Thursday, June 19, 2014

June revivals: second half

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the second half of June. I will do my best to make myself available for these screenings, even with a few conflicts here and there. The list will be divided into three parts: films playing at the Film Forum as part of the Alec Guinness retrospective, films at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria as part of their Science Fiction retrospective, and the other films that don't fit in either category. That's the category I'll start with first:

CUL-DE-SAC- Thurs June 19 at 7:50- IFC Center- Part of the Roman Polanski retrospective. Most of the films I have either done at other revival houses, or saw when it originally played as in the case of Death and the Maiden, or I rather pay to see at a cheaper theater (hopefully I'll get to see Chinatown in August in Astoria). Cul-De-Sac is the only film that is semi-convenient to do, so I'm posting it now. 

A dark comedy from 1965 that I don't know anything about. But I'm curious. It came through the Criterion Collection a while back, after decades of no home video availability or poor quality prints in this country. So if I'm going to pitch this, I'll have to use the brief description from the Criterion website. The ol' cut and paste I'm afraid, I'm not proud:

SYNOPSIS: Roman Polanski orchestrates a mental ménage à trois in this slyly absurd tale of paranoia from the director’s golden 1960s period. Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac star as a withdrawn couple whose isolated house is invaded by a rude, burly American gangster on the run, played by Lionel Stander. The three engage in role-playing games of sexual and emotional humiliation. Cul-de-sac is an evocative, claustrophobic, and morbidly funny tale of the modern world in chaos:

A SUMMER TALE- Starting Fri June 20 for at least one week- - Lincoln Plaza Cinema at 12, 2:10, 4:30, 6:45 and 9- and IFC Center at 12:50, 2:10, 5, 7:10 and 9:40- Eric Rohmer's 1996 film finally gets a U.S. release. It will play for at least one week at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center. Not sure if it will play more than one week Uptown, but it might last a little longer at IFC Center. We'll see.

Rohmer's films are an acquired taste. Small films about regular people, trying to live their lives, going thru things like us, that are small scale in comparison to the world at large, but mean everything in their sphere. Heavy on dialogue, heavy on long takes, heavy on silent gestures, heavy on the leads' inability to articulate their needs, light on any music whatsoever. And boy, did Rohmer really like to tell these tales when they revolve around mostly attractive young people (28 and younger), during the summertime. I liked Summer, and really like Pauline At The Beach, so I'm up to catching this. But since this has never received a U.S. release, I'll have to rely on a cut-and-paste of IFC Center's description to sell you on this:

Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), a recent university graduate, arrives at the seaside in Bretagne for three weeks’ vacation before starting a new job. He’s hoping his sort-of girlfriend, the fickle Léna (Aurélia Nolin), will join him there; but as the days pass, he welcomes the interest of Margot (Amanda Langlet, the titular character from Rohmer’s Pauline at the Beach), a student of ethnology working as a waitress for the summer. Things start to get complicated when the spoken-for Margot encourages Gaspard to have a summer romance with her friend, Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon), and he complies. When Léna turns up, and scheduling complications abound, Gaspard will have to make a choice…

Rohmer’s characteristically light touch allows his characters to discourse on love and friendship, even as their body language complicates and even contradicts their words. Diane Baratier’s cinematography perfectly captures the languor of youth and the feeling of a French beach vacation–the sea, the sunlight and the lovely surroundings convey the openness of a world of possibilities faced by these young people. 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)- Sat July 21 at 11- Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center- A 40th Anniversary screening of the horror and independent film classic, a DCP restoration. One of the few that can elicit some jumps even on home video. Not nearly as bloody as you think. Shot and edited in such a way that it is implied, but usually not shown. Helped put New Line Cinema on the map. Forget all imitators/remakes. For horror fans and those who came to like well made films of all genres, go. Not as scary as when I first saw it as a teenager. But definitely creepy as all hell from beginning to end. A respectable print; I thought it was occasionally out of focus, but I'm guessing it was the way it was shot. And great, the last section with the family all gathered together, with Grandpa with the hammer, rotting meat and actual skeleton had to be clearly in focus. The best 83,000 film I've ever seen:

MANHATTAN- Sunday June 22 at 4, with a pre-film concert  by Jenny Lin, pre-film interview with Fred Blankfein and a short- United Palace of Cultural Arts- 4140 Broadway in Washington Heights- The UPCA is a restored movie palace that has various events there. Questionable sound system, but a great looking theater with a large screen. I can finally do a screening there, and Woody Allen's Manhattan fills the bill. Never has the borough been more beautifully photographed. A digital projection, with Spanish subtitles. Before the screening, there will be a half hour concert by Jenny Lin performing Gershwin tunes, including the ones in the movie. Followed by an interview by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Fred Blankfein, who was an assistant director on a number of Allen's films, including Manhattan. Followed by a short, The Incredible Spectacular Dyckman Fireworks Co, depicting the people who live on Dyckman Street in Inwood, as they put on their annual 4th of July Fireworks display.

After all of that, we finally see Manhattan, one of those films that should be seen on and can only be truly embraced on the big screen. Arguably Woody Allen's best film. On the short list with Allen's Annie Hall, Hannah and her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. He wanted to make a film where he wanted to captured what he thought of as life in Manhattan, late 1970s. Put into the filter of one of his favorite films, Jean Renoir's The Rules of The Game. Allegedly, at some point after post production was completed, Allen was so unhappy with the final product, he offered to make a new film for free if United Artists either shelved or destroyed Manhattan. UA execs, happy with what they received, politely declined. Despite the praise and acclaim, Allen felt/feels he got away with one in this case. It may not be a typical life in New York circa late 1970s, but worth catching.

Hell of a cast. Diane Keaton, Micheal Murphy, Meryl Streep and Allen were the better known actors; Mark-Linn Baker, Karen Allen and Six Feet Under's Frances Conroy in smaller roles. 2 Oscar nominations for the Screenplay (written by Allen and Marshall Brickman), and Mariel Hemingway for Supporting Actress. I hope as the relationship between Allen's and Hemingway's characters develops, all cries of "Soon-Yi" are held to a dull roar.

What it wasn't nominated for, which still stuns me, is the late Gordon Willis's stunning black and white Cinematography. Hard to say who should have been dropped from the category, considering the excellent work done in Apocalypse Now (the winner), All That Jazz, 1941 and The Black Hole. Wait, I know, drop Néstor Almendros for his work in Kramer vs. Kramer. But wait, he worked on Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. DAMNIT!!! Anyway, a must see on the big screen.

Click on the UPCA link below to click on buying tix ahead of time. It's cheaper than at the door. Those in tuxes and evening gowns get a free bag of popcorn:

THE GODFATHER- Wed June 25 at 7- AMC Empire- Both this and Godfather 2 are being screened this month at AMC Empire as part of AMC's Classic film series. I believe they're both the DCP restorations.. Much like the restoration for Apocalypse Now Redux, these Francis Ford Coppola films received a major cleanup and improvement of sight and sound. If these restored discs, overseen by Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and Robert A Harris, are as good as the restored DVDs of both versions of Apocalypse Now, then the home viewer should be in for a treat.

Now that I've said all that, do I really need to pitch this? Brando comeback, blah blah blah, rise of Pacino, blah blah blah, great cast that I'm not in the mood to breakdown, blah blah blah, on all great films lists worth a damn and most that are not, blah blah blah . . .

10 Oscar nominations, 11 if you include the one for Nino Rota's score that was later ruled ineligible because he supposedly reused his score from the film Fortunella. Among the nominations it lost was Supporting Actor for Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall, Coppola for Director, Editing and Sound. It lost all those noms to Cabaret. If this shocks you, it's because you're not into musicals or you have no idea how good and how influential Cabaret director Bob Fosse was/is. What shocked the hell out of me was that The Godfather WASN'T nominated for Cinematography. No Art Direction nod, I could understand that; look it up and you'll know what I mean. But you mean to tell me 1776, Butterflies Are Free, Cabaret (the eventual winner), The Poseidon Adventure and Travels With My Aunt ALL deserved votes more than Godfather? I'm not saying it should have won. I had no problem if they thought Cabaret, the eventual winner, was better. But that's because I have a soft spot for the work of cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Murder on the Orient Express, Becket, Superman: The Movie, among other credits). But Gordon Willis not even being nominated for his work is Bullshit.

But it did win 3 key Oscars: Picture, Screenplay Adaptation for Coppola and Mario Puzo and Brando for Actor. No need to mention the Oscar controversy in this list about Brando that night. No need to mention its high place on both AFI lists. No need to mention its place in my personal top 35 (pretty high, yet not as high as Godfather 2). Just need to say; unless you're over the age of 46, you saw its brief re-release in 1997 or saw a crappy print when it's played at Midnight at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, you're just like me. You've only seen this on tv. And you've never seen it look as great or as intended. Now is a great time to correct this.

Now we go to the films playing at the Museum of the Moving Image. For all these screenings, you can see episodes from the Captain America serial from 1943. Far from what we're accustomed to with the Marvel films, though I'm sure there's plenty of kitsch value, and they're only about 15 minutes long. All can be seen in the Tut's Fever Palace on the second floor of the museum, with screening times at 1, 2 and 3:30. One admission will let you check out the Museum, see the serial, and any of the films below:

VIDEODRONE and/or THE TERMINATOR- Sat June 21 at 4 (Videodrone) and 7 (Terminator)- A potential double feature of two films from the Museum's Sci-Fi retrospective. First, Videodrone, from 1983. One of the few studio films from director David Cronenberg. James Woods stars as a sleazy cable tv programmer, who gets hooked to Videodrome, an S and M, snuff-ish film show, that tends to distort things, physically and mentally, for the viewer. If you don't know this, I won't spoil it much more, except this is NOT for the physically or emotionally squeamish. Cronenberg's statement on overdosing on the varying visual media, and trashy TV (sounds timely, doesn't it?). Featuring a quite sensuous Debbie Harry.

Next, The Terminator. Not Cameron's first full-length film, that would be the awful Piranha 2: The Spawning. Hey, it was a Roger Corman production, Cameron was lucky to get to direct at all. But I'm sure The Terminator is the earliest work he would like us to remember. And working under Corman probably taught Cameron how far one can stretch a dollar. Cameron never work with a budget this small for any other non-documentary picture I'm sure, but this doesn't look like it. It's been a few years since I've seen this, but it's the storytelling I remember far better.

From 1984, you probably know the story. Killer robot from the future tries to kill a woman from the past who is important to said future, and her only hope is a human time traveler sent to stop the relentless killer. Successful in relation to its budget, but didn't get a ton of respect in theaters, or play for a long while either. Not exactly blow-out business overseas either. It took home video to put The Terminator on the road to becoming a sci-fi classic, though I'm not sure how often we would talk about it if Terminator 2 hadn't been so phenomenal. And, it provided Schwarzenegger with his classic role, and it at least kept him out of making Conan the Barbarian 3.

Here's what Neil Degrasse Tyson said about The Terminator, one of his favorite sci-fi films (alongside 2001, the original Planet of the Apes and Watchmen): "Deftly woven action, violence, sentient machines, a heroine and time travel. All stitched together in a tight and scarily plausible storyline. And, when you think about it, a perfect acting vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a mostly mute terminator, whom many would rather look at than listen to."

ROBOCOP- Fri June 27 at 7- The original Robocop, screened as part of the Museum's Sci-Fi film retrospective. The sleeper hit from the summer of 1987. One part kick in the teeth action film, one part kick in the teeth social commentary. Peter Weller is the poor schnook patrolman who gets killed in the line of duty lead by sadistic Kurtwood Smith, only to be rebuilt almost against his will by a multinational corporation as the title character, carrying out their contract to protect Old Detroit. The company thinks they erased or overrode his old identity and memories, but such human elements are hard to get rid of . . . Mix of sharp satire, tragedy, and good action scenes from director Paul Verhoven. Accept no substitutes, stick with the original:

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) and/or SILENT RUNNING- Sat June 28- 2 (Earth) and 7 (Silent)- Two more films from the Museum's Sci-Fi retrospective. Could be done separately or together, majority rules on this as far as my attending. At 2, we have the original The Day The Earth Stood Still, in a digital restoration. I didn't dislike the remake on cable, but can understand why one would be pissed if they spent full price at a theater, or over 20 dollars for an IMAX screening. A couple hundred million in visual effects doesn't improve a mediocre script. Especially when it runs almost one hour fifty minutes, and feels like it goes two hours and counting. No worries with the efficient Robert Wise classic original. The state of science fiction on whatever size screen has changed tremendously. Whether you lean to the hope for humanity side, like in 2001 or the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or stay with the pessimism of most of Wall-E or Terminator 2 ("It is in your nature to destroy yourselves".) This film straddles both sides; that goes it beyond the Red Scare going on in that film's era, seems incredible, a little unfortunate and great film making all at once. Go Gort go.

Followed by the rarely screened Silent Running, from 1972. Set in a far off future, where Earth has been ravaged and agriculture can only be maintained on freighter ships, like the ones orbiting Saturn when the film begins. Bruce Dern is a botanist who doesn't get along with the other members of the crew, one of whom is played by Ron Rifikin (Alias). Dern's character would much rather spend time with the trees, crops, and the three robots named Huey, Dewey, and Louie who help maintain the ecosystem. It's clear that while Dern's heart is in the right place, he doesn't have all his oars in the water. When the crew receives orders to destroy the vegetation (the unnamed Earth government has deemed the ship's ability to transport cargo to be more important), Dern decides to take matters into his own hands . . .

Flawed but decent film, directed by special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull in his directorial debut. A little obvious since, like Dern's character, Trumbull seems more at ease with technical aspects and kinda lets Dern do his thing. Luckily Dern is charismatic enough to hold our attention, acting either by himself or opposite the little robots, played by double amputees. Not a big budget for this, but effective art direction (mixing futuristic nature areas with scenes in a decommissioned aircraft carrier) and decent visual effects (with Saturn scenes that were initially developed by Trumbull for his earlier film, 2001) go a long way on this brief, 89 minute film.

Don't have any idea how big this film was. It appears to have done just ok at the box office. Critics seemed to have thought well of the effects and the overall eco-friendly story, but with heavy criticism toward pacing and some complaints about Dern's possible "overacting". Critics now appear to be more generous toward Silent Running. So what you get here is a flawed, environmentally friendly, film. The kind of film Hollywood studios would stop making less than a decade latter. A film with a heavy influence in science fiction; you can see heavy influencing here with Wall-E, Moon, and both versions of Battlestar Galactica:

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and/or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS- Sun June 29 at 1:30 (E.T.) and 4 (Close)- More from the Museum's Sci-Fi retrospective. Only this time we have a specific pairing. A potential double feature of Steven Spielberg films, E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Actually one can do a potential triple feature of Spielberg films, with A.I. at 7pm. I like A.I., I still consider it the best film of 2001, but not enough to devote over 9 hours of my day and night for this. If you wish to do that, enjoy, and I'm not being sarcastic when I say that. 

First, E.T., the classic Spielberg film, on both AFI Top 100 lists and my own Top 35, though we don't know yet what format this will be screened. But it appears we're getting the original 1982 cut, as opposed to the 2002 release with extra scenes and federal agents with walkie talkies as opposed to shotguns. The film itself you probably know, so I'll move on to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A new 35mm print of The "Definitive Director's Cut" will be screened; basically a combination of the original 1977 release and the 1980 Special Edition. But without the ending where we see the inside of the spaceship. i think Steven wants all of us, especially those over the age of 37, to consider it like a bad dream.
As opposed to War of the Worlds, here is a Spielberg film with nice aliens. Also one of his best, as well as one of the best ever made. Was a hit in 77, but would have been more popular if that pesky Star Wars wasn't playing around the same time. For those who've never seen it on the big screen, go. It's a different beast all together on the big screen. Especially the abduction sequence and the last 40 minutes. 8 Oscar nominations, 2 Oscars including one for Cinematography. An AFI Top 100 film and in my personal top 100 as well:

Now we'll finish up with movies at the Film Forum from the Alec Guinness Centennial retrospective. I'll try to be as brief as possible: 

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO- Thurs June 19 at 7:15- Not the best David Lean/ Alec Guinness film on this list, but that just tells you how damn good Dr. Zhivago is. A DCP restoration of the classic film. While the Forum's screen size won't compare to say, the Ziegfeld or the Walter Reade, it'll still look and sound great. Somewhat mixed reviews back in the day, a classic for decades despite them. On both AFI Top 100 lists and on my own personal top 100 list as well:

THE LAVENDER HILL MOB and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT- Sat June 21 at 4:10 (Mob), 6 (Suit), and 7:50 (Mob)- Next is a double feature of two of the better Ealing studio comedies starring Guinness that are not named Kind Hearts and Coronets. Both being screened in new DCP restorations.

First, The Lavender Hill Mob, from 1951. Guinness plays a seemingly mild-mannered bank clerk with a secret ambition to steal all the gold bullion under his watch. He supposedly has the perfect plan in terms of how to steal the bullion, but no way to get it out of the country. That is, until he meets a stranger in his boarding house, played by Stanley Holloway of My Fair Lady fame. So now that it appears to be easy to get the bullion out of the country, is it any easier to spend the loot? An Oscar nomination for Guinness for Best Actor, an Oscar for the Screenplay. And keep an eye out for early screen appearances by Audrey Hepburn and Robert Shaw. 

Next, The Man in the White Suit, also a very good Guinness/Ealing Studios comedies. Also from 1951 (released in the U.S. in 1952), Guinness plays a Cambridge graduate, whose obsession to build an everlasting fabric gets him drummed out of textile jobs up and down Northern England, reducing him to washing dishes. But he never gives up his dreams and he soon succeeds in his creation: a white suit that doesn't crease, won't stink, keeps dirt from clinging on, and never needs to be washed dry-cleaned or even vacuumed. Guinness' character is celebrated, for a while. But business owners get nervous over the idea of the companies going bankrupt once demand is (permanently) satisfied. Meantime, labor unions and their brethren get very nervous about their fabric making/repairing/cleaning jobs disappearing if the fabric becomes a big seller. So like the Peter Lorre film M, where the Law and the Mob go through different methods to get rid of a common threat, Business and Labor do the same thing here. Therefore, if you don't see the political satire going on here, then you must be laughing too hard. Or enjoying Guinness' naive-yet-energetic performance. 

An Oscar nomination for its Screenplay, which somehow lost to The Bad and the Beautiful. SAY WHAT?!?!? I can understand losing to fellow nominee High Noon, but to the Kirk Douglas film that hasn't aged very well, EEK! Anyway, The Man in The White Suit might not on the same level of previous Guinness/Ealing films like say, Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Lavender Hill Mob. But it's still pretty darn good:

DAMN THE DEFIANT! and THE PRISONER- Mon June 23 at 5:20 (Defiant), 7:30 (Prisoner) and 9:40 (Defiant)- A double feature, both 35mm prints, both films I've never seen, but I am curious about them. First, Damn The Defiant!, from 1962. Actually that's the American title for the film H.M.S. Defiant. Kind of a variation of Mutiny on the Bounty. Guinness plays a newly appointed Captain of the Defiant, during the French Revolutionary Wars. The gentlemanly Captain ends up in a war of wills with the First Officer (Dirk Bogarde) he inherits. A First Officer who found ways to disgrace and get rid of his two previous Captains. But with the Captain's son serving as a Midshipman, a crew led by Seaman Anthony Quayle on the verge of mutiny, and Napoleon's Naval fleet on the prowl, the conflict gets very complicated indeed. From director Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita and three James Bond films, including The Spy Who Loved Me).

Next, The Prisoner, from 1955. Takes place in an unnamed country, could be Hungary, Poland, or Croatia. Guinness plays the title role, a Cardinal who was a hero in the Resistance against the Nazis. But that was a decade ago, and we have another battle of wills, between the Cardinal and his childhood friend (Jack Hawkins), a Communist attempting to break his old friend via interrogation:

THE SCAPEGOAT and THE SWAN- Tues June 24 at 7:40 (Scapegoat) and 9:55 (Swan)- A double feature of Alec Guinness films that would qualify under My Year of Flops. First, The Scapegoat from 1959. From a novel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), and co-adapted by Gore Vidal. Guinness plays a lonely French professor who, while on vacation, meets a lookalike rich man also played by Guinness. After a night of drinking, the professor has no ID, and is thought of for most of the movie as the rich man. The professor has inherited a business, a wife (Irene Worth), a sister, a mistress, and a battleaxe of a mother (Bette Davis).

Next, The Swan, from 1956. One of Grace Kelly's last films, and the last one to be released as MGM held its release to be timed with her wedding to Prince Rainier. In this comedy, set in 1910, this Princess Grace is pressured into a marriage with Prince Guinness so that the family can regain the throne the family lost when Napoleon ripped it from them. But Alec would rather go hunting and play football than engage with Grace, So she attempts to make the Prince jealous by pretending to be enamored with her tutor. But her tutor (Louis Jordan) does have feelings for her . . . Talented character actors in the cast. Jessie Royce Landis (Grace's onscreen mom in To Catch A Thief) and Estelle Winwood (The Producers, Murder By Death) are some of Grace's relatives, Leo G. Carroll (North By Northwest, Topper) plays Grace's butler, and Agnes Moorehead as a battleaxe of a Queen:

FATHER BROWN and THE CAPTAIN'S PARADISE- Wed June 25 at 5:10 (Father), 7:20 (Paradise) and 9:30 (Father)- A comedic double feature. First, Father Brown from 1954. If you don't know the books, you may know the various BBC TV versions that have played on PBS's Mystery series. This film is about as light, as Guinness's Father must transport a historically important cross to Rome, while protecting it from a jewel thief (Peter Finch, Network) and from an interfering police inspector (Bernard Lee, M from the 60s and 70s Bond films). Next, The Captain's Paradise, from 1953. In this comedy, Guinness plays a ferry Captain. He leads a double life; a happy simple one with his stay-at-home wife who is close to her age, and a swinging party life with his much younger girlfriend, Yvonne De Carlo. It seems like a Paradise for the Captain. But the Paradise leads to misunderstanding, which leads to bigamy, which leads to both wives wanting the opposite lifestyle they're living, leading to many difficulties for the Captain. Never saw the first film, barely remember parts of the second film, but I am curious:


THE LADYKILLERS (1955)- Fri June 27 and Sat June 28 at 5:10, 7:20 and 9:30- Another DCP restoration of an Ealing comedy. This time, Guinness re-teams with his director from Man in the White Suit, Alexander Mackendrick, who would come to the States to direct Sweet Smell of Success after this. In this black comedy from 1955 (released in the U.S. in 1956), we have an eccentric old lady, known by officers in the nearby police precinct to be likable but known to tell tales of crimes that are greatly exaggerated. Now who should approach this woman whom the Police consider as a variation of The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Some bucktoothed "Professor" (Guinness) who wants to rent rooms in her home, for himself and his "string quartet". Really these men are together to pull off a heist, and they think this little old lady can't do anything about it. And they're probably right that she isn't competent enough to outwit them. Hell she may not even be mentally competent, and yet . . . . The last of the great Ealing comedies, with early performances from Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom as members of the "string quartet". Oscar nominated for its Screenplay:


STAR WARS- Sun June 29 at 1- My favorite film of all time. There are a number of them that are better I will admit, but this one is mine. It's completely biased but I don't care. This is the film I put at number One in my Top 100, and it will take much to knock it down. I've waited a long time for this to play in a theater again, and I suspect so have you. It's been seventeen years since this played in New York theaters, and now it returns. To the Film Forum. For one day only. For one screening only. And it's the 1997 Special Edition, as in the Greedo-Shot-First edition. And it's a studio archive print. I wouldn't be surprised if the people who run the Forum had to be willing to give up at least one child/grandchild if anything happened to this print. Damn, not even a DCP Mr. Lucas? Despite these, um, massive inconveniences, I'm still hoping I can do this:

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA- Mon June 30 at 7:15-  I've seen this before on the Ziegfeld's screen, and the Forum obviously can't compare, screen-wise. But this is one of top 5 all time favorite films. That is TOP 5 all time. Whenever one of my top 5 is available to see, I must post it, no matter if I own it, or how many times I've seen it on screen. The best film on the list; maybe by a little, maybe by a lot, but noticeably better. The intimate moments are treated with as much care and respect as the epic scenes, the script deserves just as much respect as the visuals, and has there been a better leading debut for a star than Peter O'Toole in the title role? Ok, Chaplin and Brando, but I can't think of any better lead debuts in color films.

On both AFI Top 100 lists. 10 Nominations, including Actor for O'Toole, the Screenplay, and Supporting Actor for Omar Sharif (don't get me started on his entrance!). 7 Oscars, including Picture, Score (maybe the best film score ever; not sure, but if you have better choices, let me know), and Director for Lean. If you haven't seen it, the big screen is THE way, there isn't a TV screen big enough to pull this entirely off.

Let me know if there's interest, later all

Friday, June 06, 2014

June revivals: first half

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the first half of June. No time for chit-chat, here we go:

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE- Fri June 6 and Sat June 7 at Midnight for 10 dollars- Landmark Sunshine Cinema- A cheapish Midnight screening. The film version of the cult series, released in 1996. With most of the original writers/creators/actors, playing the roles of a poor schlep of a human, his robot companions, and the mad scientist who torture said humans and robot companions for some flimsy reason by seeing bad movies. For the film version, there's a bit more budget for better lighting and a minor upgrade in set (all for the 2001 spoofs). 

But any additional went to the rights to mock Universal's This Island Earth: a craptastic sci-fi film from 1955, featuring Earth scientists working with an alien scientist but for reasons unknown to them, an alien bug slave, oh who cares. The film deserves mocking and boy does it get it. About 75 percent of the jokes work, maybe more. But that's probably 70 percent more than Universal's recent comedy, A Million Ways To Die in the West (no I haven't seen it, I'll get to it when I'm damn good and ready).

Maybe one wouldn't put this above the best of the MST3K series. The writers/cast wouldn't: they felt that parent studio Universal (again with Universal?) interfered and diluted the final product. Universal certainly screwed up the film's distribution. To avoid the picture of this being a huge flop, Universal decided to release in "college towns", to speak to the cult of MST3K viewers. Which meant practically no one knew it played in 250 or so screens in April 1996 (it was only initially released in the Angelika in NYC), and then disappeared for the most part. I was lucky to see it at all, months later at the old 3 dollar movie theater on West 50th and 8th (now a group of small off-Broadway stages). Look this is no great film, but it's a Midnight screening of an off-beat film with plenty of laughs: 

BLUE VELVET or ARMY OF DARKNESS- Fri June 6 at 12:20AM (Blue) or 12:25AM (ARMY)- IFC Center- If you want better Midnight movie options this weekend, you have your choice of two midnight screenings at IFC Center. The later film, barely better. First, David Lynch's Blue Velvet. In my top 5 ever, possibly higher. I saw Blue Velvet when it was released back in 1986. Ok, 1987, thanks to critical acclaim. I was WAY too young to get all of what was going on, but what I did get was disturbing, fascinating, and told me that movies could be very different from Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz, or Casablanca. Now yes, the journey depicted here is somewhat similar to Dorothy's journey through Oz (intentional). But this precursor to Twin Peaks is it's own world. The shock factor may not be nearly the same for you compared to what 1986/87 audiences endured, but the story, the performances and Angelo Baldalamenti's beautiful score has endured.

What Shadow of a Doubt pushed in terms of evil in a small town Americana, Blue Velvet cranked to 11 and turned it on its (severed) ear. A very 50s town, with a very 50s kinda young man (Kyle MacLachlan) dealing with the kind of dark crisis a 50s era hero isn't obviously equipped to handle. Not without help, love and support that is. But oh what a dark journey to get to that point . . . This mystery/neo-noir/romantic drama got Lynch a Best Director nomination, and brought both his and MacLachlan's career back from the dead. Isabella Rossellini established herself as an actress once and for all, and Dennis Hopper became a working character actor forever, in a career performance. Also drew major controversy in its day for its, let's just say, sexual connotations, and what was required of Rossellini in her role. I believe it was Ebert who called this film the most vile thing he had ever seen (or something along those lines) and Rosselini attacked him (verbally) in response. A bit of a Rorschach test, this hauntingly beautiful film is. Decide for yourself.

Next, Army of Darkness. A DCP projection of the original 81 minute theatrical release from 1992, as opposed to the 96 minute director's cut. Director Sam Raimi's second sequel to The Evil Dead, but for those who are not into horror flicks, don't worry. Despite being in a Zombie retrospective, this stays away from most horror scares, and goes more for sword and sorcery, with tongue firmly planted in check. Raimi's presumably favorite leading man, Bruce Campbell, plays his character as possibly the most macho, and possibly the stupidest version of Han Solo you've ever seen. And since this version is only 81 minutes long (to avoid the R rating the director's cut would receive), it doesn't overstay its welcome:


THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES- Sat June 7, and Tues June 10- Thurs June 12  at 7:30- Film Forum- A DCP restoration from 1946. Set after the end of World War 2, three servicemen from the Midwest, meet for the  first time on the way home from the European theatre. There they come home to their families and to difficulties. One solider (Dana Andrews) comes home to a wife (Virginia Mayo) he barely knows and who doesn't want him, and a job market that's crowded and which has no use for either his veteran status or his skills as a bomber pilot. One solider (Fredric March) returns home to a loving wife (Myrna Loy) and his old job as a bank executive. But his wife is uncomfortable with how much alcohol her husband drinks, and said husband doesn't approve their daughter's (Theresa Wright) growing infatuation with Andrews's character. And the third solider (Harold Russell) comes home to his parents and fiancee as a double amputee, with hooks for hands, and definite feelings of inferiority. 

These and other problems, whether they deal with them at home, at work, or in the bar owned by Hoagy Carmichael's character, served as a microcosm for most veterans returning from war. Yet it's done in a way here, that rarely comes off as preachy. Occasionally, but rarely. Based on a novella written in blank verse(?) by MacKinlay Kantor, it was changed dramatically by screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood (Rebecca, The Bishop's Wife) and producer Samuel Goldwyn. Director William Wyler added his own experiences from his return Home (like his own walking through the door, and his experiences on the bomber Memphis Belle), insisted on sets that were built to be similar to real homes and stores as opposed to sets built for ease of camera operation, championing cinematographer Gregg Toland's use of deep-focus photography (used prior in Citizen Kane but not used after this until the likes of Renoir, de Palma and anyone who made a 70mm film in the 1970s), and pushed his cast and crew for authenticity. Hiring a non-professional veteran in Russell and the scene at a former Army training facility where about 2000 actual bombers were waiting to be turned into scrap metal are just some of the successful attempts at authenticity.

But in the end, alongside a superior script and excellent casting, is a solid thru-line in this picture. I'll paraphrase a line from AV Club's review of HBO's Band of Brothers (writer Todd VanDerWerff that I feel is appropriate for The Best Years of our Lives: that as hard as it is to train to become a solider, it takes just as much work to become a functioning civilian again. Imagine the last 5 minutes of The Deer Hunter, then we follow those characters for the next 2 and a half hours, trying to cope and re-learn how to live in the world again. We haven't had any equivalent worth mentioning on film that doesn't become a genre film, and only a few instances on TV, with the series Homefront being a notable example. So it's hard to imagine the impact this film had when released; there was nothing like it prior and very little since. A huge hit in its day. Adjusted for inflation, it's about as big as Rocky and bigger than the two Hunger Game films and Frozen. 

8 Oscar nominations, 9 Oscars. Competitive Oscar wins for Picture, Wellman for Director, March for Actor, Russell for Supporting Actor, Sherwood for Screenplay, Editing and Score. Russell also received a honorary Oscar  "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance." (Russell was awarded this before the results came in because the Academy didn't think he'd win otherwise, and he became the only person to win 2 Oscars for the same performance. Producer Goldwyn also received an Irving Thalberg honorary award for a consistent body of motion-picture work. It's only technically an Oscar, which RKO Pictures counted for publicity purposes. Also on both AFI Top 100 lists.

This plays for a week, but I'm only posting the nights and times I can do. Note the film is almost 2 hours 50 minutes long, so plan ahead before you say yes. But I hope you say yes:   

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER- Sun June 8 at 2 and Wed June 11 at 7 at AMC Empire- Saturday Night Fever, part of AMC's classic series. Yes, I have the poster of the PG rated version poster here, but it's the original R rated cut so no worries.

Watch John Travolta go from TV sitcom guy, to Disco icon, then Movie icon, as the king of Brooklyn disco, who wants more out of life, and out of Brooklyn. The film is specifically structured where if Tony doesn't see it happen, the audience doesn't experience it. At least three quarters of it is basically Tony slowly growing up, which is why the film survived the "Disco Sucks" backlash. The rest is at the disco, where director John Badham's visuals, Travolta's dancing, and The Bee Gees' music is what's remembered and loved the most. One of the first films to ever use the Steadicam. A nomination for Travolta for Best Actor:

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS- Fri June 13 at 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- A DCP restoration. This kicks off the Alec Guinness retrospective, in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday. Not a comprehensive retrospective: there's no Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Murder By Death, Kafka, Lovesick, any film where he played an Asian man except for A Passage to India, and Raise the Titanic!If you know all these things I just brought up, you're a bigger film freak than me, but I digress.

Kind Hearts and Coronets, from 1949 though released in the U.S. in 1950. Based loosely on a 1907 novel, Guinness plays a young man grieving the loss of his mother. She had married her father, an opera singer, and was disinherited by her powerful family because of it. After the deaths of both parents, and no visible means to move up in society or marry the girl he loves. Guinness sees only one way to advance. By seeking revenge on the family who shunned him, by killing all 7 members of the family that are in the way between poverty and riches. Oh, did I mention Guinness plays the other seven family members, all of different ages and gender? 

So yes, while the new musical A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder is a joy and I hope it wins a lot of Tonys, it's far from original. If nothing else, the film plays up the class distinctions more than the musical. Not a complaint, just an observation. At times it's fairly gentle when this black comedy delivers its kicks to the teeth, but any film where the lead lovably tries to kill 7 people isn't completely gentle. But always funny.

Arguably the best comedy Guinness ever made, though there are one or two films later in this retrospective that I'll probably bring up that, if you tell me they're better, I won't argue much. One in particular I wouldn't argue about at all, but that's for later. Before the likes of Peter Sellers, Eddie Murphy,and Mike Myers, you had Guinness playing multiple roles convincingly. You can see the influence directly with Sellers in The Mouse Who Roared as well as, to an extent, Dr. Strangelove. And with this kind of dark tweaking of class, you can see Kind Hearts and similar Guinness comedies influencing the likes of the Goon Squad and Monty Python, which in turn influenced Saturday Night Live, which in turn . . . You get the point, the film is influential and still funny:  

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for free- Mon June 16 at sundown- Bryant Park-  If you prefer not to spend any money to see Saturday Night Fever yet insist on going out, you can try Monday June 16, as it kicks off the free summer films at Bryant Park series. The dancing should look great in a party atmosphere, the music should sound passable if the traffic isn't too loud. Good luck hearing the dialogue if not within twenty feet of a speaker. That's what you trade essentially when you do a Bryant Park film: visual and music in exchange for hard to hear dialogue. But I rather catch Saturday Night Fever than say, the dialogue-heavy A Soldier's Story that plays in Bryant Park later this month. The gravel around the viewing Lawn opens at 4, the Lawn itself opens at 5, the screening itself starts at sundown, probably opening with a Looney Tunes cartoon if the past few years are any indication. No rain dates:

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