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.

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