Thursday, April 11, 2013

April Revivals

Hey all, Mike here getting back into the swing of things with a revival list for the month of April. Unlike March, here are list of films I'm more likely to get to, with only a few repeats in the bunch. Here we go:
HOUSE OF BAMBOO- Fri Apr 12, Sat Apr 13 and Thurs Apr 18 at 10:10- Film Forum- Not sure if I can make this one, but I'm posting it in the hope that I can. It's playing for a week at 10:10 only; I'm only posting the days that are possibilities for me.
From director Samuel Fuller and released in 1955, House of Bamboo may or may not be the first film-noir shot in color, but probably the first shot in Cinemascope. A remake of the 1948 noir, The Streets with No Name, that uses the same screenwriter and cinematographer, but eschews a documentary You-Are-There style and American setting, for bright colors, wide-screen shots and Japanese settings. Here, crime boss Robert Ryan leads a gang of dishonorably discharged ex-servicemen in intricate heists and generally do what they want in Tokyo. Ryan forms a little too close a bond with one of his henchman, undercover agent Robert Stack.
A bit button pushing for its day, showing Americans running roughshod all over Tokyo ten or so years after World War Two. Throw in a Japanese widow of an American ex-solider who falls for Stack and Ryan's second-in-command (Cameron Mitchell) a little too, eh, emotionally attached to Ryan's character, and some bright Technicolor to action scenes that would normally be depicted in black and white, and we're talking about some unusual aspects for a studio film (Fox). There are elements of Michael Mann's Heat in here, and I'm sure Tarantino knows this film by heart and has let it pop up in his own work now and then. He seems to appreciate it more than audiences did back in 55. But it's reputation has improved over time. Not enough to put in Cult or Classic status, but enough that this can't be considered completely obscure anymore. I'm quite curious to see it:
THE GENERAL with live music accompaniment by Viola Dana- Sun April 14 at 4- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Consider this more of a combo concert and film outing. The General played with live music alongside. I'm used to seeing it played with piano accompaniment or the semi-annoying electronic score on the version TCM airs. But this is a little different, which I'll go into later.
A Buster Keaton comedy classic, though I would argue that it's more an action film classic. He plays a train engineer who is better at showing affection to his locomotive, The General, than to his girlfriend. But the Civil War breaks out, and all the men in her family enlist and are accepted as infantry soldiers in the Confederacy. Keaton tries, but his engineer job makes him more valuable in that capacity than in the infantry. But the girlfriend thinks he skipped out on enlisting and brands him a coward.

Some time later, they meet again. Somehow, she ends up on his train when it's hijacked by Union spies. Keaton must now to go to great lengths to save his train (and oh yeah, his ex) from the North, then get back to the nearest Confederate general with his train (and oh yeah, his ex) to warn him of a surprise Union attack. Rooting for the Confederates is not as hard as you might think, this isn't Birth of a Nation folks. It's an action comedy. And there are some good comedy set pieces, such as Keaton in the enlistment office. But it works best as an action film. Wonderful scenes shot in the Northwest; the only place where Civil War style trains and tracks were still in use.
Wonderful stunt work from co-director/lead Keaton. Chaplin's films may be best remembered, but he couldn't do that kind of stunt work on a moving train. Yes, there are some classic comedy scenes, like when Keaton tries to enlist, or when he tries to spend time with his girl yet he has to return to soldiers lower in rank than himself. But anything involving the train is where the film shines brightest, especially the initial train chase. And as for the look of the film, any similarity between this and the classic Matthew Brady pictures from the Civil War-era is intentional I'm sure. Deservedly a classic. On the second AFI Top 100 list, very high on it as a matter of fact.
The film will be screened with live music accompaniment from the string/percussion ensemble Viola Dana. They won't be performing the original score however. They record a CD of selections of new music for this film. The Museum website calls the music a country and bluegrass infused blend of folk tunes, jazz and train evocations. The group is on a 6 stop tour preforming with The General. New York is the last city on the tour, and this particular screening, their next to last stop. I really hope I can make this, and the same goes for you:
CALIFORNIA SUITE for 7.50- Thurs Apr 18 at 7 and 9:30- Chelsea Clearview Cinemas- A cheap screening of the 1978 Neil Simon hit comedy. There's not a lot of call to revive this film, and I understand that. It's slight, and generally forgettable. But it works more often than not. Simon adapted his own play for the screen, and it doesn't successfully escape it's stage roots except for two plane scenes, one airport scene and one beach sequence. But working with longtime director collaborator Herbert Ross and an assembling a good cast lets everything run smoother than the material deserves.
Similar to Simon's earlier Plaza Suite, 4 stories are told, only connected by their taking in place in one of the posh suites of a California hotel. One aims mostly for drama: the conclusion of a bitter divorce fight between bickering Alan Alda and Jane Fonda. Well acted but the biggest pull is seeing young Dana Plato as their daughter; bittersweet to see her full of life, just before Different Strokes and the rocky road up ahead. Two aim for slapstick of the verbal and physical: the Walter Matthau/ Elaine May sequence (where the husband tries to hide his possibly ODed one night stand from his visiting wife) is far better than the Bill Cosby/ Richard Pryor sequence (where two doctor's game of one-upmanship takes a toll on both each other and their wives). The best sequence by far involves Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. They come into L.A. to attend the Academy Awards. Smith's character must face both the possibility of losing Best Actress and the probability of the end of her marriage, now that her husband identifies himself as a gay man.
As much as I like the film to varying degrees, let's face it, it could be easily ignored if it wasn't for the Caine/ Smith scenes. Two master thespians able to ride the wave back and forth between comedy and drama. It's been years since I've seen it, but their scenes still stand out. Some of you may have forgotten how young they both were, whether you think of Caine only from Christopher Nolan's work, or Smith as the Dowager on Downton Abbey. And this film probably would get little air/screen time if Smith hadn't won the Oscar (her second) for Supporting Actress. Vain, bright, crushed yet with a stiff upper lip, Smith rocks the material, and Caine keeps up ease. Their work is frankly the reason I'm posting the film at all. That and the cheap price. Your choice of attending either the 7pm screening with an intro by Hedda Lettuce, or the 9:30 without Hedda:

UN FLIC- Fri Apr 19, Sat Apr 20 and Mon- Wed Apr 22-24 at 7:10 and 9:10- Film Forum- A new 35mm print of director Jean-Pierre Melville's last film Un Flic, also known as A Cop or Dirty Money, from 1972. If you know me or paid partial attention to these lists, you know I've become a fan of Melville's work. Prior to 2006 I knew and liked Le Doulos, but seeing Army of Shadows is what impressed me. I've tried to go to at least one Melville film a year since then, and catching the likes of Le Cercle Rouge and Leon Morin:Priest were good experiences. Leon Morin was mostly the exception to what Melville tended to make: modern film noirs. Unfortunately that tended to be misunderstood, and combined with being perceived as not as cool as say, Truffaut, Goddard or Fassbinder, made it difficult for his last films to get proper releases here in this country. Army of Shadows and Le Circe Rouge didn't see a U.S. release until at least 20 years after its French release, and the film he made after them, Un Flic, was barely released and quickly dismissed.
Not too dissimilar to Michael Mann's Heat, where the cops and robbers are both decidedly middle-aged and feel this is a job, not a lifestyle. Also the intricacies of the robberies are on par with Le Cercle Rouge. Tired cop/ recovering burn-out Alain Delon is tracking down the suspects of a bank robbery gone violent, while trying to hold onto mistress Catherine Denuve, girlfriend of his best friend Richard Crenna. Unbeknowst to him, Crenna is actually the leader of the gang of robbers, who's planning to use the ill-gotten gains for an even bigger, more complicated heist.
The 50s throwback feel might have put some 70s audiences off, but the double retroness plays better now. And the idea of not one but TWO twenty-minute, dialogue-free heists isn't so hard to follow now. In fact it's probably easier to admire Melville's work now in the States. That wasn't a problem back in France where Denuve, at the height of her fame, was willing to accept a supporting role to work with Melville. Overall, I expect a good film and hope there's interest from some of you out there:
CROSS OF IRON introduced by Travis Riddle- for free with a $7.00 bar minimum- Fri April 19 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- To get in, simply go down to the Rubin Museum where admission into the museum itself is free. Hang a left pass the gift shop into the overly loud bar. Order some drinks, one beer or two Cokes/Ginger Ales/Seltzers are the minimum needed to do the trick. Go over to the person giving away the tickets for the film on a first come first served basis; generally near the immediate left or right from the bar itself but the bartender will point you where to go if you're unsure. Holding the drink(s) and asking for tix is all you need to do. You can bring your drinks into the screening room with you, and if you want more drinks, you can step out of the screening room for more.
Part of the Rubin Museum's Misperception in film series. Sam Peckinpah's little seen 1977 war film. The original 2 hr 12 minute cut, as opposed to the U.S. version that had 13 minutes cut out. Much in the same vein as Paths of Glory; some haven't like hearing Kubrick's film referred to as an anti-war film and prefer to consider it as an anti-stupidity film of those in command. But Peckinpah leaves little doubt about his intentions here, anti-war film all the way here. Taking place on the Eastern Front during World War 2, based on a 1956 novel that is (might be?) based on the exploits of a German non-commissioned officer. Maximilian Schell plays a swaggering German officer, who brags about how he had himself transferred from France to the Eastern Front to win the Iron Cross for himself and glory to Germany. While he merely annoys his superior (James Mason) and his superior's adjunct (David Warner), it's his growing conflict with his Sergeant (James Coburn) that makes the crux of the film. The Sergeant doesn't like any kind of Officers even "enlightened" ones like Mason's and Warner's characters. He finds officers way too caviler when handling the lives of his men. He only fights to keep himself and the young men under him alive to see another day, so he's certainly not in the mood to put up with some strutting Captain's bullshit. Tough luck for all these soldiers when the Russians begin their successful counter-attacks.
Features some of Coburn's best film work as the cynical Sgt. But despite it's realistic look (shot in Yugoslavia with mostly era-appropriate gear and uniforms), defenders like Orson Welles ("best war film he had seen about the ordinary enlisted man since All Quiet on the Western Front") and powerful battle scenes, the film had extremely mixed reviews. Reviews similar to another World War Two film released at the same time that also featured Schell, A Bridge Too Far. Two films that faced unexpected competition in the summer of 1977 from Star Wars. While Bridge's all-star cast helped get itself a tiny profit at best, Cross of Iron was steamrolled at the box office, more so in the U.S. than elsewhere. While the film was popular in Europe with audiences and critics alike, and opinion of the film has brightened considerably over the past few years, it wasn't enough to save Peckinpah's career. Already drinking multiple bottles of whiskey or vodka everyday of Iron's shoot, the film's failure put Sam's career in permanent decline, forcing him to make forgettable junk like Convoy and The Osterman Weekend.
But like I said, opinion about Cross of Iron has improved. Like with Heaven's Gate, the turnaround in opinion began in Europe with critics there. But unlike with Heaven's Gate, this turnaround hasn't extended to here in America, with one notable exception. Quentin Tarantino (yep, him again), just like with Un Flic, has cited Circle of Iron as a major influence on his work. Specifically with Inglorious Basterds; there's a similarity between Brad Pitt's character and Coburn's, and the way the Germans carry themselves in both film are also similar. I'm not sure if this is a forgotten masterpiece if one is to believe some European critics, but this may be a forgotten film that deserves attention. So let's try it.
The screening will be introduced by Travis Riddle. I don't know who he is, so here is what I cut and pasted from the Rubin's website:
Travis Riddle received his B.A. in Psychology at San Francisco State University, and is currently a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Psychology Department at Columbia University. The bulk of his research examines why people do or do not feel in control over their own thoughts and actions, and what the consequences of this variability in control are. However, despite the admonitions of his advisor, he has strong tendencies towards intellectual infidelity, and tends to associate with a diverse selection of research questions. Given this somewhat aimless path, it is probably not surprising that his favorite movie is The Graduate.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942)- Tues Apr 23 at 8- MOMA- Carole Lombard's last film, and where she received her biggest kudos. A dark comedy where she and Jack Benny, the stars of a small Polish theatre troupe, pull out all stops from keeping the Gestapo from shutting them down or worse, while helping a Polish solider find a German spy. But since this film was made in 1941 while the U.S. was "neutral", it was shelved from release until shortly after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Even then, the darkish rapid fire-paced satire turned off audiences in 1942. Has a major cult following (some claim it fits our time more then at it's initial release), and has been referred to as a comedy classic. Definitely a classic compared to Mel Brooks' mediocre remake. Would like to see this:

HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY- Wed Apr 24 at 8- MOMA- John Ford's Oscar winning story of an Irish coal mining family who struggles are depicted from the late 19th Century, to the far more difficult early 20th Century gets a rare-ish revival screening. Based on Richard Llewellyn novel, William Wyler was the original director in charge of most of the pre-production work; casting young Roddy McDowall as the protagonist's younger self, making preparations to shoot in Wales on a scale to rival Gone With The Wind. But the continued bombing of Britain by the Nazis and 20th Century Fox's own fear of a 4 hr pro-union non-American movie caused Fox to scale back and shoot in Southern California, let Wyler move on to shoot The Little Foxes, and have Fox bring in John Ford to shoot it. So' let's acknowledge Wyler as well as Ford, even if Ford was the one to actually make the Oscar winner for Best Picture. How it beat the likes of Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon I don't know; maybe this makes this film the over-rated Argo of its day, but I digress.
In the film, McDowell's character, as an older man, looks back at his family,  before the turn of the century. We see him with his parents, older brothers and older sister (Maureen O'Hara), just at before the moments when his childhood was about to end. When the coal mine lower the wages, resulting in a strike that causes strife for the men in the family who work in the mine. Before bullying in school forces the boy to grow up in a hurry. Before further coal mining literally strips the land of most of its greenness, and men are replaced by cheaper, less experienced labor. Before jealously and tragedy strikes the relationship between the sister and the man she loves, preacher Walter Pidgeon. And yet the family endures . . .
10 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay (Writing), and Supporting Actress for Sara Allgood as the matriarch. 5 Oscars, for Ford for Director, Art Direction, Cinematography and for Donald Crisp as the patriarch. And oh yeah, Best Picture, where it beat out Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, Sgt. York, Suspicion and The Little Foxes, among others. Yeah I don't get that either, especially in the cases of Kane and Falcon. But those two films were never going to win back then, not with Kane being a flop and on William Randolph Hearst's hate list and Falcon being merely among the best of its type. Guess the power of family was bigger than the dislike of unions. But don't let me put you off on this tough but very good drama:

CASABLANCA- Fri Apr 26 at 8 for free (subject to ticket availability)- MOMA- No point in breaking down the Bogart classic. On both AFI lists, (top 5 on both), Multiple Oscars including Best Picture, in my personal Top 15, and if it isn't in yours, what the hell is wrong with you. Now this isn't the first time I've posted this film, though every time I attempted to catch a screening it's been sold out, usually sold out for hours.
Now this is a little different, since it will play at MOMA on one of thier Target sponsored free nights. The old policy was that tickets would be available on a first come first served basis at 3-3:30 on the afternoon of the screening. Now I'm not sure when exactly the policy changed, but it was changed when I went in October to see From Russia With Love. Tickets are available for members first, any spare tickets were given out at 3:45, but if you weren't on line for said tickets beforehand, forget it. For the screening of Goldfinger afterwards, all tickets that were initially available were already taken by members, with standby tickets that weren't given out until 10 minutes after the scheduled time. Thank goodness there was an intro prior to the screening, and THAT was late. So if that's how it goes with two popular Bond films, then you can imagine how popular Casablanca will be if one doesn't plan ahead for this:
VERTIGO- Fri Apr 26 at 9:30- introduced by Alex Stones- for free with a $7.00 bar minimum- Rubin Museum of Art- If one can't get into Casablanca that night, there's always Vertigo. A relatively quick trip on the E train and a quick walk and you have a fail-safe plan if you're determined to see a movie classic on the 26th. In terms of getting in, go to my post about Cross of Iron, and it's the same deal.
Now as for Vertigo itself, if you're the kind of person who looks at sites like this, than you're familiar with the Hitchcock classic. This is also part of the Rubin's retrospective of mispeception depicted in cinema series. A tragic romance with poor guy Jimmy Stewart, going down the emotional Rabbit Hole of Doom as he falls for Kim Novack, and tries not to literally fall due to his vertigo. The story of obsessive love that has never been done better than this. Not on the big screen anyway. Even though the Rubin will be providing a relaxed screening room environment with bar access as opposed to a movie theater experience, seeing Vertigo on a big screen as opposed to TV are two different experiences altogether.   
A film that was ignored at best and derided at worst in its initial release, but attained instant classic status upon its 1984 re-release. a near permanent fixture on most AFI Top 100 lists. In some recent film articles listing best movies, Vertigo has made the leap to 1st or 2nd. Not quite sure about that, but on my own Top 40 for sure. So by all means, if you can't get into Casablanca that night, Vertigo isn't a bad fall-back at all.
Now again, note that I haven't written much at all about the story itself. To paraphrase Martin Scorsese when he wrote about Vertigo, not only is Vertigo required viewing, it also requires a Personal Response. Your life experiences will determine how you will take it. I'm guessing anyone who looks at my lists has seen Vertigo before. Therefore, you jumped past following the plot and can get to the heart (figuratively and literally) of the story.
The screening will be introduced by author Alex Stones. I'm afraid I don't know the gentleman, so here's who he is according to the Rubin Museum's website:
Alex Stones writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, Discover, The New Republic, and The Huffington Post, among other places. He is the author of Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks and the Hidden Powers of the Mind—a book about the underground world of magic and its ties to psychology, neuroscience, physics, mathematics, gambling, and crime.

Stone graduated from Harvard University with a degree in English and has a masters degree in physics from Columbia University. He grew up in Wisconsin, Texas, and Spain. He currently resides above a bar in Brooklyn.

WEST SIDE STORY- Sat Apr 27 at 6- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Yes, I've posted West Side Story every time it's played on a screen of respectable size, and I'm doing so again. I've caught twice at the Ziegfeld where it played great, and I've posted it at MOMA where I'm sure it played great as well. Now I'm posting two screenings of it at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. A DCP screening of its digital restoration. Trust me, if both Tree of Life and North By Northwest can look and sound great in THAT format on THAT screen, then you can imagine how much I'm chomping on the bit to see this.
West Side Story is on both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal Top 100. Number 2 on AFI's recent Best Movie Musical list. It is totally different seeing it on the big screen as opposed to TV. I can't describe it very well, you have to go to know what I mean. Sight and sound makes this more of an experience then just passive viewing like on tv. Is it perfect? No. Some of the slang is just too dated, some of the actors had to be painted Latino (get a good look at George Chakiris and tell me I'm wrong), most of the teenagers are either over 21 or pushing 30, and some had to be dubbed. But mix Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's songs, Jerome Robbins's choreography and Robert Wise's direction and you have a terrific film. Yes, Robbins was a co-director, until his perfectionism resulted in re-shoots and extended shooting, causing the film to go over budget and behind schedule. He was fired 60 percent into shooting and Wise finished it. Stunning use of New York locales and a terrific opening credit sequence and ending. 10 Oscars including Picture and Director. If you've never seen it on the big screen, go with no hesitation:

WEST SIDE STORY- Sun Apr 28 at 2 followed by a Q and A with Bert Michaels, Harvey Evans, Eddie Verso and David Bean and a book signing with them- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- Yes, there is a second screening of West Side Story in Astoria. Unlike the Saturday night screening, this Sunday afternoon screening will be followed by a Q and A with 4 of the actor/dancers from the film: Bert Michaels (Snowboy), Harvey Evans (Mouthpiece), Eddie Verso (Juano), and David Bean (Tiger). They wrote a book, published on October 2011, titled "Our Story Jets and Sharks: Then and Now. In it, they and some of the other dancers still with us as of early 2011 share their stories. What got them into dancing, the trek to Los Angeles to work on the film, the difficult rehearsal/training process, and how extreme their downtime was.
After the Q and A, the four men will sign copies of the book, which will be sold at the gift shop. Which means I expect this to be a crowded screening; if any of you have attended the screenings with me for say, The Dark Crystal, North by Northwest, The Muppet Movie, or any Terrence Malick film, then you know how large a pre-film crowd at the Museum can be. And how after awhile there's no place to really put a crowd for a sold-out screening before they're allowed to sit. Members of the museum can reserve their seats in advance. Everyone else, whether they are paying non-members or members of SAG-AFTRA who can get in for free, will have to get their tickets the day of. So this requires planning.
Which screening to go to on the weekend, as of this writing, doesn't matter to me. Both require planning, but especially the Sunday screening. So if any of you are interested, especially those of you who have never seen this on the big screen, I'll go on whichever day gets the most votes so let me know:

SAFETY LAST- Mon Apr 29 and Tues Apr 30 at 7:20- Film Forum- A DCP screening for 5 days only, twice each day. I'm only posting the last 2 days and the only screening I think I can catch. From 1923, a romantic slapstick comedy, where Harold Lloyd tries to "make it in the big city" before sending his girlfriend up to join him in marriage. Making it isn't easy, especially at the department store he works at. He tries to make more money, and keep his girlfriend interested with expensive gifts, but he's burning the candle at both ends. Things come to a head when the girlfriend comes into town at the same time there's a case of mistaken identity by both the Law and by his bosses, forcing Lloyd to climb the outside of a skyscraper. Long convoluted story how he gets on the skyscraper, but the film does a far better job of getting there visually then I do via writing. I prefer to think of it as the power of silent film in the hands of a master like Lloyd than the alternative.
The point is Lloyd gets on the skyscraper and he climbs it. His climbing said skyscraper and getting tangled up by that infamous clock is what's most memorable about the film. It's easy to forget the rest of the film, and despite it's classic status, I would argue the rest of the film has been forgotten by non-Lloyd fanatics. I don't recall Back To The Future, Hugo, or Jackie Chan's Project A doing any homages to any of the department store scenes or the knocking down of the police officer. But they certainly do homages to the clock tower scene. Now's a good time to get to know the rest of the film as well. And don't worry, it's only seventy minutes long, so you'll get out pretty quick:  

THE SMALL BLACK ROOM- Mon Apr 29 at 8- MOMA- Another British film from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Maybe not the best intro for new viewers to their work, as opposed to The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus. In fact two actors from Narcissus, David Farrar and Kathleen Byron, play roles in The Small Black Room that are almost polar opposites of their Narcissus's roles.
The Small Black Room, also known as Hour of Glory, from 1949 though released in the U.S. in 1952. Set in World War 2, Farrar plays a man that seems the prototype of both Paul Newman's character in The Verdict and TV's Gregory House. Farrar is a bitter scientist, hating the way the military handles scientific research, angry at the loss of a foot, taking painkillers that don't help, and plunging straight long into alcoholism. Pushing aside his longtime girlfriend (Bryon) who is running out of patience with this man. But as his life continues to free fall, the scientist is pressed into duty by the military to disarm Nazi bombs that are too intricate to disarm by themselves, and too close to populations to just casually move them? Will the scientist be able to rise above to help the war effort? Is there anything left in him that could rise?
Not the grand vision or expansive story of a Red Shoes or A Matter of Life or Death here. More claustrophobic here, with film-noir touches, minimal if any background music and a bit of The Hurt Locker when it comes to the disarming sequence. With recognizable Brit actors (Jack Hawkins, Michael Gough, Robert Morely) tossed into the mix as well. Little known these days in and out of Britain, but worth the effort to catch it:

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

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