Thursday, December 24, 2015

Revivals: holiday season edition

Happy Festivus everyone. Mike here with a holiday season revival list. Not Christmas films mind you, but this list takes us thru New Years Day weekend. Here we go:

THE WILD BUNCH (1969) with or without SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE (2015) and/or THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)- Sat Dec 26 and Sun Dec 27 at 12:30 (Shaun) 3:30 (Wild) and 7 (Picture)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A potential triple feature at the Museum of the Moving Image, all for one admission. An insanely long day into night, and one I'm not exactly up to. Now this is someone who not too long ago, did a triple feature of a compilation of Rowlf the Dog clips, Far From Heaven, and Boogie Nights. I also did a double feature at the Museum pf Godfathers 1 and 2. So just because I'm not planning about doing it, or I'm complaining right now about doing such a thing, doesn't mean I won't do if talked into it properly. This triple feature will be done on both Saturday December 26th, and Sunday December 27th. I prefer to do Saturday, but I post Sunday as well.

First you have Shaun The Sheep, which came out to critical praise and audience indifference this summer here in the States. Not sure how it did in the U.K., where the character is used in a TV series of the same name, and was originally from a Wallace and Gromit short. The same Wallace and Gromit company made this film, where Shaun and his flock decide to vacation in the big city, and get into trouble. Especially when the Farmer who looks for them is missing. For the Wallace and Gromit/ Chicken Run fans, this gets attention for not only the critical praise and Oscar nomination talk for Best Animated Film, but the Museum will also do hands-on Claymation Creatures workshops after the film. If you can't do Shaun and the Workshops on either the 26th or the 27th, it will play every afternoon after that, thru New Year's Day.

Next is The Wild Bunch, from 1969. For months, in anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming 70mm release of The Hateful 8, the Museum had been touting their own 70mm screening of the Sam Peckinpah classic. Thematically, they're of kindred spirits, so it makes sense to whet the cinematic appetite this way. However, the Museum recently announced (sometime between the morning of the 21st and the afternoon of the 22nd) that the 70mm print of The Wild Bunch is in such poor condition, it has been pulled from distribution, and the Museum will screen a 35mm print instead. Wow, not even a DCP. Oh well, it still works seeing before Tarantino's new film.

The Wild Bunch, the film that John Wayne complained destroyed the myth of the Old West. Follows a group of older outlaws, still robbing and shooting to make a living. The times have changed, they've gotten a lot older and their foes are seemingly younger and stronger. They want to rob to retire, but that only gets a group of bounty hunters after them, led by a former member of the group. They escape to Mexico for one last go. But dealing with the corrupt forces there and the bounty hunters on their tail, the old group of outlaws basically to go out on their own terms. Violent, bloody, and taking hundreds of the enemy with them. Holden is the leader of the Bunch, Ernest Borgnine is his best friend, and Robert Ryan is their former friend; a bounty hunter forced to pursue them without relent. Plus Western stalwarts like Edmond O'Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin and future director Alfonso Arau (A Walk In The Clouds) in the cast as well.

Sam Peckinpah's film was approved mainly to compete with what they thought was the similar Buthch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Similar, Warner Bros.? Oops. He wanted to show a certain macho code that was not holding up in the start of the 20th Century. But no matter what code you live by, betrayal is unacceptable. From others and especially from yourself. Another thing Peckinpah wanted to show was the violent world of this time. Not sanitized like in most Westerns, nor in TV Westerns of the time like Gunsmoke, but closer to what was shown on the news in Vietnam. He wanted to horrify his audience with its brutality. The climatic shootout was supposed to convey this. With 6 different cameras all shooting at different speeds, its an amazing combination of choreography, cinematography and editing. Despite about 20 minutes cut before its release to avoid an X rating, the violence was still considered controversial. But what shocked Peckinpah was how much of his audience was thrilled by the violence as opposed to being repulsed by it. Oops for Sam. When Warner Bros tried to re-release the film back in 1994 with 10 extra minutes, the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating, complaining about the violence! It took a year of resubmission before an R rating was finally granted.

2 Oscar nominations, including Screenplay, but NOT for Editing. On both AFI Top 100 lists. May or may not be on my Top 100 list, but very close. If you don't know it, this is a great chance to change that, even if it's only with a 35mm print.

Next is The Last Picture Show. A new DCP restoration of the 1971 film. I saw the last 35mm restoration of it back in 2011, so I have high hopes for the quality of the look. This doesn't get a revival screening too often. Two milieu are depicted here. Life in high school, as its seniors are finding their way into adulthood, however slow the emotional development. All taking placing in a dying small Texas town, circa early 1950s. Our entry into this world comes from two buddies: the wild jocular type played by Jeff Bridges and the more sensitive one played by Timothy Bottoms. College doesn't seem likely for them. More likely for them, unless they choose to move to larger towns like many before them, is reflected in the lonely, frustrated bitter adults around them. Whose dreams have long since died a quiet death. All here are not depicted as country bumpkins or idiots. Maybe some are more vain, or depressed than others, but such as life.

Peter Bogdanovich jumped to A list status with this film, a status that went bye-bye, thanks to pictures like Daisy Miller and At Long Last Love. But with a great script adaptation of Larry MacMurtry's novel from Bogdanovich and MacMurtry (anyone better in depicting Texas in print than Larry?), and wonderful cinematography from Robert Surtees (black and white, per the suggestion/demand of Orson Welles), you have cinema. If it wasn't for so many good, recognizable actors in the cast, you might think you were watching a documentary, what with the almost subliminal use of music and naturalistic performances. A cast that includes Bridges, Bottoms (Tim and Sam), Cybill Shepherd (ok performance, but perfect as an object of desire), Randy Quaid, Eileen Brennan, Ellen Burstyn, Cloris Leachman, and Ben Johnson (watch his monologue by the lake, very good indeed).

Oscar nominations for Picture, Director, Screenplay Adaptation, Cinematography, Bridges for Supporting Actor and Burstyn for Supporting Actress. Oscars for Johnson for Supporting Actor and Leachman for Supporting Actress. On the second AFI Top 100 list. And with everything I said, this may be more of an acquired taste. I invite any and all to come watch this, but this might be better suited for cinephilles (or however you spell it) and those interested in quiet films. I'm not sure if this even has classic status. Two other films from 1971, The French Connection and A Clockwork Orange, may or may not have been loved by critics as much as Last Picture Show, but their classic status is unquestioned. We will be getting the two hours six minute Director's Cut released in 1992, as opposed to the 1 hour 59 minute theatrical release. 7 minutes cut by Columbia Pictures, who insisted that the film had to have a running time under 2 hours. Whatever version is screened, I want to catch this:

BALL OF FIRE (1941)- Mon Dec 28- Wed Dec 30 at 5:15, 7:30 and 9:45- Film Forum- An archival print of the hit screwball comedy from 1941. Professor Gary Cooper is working on a new encyclopedia with 6 other, mostly bachelor, professors (including Max from Sound of Music, Clarence from It's A Wonderful Life, and Sacha and Carl the Waiter from Casablanca). They're on a deadline, but they're distracted by dancer Barbara Stanwyck (stripper? Burlesque dancer? Who knows). She's hiding from evil mobster Dana Andrews (Laura), and seeks sanctuary with the 7 professors, much like Snow White hiding with the Seven Dwarfs (DO YA GET IT?!?!?!). But unlike Disney's version, this not so Snow White falls for a rather Dopey tall professor.

Co-written by Billy Wilder. Based on his short story which was a take on the Snow White story, it would be the last Screenplay Wilder would write without directing the film as well. Luckily for Wilder, the director of Ball of Fire, Howard Hawks, was willing to mentor him and  let Wilder observe how he worked. 4 Oscar nominations, including Stanwyck for Best Actress, and Wilder for Best Writing, Original Story:

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965-67)- Fri Jan 1, Sat Jan 2, Mon Jan 4-Sat Jan 9, and Tues Jan 12-Thurs Jan 14 at 5:10, 7:30 and 9:50- Film Forum- A rarely screened Orson Welles film gets a DCP restoration and a twelve day run (at least) at the Film Forum. Released in Europe in 1965 and 66, released briefly in the U.S. in 67. Welles combined Henry IV Part 1 and 2, Richard II, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor to concoct this film. A film where Prince Hal must choose to give his loyalty to either his father, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) or his father figure, Sir John Falstaff (Welles). With Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Margaret Rutherford as Mistress Quickly, and Fernando Rey as Worcester.

The film was a big deal at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, winning two awards for Welles and a nomination for the Palme D'or. But with most American film critics ripping it a new one, led by Time Magazine and the New York Times's Bosley Crowther, film distributor Harry Saltzman (as in the co-producer of the James Bond films of the 60s-mid 70s) lost faith. Chimes of Midnight barely received a theatrical release in America, and tanked bad. Critical re-evaluation has since occurred over the decades with the likes Camby, Kael, and Ebert praising the film. Welles himself considered it his favorite of all his films, as well as one of his most personal. But ownership rights to the picture has made it very difficult to see the film here in the States. Available on Blu-ray and DVD in Europe, but not here. Two long out-of-print VHS versions is all the home video distribution Chimes of Midnight has had, so forget about finding it on Netflix. But with this DCP restoration, maybe this can be the start of the film finally finding an audience: 

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pre-Christmas revivals

Hey, Mike here with a list of revivals for the month of December, pre Christmas Eve. All of them are Christmas movies, except for one or two. Three, if you include the one I have that IFC Center has in their Christmas film retrospective that begins this list:

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)- Tues Dec 15 and (maybe) Thurs Dec 17 at 9:40- IFC Center- Stanley Kubrick's final film, as part of IFC Center's Christmas film series. Films that are obvious Christmas movies, and those that are not that obvious. Or perhaps far from obvious, in the case of Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman played a shallow married couple. They're bored with their life together, perhaps more Kidman's character more than Cruise's. He barely pays attention to her except thru sex, she's seems more interested in something else, anything else. A night of intimacy and pot smoking, turns into a near-monologue by Kidman full of resentment over her life, him as a man and a s a lover, as well as an admission (possibly invented, possibly not), of near-adultery. And while Kidman's character is named Alice, it's Cruise's character that goes down the rabbit hole. A NYC rabbit hole of potential trysts, infidelities and more. 

If you've never seen the film before, or read the Austrian novella that it is based on, and are unaware of the stories and analysis about it, then you won't get where the twists are. If at a certain point, you decide the film follows a more imagined, dream-like path as opposed to a reality based one, it'll work for you that way as well. But why would this be considered a Christmas film, as IFC Center is trying to pitch it? Yes this film is set days/weeks before Christmas, but so what? Maybe the setting and the ideals of the holiday is in contrast to the materialism and attempted hedonism run rampant. Good will to men and women is rarely practiced here, and the possibility of redemption might be cynically thought of as temporary. At least as until one of them achieves orgasm. Or not, the interpretation is our to make. Thanks, Stanley:   

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)- Wed Dec 16 at 7, Fri Dec 18 at 4:15 and 7, Mon Dec 21 at 4:10 and 7, Tues Dec 22 at 7 (introduced by Mary Owen) and Wed Dec 23 at 9:40- IFC Center- plus Thurs Dec 17 at 7 for 10 dollars at Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- plus Sun Dec 20 at 9 at Cinema 1 2 3 on 1001 3rd Ave-A 35mm projection at IFC Center, a digital screening at Cinema 1 2 3, I'm guess some kind of projection at the Chelsea Cinema. Once again, IFC Center shows the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed classic for about two weeks. It's only shown once or twice a year on NBC and I believe it will be screened only once on TCM, 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? This holiday season, it will screen at three different Manhattan locations. Alongside the IFC, we have one night only on the Upper East Side, One cheap-ish screening introduced by Hedda Lettuce in Chelsea. 

Once again, Mary Owens, Reed's daughter will make introductions to selected screenings, but only at IFC Center. Tuesday December 22 at 7, would probably be the only screening I could make:

CHINATOWN (1974) with or without DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)- Sat Dec 19 at 1:30 (Double) and 4 (Chinatown)- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- A special DCP screening, as part of the Museum's The Hollywood Classics behind Walkers series. Where Classic films are paired with an exhibit of movie scripts and memorabilia, as well as art work inspired by or incorporating the classic films. Don't know what they have in the exhibit related to Chinatown. But if you get there no later than say, 2:15, that should give you plenty of time to see the exhibit before Chinatown. A little earlier, you can see the rest of the Museum's exhibits or catch one of the classic serials that plays in rotation at 2 and 3:30. All for one admission. The Museum itself closes at 7 on Saturdays, so you won't have much time to check out the sights inside after the film.

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 John 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. 

Also for the record, Double Indemnity plays prior to Chinatown, at 1:30. Another of the great film-noirs. I've done it earlier this summer, and I'd rather take the time to check out the Museum than do the film again. But I like it enough that I'm open to doing it if you really want to:

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) for 10 dollars- Wed Dec 23 at 7- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema- A special Wednesday night screening of the Christmas classic. Yes, there is a DCP screening going on at the same time at AMC Empire and Regal Union Square, sponsored by TCM. But let's go for a screening that's at least 4 dollars cheaper, and throw in a Hedda Lettuce intro as well. Smart screenplay, sentimental without getting sugary sweet. Appealing performance; from the main roles filled by the likes of Edmund Gwen Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood, to character actors in early film roles like Thelma Ritter Jack Albertson and William Frawley, and everyone else in-between whose names escape me. All of whom helped to make this a classic, among both Christmas films and in films set in NYC. Oscars for Gwen for Supporting Actor, Valentine Davis for Best Writing- Original Story, and to the film's director, George Seaton, for Best Writing- Screenplay. An Oscar nomination for Best Picture: 

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

Thursday, December 03, 2015

December revivals: first third

Hey all. Mike here with a revival list for the first third of December. Overall I would go see every film, but there are a few that standout more than others. I think those films will be obvious. Here we go:

THE GODFATHER (1972) introduced by Tom Sachs with Robert M. Rubin and THE GODFATHER PART 2 (1974)- Sun Dec 6 at 2 and 6:30- Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria- The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2 will screen together at the Museum of the Moving Image, as of the Museum's exhibit: Walkers: Hollywood Afterlives in Art and Artifact exhibit. Not sure what it is entirely, beyond 40 artists reconfiguring or dissecting key cinema moments alongside items like the costume designs for Rosemary's Baby and the original key book stills of The 39 Steps. The only other work I'm aware of is Tom Sachs sculpture/video station The Godfather Viewing Station, stationed outside the Museum's main screening area, The Redstone Theater. Sachs himself and the main curator for the Walkers exhibit, Robert M. Rubin, will introduce the film 

Both Godfather and Godfather 2 will be DCP screenings. Much like the restoration for Apocalypse Now Redux, these Francis Ford Coppola films received a major cleanup and improvement of sight and sound. This restoration is what we will get, and get for 1 admission price. If you think you can stay until 10PM, you have a  great day/night ahead. Now for most of the rest of this post, I'm staying with The Godfather. 

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 . . . I can at least say that this was the fastest 3 hours or so I ever spent watching a film. No excess fat, no wasted shots, perfection.

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. Just need to say; unless you're over the age of 52, you saw its brief re-release in 1997 or saw a crappy print when it's played at Midnight at Landmark Sunshine Cinema or caught this restored version at either the Film Forum or the Ziegfeld back in 2008, 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

I caught this restoration of Godfather twice, and the restoration looked, and especially sounded, great. The same restoration process has been done to The Godfather Part 2. I remember seeing an old 3 strip Technicolor print at AMMI almost ten years ago. A scratchy print, but the nostalgic color hues in the Vito Corleone scenes from Ellis Island through Robert de Niro's shooting scene blew me away. Totally different from every other time I've seen it on video or cable. If the quality of that is captured in this restoration, it should rock. It will anyway, but still. I think I prefer the first Godfather, but that's probably because the passion speaks to me a bit more. But we're talking such a tiny difference between the two and if you've never seen it on the big screen, this is a great chance.

On both AFI Top 100 lists, and in my personal top 35. 11 Oscar nominations, including Actor for Pacino and Supporting Actress for Talia Shire. 6 Oscars, including Picture, Director and Screenplay for Coppola. A Supporting Actor Oscar for De Niro in a career making turn, beating fellow nominated co-stars Lee Strasberg and Michael V. Gazzo:

HOME ALONE (1990)- Wed Dec 9 at 7:30- AMC Empire and Regal Union Square- A 25th anniversary screening of the holiday classic. If that doesn't make the Gen Xers out there feel old, I don't know what will. Not the best film ever made by a long shot, probably the weakest film on this list. And yes, some of Macaulay Culkin's line readings are on the awkward side. And yes, any one of the injuries inflicted on Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern's characters would have killed them. But I guess I fell for the sentiment, with just a few scattered humorous moments that lets the medicine, er, sentiment go down. John Williams' score helps. Besides, I know some of you John Hughes fans  who don't care for this. The same ones who give Curly Sue a pass. Oh give me a break, it's not like I'm pushing Home Alone 2, that film takes forever to tell its story:

GLORIA (1980) with post-film discussion and book signing with Garth Risk Hallberg- Thurs Dec 10 at 7- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Part of Lincoln Center's Print Screen series, where an invited author talks about a film that inspired at least part of their work. In this case, we have author Garth Risk Hallberg talking about his book City On Fire (and signing it afterwards), as well as the film it was inspired by: John Cassavetes' Gloria.

From 1980, the initial set-up (and probably this film as well) is something that had to have inspired Luc Besson when he created The Professional. But instead of the cinematic pyrotechnics we usual get from a Besson flick, we get some of the more grounded realism you'd expect from writer/director Cassavetes. Buck Henry, a mob accountant planning on going to the FBI with his books, is slaughtered alongside most of his family, by men under mob orders. But I said most of his family, because Dad helps his 6 year old son escape, to their only friend, their neighbor Gloria. She's an aging gun moll who doesn't like kids, and especially doesn't like this orphan, who doesn't care much for her either. But they need each other, because the kid has his dad's evidence on some mobsters, she knows these mobsters personally (and some intimately), and they're soon on her trail. So Gloria can't be blamed if she ends up taking a shoot first, ask questions later approach. It doesn't help that the police think Gloria's kidnapped the boy, so they're after her as well.

A bit on the melodramatic side, but I don't mind some melodrama excess, as long as I enjoyed the ride. I said Cassavetes tended to be more grounded in his own films, but if the passion and melodrama came from a realistic source, bring it on. And compared to the hideous Sharon Stone remake from 1999, this is a classic. A pretty good NYC film, with Gloria's confrontation with some hoods on a crowded subway possibly the highlight for me. And if gets a little much, Gena Rowlands' Oscar nominated performance is the glue that holds things together. To quote author Hallberg from the Lincoln Center film website:

“A novelist whose subject is New York in the ’70s has a wealth of cinematic sources at his disposal, from Mean Streets to Manhattan. And for the thrills it coaxes from the ruined city streets, John Cassavetes’ Gloria certainly belongs in that exalted company. But it was Cassavetes’ peculiar formal genius, and the mirroring genius of Gena Rowlands—the explosive sense that anything might happen—that I found the most illuminating as I tried to capture that time when ‘everything was on the verge.’ Fire up the popcorn and dim the lights: research has never been so fun.”

LAURA (1944) with or without IN A LONELY PLACE (1950)- Fri Dec 11 at 2 (Laura), 4:15 (Place), 6:10 (Laura, introduced by Megan Abbott) and 8 (Place, introduced by Megan Abbott) plus Sat Dec 12 at 1 (Laura)- Film Forum- The start of the Forum's Women Crime Writers, of films adapted from crime novels written by women. In A Lonely Place and Laura can be seen for one admission. If I can see only one of these films, Laura is my easy pick. But I like both films and thus post both.

First, In A Lonely Place, from 1950. Not necessarily an obvious film noir, but stay with it. Humphrey Bogart plays a washed up screenwriter, quick to temper and quicker to drink. But things get complicated, and I will Robert Sklar's quote handle the rest:

Humphrey Bogart a vicious killer? Okay, he’s a hard-drinking, log-sized-chip-on-his-shoulder screenwriter with a sardonic cynicism so deep he enlists a hatcheck girl as overnight novel summarizer so he doesn’t actually have to read the trashy book he’s agreed to adapt, stopping to take a poke at an asking-for-it producer’s son-in-law along the way. Even when she winds up dead, and he’s being grilled by old army buddy Frank Lovejoy, it turns into an occasion for girl-across-the-courtyard (an exact reproduction of Ray’s first Hollywood pad) Gloria Grahame to give Bogie an alibi — and to get to know better an “interesting” face. But as their love affair progresses, Bogie breaks his fussbudget longtime agent’s glasses, creeps out Lovejoy and wife Jeff Donnell with his too-real “imaginative” reenactment of the murder, and is barely prevented from braining a motorist he’d already sideswiped and beaten senseless. An agonizingly inevitable — but still surprising — resolution looms. Ray boasted “I took the gun out of Bogie’s hands” in altering his screen image (“a radical demystification of the classic Bogart hero” – Robert Sklar); while his own marriage with Grahame ended during the filming — they kept it a secret, fearing Ray would be kicked off the production. "Bogart's performance shares most of the characteristics of his classic performances except that the tie between the killer and the lover is laid bare, without the romanticism, the genre conventions, or the political ideology which underlay it in previous films.... There are no moments for audiences to cheer as he pumps lead into a noxious villain - surely not when he extols the wonderful feeling of crushing a throat, or with his hands around one. The role of Dixon Steele is among the most interesting examples of a performer's critical reevaluation of his screen persona, and surely belongs on the list of Bogart's great performances." – Robert Sklar. 

Next is Laura, in a DCP screening. A classic film noir; one of my favorites of the genre. Detective Dana Andrews is obsessed with murder victim Laura, played by Gene Tierney. Among the suspects are outwardly suave Vincent Price and ultra prissy, ultra acidic critic Clifton Webb (Oscar nominated). We see flashbacks from Laura's life that fascinate the detective more. And then . . . . sorry, if you never saw it, I'm not spoiling it. Though do look for a young (ish, kinda) Judith Anderson.

Among the best of the noirs. Amazing how much sexual tension there were able to get past the Production Code. An Oscar for the Cinematography, additional nominations for director Otto Preminger (a replacement from Rouben Mamoulian; Otto chucked Rouben's old footage, reshot everything and changed the ending- WOW!), Art Direction and the Screenplay (3 writers were nominated, not Ring Lardner Jr., who did some script doctoring). What I'm surprised wasn't nominated was David Raskin's score, which includes "Laura's Theme", which is hard to forget if you like the film. Not the best film noir I've ever seen, but the snappy dialogue, wonderful performances, and interesting shows of love (obsessive, requited, unrequited) have stayed with me. And make me want to get as many people as I can, who are unfamiliar with this film to see this.

Writer Megann Abbott will introduce the 6:10pm screening of Laura and the 8pm screening of In a Lonely Place on the 11th. Both films will also screen on the 12th, though I could only do the 1pm screening of Laura:

DIE HARD (1988) for 10 dollars- Sat Dec 12 at Midnight- Landmark Sunshine Cinema-  A cheap-ish screening down at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. An offbeat choice for the holiday season, but since everything takes place on Christmas Eve, it fits. And one of the best action films of the past 30 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 (leaving Mad Max: Fury Road out of this conversation), 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.

Let me know if there's interest. Take care.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November revivals: pre Thanksgiving edition

Hey all, Mike here with a list of revivals for the part of November before Thanksgiving weekend. Consider this list in three overlapping sections: John Huston films, bat-shit crazy films, and Fame, which fits in neither category. Here we go:


JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)- Fri Nov 13 at 8 (introduced by Charles Busch) and 10:15 plus Mon Nov 16, Wed Nov 18 and Thurs Nov 19 at 8 and 10:05- Film Forum- A new 4k digital restoration A simple Western, starring Sterling Hayden, Joan Crawford, Ernest Borgnine and Mercedes McCambridge, and directed by Ray, that was successful back in 1954, then went away. Until Francois Truffaut and some gay film buffs got ahold of it. They're the ones reminding us about the hidden lesbian story, the links to the HUAC hearings, and the irony of casting HUAC namer of names Hayden as the possible hero (though we didn't know until recently that he was an actually secret agent of some sort who actually knew at least a little something about Communists). Though no male hero would DARE upstage Joan Crawford by this time!

So is it a simple, entertaining Western? Is it an allegory of the Blacklist and the McCarthy witch hunts? It was written unofficially by black-listed screenwriter Ben Maddow. Is there high entertainment value from the over-the-top perfs of both Crawford (is it me, or does she play most scenes like she were the Queen of England or Cleopatra?) and McCambridge? Both ladies hated each other. They fought constantly, and according to IMDB, Crawford was so mad (and drunk), that once she flung McCambridge's costumes along a stretch of Arizona highway. And is it true that the real story of the film, is that McCambridge's character is actually a closeted lesbian, spurned by Crawford, and now seeking revenge? I would say, yes to all of the above. It works as a Western, the allegory is right there, the lead female perfs have high camp value, and you could say no about the lesbian overtones, but there's enough there to read that into it. But whether the film is actually good or great is not something I can help you with. But it sure as shit ain't dull. Worth catching in any case:

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) for 10 dollars- introduced by Francesca Granata- Fri Nov 20 at 9:30- Rubin Museum of Art- A cheap-ish screening of the John Huston classic. If you get there earlier, the Rubin Museum will be free for you to see, after 5pm. Francesca Granata, assistant professor at Parsons School of Design and fashion critic, will introduce the screening. 

One of the best ever and an AFI Top 100 film (both lists), Falcon made Bogart a leading man for life and was also Huston's directorial debut. Proof that Tarantino did not have the best start to a film career. Okay maybe Welles did, but no one went to see Citizen Kane when it came out, but they did go to see Falcon in the same year. And oh by the way, its one of the best films ever made. I'm sorry did I say this already instead of going on about the film? If you know this site is known to you at all, then this is the kind of film you know well. "The kind that dreams are made of". I hope we can go:

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)- Sat Nov 21 at 9:30 (introduced by Todd Haynes) and Sun Nov 22 at 9- Francesca Beale Theater in Lincoln Center- From the Todd Haynes retrospective, not just of his films, but also some of his cinematic influences. I'm sorry I don't have time for Todd's films, and probably don't have time for most of the influences (we'll see about Fassbinder's Fox and his Friends). But if I have time for only one of his influences, this nut job of a film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, will deliver a good (NC-17 rated) time. 

From 1970, 3 hot chicks (played by 2 Playboy Playmates and a model) and a boyfriend of one of them, form a band, graduate from high school, move to L.A., and try to make it big in the music business. Once they get lucky and capture the interest of a Phil Spector-esque producer, the world opens up to them. And by that I mean sex, drugs, double-dealing, emotional upheaval, violence, Nazis, and more. And since we have the duo of screenwriter Roger Ebert and director Russ Meyer, we have stacked women, mediocre acting (with a few exceptions), and a script that plays with cliches, piles on the inanity, throws logic out the window, and moves everything along at an accelerated pace. 

For decades I didn't know the film existed. A financial smash in its day, a cult classic ever since, but I didn't know about it until the early 00s. 2000, 2001, something like that. And that's when I thought I found a gem of a bad movie. Mostly craptastic acting, great music (score by Stu Phillips, songs from the Strawberry Alarm Clock), over a dozen hot chicks, direction that knows how to move the story visually even if its tone deaf toward the non-musical sounds, plus the occasional Nazi. And one can't forget the way the stand-ins for Muhammad Ali and Phil Spector act here. Especially the later, in ways that mix Manson with the events that resulted in two murder trials. 

The progressive aspects should also be noted positively alongside the fun bizarro ones. For one, you get a real relationship between an African-American couple, right down to a love scene. Never done before in a studio-backed film (Fox is said studio), and rarely depicted in a studio film since. You also have a lesbian relationship that is actually treated with respect, another Hollywood rarity in its day. Both within the limits of a craptastic film. 

Or so I thought, if I'm to believe otherwise. I honestly didn't (and don't) believe that director Meyer intended this to be a satire of all things Hollywood, and that all of this was intentional. I believe it when cast members and Ebert talked about how Meyer would change story and character motivations, despite it not necessarily matching up with what had been previously shot. Having the idea of "let-the-actors-play-it-straight-no-matter-what" works when everybody is on the same page, like in Airplane. But despite what the actors say on the 2006 DVD extras, this is a bad film. But a gloriously fun bad film that cranks it up to 11 from the start, and then tries to raise it to 12 and beyond. You will not leave bored. Stunned and in disbelief perhaps, but not bored. 

Haynes himself will introduce the Saturday night screening. Because he's introducing another screening beforehand, there is a possibility of a sellout. Or at least a crowded theater, so planning would be needed. Luckily, there's also a Sunday night screening that probably won't be as crowded. I'm prepared to go for either one:

FAT CITY (1972)- Mon Nov 21 and Wed Nov 23 at 4:50, 7 and 9:15, plus Tues Nov 22 at 9:15- The Mon Nov 21 7pm screening with a post film Skype Q and A with Stacy Keach- Film Forum- A 4K digital restoration. Not a hit back in 1972, and frankly, not really remembered today. But for those who have seen it, it's cited as one of the films that made 1970s the best decade for American film. I won't exactly go that far, but to say alongside Blue Collar as one of the best American 70s films no one knows would be accurate. But it's also one of those films that shows director John Huston was doing work that was just as vital near the end of his career as it was in the beginning. 

Please, it's more than just Death of a Salesman or Requiem For A Dream, set in boxing. There's just enough levity to make it 70s palpable. Based on Leonard Gardner's successful book, Stacy Keach stars as a boxer, never the biggest name in his division, trying to restart his career in one of the most dusty, and drabbest (not a word but whatever) towns in all of California. He meets a younger version of himself, played by Jeff Bridges. Jeff's character may be up and coming, but is that only because he's so young? In a sport where one knockout can change anything, who's to say how long Bridges' character will have a bright future. And if Keach's character wins, whose to say that that would be enough to get him out of dive towns and into better fights? 

Two aspects of Huston the man and director have served the legacy of this film well, for those who have seen it. One, Huston's past as a former boxer, led him to shoot the fight scenes as realistic as possible. Not with the power punches of a Rocky film or The Contender TV series, or with the bloody artistry of Raging Bull. But if you're familiar with the barroom fight in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then you have the idea of the kind of fights depicted. Ugly, and sloppy. 

Two, Huston cast many of his films well, and this is no exception. He took chances casting Bridges and Keach, back when they were mostly unknown. Their breakout films, Last Picture Show for Bridges and Doc for Keach, had not been released when cast. It also helped Keach that Brando was unenthusiastic about taking the role. An Oscar nomination went to Susan Tyrell for playing Keach's 'squeeze', the barfly of all barfly. Before American Graffiti, Candy Clark made her screen debut as Bridges' screw-up girlfriend. With Nicholas Colastano (years before Raging Bull and Cheers as coach) as Bridges' trainer, and a number of welterweight, middleweight and lightweight boxers in small roles throughout.

After the Monday 7pm screening on Nov 21st, Keach will take part in a Q and A via Skype: 

FAME (1980) with post film Q and A with Kia LaBeija- Mon Nov 21 at 8- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's Queer/Art/Film series, where a film that influenced the community or a particular individual gets screened. Which gives us Fame, which artist Kia LaBeija will talk about afterwards. I wrote about All That Jazz back in December, stating basically that there were no great live action musicals between the Fosse film and fill in the blank from this century (Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Once, Le Miz). But I didn't say there wasn't anything good or successful in-between. Fame is one of them. Not the blockbuster like Empire Strikes Back, or the big hit like The Blue Lagoon. But it held it's own; playing, like Airplane, for months until it could be considered successful.

Depicting several students studying to become actors, singers musicians etc., at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. It seems like an Andy Hardy-like musical (especially the end), but it doesn't shy away from the idea that failure and/or emotional collapse are around the corner, and none of them are immune. Must be the working class influence of director Alan Parker. Some good musical numbers, especially the one pictured here, that takes place on W. 46th St.

It covers a New York that is essentially gone now, but the feelings of struggle by students and teachers alike are timeless. Great cast but it's telling to me, that for a story where the promise of a career may not last beyond school, some of the actors in the best roles or give the best performances, disappeared fairly quickly after the film's release. The more recognizable people include Irene Cara, Broadway actor Boyd Gaines, Paul McCrane (Robocop, ER, 24), the late Gene Anthony Ray and Anne Meara, Debbie Allen, Issac Mizrahi, Meg Tilly, and Holland Taylor.
6 Oscar nominations in total. I was definitely surprised by that number when I looked it up. Nominated for Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound, and for the song "Out Here on my Own". 2 Oscars, for Original Score and for the title song that gave Cara a career for a few years.

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

Monday, November 02, 2015

November revivals: first half

Hey all. Mike here, back with a list of November revivals covering the first half of the month. I wasn't expecting a large list, but I couldn't these options now. Here we go:

DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) in digital 3-D- Tues Nov 3 at 9:15- Film Forum- Dial M For Murder returns to the Forum in digital 3-D. Part of the Forum's retrospective of 1950s films that were screened in 3-D back in its day, have received a digital restoration and will be shown in digital 3-D. Anyway, Dial M was a big success in terms of both presentation and box office drawing for the Film Forum back in October 2012, and again in 2014. Not the the original 2 strip 2 projector version that the Forum has screened off and on for years, but a digital 3-D version (you know, like Avatar?). You now have another chance to see it for yourself as it kinda was intended, on the big screen. 

A Hitchcock classic, that may not have strayed all that successfully from its stage roots, but is still quite good. Ray Milland finds out his wife, Grace Kelly, is cheating on him and is getting ready to dump him. Seeing his wealthy lifestyle about to be taken away from him, he plots his wife's murder. Complications ensue, etc. . . . Cool performances from Milland, Kelly, and character actor John Williams, reprising his Tony winning role as the dogged Chief Inspector. Talkier then usual from a Hitchcock film. I'd argue it's about as talky as Hitchcock and Kelly's other 1954 film together, Rear Window. Window had a better script, with sly insights and a somewhat better realized film. Dial M is a more straight forward, ably executed mystery, with a great scene involving Kelly and a large shiny pair of scissors.

Now at about this time, 3-D was enjoying about the same kind of popularity it's having at the moment. You had studio heads pushing to have films made in 3-D, but unlike now, where pressure can be applied to have films that were never shot in 3-D converted (Clash of the Titans, The Last Airbender), the pressure in the 50s had to be applied in pre-production. So while Hitch was forced to shoot it in 3-D he must have said something along the lines of "Screw them", and did as little as possible in terms of 3-D. Playing a little with perspective, a few low angles, some objects blocking some actors, not much. That's why I wrote in the first paragraph in terms of "as it was kinda intended". Hitch basically looked at 3-D as a fad, shot in 2-D and 3-D simultaneously, and just tried to make a good film, which he did. The 3-D version was released first but didn't play too long, followed by the 2-D classic version. It was re-released in 3-D in 1980 (I thought it was 81, but imdb disagrees), but in a flat version that wasn't popular, and different from how it was screened back in 1954.

For about 20 years off and on, the Forum has screened the original 3-D print, scratches hair and dirt off and on throughout the print, according to friends who attended the more recent screenings, until last October when the digital copy premiered. Boy does this film look different in 3-D. And no, I'm not being a joker here. Hitchcock's use of perspective makes Dial M a somewhat different, somewhat better film. Not so much with the scissors scene, but when Alfred wanted us to pay attention a prop more than the others, or a picture on a wall, or an actor's expression, like inspector Williams does his first interrogation scene; watch how Milland's reactions tend to stand out a little more than if you watch on TCM or a regular DVD. If you missed the chance to see this the first time, don't blow it again.

SHAMPOO (1975)- Mon Nov 9 at 7:15- MOMA- A 4k restoration Would like to see this. In this send-up of the sexually freewheeling '60s from famed 70's maverick director Hal Ashby, Warren Beatty stars as hair stylist George Roundy. The action takes place in 1968, with Richard Nixon about to win the presidency. In addition to making his clients look and feel fabulous, George is busy having affairs with three women, all of whom are in some way connected to the rich older man, Lester Carr, from whom George is trying to get money to open his own salon. And his escapades with those women -Lester's wife, Felicia (Lee Grant), Lester's mistress, Jackie Shawn (Julie Christie) and the daughter of Lester and Felicia, Lorna (Carrie Fisher- pre-Star Wars) -- in addition to his relationship with his girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn) . . . All of them except for Jill are at an election night party where the lifestyle of the stylist may finally prove to be too much.
Basically, a modernized version of the classic restoration comedy The Country Wife with a major critique of the free love lifestyle as well late 60's politics. An Oscar for Grant for Supporting Actress, Nominations for Warden for Supporting Actor, Art Direction and Screenplay, written by Beatty and 'Chinatown' scribe Robert Towne:

SPARTACUS (1960)- Mon Nov 9 and Thurs Nov 12 at 8- Film Forum- A 4K restoration. The Starz version has its cult following and is quite an underrated series. But this film version has its virtues. Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Herbert Lom and Peter Ustinov. Kubrick replaced Anthony Mann at the beginning of production on this spectacular epic about a Roman slave revolt, based on Howard Fast's thinly veiled McCarthy-era allegory, and scripted by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Oscars for Ustinov, Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography (of which Kubrick actually did all the work, but the union man Russell Metty received the actual award!). A bit slow, even by Kubrick standards, but worth the time. This is the 3 hr restored version, which includes the scene where Olivier attempts to seduce  Curtis while they bathe together. Originally edited out due to pressure from the Production Code and the Legion of Decency, it was restored with Anthony Hopkins dubbing in Olivier's voice (he died a few years earlier):

FANTASIA (1940)- Tues Nov 10 at 7- Kew Gardens Cinema- 81-05 Lefferts Blvd- For people who live in Queens, here's a rare revival screening someplace other than the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. A digital restoration, in time for its 75th anniversary. A documentary (short) about the making of Fantasia and its history will precede the screening. I know I've posted it this summer, but for a screening relatively close to home, I'll post again.

On the first AFI Top 100 film. 2 Honorary Oscars for its then revolutionary combination of music and animation. A flop in its day, a hit and a classic since then. I really want to see this. I saw it on Radio City Music Hall's former 70mm screen and it blew me away. While this won't be a 70mm screening, the Museum's screen can get pretty large and their sound system is pretty darn good. I hate it when I take grief from people, just because I've said that if you give me great visuals and interesting music, I can overlook quite a number of a film's flaws. But a film like this? Bring the kids. Bring the kids-at-heart. 

Now for the rest, I'll quote from the Walter Reade website back in 2006 I believe: "Go and see it, if you're in the business. You can learn more from seeing 'The Dance of the Hours' by Walt Disney than from spending a year glumly staring at the television screen," wrote director Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) in his autobiography. "Oh that the rest of Hollywood were only like Walt!" For generations now, kids and adults have plunked down their hard-earned dollars to see Fantasia, and emerged a little over two hours later with their minds blown. Vulgar? For sure, and proudly so. This kind of myth-making always is. You could throw almost any adjective at the film and it would be absorbed into its vast mythic territory. One little addendum to Powell's assessment. It's Walt, assisted by a small army of animators. Here are a few names: Bill Tytla, Norman Ferguson, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, Joshua Meador, Fred Moore, Art Babbitt and Wolfgang Reitherman. Not to mention a few composers: Bach, Dukas, Tchaikovsky, Ponichelli, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, and Schubert.":

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962 original theatrical release)- Thurs Nov 12 at 8- MOMA- Part of MOMA's Film restoration series. A restoration of the 1962 cult classic. Specifically a 35mm restoration of the 78 minute theatrical release (as opposed to the 84 minute Director's Cut), from the original camera negative provided by the Academy Film Archive. Inventive indie film from director Herk Harvey, about a young woman who miraculously survives a car accident, only to wander into a mysterious carnival. If you don't know the film, I won't spoil it for you. But the story isn't that important here; if you know The Twilight Zone, you have an idea where the film is going early on. It's about surreal imagery, creepy atmosphere, even a little Bergman-esque psychodrama:      

AMARCORD (1973/74) with outtakes for free (first come first served)- introduced by Gian Luca Farinelli- Fri Nov 13 at 7:30- Part of MOMA's Film restoration series. A digital restoration of Fellini's 1973 film (released officially in the US in 75), his biggest hit. Originally shot in the same 3 strip Technicolor style of previous films such as Singin In The Rain and The Godfather Part 2. I use these two films as previous examples of restored films shown at the Forum. While Rain's new print was on the muted side compared to the vivid 3 strip print, Godfather 2's was suppose to look terrific. Which way will Amarcord's restoration will turn out? If it's like the restoration screened at the Forum a few years ago, it will look good. Tickets will be available for free on a first come first served basis at 3:30 on the 13th. 

Gian Luca Farinelli, the director of the Italian lab in charge of Amacord's digital restoration, will introduce the film. The introduction will also include ten minutes of silent outakes from Amarcord, put together by director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malena). 

The film itself is heavy on visual vignettes, as opposed to a linear story. Amarcord, essentially meaning I remember, is a semi-autobiographical tale of one year in the life of a small Italian town, similar to the one Fellini grew up in. The autobiographical part Fellini had denied, but did say there were similarities, whatever that means. Ending specifically in April 1933, which tells us this is a slice of life tale, which would change forever just a few years after the film's end. Unlike Rules of The Game, where a similar change in this world wasn't entirely apparent during the making of it, this feeling can't help but be there off and on throughout Amarcord. Though easy to forget at times for such a visual heavy film.

Won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 75, nominated in 76 for Director for Fellini and Screenplay for Fellini and Tonio Guerra. But NOT for Cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard), who was involved in the restoration. I'm not saying it should have beaten Barry Lyndon, and I wouldn't drop The Day of The Locust or Cuckoo's Nest for sure. But I guess it was hard for American Cinematographers doing the nominating to not vote for the respected James Wong Howe (Funny Lady) or Robert Surtees (The Hindenburg). I'm not sure how estactic I'd feel if I saw the Fellini flick on TV. But on the big screen, it's a revelation:

JOHNNY GUITAR (1954)- Fri Nov 13 at 8 (introduced by Charles Busch) and 10:15 plus Mon Nov 16, Wed Nov 18 and Thurs Nov 19 at 8 and 10:05- Film Forum- A new 4k digital restoration A simple Western, starring Sterling Hayden, Joan Crawford, Ernest Borgnine and Mercedes McCambridge, and directed by Ray, that was successful back in 1954, then went away. Until Francois Truffaut and some gay film buffs got ahold of it. They're the ones reminding us about the hidden lesbian story, the links to the HUAC hearings, and the irony of casting HUAC namer of names Hayden as the possible hero (though we didn't know until recently that he was an actually secret agent of some sort who actually knew at least a little something about Communists). Though no male hero would DARE upstage Joan Crawford by this time!

So is it a simple, entertaining Western? Is it an allegory of the Blacklist and the McCarthy witch hunts? It was written unofficially by black-listed screenwriter Ben Maddow. Is there high entertainment value from the over-the-top perfs of both Crawford (is it me, or does she play most scenes like she were the Queen of England or Cleopatra?) and McCambridge? Both ladies hated each other. They fought constantly, and according to IMDB, Crawford was so mad (and drunk), that once she flung McCambridge's costumes along a stretch of Arizona highway. And is it true that the real story of the film, is that McCambridge's character is actually a closeted lesbian, spurned by Crawford, and now seeking revenge? I would say, yes to all of the above. It works as a Western, the allegory is right there, the lead female perfs have high camp value, and you could say no about the lesbian overtones, but there's enough there to read that into it. But whether the film is actually good or great is not something I can help you with. But it sure as shit ain't dull. Worth catching in any case:

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