Monday, May 05, 2014

May revivals: first third

Hey all, Mike here with the latest revival list. For the month of May, I will split it up into three lists. This one here, one that will probably go from May 16th  until about May 22nd I think, and then one from Memorial Day weekend until about the end of the month. Something tells me that last May list will be a little overwhelming for me to post everything, but I'll do my best. In the meantime, on to this list, here we go:

BEN-HUR (1959)- Wed May 7 at 7- AMC Empire- A DCP screening as part of AMC's Classic Film series, currently emphasizing the sword and sandal epic era of the 1950s/early 1960s.The 11 time Oscar winner and one of the highest grossing films ever mad (don't look at the regular list; check the adjusted for inflation list and be surprised), Ben-Hur gets a special screening. Part of AMC's special screenings of films:epics edition (my words, not theirs). We'll probably be getting a DCP of the recent restoration from about two and a half years ago. We'll probably be getting a DCP of the recent restoration from about two and a half years ago. If their recent presentation of The Ten Commandments is any indication, it should look fine and sound fantastic.

I went a long time without seeing Ben-Hur. It played frequently on the 4:30 Movie here in NYC. But it was chopped into what, 4 or 5 parts maybe, and if I was ever going to watch a Heston film back then, it would be Planet of the Apes. Once cable came along in the household, I still wouldn't pay much attention to it. The only time would be sequences of the famous chariot scene in a documentary about Wyler, or spots on TCM where the chariot scene was used as an example of the virtues or widescreen, as opposed to fullscreen or pan-and-scan.

This changed in February 2006, when I saw it on the Ziegfeld's big screen. The story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince betrayed and sold into slavery by his Roman best friend, is the kind of epic film others aspire/aspired to be. Heston's broad style of acting results in a career performance here, as he seeks revenge throughout the year. A drive for revenge that does more to separate him from his love and his leprosy-plagued family than slavery ever did. Coming to a head with the kind of chariot race/ action scene that Gladiator and all its CGI could dream about.

Melodrama and sentiment are abound here, but I'm not opposed to a little excess, especially when its done this well. And yet the scenes involving Jesus, especially the crucifixion, were done with such sensitivity . . . . My feelings regarding The Passion of the Christ changed from being in my top Ten of 2004 just missing the top Five, to just barely in my Top 10 with no need to ever see it again. That's how good a job of direction I thought Wyler did. You might disagree, but I'm guessing you've never seen Ben-Hur on the big screen and hey, I'm not offering an answer, just a response to what I saw.

A nomination for the Screenplay. 11 Oscars, including Picture, Heston for Actor, Wyler for Director, scene-stealing Hugh Griffith for Supporting Actor, and Score. A record for Oscars, tied by Titanic and Return of the King. On both AFI Top 100 lists. May or may not be in my own top 100, but if it isn't, it's very close: 
QUEEN MARGOT- Sat May 10 at 7:15- Film Forum- A DCP restoration. It plays for one week, from Friday May 9 thru Thurs May 15. But Saturday May 10 is my only possible day, and 7:15 is my only possible time. A full bodied, and at times full bloody, adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's novel. I'm just gonna quote part of the Forum's description of this and then I'll resume: 

" (1994) France, 1572, and during an uneasy break in the wars of religion, Jean-Hugues Anglade’s King Charles IX concludes a marriage of state between his sister, Isabelle Adjani’s Catholic Margot, and Daniel Auteuil’s Huguenot King Henry of Navarre, by ramming forward a reluctant Adjani’s head in lieu of a “Oui.” Peace now, huh? — but Virna Lisi’s skull-faced Queen Mother/Regent is already plotting the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (see Intolerance in Special Events), and that’s just the beginning of the head-snapping side switches, non-stop scheming, sometimes accidental poisoning, double beheadings, and frenzied couplings, including Adjani’s throbbingly romantic affair with Vincent Perez’s La Môle. The late Patrice Chéreau’s high octane adaptation of the Dumas novel begins in fifth gear and never lets up, plunging in hip deep in history and into a dizzying array of characters, with passionate performances and a riveting, horrific staging of the Massacre. . . .:

It's a better description of the history than I could give. But if you want a historical drama with more of a kick, Queen Margot will provide it. If you're familiar with the recent series The Borgias and The Tudors, then you have an idea of what you're getting. Only this time with the kind of budget and hand-craftsmanship that cranks up the opulence to eleven. Plus your fair share of bodice-ripping, peasant massacring, monarch poisoning, and sword fighting, even a little dark comedy. Plus a strong amount of easy on the romance from leads Perez and Adjani. Actually I should re-phrase regarding Ms. Adjani. I'd seen her performances in a number of films over the years though no new film since the terrible Diabolique. But after seeing her last month in The Story of Adele H., I'm convinced there's little Ms. Adjani can't do on the big screen.

Was a big hit overseas and won some awards, including two wins and a Palme d'Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. But the original 161-162 minute version was not what we got here in the States. It was distributed by Miramax Films where the Weinstein brothers, or at Harvey Weinstein I believe, insisted on a shorter version with a bit more emphasis on the romance between Adjani and Perez. So almost twenty minutes were cut out by director Chereau, with a scene cut from the original edit between Perez and Adjani, the two of them outside wearing nothing but a single red cloak. The film did decent in the U.S. and received an Oscar nomination for costume design.

But we never saw the complete uncut version, as the Forum is touting it, and I'm not convinced we will now. Not with the Forum's website saying this 159 minutes as opposed to the 161-162 figure that played in Cannes twenty years ago, plus the Forum's use of the red cloak scene on its website. But if you think that will stop me from catching the film, you 're wrong: 
LOGAN'S RUN for $8.00- Thurs May 15 at 7 and 9:30- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- A cheap screening of the sci-fi film from 1976. Not what I would consider a classic among the greats by any stretch, yet too popular to be consider a cult classic as well. Kind of in-between. Your choice of screenings: the 7pm with a Hedda Lettuce intro, 9:30 without Hedda.

Set in the late 23rd Century, where people live in a futuristic city. A Utopian city where the beautiful young people can carry out and fulfill their non-violent desires, and a computer smarter than even Hal-9000 runs every other facet of their lives. This includes having every citizen on their 30th birthday, go through a ritual called Carrousel, where om the citizen's Last Day, they vaporize with the hopes of being Renewed. Some citizens see Carrousel as a way of maintaining population control through false ceremony and incineration, and decide to run and escape the city. Some of them are Running to a place called Sanctuary, where they would be safe. All of those who Run are chased by a kind of police called Sandmen, who either bring the Runners to Carrousel, or execute them on the spot. 

Were these Sandmen characters an uncredited (unconscious?) inspiration for Judge Dredd perhaps? Either way, this is the part of the story where Michael York's title character comes in. Logan is the best of the Sandmen, who enjoys his life and his job, but is puzzled about this Sanctuary. He's also fascinated by Jessica, who believes in Sanctuary. She's played by Jenny Agutter, who some of you may know now as an older woman in Call The Midwife and Captain America: The Winter Solider, but who is almost insanely beautiful here. Anyway, Logan is forced by the computer to investigate this Sanctuary, by changing his lifeclock (don't ask) and forcing him to become a Runner. He takes Jessica with him, but both are vulnerable from people seeking revenge on Logan, from the forces on the outskirts of the city and beyond, and from his fellow Sandmen. One in particular (played by Richard Jordan), Logan's best friend who is unaware of Logan's mission, and is taking this seeming betrayal VERY personally.

Honestly, I'm doing my best to make this sound great, but the film does become quite silly and/or over the top at times. The 70s vibe here is more kitschy at times (something Hedda will have fun with I'm sure), and most of the Oscar winning Visual Effects don't hold up. How much silliness you can take may depends on the individual, and that's before we get to the three quarter mark of the film, and Peter Ustinov's character gets involved. Luckily, the Oscar nominated Art Direction and Cinematography still hold up, and York and Agutter give the film enough earnestness, energy and enthusiasm to get us over some rough patches:   

Let me know if there's interest, later all.

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