Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jan revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with a list of the rest of revivals for the month of January. I can't make this list anymore eclectic if I can. A surprising number of box office flops, or at least flops in the U.S.. Except for The Muppet Movie and the last two Australian films on the list, every other film I bring up in this article failed to draw an audience at the American box office, at least initially. Every other film. Just goes to show you one shouldn't completely dismiss a film just because it didn't find an audience. Unless it's Battlefield Earth, then it's justified. 

Also, there are major conflicts on both January 30th and 31st. Those conflicts will be resolved on my end on whoever locks me in first. Now on with the list, here we go:

HI, MOM! and GREETINGS- Tues Jan 15 at 6:30 (Mom) and 8:20 (Greetings)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's New Yawk film series. Independent films or films that received minimal studio money are being screened here. A double feature of 2 satirical black comedies, both directed by Brian de Palma and both starring a very young Robert de Niro. Greetings from 1968, and its psuedo-sequel, Hi, Mom! from 1970. Both episodic, both dated museum-esque snapshots of the counter-culture movement, the anti-Vietnam movement, the Living Theater, and how lower New York looked back in the late 60s, and how loose a young Bobby DeNiro worked even then. Both films are rarely screened, and I don't know Greetings. But Hi, Mom is still something of a button-pusher. If you know it at all, you know for the Be Black, Baby sequence, where a bunch of WASP types are brought into the Living Theater environment to "learn how it is to be black". De Palma was pushing the envelope even then:

SWEET CHARITY- Thurs Jan 17 for 7.50 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinema- A cheap screening of Sweet Charity, or for you little kids, Pretty Woman with great dancing, but not a lot of fairy tale shit. Your choice of either the 7pm screening with an intro from Hedda Lettuce or 9:30 without Hedda. 

Released in 1969, right as audiences were staying away from most movie musicals in droves, Bob Fosse made his film directorial debut with this adaptation of his biggest Broadway hit up to that point. Shirley MacLaine rises above the hooker with the heart of gold cliche, with help of Fosse's terrific choreography and mostly playful direction. Featuring show stopping turns from performers MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly, Cy Coleman's music, and good use of NYC locales. Then the film comes out to reviews that were mostly good or better . . . and becomes a flop at the box office. Not Ishtar levels, but enough to make sure it didn't make it's production budget back with any speed. Oscar nominations for Coleman's score, Edith Head's costumes and the Art Direction didn't help in the least. History has since been kind to the film, and the show itself has enjoyed successful revivals. But Fosse's death, short film career, and the idea that it SEEMS like an old fashioned (a.k.a. boring) musical, has led to little in the way of re-discovery. Time to change that:

THE MUPPET MOVIE and ISHTAR- Sat Jan 26 at 3 (Muppet) and 6 (Ishtar)- Museum of the Moving Image- A double feature that's part of the Museum's Paul Williams retrospective. A double feature of the biggest hit Williams was ever a part of, and the biggest flop of his career, even if he's not at fault. Both films can be seen for one admission, plus admission to the museum as well.

First, The Muppet Movie, the first and best of the Muppet films. A sleeper hit of the summer of 1979, you might be surprised that it's more than just a kid's flick. You have a road film and a musical, with a stealth satire of Hollywood and what one might move too quickly to give up on to make it big. A satire not on the level of say, Sunset Blvd or The Player, but one that registers now that didn't back in grade school when you/we first saw this. Ok, was that too much? Fine, you got fun jokes, both good and groan inducing. You have enjoyable cameos, with Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise, Richard Pryor, Bob Hope and Orson Welles among the cast. You've got practically every Muppet that ever appeared during the run of The Muppet Show. You also got the Oscar nominated song, The Rainbow Connection. Williams co-wrote the song with Kenny Ascher (as well as every other song in the film), and makes a cameo as El Sleezo Pianist.

Followed by Ishtar. Yes, Ishtar. The 1987 comedy, where hack songwriters/ bad nightclub singing duo Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman get used by the CIA and leftist rebels and embroiled in a coup in the Middle East. The film, produced by Beatty and written and directed by Elaine May, would quickly become synonymous with Box Office Flop; more than Howard the Duck or even Heaven's Gate. There's too much to cover in terms of the film's production and post-production difficulty here. But a combo of a perfectionist director inexperienced in non-comedic situations (apparent in the action finale), perfectionist leads with both official and unofficial input (one of them, producer Beatty, forced to walk a fine line or else he might have been forced to take over as director), and shooting in a country (Morocco) incapable of properly supporting a large Hollywood production, and it's amazing principal photography was ever completed. Throw in a too-many-cooks-in-the-editing-room situation (some but not all of the facts in dispute) and newly hired Columbia Pictures chief David Puttnam hating his two stars (or at least openly despising Hoffman), and negative rumors went flying. When it finally came out in May 1987, the reviews were mixed to lousy (except for the Times' Vincent Camby and his glowing notice), and audiences ignored it in favor of Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Ernest Goes To Camp. It had some life on home video, but not enough to remove the stink of failure or give May the chance to direct another film ever again. 

Now back in the day, the negative reviews focused on the 55 million budget, found Beatty and Hoffman unbelievable as show business failures, and gave praise to scene stealers Charles Grodin (as a cynical CIA agent) and the camel Hoffman and Beatty rode. But there's been a movement to look at Ishtar in a different light, as a satire on Reagan-era misguided foreign policy and Middle East politics, through the filter of Hope-Crosby Road film. Am I buying that? Not sure. The aspect that has become better appreciated are Paul Williams' songs. He apparently considers them one of his biggest career challenges; to write songs that convince the audience the leads are hacks and yet still funny. The songs have aged well, but does Ishtar deserve re-evaluation? Time to find out

ISHTAR- Sunday Jan 27 at 6- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- If you can't do Ishtar on the 26th, there will be an evening screening on the 27th. But remember, if you seen it then, you'll miss the Pro Bowl. Though if you actually watch the Pro Bowl and you're neither 12 years old or younger or if you're not in Hawaii to see it in person, you get everything you deserve in life. Take that comment in whatever way you feel is appropriate.

MAD MAX with Violence in the Cinema Part 1- Wed Jan 30 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Australian New Wave series. Highlighting films, mostly from the 1970s, that were made possible with the creation of the Australian Film Council. Films, and the actors and /or directors that have changed the history of film even today. In terms of box office success, no other film in the series comes close to Mad Max. The film that made Mel Gibson an international star and put director George Miller into the big leagues. Note I said international and not U.S. Before films like Titanic and the Lord of the Rings series came along, you see the list of what was the highest grossing films in any country outside of North America, and chances are Star Wars, Mad Max and E.T. were in the top 4. But in America back in 1980 (it was released in most countries in 1979), it came out in a heavily dubbed form. Apparently there was no belief that we could understand all these Australian dialects. And to see this little film as opposed to say, Empire Strikes Back for the second or third time? Forget it. Several re-releases, including one a year after The Road Warrior's success, made no dent here.

One part post-apocalyptic film and one part Death Wish. Not as much action as you might think or remember, but still pretty good on a low budget. Apparently most of Australia can pass for a post- WW3 environment, and director Miller does a lot with a little. And Gibson practically screams Movie Star here. Good overall and for once, not being screened at Midnight.

Preceded by Violence in the Cinema Part 1 from 1971. George Miller's first film: a twenty minute short that takes a black comedic, and quite bloody, view of what was as much of a hot button topic then as was before and after 1971, Violence in the Cinema. Don't take it too seriously, just let it happen:

WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR and MEAN STREETS with Les Rues de Mean Streets- Wed Jan 30 at 7:40 (Door) and 9:40 (Streets)- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's New Yawk series. A double feature of Martin Scorsese's first and third film starring Harvey Kietel, Who's That Knocking At My Door and Mean Streets. First, Knocking, screened in 16mm. A low budget drama, starring Kietel as a young man, macho, raised Catholic, and walking around with preconceived ideas of women. When his dream girl doesn't match his every ideal, the conflict within Kietel's character grows. Not Scorsese's first film where he tackles some variation of Catholic guilt, but it's probable his most naked attempt to tackle the concept. Rarely screened, whether on a revival screen or on TV, more people know of it then have actually seen it. I believe that, but let's change that.

Next, Mean Streets. I have never seen on the big screen, and I really want to. Not Scorsese's first film, but it is his first studio film. Done cheaply since Warner Bros was only going to devote so much Dirty Harry profits to the director of Boxcar Bertha. In college I dealt with a Scorsese sycophant, I mean fan, who talked about the raw power of this film was superior to the polished works of Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Considering he was coming out with Casino and The Age of Innocence, it was easy to conjure up babel like that.

But just because the film is raw as opposed to polished (yet polished when compared to Knocking), doesn't mean it doesn't belong near the top of the director's work. Just that when you have Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and lower profiles works like After Hours and Kundun on your resume, it's hard for a lot of films to get the respect it deserves. And respect AND viewer ship is what Mean Streets deserves. More of a character study than a plot driven project, Harvey Kietel's small timer is who we follow, but Robert De Niro's living embodiment of a psychotic screw-up is what steals the show. The quintessential New York film, shot mostly in Los Angeles. Please let's make time to see this.

Preceding Mean Streets is Les Rues de Mean Streets, a six minute documentary showing what the Little Italy locations of 1973's Mean Streets looked like in 2010:

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK or MY BRILLIANT CAREER- Thurs Jan 31 at 6:15 (Picnic) or 8:30 (Career)- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Australian New Wave retrospective. 2 important films in Australian film history that had art house success in the U.S. For the purposes of this list, we'll work with the idea that you can only see one of these films, not both. This is the only date and times they'll be screened. The only way you can see both for an affordable price is to see 3 films for 30 dollars, which can be purchased either online or at the Walter Reade website, just be sure you know which 3 films when you make the purchase. Other films from this retrospective that I haven't posted are easy to find on the filmlinc website. Just click any of those I've posted and it should be easy to navigate from there. But in the meantime, back to these films.

First, Picnic at Hanging Rock, the film that launched both the Australian New Wave and writer-director Peter Weir's career. Set mainly around the turn of the 20th Century, involving an all girls school in Victoria, Australia. Students full of hormones, yet stifled by the era on the whole, and their corsets and instructors in particular. I'm not writing to try to titillate, Weir emphasizes the girls' corsets and the strictness/coldness/ passive aggression of the headmistress throughout. After a school trip to Hanging Rock that results in several missing students as well as the young teacher who went to look for them, everything falls apart. If you're looking a solution oriented film, look elsewhere. If you're looking an atmospheric period drama that bubbles into something that feels contemporary, while also playing out some more Man vs Nature vs Culture that Weir would play around with throughout his career (Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Master & Commander), then you've come to the right film.

Next, another film that was key in establishing the Australian film industry as something to pay attention to, My Brilliant Career, from 1979 (released in the U.S. in 1980). A headstrong young tomboy in late 19th Century Australia goes from living in her poor home, to the home of her wealthy grandmother, to the home of an illerate farmer and his family, to whom her father owes money to. All the while, the tomboy dreams of becoming a writer. But such independence isn't generally accepted at the time in history. Throw in a wealthy young man who falls head over heels in love with this woman who isn't used to being appreciated by her physical beauty (or at all), and there are plenty of hard choices ahead. A surprise success, it won an award at Cannes, where it competed against the likes of Apocalypse Now, The Tin Drum, Norma Rae, The China Syndrome and Days of Heaven. An arthouse hit in the U.S. and in every country it played, an Oscar nomination for the Costume Design, and made names out of writer-director Gillian Armstrong and leads Judy Davis (who still doesn't like her look or performance for some reason) and Sam Neill:

RIFFTRAX PRESENTS PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE- Thurs Jan 31 at 7:30- Regal Union Square, College Point Multiplex and UA Westbury Stadium- A special one night only engagement. The main dudes behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, Michael J Nelson Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, made fun of Ed Wood's classic (for all the wrong reasons), Plan 9 From Outer Space, and recorded it in 2009. The only 3 theaters in New York/ Long Island that are screening it are listed. It should be hysterical. Supposedly there will be a short prior to Plan 9, but the title hasn't been revealed as of this writing. Please let it be Mr. B Natural, please let it be Mr. B Natural . . . .!rifftrax-plan-9-from-outer-space/more-info/details

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

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Jan revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here with the first set of revivals for the New Year. Before I go into them, let me bring my viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Friday, December 21st.  A new 70mm print of the classic film. Sold out, I was lucky to get in via the cancellation line. Overall, a quality restoration, but I feel a better job was done with the Hello, Dolly! restoration I saw this past summer (not sure who did the respective restorations). Sound quality was equally superior, but there were noticeable image issues with the 2001 print that didn't crop up with Dolly. In particular the colors red and white were difficult to pull off without some sort of cloudy distortion. Not every time mind, you. No issues with the color red when it came to anything involving Hal, but with the trip at the end. And as for white, there were no issues with say, the space station or the various shuttles.  But anything lit with what appears to white halogen lighting (or the mid-1960s British equivalent), such as the lighting in the station, the moon base meeting room, and especially the French suite environment the Monolith creates, the restoration wasn't that effective. Or the restoration wasn't able to fix all the problems of the original negative, not sure what the reasons are. The colors were more effective overall with the Digital restoration of 2001 that I saw in March. Sound quality was about equal, but I consider the 70mm print superior to the DCP print in one section: The Dawn of Man. For some reason all of it looked completely fake on the DCP, even the leopard and the second unit footage. Not so with the 70mm, the textures of everything, the sets, the matte paintings and the incredible make-up, all looked more realistic. Enough texture to allow one to believe the illusion quickly, without distraction.

In attendance at the screening was the film's lead, Keir Duella. Based on what was written on the filmlinc website, I expected just an introduction. Not an explanation mind you, just an introduction. But we got a post-film Q and A instead, the first one Mr. Duella ever gave in NYC regarding 2001.  A few my pics of the event are here as well. Among the excerpts:

Keir received news of his being cast in 2001 from his wife, when he came from working on the set of Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing. He described Preminger as a yeller on his best days, and a bully on his worst. In fact, the more people on set, whether it was crew or visitors, the bigger the bully Otto would become. Almost as though he enjoyed it. Working with Stanley, a man whose work he admired since seeing Paths of Glory when he was an acting student, was something Keir had hoped would happen. And on his follow-up to Dr. Strangelove no less! Working with Stanley after working with Otto was like night and day.

Stanley was always open to questions from both Keir and co-star Gary Lockwood. Both were invited off and on throughout the shoot at Stanley's house for dinner. His wife was a lovely hostess. But while he did answer questions, Kubrick wouldn't break down most of the film's mysteries. That was a major problem with the sequel to 2001 that Keir was in, 2010. It wasn't a bad film, but it went too far to try to explain the mysteries, part of the reason why the film hasn't held up.

It was only a few years ago did Keir understand his favorite sequence in the only film: the famous jump cut from the bone Moonwalker throws in the air to the satellite in space. Only that wasn't a satellite, it was a design for an atomic missile that would be fired from space. It wasn't a cut from the Dawn of Man to a completely different, brighter future. It was a jump from the world's first weapon, to the most recent weapon. It blew Keir away.
Stanley wasn't a 50 takes kind of guy on the set of 2001. Nine takes would be unusual, but would occasionally happen. What would be time-consuming was the setting up. Lighting could take up to nine hours in some cases. The heavy old age make-up Keir wore in his final scene took about 12 hours to apply.

And no, no one who made the film smoked "funny cigarettes" when they worked. Although it was Lockwood who gave him his first "funny cigarette".  To quote him, "Since Gary isn't here to deny it, he was the one who made me smoke my first funny cigarette" (Laughed).

There was more, but you had to be there, so forget it. So on with the list, here we go:  

NINOTCHKA- Wed Jan 2 and Thurs Jan 3 at 7:30 and 9:40- Film Forum- A new 35mm print of the Ernest Lubitsch comedy classic, where Greta Garbo plays a stern commie woman, who falls for decadent capitalist Melvyn Douglas. With Bela Lugosi. Oscar nominations for Picture, Garbo, Story and Screenplay, co-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.

ALL ABOUT EVE for 7.50- Thurs Jan 3 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinemas- A cheap screening All About Eve, one of the few films to be on both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my own personal top 35. There are a few of you out there who have yet to experience this on the big screen, and until you do, I'll keep posting this and pushing it. The acclaimed bitch fest starring Bette Davis that beat Sunset Blvd. for Best Picture. A life in the theater (soft of) kind of film with terrific performances and some of the bitchiest dialogue known to man. I mean, my God, more acid drips out of say, Bette Davis's and George Sanders's tongue, than from the creatures in Aliens. 14 Oscar nominations, 6 Oscars, including for Picture, Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Sanders for Supporting Actor and for the Screenplay. Most nominations in Oscar history, Titanic could only tie it. Your choices of screenings; either the 7PM screening with an intro from Hedda Lettuce (unknown if they'll be a running commentary), or the 9:30 screening without Hedda:

BLACK NARCISSUS- Fri Jan 4, Tues Jan 8 and Wed Jan 9 at 7:30 and 9:40, plus Mon Jan 7 at 9:10- Film Forum- A new DCP restoration of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's  1947 film. The restoration supervised by the film's Cinematographer Jack Cardiff and Powell's widow, editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Adapted by Rummer Godden's 1939 novel, a group of Anglican nuns go to their new order, up in the Himalayan mountains, to establish a school and a hospital. But it's hard to do when you're tempted by the land and the people around you, and you've dragged issues like failed romances and possible insanity up the mountain with you. You can go with those statements, or accept this as an allegory of Britain's last glory days as an Empire, and the dignified way the Empire comes to an end. Starring Deborah Kerr as the head Sister whose escaped one failed romance,and might get tempted into another, and Jean Simmons as, in the words of author Godden, "a basket of fruit, piled high and luscious and ready to eat.". Oscar nominations for Cardiff's Cinematography and Art Direction. I think I saw this a long time ago. I don't remember it clearly, but I could have sworn I've seen it and liked what I saw. And even if I haven't, a film from the directors of The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp becomes a must-see in my book:

I was thinking of including a cheap screening of Rome, Open City at the Rubin Museum of Art on Friday, January 4th, at 7PM. But I changed my mind; I prefer something cheerier right now, even Black Narcissus. Go figure. But you can catch Rome, Open City on your own if you like. It's tough but good. In the meantime, take care.