But does it look great? Yes. Do you end up feeling sorry for our lead and all else involved, except for Lugosi? Yes. Is the storytelling still effective? Yes.

The same can be said for the original talking film version of The Mummy. Some archaeology in Egypt leads to the resurrection of title character Boris Karloff. He discovers that one of the members of expedition is the reincarnation of his great love, and will do anything to make her his again, which includes turning her into a living mummy like himself. And if she, her boyfriend, and everyone else in the expedition party doesn't like it, too bad.

Much credit for the film's success needs to go director Karl Freund. A cinematographer for most of his life, he shot Metropolis and did uncredited work in making the Bela Lugosi version Dracula what it is, including creating the famous shot of the hypnotism stare of Lugosi.  The shot selection and mood lighting does much to create the quality of the film. The effective story does the rest. Overall, a nice quick double feature for a potentially hot summer night:   

THE 400 BLOWS with a short- Wed Aug 1 at 8- MOMA- Part of MOMA's series of depictions of youth on film. Francois Truffaut's classic 1959 film; his first feature-length picture, and one of those first credited for launching New Wave cinema successfully. Semi-autobiographical we follow Truffaut's most famous character, neglected Antoine Doinel, during his time as petty criminal and in reform school. We learn to sympathize with him, while noting every fault and every mistake that does more damage to his life than it should. Francois's mother was NOT happy with the final result/implications. Of course this includes the classic final 2 minutes, and one of the most memorable final freeze shots in movie history, no hyperbole on my part. Oscar nominated for Original Screenplay. But not for Foreign Film, Black Orpheus was chosen to be France's representative. It won the category, but it's borderline unwatchable as far as I'm concerned. Wait, what was I saying? Just see this please.

Preceding The 400 Blows, is a short from 1911: Public School Exercises and Recreation. An 11 minute film from the Edison Company, depicting the day in the life of students at P.S. 41 in the Bronx:

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