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.

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