Sunday, April 13, 2014

April revivals: second half

Hey all, Mike here. Remember when I said I'd only post a late April revival list if I see something worth the time and effort? Well, there are a couple of films worthy of taking the time to see. Thank you to the Museum of the Moving Image in terms of being late in posting something, but thank you for also giving us a few interesting possibilities.
I also added a few from the last list as well. Some conflict with each other, but so what? I'm not reposting Grey Gardens on Monday April 28th however. If tickets weren't purchased by April 6th, there's no point in bringing it up now. Besides we have enough options I think, here we go:
THE LAST METRO- Thurs April 17 at 9:40- Film Forum- The conclusion of the Forum's Complete Truffaut retrospective. The last hit of Truffaut's career here in the States, and a film classic as far as France is concerned. Put it this way, the classic status that has been bestowed on say, Raging Bull in the 1980s, France did in the same year/decade with this film (released in the states officially in February 1981). Except they gave it their equivalent of the Oscar for Best Picture, the Cesar, while we honored Ordinary People instead. Hell it didn't even win Best Foreign Language Film. But considering it was up against the likes of Kurosawa's Kagamusha and the eventual winner Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (a big deal in the arthouse circuit back then), I don't envy the voters having to choose between them.
Sorry I'm not more definitive or more decisive in my comments about the film itself, but I still haven't seen it. I tried to see it a few years back, but misunderstandings caused that attempt to fail. Therefore I'll copy and paste how Lincoln Center described the film on their website a few years ago, which is not very different from the way the Film Forum describes it now:
Lucas Steiner is a Jew and was compelled to leave the country. His wife Marion (Catherine Deneuve), an actress, directs the theater for him. She tries to keep the theater alive with a new play, and hires Bernard Granger (Gerard Depardieu) for the leading role. But Lucas is actually hiding in the basement. . .

Next is a quote from Vincent Camby when he reviewed it for the Times:

"The film has the form of a more or less conventional melodrama, about a small Parisian theater company during the 1942-44 Nazi occupation, though the film's methods are so systematically unconventional that it becomes a gently comic, romantic meditation on love, loyalty, heroism, and history.  The Last Metro is a melodrama that discreetly refuses to exercise its melodramatic options. It's also a love story that scarcely recognizes its lovers. Though the setting is a legitimate theater, the Theatre Montmartre,it's not an "inside theater" movie. The Last Metro is about a particular time in history. Its Theatre Montmartre is a refuge -- actual in the case of one character, and psychological for the others. The theater provides them survival. The focal point of the film is the Theatre Montmartre's production of the French translation of a Norwegian play, La Disparue (The Woman Who Disappeared)... The content of La Disparue, however, is of no more moment than that of Meet Pamela, the rather awful sounding film that was being produced in the course of Day for Night. The Last Metro is about the manner in which the Theatre Montmartre actors approach their work, their shifting relations with each other,and the way in which each responds to the condition of being "occupied." The Last Metro doesn't dwell on the horrors of Nazi-encouraged, French anti-Semitism, which flourished during the occupation, but it is haunted by those horrors. It takes a little while to catch the tempo of the film, but pay attention. The Last Metro is about lives surrounded by melodrama,being lived with as little outward fuss as possible."
GODZILLA- Fri April 18- Thurs April 24 at 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45- A DCP restoration of the original Godzilla, in time for both its 60th anniversary and the newest remake/reboot with Bryan Cranston. This is the original version, not the version American distributors chopped up and stuck Raymond Burr in. The Burr version is what TCM still screens as late as last month, as opposed to what you would come down to see in April.
Just because this started a long chain of crappy monster films, doesn't make this junk. You see consequences to the destruction, a believable romantic subplot, and a more political film then you might think. Yes, a chunk of it looks cheesy and cheap, but in this era and with this being more in violence-with-consequences territory, it looks more endearing than insulting. Combine that with its anti-nuke message, and with a brief scene between boyfriend and girlfriend that American studios couldn't do in the 50s, and no wonder it was cut up here.
I'm not sure when exactly I can do this, so I posted the times I'll most likely be available, as well as all seven days its scheduled to play. There's a chance the run could be extended, but the Forum wouldn't tell us until probably April 21st or 22nd:
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS- Wed April 23 at 2 and 7- A digital screening of the Cecil B DeMille classic, specifically the Charlton Heston as Moses version. One of the biggest movies of all time gets a rare screening, as part of AMC's Classic Series. No discount I'm afraid, but a film this big and long doesn't really need it. and I say rare screening because let's face it, as a perennial Easter time broadcast on ABC, who wants to tackle it? This screening, one screening at the Museum of the Moving Image about seven years or so ago, one re-release in the spring of 1984 or 1985, that's about it as far as I can remember.
Anyway, the point is I'm ambitious enough, and curious enough to see it. Not curious enough to take up my Easter Sunday to see it, but curious enough to try it a few days/nights after Easter. 
Sometimes this film is  interesting because of the filmmaking. Set pieces like Heston saving a slave, the plague that sweeps Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the formation of the Commandments themselves, and the climax by the golden whatever that is; that's some damn fine, subtle-as-a-brick filmmaking that makes me happy. Sometimes it's interesting thanks to the overacting of the likes of Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter and Edward G Robinson; it might be over the top, but boy are they committed and it sure ain't boring.
Maybe because it plays every year for as long as most of us can remember plus commercials, seeing this feels like work. And because it plays as subtle as a brick every year, it feels like actual work with little enjoyment. Throw in memories of say, Heston acting jokes, or Billy Crystal doing Edward G impressions ("Hey Moses where's your Messiah NOW!") and i'm sure we can have some fun. Ok, I may not sound very reverential to this, but I'm not casually dismissing it either. If you have the 3 hours and 40 minutes to spare and you're up to the challenge, let's do it:
ALTERED STATES- Fri April 25 at 7- Museum of the Moving Image- And now for something completely different, from the Museum's See It Big: Science fiction series. From 1980, grad student William Hurt experiments on himself in an isolation chamber in attempt to understand schizophrenia, causing hallucinations. He stops due to the extreme religious implications to said hallucinations, as well as falling in love with fellow academic Blair Brown. Years later, now a full professor at Harvard with a stale marriage, he decides to resume his experiments, adding untested Mexican hallucinogens. The hallucinations return, alongside some genetic changes . . .  
It's borderline amazing that this film ever got made, and then completed. It was Paddy Chayefsky's first screenplay since Network, and he insisted on much control. He clashed with director Arthur Penn, who eventually quit, alongside visual effects man John Dykstra. New director Ken Russell was hired. Yep, batshit crazy director Russell, who didn't mind mixing some comedy with a deadly serious approach to the material. Chayefsky clashed worse with Russell than he did with Penn. It got to the point where Paddy tried to get Russell fired early in filming, but Columbia Pictures (who eventually got tired of the drama and sold their interest to Warner Bros.) said no. Russell banned Paddy from the set, who promptly took his name off the project. The film was all over the place with critics back then (treated somewhat better today), and it barely found any audience. Easier to embrace, or at least sit through, the likes of 9 To 5, Stir Crazy, or even Popeye, than Altered States. 2 minor Oscar nominations, for the Score and Sound, didn't help. Home video and cable audiences embraced the film more, and it kept a certain amount of popularity as along as William Hurt's star continued to rise. As he went from a kind of Thinking Man Sex Symbol, to multiple Oscar nominee, to eventual Oscar winner, Altered States maintained a level of draw. But once Hurt's career faded a bit, after the likes of I Love You To Death and Alice, interest in Altered States faded to the point of being a footnote. Maybe remembered by fans of Mr Skin because of Blair Brown, or as Drew Barrymore's film debut as Hurt and Brown's daughter.
But this is a flawed yet interesting film. Always visually interesting, an interesting cast that also includes Charles Haid and Bob Balaban, and a filmmaker like Russell always reveled in more than a little excess. Maybe hard to take it as seriously as it was intended back then; a little more sense of humor that Russell would bring to the likes of say, Lair of the White Worm, might have helped Altered States a bit. But I don't mind a little over the top in my films on occasion, and this is so rarely screened, so why not take a chance on a Friday night?
OTHELLO (1952)- Fri April 25- Thurs May 8 at 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45 (no 7:30 on Mondays, no 9:45 at Monday May 5th)- Film Forum- A DCP restoration, playing as part of a series of events celebrating the 450th birthday of Bill Shakespeare. Orson Welles's adaptation of the famous play, whittled down from 3 or so hours to 95 minutes. The difficulties in getting this made and getting this screened are almost legendary. The years it took to complete principal photography, interrupted when Welles was forced to take acting jobs (including The Third Man) to have money to finish. The losing of an actor here and there, and the choice to dub his Desdemona. The years of restoration, and the decades of legal battles between Welles's daughter and others as to which restoration was the true work.
All of which is relatively better known than the actual film itself. Possibly the least known among Americans of all the films to ever win the Grand Prize at Cannes, and this includes some foreign films that are obscure to us. Is it any good? I have no idea. Two previous attempts for me to catch this at the Forum and Lincoln Center failed due to sold out screenings. We have two weeks to catch this. Not sure when specifically I can go, so I posted all the dates of the run, though take that any Monday attempts will not be easy. Anyway there's one reason I wouldn't want to do this on Monday, April 28th, and that reason is the next film below the Othello link . . . :
THE LODGER- Sat April 26 at 3- Film Forum- Part of the Forum's series, the Hitchcock 9. Specifically, the nine silent films Alfred Hitchcock directed. All of whom have received digital restorations. All of whom will have live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner, who did a wonderful job with a screening of Buster Keaton's Seven Chances that I attended a few years back.
I've never seen more than clips of any one Hitchcock silent, and now is a good opportunity to see one now, when I can be focused on it, as opposed to distracted at home by other things. And Hitch's first official film, The Lodger, is a good place to start. Ninety minutes long; not the longest cut of the film ever, but as long as what TCM airs now.
Based on a popular fictional book of the day that purported to solve the case of Jack the Ripper, there's a serial killer on the loose named The Avenger. Blonde women have been killed left and right. A detective on the case is dating a girl still living at home. Her parents have rented a room to a mysterious lodger, could he be The Avenger? Oh yeah, did I mention she's a blonde?
Ok, this isn't Hitch's first film, it's his third, actually his second feature length picture to be precise. But it is Hitch's first suspense film, and when you note that this also contains Hitch's first cameo on a film, then you get the idea this is truly his first Hitchcock film as we would perceive it. Like I wrote earlier, I've never seen it, but I'm game if you are:
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH- Sat April 26 at 4 (Laramie) and 7 (Earth)- Museum of the Moving Image- A strange double feature for sure, but this is what you can do if you wish to spend a long afternoon/ evening at the Museum of the Moving Image. First, The Man From Laramie, the only film from the Museum's Anthony Mann retrospective that I might have time for. Jimmy Stewart is a stranger looking for answers about gun running to Apaches, something he seems to be taking personally. When he goes to a small, isolated Colorado town for the answers, he instead gets embroiled in an internal family struggle. Kind of a mix between King Lear and The Road to Perdition, where the old patriarch wants to control how his land (or ranch in this case) will be run past his death, but won't promote someone who's almost like his own son over his own biological (and violent) screw-up of a kid. Like with Stewart and Mann's other collaborations, high drama, rising anger (especially from Stewart, usually against type), and vast exterior shots, all rising to a fever pitch.
Next is The Man Who Fell To Earth, as part of the Museum's See It Big: Science Fiction retrospective. The original director's cut, in a DCP restoration that has been playing in New York off and on for almost two years now. Nicholas Roeg's sci-fi cult classic from 1976, with David Bowie as an alien. He must get water to his dying planet, so he comes to Earth, poses as a human, and forms a company that serves as a multi-national front, while he builds a return ship. But he doesn't plan on dealing with falling in love or at least in lust, or the enjoyable trappings of wealth, or the U.S. government, and business greed and ruthlessness. Bowie has never been perfectly cast as he was here, with strong support from Rip Torn, Candy Clark, and Buck Henry. If you never saw it, you'll find it interesting. One of those films that doesn't spell everything out for you, so you'll actually have to think a little, God help you (Tee-Hee!). For sure, of its time. Beautiful to look, at times erotically charged, yet tragic and always fascinating:
Let me know if there's interest. Later all, and Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Hello all. Mike here giving thanks. Thank you to those of you who've come out to join me in my revival film outings. Whether you came out once or came out multiple times, thanks for coming out to see the following films over the past 12 months:
DIAL M FOR MURDER in 3-D- the second time I saw it in a wonderful looking 3-D restoration, which is why I chose not to do it a third time this month when it became available in the Forum's Complete Hitchcock retrospective,
HOUSE OF BAMBOO- mixed reaction to it. The Cinemascope photography is never boring, the amusement park rooftop sequence deserves all the attention it can get, and I get what Robert Ryan was trying to do as a possibly gay crime boss (a concept a studio film couldn't articulate back then, even with the Production Code almost over). But my God, Robert Stack is wooden to the point of being petrified,
UN FLIC- Jean-Pierre Melville's last film. Even merely passable Melville is better than some other director's best work,
BADLANDS- even as I watch and re-watch Malick, and still feel Days of Heaven is his best work, this stands out. Possibly the best debut film for a director ever. At least in the conversation of best debut films NOT named Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon,
VOYAGE TO ITALY- the forced, unconvincing happy ending aside, very good. Feels like a film that one can appreciate more as the years go by, 
SCARECROW- for those who prefer small character pieces, here's a little gem from the 70s, waiting to be discovered. I completely get why this was Gene Hackman's favorite work, and why he was depressed for years when the audiences didn't come,
THE SWARM- the largest revival group outing of the year for me, and it happened completely by accident. I convinced someone, and he convinced someone, and he convinced someone, and he convinced someone . . . By the time we all met up at IFC Center, we were a party of 12 and made up about 75 percent of the "crowd". All for a gloriously awful movie. To paraphrase one member of our group who would fall asleep every 15 minutes or so for two minutes for almost half the movie, only to wake up to see something horrifyingly stupid/funny: Technically it's competently made with a Jerry Goldsmith score that's far better than it deserves, but the script is God awful. The only thing to make this outing less than perfect, was two of our group that we didn't really know, shushing us after we make a low whisper reaction to whatever atrocity in filmmaking had just occurred. Treating the dialogue from this notoriously awful film from the late 1970s like Holy Scripture is not the way to go. This ain't The Room, folks. I'm looking forward to introducing this hideously fun film to others, 
SINGIN IN THE RAIN- If I needed any more confirmation that this is still the best movie musical I've ever seen, yet another screening at the Museum of the Moving Image confirmed it,
THE WIZARD OF OZ in IMAX 3-D- the first time I've ever seen this from beginning to end without commercial interruption. What can I say, decades of seeing it on CBS or TNT, but not on TCM or on video. Worth every effort I made to get into Manhattan for this,
RUSSIAN ARK- not sure if I'll ever watch this film again, especially on TV. But this experimental, at times artistically dazzling partial look back at Russian history is worth seeing once. Especially if you have some knowledge or interest in Russian history, and if you ever wish to see the Hermitage but don't think you'll ever get to go in person,
A DOG'S LIFE: A ROWLF RETROSPECTIVE- technically a revival, even if it was more a compilation of clips, skits, scenes and commercials,
FAR FROM HEAVEN- the first time I saw it on the big screen. The Douglas Sirk-like touches throughout the film make a much larger impact on screen than it ever would on TV, regardless of whether you're familiar with Mr. Sirk's work,
BOOGIE NIGHTS- I'll never put this above L.A. Confidential as best film of 1997, but it's getting harder to think of any other film that was better that year. Even Kundun, Scorsese's film about the current Dalai Lama when he was young, that I've pushed on people from time to time,
THEY LIVE- the better of the two John Carpenter revivals I did at IFC Center last year. More successful in mixing quality B-movie action with still potent social/political satire. And oh that wonderful almost- neverending fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David . . . ,
STORIES WE TELL- yes it came out last year, but it was technically a revival by the time I caught it at Lincoln Center,
ALL THAT JAZZ- my favorite revival outing of the year, even if meant traveling around during the worst of the Polar Vortex. A group of 6 of us, with three people having never seen it before, and one who saw pieces of it on TV over the course of 25+ years. They might not have agreed with me about All That Jazz being the best film of 1979 (just over Apocalypse Now, but only because of the quality of the end of their respective journeys), but a great time was had by all,
RUN AND JUMP- I'm counting it as a revival here. I'm guessing this has received a release somewhere in the U.S., but I don't remember this screening in NYC at any point between when I caught it at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria and when it screened last spring at the Tribeca Film Festival. Ok drama, but frankly nothing more than ok,
27 revivals in total. 28 if I count a revival screening of Museum Hours in Astoria, which I won't because I didn't post it prior. Much smaller than the previous number of revivals I caught last year, 43. I expected a lower total once my life got busy from early January thru right now, attempts to catch Casablanca and Cabaret fell apart for different reasons, and if I didn't get sick just before a Fahrenheit 451 screening, plus a bit more concentration on my end with current films as well. But I didn't expect below 30 revivals. Oh well, hope I do better next year.
Thank you to all who joined me for these outings I hold dear, whether it was once, a ton of times, or somewhere in between. Special thanks again to Ed for catching the most revivals with me. But I thank you all who did this at least once with me, this number of you  were a lot more than I'm used to. A pleasant surprise. I know some of you look at stuff I post, if you look at all, and think the idea of catching "old movies" is almost an anathema to you. In the era of Netflix and with the occasional selection of mine coming within days or hours of a TCM screening of same, some films can be a hard sell. Never mind having to grapple with the idea that a film made as late as 1997 can now be considered "old". So that some of you are willing to take a chance is very gratifying to me, thank you.