Thursday, December 11, 2014

December revivals: pre-Christmas edition

Hey all, Mike here with a list of revivals for December. Pre-Christmas that is. This was a difficult list to pare down, and it still feels like a damn long one. And the first five or so days on this list are jammed packed with conflicting options that I'll have to just go with majority rules or first come first served. Not a bad problem to have. Let's not delay this any longer, here we go:

THE PASSIONATE THIEF (1960/63)- Fri Dec 12, Sat Dec 13, and Mon Dec 15 at 4:45, 7:15 and 9:30 and Tues Dec 16 at 7:15 and 9:30- Film Forum- A week long run of a big deal Italian comedy that concludes the Forum's Mario Monicelli retrospective. Sorry I didn't post anything here. I had no time for Big Deal on Madonna Street or any of the others prior to this film. I'm not even posting all days that this film is playing, since it conflicts with the remaining films on this list.

From 1960, released in the U.S. in 1963. Anna Magnani is a delusional and lonely actress working background. When the crew takes a holiday break, she jumps into a New Years Eve party with a blonde wig, brassy dress, and silver fox (with head), and throws herself at any available man. This includes her fellow performer and friend (Toto, a big name in Italian comedy) and a good looking American (Ben Gazzara). Both men are trying to steal from the party guests and she keeps interfering. Don't know the film, but curious:

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)- Fri Dec 12, Sat Dec 13, Mon Dec 15- Thurs Dec 19, Mon Dec 22 and Tues Dec 23 at 7, plus Tues Dec 23 at 9:40- IFC Center- Once again, IFC Center shows the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed classic for about two weeks. This kicks off IFC Center's series of Christmas films, and this is by far the most traditional, as you'll see with a couple of other selections below. It's only shown once or twice a year on NBC, once this year on USA Network, and not much more after that, if at all. So if you're in the mood, here it is. I'm sorry that you don't get a little bell with the title of the film on it, like you do with the recent DVD release, but how bad do need to give out angel wings?

As for the film itself, you probably know it, and your familiarity is probably why you're hesitant to go out and see it on the big screen. Don't worry, unless you're one of those who've made it a tradition to come out and see it in a venue like IFC Center every year or every other year, relatively few people know what it's like to experience this on the big screen, without commercial interruption. So maybe this is the year you'll do it?  Once again, Mary Owens, Reed's daughter will make introductions to selected screenings, on Dec 16th, 20th, and 23rd at 7PM:

THE BIG SLEEP and THE BLUE DAHLIA (both 1946)- Fri Dec 12 at 5:10 (Dahlia), 7 (Sleep) and 9:30 (Dahlia)- and Sat Dec 14 at 5:10 (Sleep), 7:30 (Blue) and 9:45 (Sleep)- Film Forum- The start of the Film Forum's noir series of films that were the book and/or screenplay was written by one or more of the following: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, and Cornell Woolrich. Sorry that I probably won't post anything from this retrospective except this double feature. Maybe not, depending on whether the first two Thin Man films are doable for me on Christmas Eve. But that's for the next list.

First, The Big Sleep, another standout noir from Bogart, this time as Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe. Co-written by William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, and directed by Howard Hawks. To paraphrase from the Forum's website: Hired by a hothouse-ensconced retired general to investigate his nympho daughter's gambling debts, Marlowe, finds the dames, including a very young Dorothy Malone as the bookseller, keep throwing themselves at him even as corpses keep dropping, while he and Lauren Bacall take time for a memorable double entendre conversation about race horses. 
Note that this is the version released in theaters, after the film ran into enforced edits by those in charge with enforcing the Production Code.  Specifically who aided the killer, the overt sexuality of  and the mention of both nature of the gangster's business and sexual preference, were not permissible by the Code. The original version of the Big Sleep will also play in this retrospective, but I'm afraid I have no time for it. The plot barely makes sense no matter which cut you see, even if the set-up is decent. But the reason to catch it is the coolness of Bogie and Bacall, Bogie's scenes in the bookstore with Malone, and some cool dialogue.

Next, The Blue Dahlia, an original Chandler screenplay (Oscar nominated) from an unfinished Marlowe novel and the third film team-up of leads Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Ladd is a returning Navy pilot who sees his wife philandering around the title nightclub, and finds out she's responsible for their son's accidental death. Ladd nearly shoots her, but restrains himself and walks away. Imagine his surprise when his wife is found dead and he's the prime suspect. You might think this would make Ladd frightened. But he's fought before, and will coolly take on all comers to find the murderer. But what is mysterious Lake's angle? Unfortunately this would be Chandler's only original screenplay, but it's a cool one with a cast to match. The best of the two noirs playing, but both are worth catching:

DIE HARD- Fri Dec 12 and Sat Dec 13 at 9:40- IFC Center- A DCP projection, part of IFC Center's series of Christmas films. An offbeat choice for the holiday season, but since everything takes place on Christmas Eve, it fits. An off beat change of pace for Christmas, but one of the best action films of the past 25 years or so. Bruce Willis jumps from TV star to Superstar status with this film, as everyman cop John McClane, saving his wife and co-workers in a giant office tower, from the clutches of evil Alan Rickman and his machine gun toting cohorts. True, you might feel Paul Gleason, William Atherton and Hart Bochner slow down the fun a bit by playing variations of the American Asshole, but two out of three pay off.

Compared to a lot of action films made after say, True Lies, Die Hard looks better and better each year. CGI alone does not make an action film exciting or even interesting. Yeah, I'm talking to you Transformers 1 and 2, just to pick on two films almost at random. Die Hard was just another above average hit from 1988. A little bigger in popularity than say, Beetlejuice, but not on the level of Crocodile Dundee 2. Home video and cable, plus the even bigger success of Die Hard 2, helped move Die Hard to the level of classic status. But if you're reading this, then you've probably only experienced this on TV. A large TV perhaps with an ok sound system, but not the big screen. Time to change that. Hey, be glad it's not a Midnight screening. Well they are showing this at Midnight as well, but I won't be up for that right now, so let's do it:

IMAGES (1972) with Damages and/or THIEVES LIKE US (1974)- Sat Dec 13 at 4 (Images) and 7:30 (Thieves)- MOMA- A potential double feature of more stuff from the Robert Altman retrospective. You can see both films for one admission, but if you only want to see one, well you can do that to. First, Images, from 1972. Children's book writer Susannah York goes on vacation with husband Rene Auberjonois to a remote-ish Irish cottage. She may not have been the most stable person prior to the road trip, but as the film delves into her inner life, things begin to go downhill. Altman's attempt at a non-linear narrative. If you're a fan of 1960 Ingmar Bergman films or David Lynch films from the 2000s, then you can get into Images. If nothing else, York's performance and Vilmos Zsigmond's Cinematography make this worthy of interest. Preceded by Damages, a 2001 short Altman put together from home movies shot on the set of Images.

Next, Thieves Like Us from 1974. Unfortunately, like Images, this was also a flop. An adaptation of Edward Anderson's novel. While it might be considered a more faithful adaptation than the Nicolas Ray film They Live By Night, most of us have never read it. This film feels like a more realistic version of Bonnie and Clyde. 3 bank robbers elude the law. One of them falls in love with a girl. But instead of the sexiness of a Warren Beatty-Faye Dunaway couple, we have a more realistic Keith Carradine-Shelley Duvall pairing. You feel for them, the romance between them feels more tangible, but you know in this time period it won't work out. Lots of Mississippi locations and superior art direction and costume design help with the authentic feel. Catch this:

WHITE CHRISTMAS- Mon Dec 15 at 7- AMC Empire- A special DCP screening.  Christmas classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. The first widescreen film made by Paramount and more successful than the original Holiday Inn. In short, before It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Home Alone became American holiday classics, this was it. If you didn't prefer Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Carol that is, this was it. And what's more Christmas than Bing and Danny, Irving Berlin shows, helping out our veterans, with a couple of hot blondes. That is what Christmas is all about, just as Allah intended. At least that's what Santa Claus said on an episode of Family Guy:

THE EPIC OF EVEREST (1924)- Wed Dec 17 at 7- Rubin Museum of Art- Now here's a film I normally would not have considered. But a friend brought it up, sent me the link to both the page at the Rubin Museum about it, as well as the link to the trailer of the restored silent film with new score. I saw it, I'm sold, and I'm going. It's been playing prior to the 17th, but I'm posting the only date I'm doing. Now since I'm not familiar with it, I'll copy and paste the Rubin's description of the film, and I'll include a link to the trailer below:

“Spooky, entrancing.” - TimeOut London
“The sequences in Tibet before the climb, of daily life among the Sherpas and their families, are of rare and magical ethnographic value.” - The Daily Telegraph
Capt. John Noel’s The Epic of Everest (1924) has been newly restored by the British Film Institute, with a mesmerizing and evocative new score by Simon Fisher Turner, and with the original tinting restored for the striking mountain sequences.
“This movie is all about the awe-inspiring visuals, mist rolling off the mountain top, glaciers twinkling in the evening light – and the crowning glory is the blue-tinted Fairyland of Ice sequence.” - Silent London
The third attempt to climb Everest famously culminated in the deaths of two of the finest climbers of their generation, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, and sparked an on-going debate over whether or not they did indeed reach the summit. Filming in brutally harsh conditions with a hand-cranked camera, Captain John Noel captured images of breathtaking beauty and considerable historic significance. The film is probably the earliest filmed records of life in Tibet and features sequences at Phari Dzong (Pagri), Shekar Dzong (Xegar) and Rongbuk monastery. But what resonates so deeply is Noel’s ability to frame the vulnerability, isolation and courage of people persevering in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.

A WEDDING (1978) with Dinah Goes To A Wedding- Thurs Dec 18 at 7- MOMA- A Wedding, one of the last Altman studio films to receive a proper release. Basically, it covers the story of a wedding, the 2 families that come together, and the secrets, lies and other contrivances that come forth during this social event that doesn't run smoothly. Over the top at times, but likable. Strong ensemble acting, including Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Lillian Gish, and a number of others who had appeared in previous Altman films. Not a hit, took some grief by critics, but I think it's held up surprisingly well. Preceded by Dinah Goes To A Wedding, a ten minute clip from Dinah Shore's old talk show Dinah! From 1977, Dinah visited the set of A Wedding and interviewed Altman:

NASHVILLE (1975)- Fri Dec 19 at 7:30 for free (subject to ticket availability)- introduced by Michael Murphy and Joan Tewkesbury- MOMA- Robert Altman's other masterpiece, from 1975, gets a big screen showing. Tickets are free and distributed at 3:30. Because there's a 6pm book signing of Altman by authors Giulia D'Angolo and Kathryn Reed Altman (the director's widow), and because the screening will be introduced by screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury and costar Michael Murphy, expect said free tickets will fly.

Country music types were not thrilled with Altman's attack of their world, but they weren't a target. This was Altman's cinematic State of the Union address; while hope is expressed for some of the Individuals, the country was rotting and it would only get worse. Bad enough that it kinda predicts the coming of both Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley. So let's sort of frame it as a musical!

We're following 23 characters, who'll all eventually come together for the Parthenon concert in Nashville's Bicentennial Park. Lily Tomlin is a married gospel singer who ends up becoming one of the many conquests of rock star Keith Carradine. Ned Beatty is Tomlin's husband, who has his own wandering eye, is a local organizer for an unseen Presidential candidate, and his tying in a campaign rally with the concert. Henry Gibson is Country Music Royalty, with an ego, an eye for political office, and a loud, drunk girlfriend who worships the late Kennedy boys, JFK and RFK, a bit much. Ronee Blakley is the most popular female country singer, whose constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown and whose husband is struggling to keep her sane. Scott Glenn is a Vietnam vet, walking around in uniform and gets maybe a little too close to Blakley's character. Karen Black is another popular country singer, though more ruthless off-stage and mediocre on-stage than Blakley's character. Murphy is the two-faced campaign manager. Shelley Duvall is a man-chasing groupie, chased by uncle Keenan Wynn, whose wife is dying. Barbara Harris and Gwen Welles are two aspiring singers trying to get into the concert; the former is not conventionally pretty and has been struggling for a while, the later is lovely, and is forced to move up through her body than through her voice. Geraldine Chaplin as a reporter (or is she?), who seems a lot closer to starfucker than serious journalist. With Elliot Gould, Julie Christie (as themselves), and Jeff Goldblum in an early role.

A film that Altman had difficulty finding financing for years. All the major studios didn't want to touch the heavy political aspects of Nashville, no matter what possible actors and big time soundtrack would come along with it. It wasn't until Jerry Weintraub came along, became producer of the project and got creative with the financing before Nashville could get made (at least according to Weintraub's interesting autobiography). The last Altman film that both drew an audience and had critics (lead by Pauline Kael) praising it to the hilt.

Oscar nominations for Picture, Altman for Director, and both Tomlin and Blakley for Supporting Actress. An Oscar for Carradine, who wrote the song, I'm Easy. On the second AFI Top 100 list. The main reason it's not on mine is because it's been a long while since I've seen this on cable, and I've never seen this on the big screen before. Now is a great chance to change that:

GREMLINS- Fri Dec 19 and Sat Dec 20 at 9:40- IFC Center- A DCP projection, part of IFC Center's Christmas Films series. Certainly the darkest in their series. Works well in making one both laugh and jump. Recently appeared in a list blog among the worst gifts ever given in a movie set in Christmas time. Cute little Gizmo given as a gift to a son by screw-up Dad, who just can't keep his pet from getting wet, thus multiplying, or keeping them from eating after midnight. Turning them into evil little things. I steal this from someone on imdb who talked about this: like The Matrix, be careful with your ever improving technology, or else you're screwed.

Laugh either loudly, at say, when the Gremlins enjoy Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or darkly, at Phoebe Cates' monologue involving her dad, a Santa Claus suit, and a chimney two sizes two small, so to speak. No laughing when the film came out, but now . . . And make you jump, when say, Mom is attacked by multiple Gremlins. One of the big hits of the summer of 1984, from director Joe Dante, and writer Chris Columbus:

3 WOMEN with Girl Talk- Sat Dec 20 at 4- MOMA- Part of the Robert Altman retrospective. Definitely a 70s film, but one heavily influenced by Bergman's Persona. Lots of obsession and some switching of personalities. Hard to describe a film that had no screenplay, but was completely influenced by some dreams Altman had. Gone are the days when a major director and the head of a major studio (in this case, Alan Ladd Jr. of Fox) could have an exchange possibly resembling something like this:

Altman: Hi, Alan. I just had some dreams, and I'd like you to give me some money to make a movie about them. I promise I won't write a screenplay.
Ladd: Oh. Ok.
Altman: I don't need much.
Ladd: How about 1.5 Million? (the actual estimated budget)
Altman: Great. I've got a plane to catch. Will call you later.
Ladd: Have a good flight. (The situation actually happened, minus this dialogue, according to the book "Easy Riders" by Peter Biskind).

Starring Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall. Never seen all of this and I'm very curious

CHINATOWN  for 10 dollars (7 for Seniors/Students)- Tues Dec 23 at 6- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's John Huston retrospective. All films will be 10 dollars, 7 for Seniors and Students. Every film he directed, and a couple where he just acted in. Sorry this is the earliest I have the time to post something from it. For the record, I won't post many films from the series. Mostly because I've done my share of Huston films on the big screen already, from The Maltese Falcon, to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, to The Asphalt Jungle, to Casino Royale, to Annie. And partly because there are a few I wish I had the time for but no go, like Prizzi's Honor. Ok, plus a couple I'm thinking no way in Hell, like Phobia, The Bible and Victory. Is it bad that I'm think of doing Tentacles during the holiday season? Such a good bad movie, Ill have to think about that one . . .

A DCP screening of Chinatown, the last of the great film-noirs. Ok, it's more of a modern or neo-noir. While there would be some very good to excellent modern noirs afterwards (L.A. Confidential, Blue Velvet and Fargo chief among them), none would go the dark paths Roman Polanski's film would travel, not even Lynch's film.  Based on events from the California Water Wars of the 1930s, Jack Nicholson's private eye (the role that made him a star forever) is hired by Faye Dunaway to spy on her husband. But nothing is as it seems, and if you don't know the film, I won't spoil it for you here. One of the great period films, one of the great mysteries, and if wasn't for Paramount's own Godfather Part 2, it might have been the best film from that year. An Oscar for Robert Towne's Screenplay; 10 other nominations including Picture, Polanski for Director (who also turns in a memorable performance as a thug), Nicholson for Actor, and Dunaway for Actress. Sorry there was no room for Huston for Supporting Actor, but boy does he make a memorably repellent villain. On both AFI Top 100 films and in my personal top 100:

Let me know if there's interest, have a Happy Festivus.

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