Thursday, March 14, 2013

March revivals: repeats that I'll be lucky to catch any of edition

Hey all, Mike here with a small list of revivals for the rest of March. Sorry I haven't posted in a while, I've just been busy and a list like this doesn't pay. Not financially at least, but anyhoo, here's a list. Here are films I have an interest in, have posted on previous lists though that doesn't mean I caught them all, and yet there's only a small chance of catching any of these flicks myself. Except for one which I've done before, can't do again this month, yet hoping that you have the four hours to spare to take the chance and see it yourself. You'll figure out which one I mean; it's the film with an essay the size of the Monolith from 2001 right in the middle of the list. You can't miss it.

I really didn't mean to make it an all Film Forum list, honestly. But there are two films I can't do that I really had hoped there would be time. A midnight screening of The Other at IFC Center, and for you residents of Queens, a Q and A with the author of Images of America: Forest Hills, Nicholas Hirshon, followed by a screening of Strangers on a Train. The first film is a good psychological horror film from director Robert Mulligan. (To Kill A Mockingbird) on Friday March 15th and Saturday March 16th at Midnight, but I can't stay up for the trip back from the Center. The later is a screening of the Hitchcock classic; not on the levels of say Rear Window or Vertigo, but still pretty good. This screening will be on Friday March 29th at 7PM, at the Cinemart Cinemas, at 106-03 Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills. First, author Hirshon will show pictures of Forest Hills from Strangers on a Train and other films. After that and a brief Q and A, they'll screen the 1951 film. I really wish I could go but no dice. But by all means, if you can go, go. Especially those of you who live in the Forest Hills/ Kew Gardens/ Middle Village/ Glendale area of Queens, I hope you can come out on the evening of Good Friday for Strangers on a Train. Sorry I don't have prices for the Queens screening, but the regular films there don't cost any higher than 9 dollars, so how expensive could this be? In the meantime, here we go with my list:

M- Friday March 15- Thurs March 21 at 7 and 9:30, except Monday March 18 at 9:30 only- Film Forum- A restored DCP screening of the classic German film M, from 1931. If Metropolis wasn't the big hit everywhere for director Fritz Lang, then M, Germany's first sound film, certainly did the trick. A serial rapist/killer of children strikes constantly in a German city, with few clues on how to stop him. The police and a group of mobsters/petty thieves work in different ways, to catch the killer. With an ending that not only doesn't support vigilantism, but warns of the kind of social hysteria that would allow the Nazis to flourish not too long after M's release.

Two thirds of M was shot in sound, and the rest was shot like a silent film. With parallel editing, and more fluid motion than what you might expect from a film shot that early. I do warn of a ten minute sequence of both the police and the crooks planning that feels like exposition city, and temporarily slows the film to a crawl. Still, we wouldn't be paying that much attention to M if it wasn't for Peter Lorre's chilling, creepy, sweaty, and ultimately human portrayal of the killer.

HEAVEN'S GATE- Friday March 22 to Thursday March 28 at 1:20 and 8- Film Forum- A DCP restoration of the original cut of one of the most infamous flops in Hollywood history, Heaven's Gate. The DCP that played to raves at last year's Cannes and New York Film Festivals.

From 1980, Michael Cimino's fictionalized take on the Johnson County Wars. Set mostly in Wyoming in 1890, it's an area of the world where immigrants, mostly Eastern European, enticed by the idea of living on their own land, are living poorer than they had ever been. Trying to grow crops on land fit only to grow grass, the food source of the cattle that would normally walk around in the very areas these immigrants now live on. The cattle is now used by the immigrants for food, for trade to each other, selling to one another or back to the cattle barons who own them. Cattle barons who are tired of having their livelihood stymied, especially by these non-citizens are beneath them. The barons can't rely on local authorities; they're only one paycheck away from being as poor as the immigrants. The courts have no effective fines to levy and are leery to imprison the only breadwinners for families. As far as the cattle barons are concerned, this leaves them with only one option; to form a Death List, hire gunmen, and kill the immigrants. Not all of them mind you, but enough to force the families to starve to death or move out. Once the immigrants have had enough, they band together, arm themselves and fight back. This story gets a Watergate-era tweaking where you can't trust the government (the film's story implies the Wyoming governor essentially sanctioned the killings), and the whole thing serves as a backdrop for a love triangle between a rich man/ U.S. Marshall (Kris Kristofferson), one of the hired gunmen (Christopher Walken), and the immigrant/Madam they both love (Isabelle Huppert).

The film is split into two parts. For the first two hours, it's a lot of set-up. Getting to know the principals well, especially Kristofferson and Huppert. Getting to know the cattle barons' side, mostly in the form of leader Sam Waterson. How they will not stand for what's happening to their vast income or their country, and what they feel they have the right to do. Getting to know the townspeople, who are not salt of the earth and saintly, but are essentially decent. Seeing their way of life, how hard they work and how they have fun, almost as a fading memory. Romantic in many ways, as it's about to get wiped out with the violence in the film's second half. Starts small, then builds into 2 fights that are about as brutal as anything from Black Hawk Down or the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan.
The reputation of the film wasn't good going into its November 1980 release in Manhattan. Reports of animal abuse and a budget spiraling out of control came out months prior. Critics eviscerated the nearly four hour film as slow, poorly acted, slow, filled with mediocre dialogue, and did I mention slow? The famous review from Vincent Camby of the New York Times that described the film as akin to a four hour enforced march inside one's own living room, was the most brutal but not the only, negative review. Hell, Kevin Thomas from the L.A. Times was probably the only good review of note. The film was pulled after less than a week, re-edited to make it about an hour shorter, released in the spring of 1981 to no positive effect, received one Oscar nomination for Art Direction, and then went away to become the poster child for film flops. The likes of Ishtar, Battlefield Earth and Gigli have kinda replaced Heaven's Gate as a punchline; as far as I'm concerned Ishtar doesn't deserve the scorn, and Battlefield Earth deserves more scorn. And while Gigli isn't a good film, it's biggest crimes are dullness and the mistake of casting Jennifer Lopez in a role where she was way out of her depth, nothing more. And Heaven's Gate deserves re-evaluation.

I won't say the film isn't flawed. Huppert, beautiful as she is, doesn't hold up her end of the love triangle. Even though her character doesn't speak English as though it was native to her, the actress herself obviously didn't know the language and has trouble with almost all her lines. There is chemistry between Huppert and Kristofferson and also between Walken and Kristofferson, but not nearly the same can be said for Walken and Huppert. Christopher seems to be doing most of the heavy lifting between them, but one scene where they look at each other in matching make-up and eye liner just kills the mood for me.

As for other flaws, Waterson's villain, except for one scene, is forced to go deep into Snidely Whiplash territory, complete with a mustache he all but twirls. And when it comes to establishing scenes, boy did Cimino love to take his time setting up his environments. When he did it in the form of music and dance, like the dancing done when Kristofferson's character graduated from Oxford, or the town roller rink with all the immigrants on these old skates, those sequences are fabulous. But when we get outside, do we really need to see the same town building 5 times in a row, or the same blade of grass 5 times, followed ten minutes later by either the long set-up before a meeting or another section of blades of grass?
Reviews also stated that there were no great performances. I'll agree with the idea that no one actor stood above the rest in a positive way. But aside from my already mentioned issues with Huppert and the amount of overacting by Waterson that I blame on Cimino, I feel this was a secret ensemble piece that no one at United Artists thought to advertise as such. A solid cast where most of the pieces fit; including Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Brad Dourif, Geoffrey Lewis, Mickey Rourke in his first film, and Joseph Cotton in his last film.

But going back to the comments I made regarding seeing the same building or blade of grass over and over, the biggest criticism is that Heaven's Gate is slow. Slow, slow, slow, and oh by the way, slow. On TV, it's not easy, I'll give you that. The bulk of the first two hours is set-up. A set-up of who the main players are. A set-up of the points of view of the love triangle, and of the Johnson County War. A set-up of a way of life and an attempt to live, that's about to be violently changed. Two hours of set-up, followed by over an hour and a half of cataclysm. Both sides aided by Vilmos Zsigmond's excellent Cinematography. I don't know why he wasn't nominated. Ok, so he wasn't likely to get past the likes of Reds, Raiders of the Lost Ark or even Chariots of Fire, but still. No nomination?

Yes, Heaven's Gate failure is blamed for United Artists getting sold to and merged with MGM, but Transamerica seemed to look for any reason to get out of a business as volatile as the movie business. Yes, Heaven's Gate helped spur a movement by the industry to give more control to executives and strip most directors of the carte blanche they mostly had in terms of getting projects made. But when you give a director more money than God for a project they haven't proven they can handle, it's huge gamble. When it succeeds, you have Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings. As much as I admire Heaven's Gate, Michael Cimino is no Peter Jackson. But the popularity of it in Europe, ranking Heaven's Gate among the great American Classics, plus it's popularity on IFC/TCM precursor Z Channel in Los Angeles back in the 80s, has given the film a minor rehabilitation here in the U.S. But after 32 and a half years, it's still synonymous with failure. A reputation Cimino's subsequent work (Year of the Dragon which I liked, The Sicilian Desperate Hours and The Sundowners which I did not) has done nothing to help.

In the end, in order to get oneself into Heaven's Gate, you litterally have to tell yourself, "I'm going to watch Heaven's Gate today". It is not a film choice one makes on a whim. And you need to come with a little patience and not be the type who demands action every other minute, at least not before the war begins in earnest. I won't call it a perfect film. If I were to do a Top 10 from 1980, I wouldn't put it above Raging Bull, or The Empire Strikes Back, Tess, The Elephant Man or The Stunt Man for that matter. But I feel the film doesn't deserve to be summarily dismissed based on its reputation. I hope you watch and decide for yourself.

DIAL M FOR MURDER in Digital 3-D- Friday March 29- Thurs April 4 at 7:40 and 9:50, plus Sunday March 31 5:30- Film Forum- Dial M For Murder returns to the Forum in digital 3-D. It was a big success in terms of both presentation and box office drawing for the Film Forum back in October, and now it returns for a week, starting on Good Friday. Not the the original 2 strip 2 projector version that the Forum has screened off and on for years, but a digital 3-D version (you know, like Avatar?). You now have another chance to see it for yourself as it kinda was intended, on the big screen. For this revival, like with The Other, I'm posting the only times I have any chance in hell of catching.

A Hitchcock classic, that may not have strayed all that successfully from its stage roots, but is still quite good. Ray Milland finds out his wife, Grace Kelly, is cheating on him and is getting ready to dump him. Seeing his wealthy lifestyle about to be taken away from him, he plots his wife's murder. Complications ensue, etc. . . .

Cool performances from Milland, Kelly, and character actor John Williams, reprising his Tony winning role as the dogged Chief Inspector. Talkier then usual from a Hitchcock film. I'd argue it's about as talky as Hitchcock and Kelly's other 1954 film together, Rear Window. Window had a better script, with sly insights and a somewhat better realized film. Dial M is a more straight forward, ably executed mystery, with a great scene involving Kelly and a large shiny pair of scissors.

Now at about this time, 3-D was enjoying about the same kind of popularity it's having at the moment. You had studio heads pushing to have films made in 3-D, but unlike now, where pressure can be applied to have films that were never shot in 3-D converted (Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender), the pressure in the 50s had to be applied in pre-production. So while Hitch was forced to shoot it in 3-D he must have said something along the lines of "Screw them", and did as little as possible in terms of 3-D. Playing a little with perspective, a few low angles, some objects blocking some actors, not much. That's why I wrote in the first paragraph in terms of "as it was kinda intended". Hitch basically looked at 3-D as a fad, shot in 2-D and 3-D simultaneously, and just tried to make a good film, which he did. The 3-D version was released first but didn't play too long, followed by the 2-D classic version. It was re-released in 3-D in 1980 (I thought it was 81, but imdb disagrees), but in a flat version that wasn't popular, and different from how it was screened back in 1954.

For about 20 years off and on, the Forum has screened the original 3-D print, scratches hair and dirt off and on throughout the print, according to friends who attended the more recent screenings, until last October when the digital copy premiered. Boy does this film look different in 3-D. And no, I'm not being a joker here. Hitchcock's use of perspective makes Dial M a somewhat different, somewhat better film. Not so much with the scissors scene, but when Alfred wanted us to pay attention a prop more than the others, or a picture on a wall, or an actor's expression, like inspector Williams does his first interrogation scene; watch how Milland's reactions tend to stand out a little more than if you watch on TCM or a regular DVD. If you missed the chance to see this the first time, don't blow it again.

That's all for now. The next time I cough up a list will be in April, with films I expect to have the time to see. But take advantage of these films I've mentioned, both those I briefly mentioned at the top of this article, and the ones I wrote about at length. I feel their worth the effort. Later all.


arvind kumar said...
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jayesh sharma said...
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