Friday, July 03, 2015

July revivals: first half

Mike here with revival options for the first half of July. I've wasted more than enough time trying to spit a list out. No intro, here we go:

THE THIRD MAN (1949/50)- Fri July 3 and Mon July 6- Thurs July 9 at 7:30 and 9:40- Film Forum- A 4k digital restoration, running thru Thursday, July 9. The Third Man, from 1949. Though in America, it came out in 1950, where it would rise to classic status at about the exact same time as Sunset Blvd., All About Eve and Harvey. Talk about when being the third or fourth best film of that particular year meant a lot more than usual. Seriously, it's seems to me to be among the least seen of all the post silent flim era flicks I would label classic, at least stateside. As the older audience dies out, younger ones may not know it. But once they see it, boom, it's got them, and they'll probably see it everytime it comes on TCM as well. Film students must also have to see this at least once I would imagine. If not, then it's probably not all that reputable a film school.

Simple fish out of water story, where American Joseph Cotton, who seems to hold black belts in screwups and stumbling blindly into situations, attends a funeral for his friend in post-war divided Vienna. And yet things, as usual in these kind of film noirs, are not what they appear to be. Thus, what I said about the story being simple, eeeeehhhhh, not so much. The film seems to exist entirely in states of gray, with camera angles that seem to have made it the Blair Witch Project of its day.

Standing out in the colorful supporting cast are Trevor Howard with what appears to be a permanent British stiff upper lip, and Alida Valli, who can keep many men's interest, but keeps pining for the one who treats her like shit. And, oh yeah, Orson Welles; who brought charm, gravitas, and the memorable, though historically inaccurate, cuckoo clock monologue. The only part of the film not written by Graham Greene, who adapted his book with some uncredited help.

Oh yeah, he didn't write the ending either. Director Carol Reed didn't like the book's ending, but still wasn't sure what to do. But he came up with a solution, over Greene's objections. At the end of shooting, just placed his camera and himself far away so the actors couldn't hear him say cut, and let it roll. Whatever would be, would be. Hey, it worked.

An Oscar for the black and white cinematography, nominations for Editing and Reed for Director. Winner of the Grand Prize at Cannes, on the first AFI Top 100 list (though not the second!), number one on Britain's similar film list, Japan's number one film on it's own similar list of non-Japanese films, and in my personal top 100. Not sure where exactly, but it's somewhere. It would be higher in my mind if there wasn't so much zither music. Yes, it fits, and after 60 years, we can't exactly do anything about that now, but still. That damn zither theme can still pop into my head from time to time. Despite that, you will enjoy it, whether you've seen it a bunch of times, or for the first time.

KISS ME KATE (1953) in 3-D- Fri July 3 at 7:30 for free (first come first served)- MOMA- A repeat posting, just like with The Third Man. But unlike that film, this one is free, on a first come first served basis. Tickets will be given out starting at 4pm.

Hey, film's like Mad Max: Fury Road, Avatar, Coraline, or Jaws 3-D (I only cite the best) didn't start the craze. And MOMA will show films that were shot in the original 3-D process. But they won't be SCREENED the way it was, with 2 projectors. Instead, much like the version of Dial M For Murder that was screened a couple of times at the Forum, MOMA will screen several films shot in 3-D back in the 1950s, that have been digitally restored and will screen in digital 3-D, via a process somewhat different than what is used at the multiplexes. Kiss Me Kate is not the first film in this retrospective, but it might be the only one I'll post. Sorry, but I can't work up a lot of interest in Hondo, with John Wayne. Kiss Me Kate use to be a staple of Ch. 13 broadcasting from the 80s and 90s, but my memories are a bit hazy since TCM doesn't screen it often. But I know I've never seen it in 3-D.

Now the film itself. One part variation of Taming of the Shrew, one part the fictionalized backstage bickering of Lunt and Fontanne, a fun musical. Has its footprint in film history for Ann Miller's Too Darn Hot (turned into a solo for her talents, smart move), and for the duet between Bob Fosse and Carol Haney in "From This Moment On". It's only about a minute long, and it was the only sequence Fosse choreographed, but it was enough to get him noticed as a choreographer, getting him work in that field for the rest of his life. Yeah, there's more about the film, but who gives a crap about the plot. Enjoy the jokes, enjoy Cole Porter's music and lyrics, enjoy the dancing, and enjoy it all in 3-D:

Next is your choice of Midnight movie options at IFC Center on Friday July 3rd: 

BATMAN (1989)- Fri July 3 at Midnight- IFC Center- The start of IFC's series of Superheroes films that were popular prior to Blade and all the other official and unofficial Marvel films. Not as good as Batman Begins, but still one of the best films of 1989. The psychological analysis and battle of wills between hero and villain seems to just scratch the surface compared to the Christopher Nolan film from last year, but back in 89, this was heavy. And considering its history, it's amazing it even came out the way it did.

A difficult shoot. Took years for Warners Bros. to find someone who could tackle the project, until they noticed Tim Burton's work on Beetlejuice. Burton brought along Michael Keaton for Bruce Wayne/Batman; a move that made studio heads a little nervous, and pissed off most fans worldwide.
Jack Nicohlson and Kim Basinger were cast in part to help out the box office. During shooting, Burton tussled (and sometimes lost) in the struggle between bringing Dark Knight mood and angst, against producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber's desire for more action and adventure. Luckily, Nicholson tended to side more with Burton.

The struggle brought out that rare thing, the modern Hollywood summer blockbuster that works big time. Wonderful cinematography, good songs from Prince and a terrific score from Danny Elfman don't overwhelm the film; they enhance and improve. Keaton is no Christian Bale, but you can see why for one brief instant, he became a superstar.

What does overwhelm the film, but not in a bad way was Nicholson's Joker and the Art Direction. Talk about one performance dominating a film, check out Jack. The cast and crew must have felt the same way. Those who had a day off made sure to be there to watch the scenes Jack had with Jack Palance as the other crime boss. As for the Art Direction, you had a fully imagined Gotham City, with minimal help from CGI. This film took the visual concepts of both Blade Runner and Brazil, and along with those films, influenced neo-noir or dark forbidding city design ever since. A deserved Oscar for the Art Direction (but its only nomination?!?!?!):

ROBOCOP (1987)- Fri July 3 at 12:05AM- IFC Center- The sleeper hit from the summer of 1987. One part kick in the teeth action film, one part kick in the teeth social commentary. Peter Weller is the poor schnook patrolman who gets killed in the line of duty lead by sadistic Kurtwood Smith, only to be rebuilt almost against his will by a multinational corporation as the title character, carrying out their contract to protect Old Detroit. The company thinks they erased or overrode his old identity and memories, but such human elements are hard to get rid of . . . Mix of sharp satire, tragedy, and good action scenes from director Paul Verhoven. Accept no substitutes, stick with the original:

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) for free- Fri July 6 at sundown- Bryant Park-  A free screening as part of the Bryant Park film festival. Not the first film from this summer's selections, but I had no time for Ghostbusters and little faith that the dialogue heavy film The Killers would play well. The Great Lawn area opens at 5, and the screening will start near sundown with the old two minute intro to HBO (the series sponsor), probably a Looney Tunes cartoon as well. So expect to leave sometime between 10:55-11:05.

I've been waiting for this film for awhile. The best disaster film ever made. The only other disaster film I'd consider posting is The Towering Inferno. Ok, I'd also post The Concorde: Airport 1979, but that film I file under So Bad It's Fun. Actually, this film's sequel, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure is also in that category, but I digress.

One part action film, one part adventure film and one part religious parable, a group of passengers try to survive when the ocean liner they were on completely capsizes. They're attempting to reach the bottom or outer hull of the ship, which is the thinnest part of the ship and is above the surface. It's a theory that help will come in that direction, and that theory comes from a young boy, but those who haven't given up feel it's the only way to survive and see The Morning After (the title of the Oscar winning song). Gene Hackman plays an atypical hero, an ultra-self-righteous, Captain Ahab-esque, defrocked preacher whose personality clashes with loud doubter Ernest Borgnine may proof more problematic than the fires and leaks the group encounters. Throw in aspects of The Flying Dutchmen, Ship of Fools, other survivors wandering the ship like they were in the desert, and all the survivors looking for salvation of some sort, and you got parables right in your face. Or you can enjoy the strong acting and good action set pieces. Fine cast that includes Red Buttons, Jack Albertson, Leslie Neilsen, Roddy McDowell and Oscar nominated Shelley Winters. A special Oscar for its Visual Effects. 8 nominations in total, including Cinematography, Editing and for John Williams' fine score.

THE LAST DETAIL (1973)- Fri July 10 at 4:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From Lincoln Center's Judd Apatow retrospective. Not just the films and TV work Apatow directed and/or produced, but also a few hand picked influences. While I liked The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and This Is 40 (in that order), I'm not running to do a revival screening of any of them. But this also includes 2 of Apatow's influences, chosen by him for this retrospective.

Here's the first, a DCP screening of The Last Detail, directed by Hal Ashby. Jack Nicholson is one of 2 Navy MPs who decide to give their prisoner (Oscar nominated Randy Quaid) a good time on the way to prison. Like Nicholson's then popular character said, which was used in the advertising "No *#@!!* Navy's going to give some poor **!!@* kid eight years in the #@!* brig without me taking him out for the time of his *#@!!* life.". Nominations for Nicholson and screenwriter Robert Towne, who would later reteam for Chinatown, Note the early appearances of Michael Moriarty, Nancy Allen, Gilda Radner and a very cute Carol Kane. Before the likes of Mamet and Tarantino, a good Towne screenplay combing obscenities, humor and pathos among macho men. Ashby's first hit that supposedly has influenced Apatow thru out his career:

BEING THERE (1979)- Sat July 11 at 1:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- The other film from Lincoln Center's Judd Apatow retrospective that I will be posting. Again, not one of his films, but a film of Apatow's biggest influence (at least cinematically), director Hal Ashby. Again, no disrespect intended, I just have no interest in posting one of Apatow's work, and every interest in posting the last of Ashby's 1970s creative hot streak, Being There.

Before Forest Gump, there was Chance The Gardner, from Jerrzy Kosinski's great novella, who adapted it for the big screen. Peter Sellers plays Chance, who was raised by an unnamed millionaire. Hidden from the outside world, unable to read or write, Chance gains the skills of a highly qualified gardener, but with the mental acuity of a schoolboy. A schoolboy who is raised more by television, but whose lack of proof of identity leaves him alone and homeless after his benefactor dies. The now middle-aged Chance explores the outside world (Washington D.C.), and thru some mishaps, is brought into the world of tycoon and Presidential confidant Melvyn Douglas. After a chance meeting between him and the President (Jack Warden), Chance the Gardner is mistaken for Chancey Gardner; a genius about world affairs whose every simple utterance is taken as something of importance. Soon the media gets a hold of him, and he grows into a phenomenon, while all Chance wants is to work in a garden and watch TV.

Highly effective satire, done in a effective way never to be seen in an American film ever again. On TV and overseas, certainly. But in a Hollywood backed film (Lorimar funded, United Artists distributed), never again. Or if it happens, it probably won't end in the same manner. And I'm not just talking about how the story ended, but the final image as well. One hidden from Lorimar by Ashby until it was too late to rework it. A good idea, based on the after-the-fact reactions from studio brass.

One of the best films of 1979. Successful, but thanks mainly to great reviews and Oscar nominations. An Oscar for Douglas for Supporting Actor. A nomination for Best Actor for Peter Sellers, in his last great performance. The simplicity of the outward emotions, the almost textbook definition of childlike from an adult. As good as Hanks is in Forest Gump, Sellers was better. Yes I'm biased toward Sellers and his acting. Good luck living life without bias:

IN COLD BLOOD (1967)-  Sat July 11 at  5:30 and 8- Film Forum- The Forum's new weeks-long series of True Crimes revival series kicks  off with In Cold Blood. A new 4k digital restoration, especially helpful for Quincy Jones's score. Almost 40 years before Capote, director Richard Brooks cast Robert Blake (former child star/ TVs Baretta/ acquitted murder suspect) and Scott Wilson as Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, whose arrest and conviction for the brutal murder of a family in Kansas attracted the attention of the very urban Capote. On November 15, 1959, a quiet night in western Kansas, ex-cons Smith and Hickock broke into the home a successful farmer, supposedly to commit burglary. But instead they murdered Clutter, his wife and two of their teenage kids with a shotgun.

"Based on a true story.", the tag line for every other Movie of the Week; but when Brooks adapted Capote's best-seller about the case, his realistic treatment was not only a breakthrough in American filmmaking and the granddaddy of a genre, but has arguably never been topped. Casting mostly little-known actors who bore uncanny resemblances to the actual participants, and authentic locals as bit players, Brooks shot the murders in the actual rooms in which they took place, with Conrad Hall's widescreen black-and-white photography (cited in the documentary Visions of Light as a seminal work of 60s cinematography) giving a near-documentary feel, and with even the parallel editing of the multiple storylines reproducing the pacing of the book. Blake and Wilson give powerful, and oddly sympathetic, portrayals as Smith and Hickock, with John Forsythe as Kansas Bureau of Investigation detective Alvin Dewey. 4 Oscar nominations, for Director, Cinematography, Original Score, and Screenplay Adaptation:

Let me know if there's interest. Have a Happy 4th.

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