Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sept revivals: second half

Hey all. Mike here with a revival list for the second half of September. A small list, a list made smaller by the fact that I can't make the special TCM sponsored screenings of Gone With The Wind on Sunday September 28 and Wed October 1 at various locations. I've done the film once before, but the Wednesday screenings are impossible for me to make as is the Sunday night screenings, and the Sunday afternoon screening makes it too close for comfort for me to do other things that night. If you've never see it on the big screen and you have any available time, jump on this chance. But I'll have to let you do the research on your own, now here we go with this list:

ROME OPEN CITY (1946)- Tues Sept 23- Thurs Sept 25 at 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- A DCP restoration of Robert Rossellini's film. The film plays thru Thursday Sept 25th, but I'm committed to Tues Sept 23rd, specifically the 7:30 screening. Shot shortly after the Nazi occupation of France was over in a documentary style, we follow Resistance members. One in particular, the leader, is trying to escape a pursuing Gestapo. Won the Grand Prize at Cannes, an Oscar nomination for its Screenplay. All this despite being banned in several countries (including West Germany, go figure) and having 15 minutes removed in America (don't worry, we're getting the original cut here). With Anna Magnani, who was only known for comedy, but became popular worldwide with this film. Basically this is the introduction of Italian Neorealisim to the world at large. Not the first film of its kind, but the one that took off worldwide:

DR STRANGELOVE (1964)- Wed Sept 24 at 7 for 8 dollars- AMC Empire- The classic film gets a cheap DCP screening, possibly the 4k DCP that has screened elsewhere. Now as for Dr. Strangelove, if you ever bother to put your eyes on this list more than two or three times a year then you know what this film is, and you don't need me to describe this to you. Several of you have seen this in theaters with me before. Some of you have even seen it twice with me before. One of the few dark satires to get it exactly right. Just the everyday story of an insane general, who sends out his bomber unit to attack Russia. Considered one of the best anti-war films ever made. But for those who hate that term (seriously, are you that dumb to refuse to put this into historical context), then consider this an anti-rigidity and anti-stupidity film instead, OK? An excellent mixture of farce and action. And accurate enough in terms of military capability and military speak, that the Air Force demanded answers and questioned Stanley Kubrick.

If you've never seen it with an audience, make time for it. On as many AFI Top 100 lists that it could qualify for. One of the prime examples of Oscar screwing up, when it comes to not giving a film Best Picture. Strangelove is usually Exhibit A, while something like Goodfellas and Raging Bull would be considered Exhibits B and C, respectively. One of my top 5 favorite films ever, and my second favorite Kubrick film, after 2001. And as good a cast as this has, 3 top performances from Peter Sellers . . . , the range this man had is stunning. I dare any of you to find the seams where his performances don't work. Though some of you may prefer George C. Scott's performance; forced out of his comfort zone by Kubrick to get progressively more over-the-top, and is funny as hell:

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)- Wed Sept 24 at 9:30 and Thurs Sept 25 at 6:40- Regal Union Square Stadium 14- Hey lookahere, Ghostbusters is still playing in Union Square. Not what I would describe as miraculous, but somewhat surprising. Not sure if it play beyond the 25th, any addition playdates won't be published until sometime between the evening of the 23rd and the evening of the 24th. If there is an extension, I would be interested, but we'll see if that occurs:

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)- Fri Sept 25 at 5:30 and 8 (introduced by writer John Lahr) and Sat Sept 26 at 12:30, 5:30 and 8- Film Forum- This film kicks off the Forum's Tennessee Williams retrospective. Films that were either adapted from Williams' work (regardless of whether Tennessee had anything to do with the film or not), or based on an original screenplay of his. Actually Williams only has two produced original screenplays to his name, the hard to sit through The Loss of a Teardrop (not in the retrospective) and Baby Doll (the next film on this list). The rest are adaptations of varying quality, and the Forum starts with the vest of the bunch, A Streetcar Named Desire.

The best of the Williams adaptations. I won't focus on the story here. But Auntie Mame came to mind when I started to think about writing this post. I saw the film at a revival screening in Chelsea a few years ago. While I did like Auntie Mame, my first impression was that this was little more than a recorded play. Two standout performances were preserved for posterity, but little more than that, barely a movie at all. Now you might think it's not fair to compare a comedy with a heavy drama, and hey, director Elia Kazan also used some cast members from the original production of his play as well. But Kazan and Williams (plus co-screenwriter Oscar Saul) were successful in both expanding and shrinking the world compared to the stage version. Small bits of New Orleans exteriors mixed with a household set, whose walls Kazan incrementally brought in to emphasize Blanche DuBois's growing claustrophobia and growing mental instability. It also helps to have one of the greatest game-changing performances in the history of recorded acting in Marlon Brando's Stanley. 

But while it's a shame there are few living today who can let us know how good Jessica Tandy's Blanche was on stage, the producers's insistence on having Vivian Leigh star as Blanche gave us some hauntingly special. Perhaps the most underrated of lead female performances in film; I know this sounds strange considering how long this film/play has been with us. But the attention, both by the typical viewer and pop culture's collective memory, is usual attached to both Brando (and his "STTEELLLLAAAA!"). But he had to have someone to work off of, and besides this is more Blanche's story. A Steel Magnolia worn down to the nub, desperate for one more chance, but not strong enough to withstand a Stanley Kowlaski.

Oscars for Art Direction, Leigh for Actress, Kim Stanley as Stella for Supporting Actress, and Karl Malden for Supporting Actor,making Streetcar the first film to win 3 Oscars for its acting. Nominations for Picturs, Brando for Acting (losing to Bogart for The African Queen), Kazan for Director, Williams for Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound, Costume Design and for Alex North's sensitive, character driven Score (rare in its day). On both AFI Top 100 lists. Writer John Lahr, author of the new biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, will introduce the Friday 8PM screening and sign copies of his book afterwards. If you prefer not to deal with the potential crowd, Street car will also screen on Saturday the 26th, though I'm not sure which screening I can do: 

BABY DOLL (1956)- Mon Sept 28 at 8 introduced by Carroll Baker- Film Forum-  Part of the Tennessee Williams on screen retrospective. If this isn't agreed upon and planned out within minutes of you reading this, the chance of getting in will be minimal. An original screenplay from Williams, and directed by Elia Kazan. Carroll Baker plays the title role, as a 19 year old child bride, who refuses to give in to husband Karl Malden's "demands". She ends caught in the middle, as her virginity becomes a prize, between Malden, and an angry Mexican business rival (Eli Wallach in his film debut) who tries to take revenge, by taking Baby Doll. Funnier then you might expect, but as well acted, written and directed as you might think from all the names I mentioned here.

Controversial back in the mid 50s for the subject matter (in the 1950s? Gee, you THINK?!?!?!). Condemned by the Legion of Decency, this arm of the Catholic Church tried to organize a nationwide boycott. Cardinal Spellman in St. Patrick's Cathedral condemned the film during mass, telling Catholics to not see Baby Doll "under pain of sin". A surprising indirect ally was Time Magazine, who called the film the dirtiest American picture ever legally screened. The boycott didn't completely work. The backlash eventually killed the Catholics out of giving films the Production Code seal of approval; a step that would eventually lead to the ratings system and board we have today. But it did kill any chance Baby Doll ever had to be profitable. The boycott succeeded to the point that over 50 years later, this film is still criminally under seen. You might have heard of this film, but you have to be an ardent buff to anything about this film. For the record, a bit on the tame side, and far from pornographic.

Baker will introduce the screening, unknown if she'll do a Q and A . Tickets on sale via credit card on the forum's website, with a small number tickets to be sold once the box office opens on Monday afternoon. If we do this, mucho planning needs to be done.

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

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Sept revivals: first half

Hey all, Mike here with a quick list for the first half of September. Sorry I didn't post sooner, but the U.S. Open was ongoing. Now that it's not (gonna miss it), on we go with a brief list:

FEDORA- Tues Sept 9 at 7:35 and 10 and Wed Sept 10 at 2:50, 5:10, 7:35 and 10- Film Forum- A DCP restoration of an almost completely unknown and little seen Billy Wilder film from 1978 (released in the U.S. in 79). Wilder and screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) re-teamed for a variation of Sunset Blvd, right down to the casting of William Holden as the male lead. Hollywood is still being acted here; not just for losing control of their star contract system, but also for shunning talented men once they turn 65, and for shunning and pressuring actresses who have the audacity to age at all.

Holden plays a down on his luck producer, narrating the story of his desperate need to cast a Garbo/ Dietrich-like reclusive actress (Marthe Keller) as the lead for his new movie. This actress, Fedora, appears surrounded by people controlling her, including plastic surgeon Jose Ferrer and servant Frances Sternhagen, and is desperate for Holden's help to escape from them. Yet not everything is as it seems, and if you don't know the twist, I'm not spoiling it for you. 

For someone as popular and well known as Wilder, you might wonder how did Fedora crash and burn back in the late 1970s? Not for any one reason but for multiple reasons I fear, which I'll go thru without getting into spoiler territory about a film most of you have never heard of prior to this and similar postings. Starting with Wilder not getting his original choice for the title role, Marlene Dietrich, or his second choice, Faye Dunaway, but settling on rising actress Keller. His regret about casting Keller seems to have crept into production, and her seemingly erratic performance here used as evidence for both Fedora's major weaknesses and for why Keller's Hollywood career came to an end before she turned 37. American preview audiences laughed at the more serious scenes, and the reaction to its 1978 Cannes Film Festival premiere was tepid at best. A minimal international and American release by United Artists, after Wilder would do nothing more than to redub Keller and another actress and cut out twelve minutes, accompanied by reviews that were two-three stars at best, helped to bury Fedora. A few screenings on CBS, and slapped together home video releases back in the early 90s and about 3 years ago helped to keep Fedora buried.

Was the film considered too old fashioned compared to the work by the then-contemporary film school types that Holden's character felt was ruining Hollywood? Apparently this was NOT the perception when the digitally restored Fedora was re-screened at last year's Cannes festival. A flawed yet compelling and contemporary-feeling movie from a master filmmaker was the reaction. Let's see if you share the same reaction:  

GHOSTBUSTERS- UA Kaufman Astoria Studios Cinema 14 on Tues Sept 9 and Wed Sept 10 at 9:15,  and AMC Empire at 7:50-  Ghostbusters, in a restored DCP re-release screening. It was advertised as playing for one week only. Well,as you can see, the re-release did just well enough to play a second week. In very few theaters in NYC mind you. Just the Regal theater in Astoria by the Museum of the Moving Image, and AMC Empire in Times Square. Not sure if it will get a third week, but if it does, I suppose those will be the only theaters it might still play in. We'll see. As for the film itself, I like it, fun not-so-little New York movie, which gave me pleasant throwback memories to childhood. The visual effects don't hold up, it feels longer than it felt back then, and though there are quite a few great supporting performances, the film is held together by Bill Murray. A believable X factor whose unpredictability, even if you know the film by heart, keeps you interested and laughing. Hard to believe what this could have looked like if John Belushi lived to tackle the role.

FORREST GUMP on  IMAX- at AMC Empire- Tues Sept 9 and Wed Sept 10 at 7:45 and at AMC Lowes 34th Street on Tues Sept 9 and Wed Sept 10 at 7- Here's another re-release, Forrest Gump, in a digitally restored IMAX presentation. Based on this weekend's box office figures, it'll be lucky to play next week. It appears families and and others were willing to play regular prices for a comedy, but were bot willing to pay IMAX prices for Forrest Gump. We'll know for sure by late Tuesday evening, but I can't wait for that. So let's just say that if it's still playing next week, I'll be interested, just like with Ghostbusters.

As for the film itself, I liked it quite a bit back in 1994. Acting was superb and the film worked best as comedy, except for the sequences involving Bubba's family and the scene where Forrest first meets his son. Don't think it was in my top 10; not in a year that gave me Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, The Madness of King George, 4 Weddings and a Funeral, Heavenly Creatures, Eat Drink Man Woman, Speed, The Lion King, Three Colors: White and Natural Born Killers. And even if I did put Forrest Gump in my top 10 back then, it would probably in the back of the list. A tenuous position made more tenuous when I saw Gump on HBO for the first time The obvious manipulation and part-time heavy handedness in the dramatic scenes seemed too much on the small screen. Then as i got older, I caught up with Hoop Dreams, Three Colors: Red and Queen Margot, so now I probably don't have Forrest as nothing more than a thumbs-up. But I'm willing to give it another chance. Especially if it plays next week, but if it has to be this week, so be it.

FEMALE TROUBLE- Wed Sept 10 at 9- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The only film from Lincoln Center's John Waters retrospective that I'll have any time for. For those who like his films, here's a Midnight cult-classic doozy from his 70's days. When the parents of Dawn Davenport (Divine) neglect to get the deviant high schooler the one Yuletide gift she longs for- a pair of cha-cha heels- she throws the tree over on her mother and leaves, only to have a sexual encounter with a slob (also Divine) who picks her up hitchhiking. Nine months later, she has a daughter, Taffy (Mink Stole). Dawn's life turns around when she marries Gator (Michael Potter), a hairdresser. Gator's employers the Dashers have a philosophy that "crime equals beauty," and they turn Dawn into their own private superstar, photographing her committing outrageous acts. Rated X for a reason:

KING KONG (1976)- Thurs Sept 11 at 9:30- Nitehawk Cinema- I've been very curious to check out this Williamsburg theater, but it's location means a long mass transit trip for me. So it has to be something that catches my fancy to get me to make the trip there, something I'm not likely to find screening elsewhere, and the 1976 remake of King Kong fits the bill. Mostly forgotten as for the film where Jessica Lange looked hot and acted terribly, until 2005 when it was deemed terrible next to the original classic and the Peter Jackson remake, and it's been in forgotten purgatory ever since. I agree it's not better than the AFI Top 100 original or the Jackson remake, but I have affection for this film.

Set in the then modern day of 1976 as opposed to being in a period piece, Charles Grodin works for an Exxon-like company, leading an expedition for large oil deposits in a formerly unseen island in the Indian Ocean. But en route to the island he gets two unexpected passengers: a hippie stowaway (Jeff Bridges) who happens to be a doctor of whatever the script needs him to be, and the beautiful sole survivor (Jessica Lange in her screen debut) stranded at sea. Everyone gets on the tanker, goes to the mysterious island, sees natives, meets giant monkey, takes him back to New York, I skipped some beats, who cares HOT CHICK AND GIANT MONKEY TIME. Aided by a good John Barry score.

Dialogue isn't the greatest. Tell us Dr Bridges, can fog really be formed by animal perspiration? But he's snarky before it was cool (and a bit of an asshole to boot), and he can handle the action scenes with a cool per-Lebowski beard to boot. Yet he's not as charming as Grodin's shady oil man. The film is surrounded with likable character actor types like Ed Lauter, Rene Auberjonis, Julius Harris and John Lone. Jessica Lange is gorgeous, doing her best to play a quick thinking  Marilyn Monore wannabe for the 1970s, but her inexperience, lousy dialogue, and a director in John Guillerman (The Towering Inferno) who apparently was better dealing with visuals than people, it's amazing we got something decent. That said, she didn't deserve the critical attacks that took Lange years to overcome.

There's strong levels of camp here, and the Oscar winning visual effects sporadically hold up. The film got hit with mixed reviews. Surprisingly, the likes of Kael and Ebert liked the mix of seriousness and camp, but the New York reviewers killed it. Producer Dino De Laurentis and Paramount Pictures billed this film as The Most Exciting Original Motion Picture Event of All Time, complete with the kind of wall to wall promotion and fast food tie ins and toys and t shirts more associated with Star Wars 6 plus months later. It was one of the most expensive films of that year. It turned out a hefty profit, but audience word of mouth doesn't appear to be good. The film turned in huge ratings whenever it aired on NBC, but it would be screened in two parts with almost an hour of extra footage, with said footage supposedly doing a good job filling in the gaps. And then there was the 1.7 million dollar 40 foot tall Kong. Advertised as the film's crowning achievement, it turned out so hideous it was only used for about 10 or so seconds. So we got a guy in a monkey suit. A highly expressive face, thanks to the work by Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi, but only a decent upgrade over the most advanced Godzilla suit.

Actually we had other elements that were different with Kong. The island was more of a fantasy realm as opposed to something from a horror film, and Kong is more like Frankenstein's monster, a victim of sorts, more likable less frightening. Not quite the Kong whose death would make everyone cry as Dino said on press tours (which John Belushi would unmercifully mock on SNL). But there will be some form of tearing or at least emotion at this screening. Showing the 1976 King Kong, where the last 15 or so minutes take place at the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2014, will stir up some emotion I'm sure. Whatever it takes to get this cheesy, corny, sluggish at times, yet overall fun film back on the screen. It ain't Casablanca, but not everything needs to be:

ROME OPEN CITY- Tues Sept 16- Tues Sept 23 at 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- A DCP restoration of Robert Rossellini's film. Plays for two weeks, I'm not sure which day or time I can do, so I'll post this with a bunch of dates and we'll see what happens. Shot shortly after the Nazi occupation of France was over in a documentary style, we follow Resistance members. One in particular, the leader, is trying to escape a pursuing Gestapo. Won the Grand Prize at Cannes, an Oscar nomination for its Screenplay. All this despite being banned in several countries (including West Germany, go figure) and having 15 minutes removed in America (don't worry, we're getting the original cut here). With Anna Magnani, who was only known for comedy, but became popular worldwide with this film:

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