Thursday, May 22, 2014

May revivals: Memorial Day weekend plus

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the rest of May, with emphasis on this coming Memorial Day weekend. Not a large list, but eclectic enough. Here we go, no time to waste. I'll start with two revivals that conflict with each other on Friday, May 23rd:

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER with Happy Anniversary for free (subject to availability)- Fri May 23 at 8- MOMA- Francois Truffaut's version of a gangster film, where thriller and comedy aspects are thrown into the genre in uneven amounts. A concert pianist, burned out and widowed, works in a dive. Has 2 hot chicks who want him, but he's closer to Spock then to an emotionally expressive person, except when he plays the piano. But now that his brothers are in trouble with (amateur) criminals, things can't stay good forever. Never seen this, but the mixture of comedy, drama, thriller aspects, homages to Warner Bros B crime flicks, and a passing resemblance to Vertigo (more than just passing?!?!?), it's sounds very interesting.

Preceded with the comedic short, Happy Anniversary. An Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short, from 1963. A woman prepares an anniversary dinner for herself and her husband. As her husband tries to buy a last minute gift, it seems all of Paris is against him getting home on time. Kinda similar to After Hours, but not nearly as dark:

THE MERCHANT OF FOUR SEASONS- Fri May 23 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. A DCP restoration that put Fassbinder on the map in West Germany. Following the story of a man back from the Foreign Legion. A little man in every way; far from loved by his upper-class mother, married to his physical opposite of a wife (Hanna Schygulla) who isn't his one love, forced to become a fruit peddler when he can't even go back to his former job as a policeman. Realistic, occasionally subtle depiction of depression, suffered by someone with self-destructive tendencies and little hope of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Probably something Fassbinder was familiar with, though this might supposition on my part, when considering his suicide about eleven years after Merchant was released. Definitely Fassbinder's first attempt to make something similar to a Douglas Sirk film. A tough film, but a good one. Yes, it's about small people, but don't say why I should pay attention, since some of you don't have  that issue with the likes of Far From Heaven, Death of a Salesman, or at least a healthy chunk of Fellini's work:

STAR TREK 4: THE VOYAGE HOME- Fri May 23- Sun May 25 at Midnight- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's A rare screening of the most successful of all the Star Trek films starring the original television cast. The third part of an unofficial trilogy within the series, that started with The Wrath of Khan, released in time for Star Trek's 20th anniversary. Admiral Kirk and his crew go on their way back to Earth, to face charges of disobeying Starfleet orders. Those events took place during the previous film, The Search for Spock, but you'd need not see that film to appreciate this one. They spend maybe one minute tops to remind us what happened in the third film and then move on. Anyway, Kirk and the crew discover the Earth threatened with destruction from an alien force. But it appears the aliens are not trying to destroy the planet intentionally, but trying to communicate with the Earth species humpback whales, which are long extinct. The only way to save the Earth, according to Spock, is time travel to the late 20th Century, extract a couple of humpback whales and bring them back in hopes of communicating to the aliens. 

So off they go to 1986 San Francisco, and while there is humor prior, the story kicks into high gear once the crew lands in Golden Gate Park. Mixture of fish out of water and time travel comedy (lightly stressed). With the benefits of twenty or so years of character work and knowledge to enhance the humor, and little to no sci-fi elements to interfere (unless absolutely necessary). Yes, the Save the Whales message is delivered heavily, but that seems par for the course with Star Trek. Especially with the original series. Whether it was race relations, The Vietnam War, or the anti-war movement, the message is generally delivered heavily then, and it's delivered heavily again in The Voyage Home. Luckily the Save the Whales portion is the only heavy-handed aspect of the picture. Most of the humor is scripted in this throwback to the lighter episodes of the original series, but not all. Notably the scene where Russian Chekov goes around asking Americans during the tail end of the Cold War, where the nuclear vessels (or whessels) are.

Director Mr. Spock, eh, Leonard Nimoy keeps a light leash on the proceedings, getting the most relaxed performances from all the Trek regulars, while keeping the Trek and Humor elements not separate, but interchangeable and successful. A more successful light touch than in the highest grossing film of Nimoy's directorial career, Three Men and a Baby, which he got thanks to Star Trek 4. And yes, these relaxed performances includes William Shatner. He's still all the kind of Shatner you can imagine, but a more relaxed Shatner is here. Free of the heavy burdens of the three previous Trek films, Shatner is especially relaxed with Nimoy as Spock (especially once they're on 20th century Earth), and the main dinner scene with Seventh Heaven's Catherine Hicks.

4 Oscar nominations and the best screenplay of the original Trek series. Basically, a lot of fun. It may not have any of the major action scenes of the two Trek reboots, but a better film:

PURPLE RAIN- Fri May 23- Sun May 25 at 12:05AM- IFC Center- It plays again at Midnight-ish at IFC Center. A DCP restoration that plays all weekend long, including Sunday the 25th. For the rest, I'll repost what I wrote the last time I listed it:

"Pauline Kael once said in the late 60's that the time then was ripe to create more musicals with the present (then) rock stars like Janis Joplin. That's what made the musicals of the 30s, 40s and 50s successful: they were populated with the top recording artists of the day (Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Crosby et. al.). That's what the studios could do: setup a musical with one or many of today's contemporary recording artists."

I think that fits in the case of Once, where you had recording artists doing their songs. And it certainly applies to Prince with this film. Can't imagine a good actor from that period pulling off these kind of songs, no matter who wrote them. Not the greatest film ever made, and not what you call great acting by Prince. But with performances of songs like "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy" and the title track, the sleeper hit of the summer of 1984 literally rocks whenever the music comes up. Watch how Prince went from successful rock act to icon status. Granted, he would later throw it away with crap like "Under The Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge", change his name to a symbol with no real meaning, and basically become strange to the point of uninteresting. But watching and listening to him here, anything seemed possible back then. Prince did win an Oscar for music, in a category that no longer exists.

WHITY- Sat May 24 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. Possibly his most notorious film, one that I don't believe ever received a proper U.S. release Fassbinder's first melodrama. A Western shot on sets previously used by Sergio Leone for his films. Actually it veers closer to Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave than any particular Spaghetti Western from the era. Set in 1878, Whity is the nickname of the adult slave butler,ok, indentured servant at this point of the story. The name given to him by the patriarch of a plantation who is also his father. The rest of the family berates Whity, and when they don't berate him, they beg Whity to kill the patriarch.  That also includes Whity's mother, a kitchen slave. The only people in Whity's life that might love him, and perhaps only in a Mandingo-like ideal, is the nearby saloon singer/ hooker with a possible heart of gold (Hanna Schygulla), and the youngest son of the patriarch (who may not know he's related to Whity?). 

And I haven't brought up the KKK and S & M aspects of the film. So as you can imagine, this is a tough film. One that makes Django Unchained snuggly soft in comparison, and at only a ninety something minute running time. And despite the almost golden halo way Fassbinder shoots actor Gunther Kaufmann (Rainer's boyfriend at the time), Fassbinder's script puts him through the ringer. But puts him through the wringer that's almost par for the course in a Fassbinder film. Almost pitiless for his main character. Empathetic and thorough in terms of how unfair it is for those with power puts and down and abuses someone. But if you don't rise above and fight back, too bad for you. Even if the final outcome for resistance is death, you must resist. And considering this is a Spaghetti Western and not Verionkia Voss (Fassbinder's variation of Sunset Blvd.), a gun will be drawn and there will be blood.

With all of that, it tanked big in West Germany. Rainer's first big budget film almost qualifies as a My Year of Flops entry. Despite the difficulty of making the film in Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore (about the troubles with film making in general), it wasn't released in Europe for decades and has never received an official North American release. Even after Fassbinder's reputation grew, Whity went mostly unseen outside of Germany until about a decade ago. But the mixture of hot button pushing, Hollywood melodrama and Western motifs has given Whity growing respect for it in Europe, a cult following, and now a rare New York screening. Not the easiest film to do, but if you're up to the challenge, I am:     

LORD OF THE FLIES- Wed May 28 at 8- MOMA- the original Lord of the Flies. Peter Brook's adaptation of William Golding's book. Shot in black and white, but not necessarily black and white in tone. The idea of a kid doing whatever he wants is not unfamiliar to us. Millions ran to see the light version of this story in Home Alone. Consider this a much more bitter pill to swallow. Using amateur young actors, Brook successfully tells the story of a group of boys, marooned on an island with no adults. They split into 2 tribes, until baser instincts and survival of the fittest prevail. Ignore the 1990 remake, and go for this.

Let me know if there's interest. Later all and enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

No comments: