Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July revivals for the next week (or so)

Hey all, Mike here. I've been trying to cough up a list for the second half of July. To play a bit with metaphors, if some lists feel like I'm coughing up a fur ball, then this list feels like I'm coughing up a fur coat, buttons and all. Too many interesting titles, too much time its taking me to do a write-up. So I'll just films from the middle of July, and post films screening from Tuesday July 21st on at a later time. Some of these films conflict with each other, but I refuse to choose between them. I'll let others do it for me. Here we go:

THIEF (1981) with post film discussion with Takashi Murakami- Tues July 14 at 7- IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's Movie Nights series, where a guest discusses a favorite film, whether its a classic or a forgotten picture. Thief, an underrated gem, qualifies. Not only to me, but to director Takashi Murakami, who has a film, Jellyfish, playing at IFC starting July 15th. Murakami will defend his liking of Thief in a post film discussion.

Now onto Thief. Michael Mann's first time directing a theatrical film might be considered as an example of style over substance, but oh what glorious style. One of United Artists' last flops, from 1981, it tells a familiar story. James Caan is a top safe cracker with a code of honor, who agrees to do one last job for a crime boss who'll let him retire afterwards. Or will he? He wants to make (or steal) enough money so he can retire and raise a family. All the obsession he brings to his profession, he transfers to pursing his dream of starting a family, ignoring his own instincts. He'll pay for that.

If this had come out 3-5 years later, when Michael Mann's style was firmly established in the hit series Miami Vice, it might have been more successful. The energized cinematography, slick editing, electric rock score (from Tangerine Dream), it's all there. Plus, a strong centerpiece performance from Caan as the tough as nails thief; anxious to have something resembling a normal life, and unsure if he can get it, or keep it. Not the best film on this list, but look at as a Mann template coming into place, as it tells a familiar story in an interesting way. Caan's great lead performance ably supported by the rest of the cast (Robert Prosky, Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, William Petersen, Dennis Farina). It's only available in an out of print DVD, with little to no extras, so this is your best chance to see this rarely screened film:

THE THIRD MAN (1948/50)- now thru (at least) Thurs July 23rd at 7:10 and 9:20- Film Forum- I brought this up on the last list so I won't repeat what I wrote before. The 4k digital restoration of The Third Man has proven to be so popular, that the Forum has extended its run. The website doesn't give an end date, the postcards inside the Forum itself states Thurs July 23rd. Translation: The Third Man's last day could be July 23, but if business keeps up, the Forum seems amenable to extending the run further. If I were you, I would plan on it staying thru the 23rd and no further, but we'll see. 

This film conflicts with almost every other film on the list, but the lengthy scheduled run should allow for few if any conflicts. I can't make everyday of its run, but its easier for me to frame it as such. Third Man also plays in the afternoon as well, but I'm only posting the evening screenings I might be able to do. Click the link below for more details:

A STAR IS BORN (1954)- Thurs July 16 at 7- MOMA- Part of MOMA's best of Eastman Technicolor series. Other  revival houses have screened the 3 hour one minute Director's Cut. Warner Bros. executives cut out 30 minutes after the film's premiere, before it was released. Director George Cukor fought it, to no avail. Not only was a lot of A Star Is Born cut, but a musical number, Born in a Trunk was added. In 1983, a version that restored all but 5 minutes was released, but the shortened cut seemed to be what was usually screened on some stations and revival screenings. I'm not sure if this screening will be the Director's cut or the 83 mostly restored cut. Either way, the cut that will be screened at MOMA will be, to quote their website, "an original 1954 Technicolor dye transfer print that incorporates the cut scenes". 

Cukor's fist musical and first color film, where Judy Garland plays the unknown who becomes a star, and James Mason plays the leading man who discovers her, marries her, and falls apart due to depression and alcoholism. Bogie, Gary Cooper, Brando, Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant all turned down the role; they all apparently didn't want to be perceived as loser has-beens, though Grant was supposedly afraid of working with a probably unreliable drug addict like Garland.

Grant seemed to be right regarding the difficulties it would take to work with the actress. Illnesses both real and imaginary (or made up?), fluctuating weight and difficulties from alcoholism and drug addiction made it a problematic shoot. And that was before Warner Bros. decided that A Star is Born had to be their first CinemaScope picture, forcing Cukor to scrap everything that had been shot and do it all over again. Oh joy.

Garland (singing mostly Ira Gershwin tunes) and Mason were both Oscar nominated, as was the Art Direction, Costume Design, Music and the Gershwin- Harold Arlen song "The Man That Got Away". That song might just be the highlight of the film. This is rather a unique revival opportunity, and one I hope you take advantage of:

LABYRINTH (1986) for 10 dollars- introduced by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair- Fri July 17 at 9:30- A cheap-ish screening of Labyrinth. A flop back in the summer of 1986, a film with a cult following today. Personally, I think the cult is bigger in say, L.A. and Chicago than here. It feels to me that; if there is more of a following in terms of mid80s Jim Henson work, then it would be more for Fraggle Rock then for this flick. When you hear those from ages 26-33 in NYC who had HBO back then, talk lovingly about the show, or even Tina Fey, when she compared Paris Hilton's wig with a Fraggle, you might come to the same idea I did. That said, tell me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Labyrinth the only Jim Henson film to be re-released in a 2 disc DVD set to actually sell pretty well? Someone's rocking out to this.

While babysitting, Teenager Jennifer Connelly gets sick of her little brother, and wishes him taken away by some goblins. Why a mid 80s teen would pick goblins, who knows? But she gets her wish, as Goblin King David Bowie does exactly that. Jennifer goes off to David's Goblin castle to keep the rugrat from becoming a goblin. And of course, has to go through the title set of mazes to get there.Executive produced by George Lucas, but hey, at least it's better than the other film he produced from that summer, Howard The Duck. Directed by Henson, who co-wrote the story. Monty Python's Terry Jones wrote an early version of the screenplay, with some kind of uncredited re-writing from Elaine May. Hell, I'll give this a shot. Two people from the Jim Henson Workshop who worked on Labyrinth, Rollie Krewson and Connie Peterson, will introduce the film and bring their experiences on it:

THE THING (1982)- Fri July 17 and Sat July 18 at 12:10AM- IFC Center- A DCP projection of one of the popular studio-backed Midnight movies that play on a semi-regular basis at IFC Center. One of the better horror films, possibly the best from the 1980s. One of few that I can think of where a remake tops the original. Alien shape-shifting life crashes onto Earth, and in order to exist, it must live like a virus and wipe out or take over the life that already exists on whatever planet it exists on. Which in this case is us. And it's up to an isolated group from an American scientific station, desperately playing catch up and grasping for theories, to stop it. But when it starts taking them over, and becomes hard to tell which of them are human and which are not . . .

Kurt Russell makes a great action lead, with character actors like Keith David, Donald Moffat, and Wilford Brimley filling out the talented cast. The make-up effects grossed out some audiences (damaging potential word of mouth) and most critics, but they don't feel too over the top and still hold up today. Especially one scene where one portion tries to escape from another part in a very memorable way. If you haven't seen it, I'm not spoiling this.

The gross out factor, some brutal reviews, the R rating that made the PG rated Poltergeist more accessible, and just being released in the summer of 1982, where if you weren't E.T. (the happy alien movie released two weeks earlier), than you probably struggled at the box office. All of this helped make The Thing a high profile flop. But like another high profile flop released that very same day, Blade Runner, The Thing has also been re-evaluated and risen to both cult status and to the heights of its respective genre. Not AFI top 100 level like Blade Runner, but close enough:

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978)- Fri July 17 and Sat July 18 at Midnight-  IFC Center- Part of IFC Center's Superheroes pre-Marvel series of films. My first and the best of the Superman films. Some prefer Superman 2, and i don't blame them. A few prefer Superman Returns, though I don't know them personally, more of a law of averages really . . . . Very few prefer Man of Steel, though I feel it's the best Superman film since 2 (a low bar here). But Superman: The Movie is one of the best of all superhero flicks. This is what all superhero films are and should be compared to. Terrific production values, a pitch perfect cast; what with Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder in career performances, Gene Hackman having fun, Glenn Ford in his best {only good?} performance. Oh yeah, Marlon Brando's here too- in full paycheck mode, but that's better then some others. A wittier, savvier script than it's given credit for, credited to Mario Puzo, David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton. A John Williams score that puts some others to shame, and makes the score from Superman Returns feel uninspired. Fun on TV, a must-see on the big screen, if you think you can stay up and stay out late

The next two films conflict with each other on Saturday, July 18th. Think before you commit.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)- Sat July 18 at 7 (Liberty)- Museum of the Moving Image- From the John Ford retrospective. A little surprised this is the first film from it on my list, but time and other options don't allow me to do otherwise. Not sure if I'll post another John Ford film on the next list, we'll see.

Another in the Revisionist category of Westerns. Almost the only way to make a Western post- Dances With Wolves, but not unusual for Ford to heavily tweak the conventions of typical Westerns. The Ox-Bow Incident and The Searchers being prime examples. Another Ford/Wayne collaboration, with James Stewart in this classic. Giving more of an idea of how the West was tamed. It required people like Stewart's character to have the ideas, but it also required people like Wayne's character to do the dirty work, and kill the bad guys. The latter will be feared, but then forgotten and ignored. Lee Marvin plays the title character, as despicable a bad guy as you can imagine. Made the saying "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." part of the lexicon. An archival print of the film will be screened:

BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)- Sat July 18 at 7:20 and 9:40- Film Forum- A DCP screening. Part of the Forum's True Crime series, following the Depression-era exploits of Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker , their gang, and their crime spree that ultimately to a few arrests and the blowing away by law-enforcement of the title duo. This pair may never have deserved the romantic way director Arthur Penn and writers David Newman, Robert Benton, uncredited  Warren Beatty and ("Special Consultant") Robert Towne depicted them, and they were never as lovely to look at as Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the title roles. At least one defamation suit was filed over inaccuracies, resulting in one out-of-court settlement. But the choice to make the Barrow gang as similar to the rising Counterculture and ratcheting up the sex and violence to then-unseen levels in a Hollywood film while remaining at least emotionally believable, that hit the cultural zeitgeist like nobody's business. Critics were divided, audiences made it a smash. Eventually, since it took the critical notices to expand Bonnie and Clyde beyond the drive ins and second run houses, and into the bigger theaters where the eventual profits came from. And yet this film is rarely screened in revival houses. Don't ask me why, it just makes it more imperative to go. 

Oscar nominations for Picture (the nomination went to producer Beatty), Dunaway (in a career-making turn) for Actress, Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard for Supporting Actor, Penn for Director, Newman and Benton for Screenplay (launching their screenwriting careers) and Costume Design. Oscars for Cinematography and Estelle Parsons for Supporting Actress. On both AFI Top 100 lists, and inspiring the likes of The Wild Bunch, The Godfather, Terrence Malick's 1970s films, de Palma's Scarface and Natural Born Killers. Never mind the slow motion killings that Penn shot were inspired by Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Never mind the fashion statement made by Dunaway's costumes by Theadora Van Runkle; the long skirt beret and short jacket combo became a fashion phenomenon. Plus throw in Gene Wilder making his screen debut. Very influential film indeed:

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)- Mon July 20 at 2 and 7- AMC Empire 25 and Regal Union Square 14- A digitally restored screening, sponsored by TCM. With TCM host Ben Mankiewicz book-ending the film with an introduction and closing notes. Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are both cool as they plot her husband for the insurance money, but pesky investigator/moral compass Edward G. Robinson keeps getting in the way. I shouldn't be that way; if Eddie G. didn't turn in such a humane performance as basically both the audience's stand-in and the incorruptible everyman (as opposed to MacMurray's fine performance as the corrupted/ corruptible everyman), maybe this film would be slightly less better remembered. That last sentence probably made little grammatical sense, but I have little time, so I'm just moving on. 

Except that it's not like Eddie G. created the performance out of a vacuum. He had Wilder as a director, and Wilder and Raymond Chandler as screenwriters (the screenwriters detested each other. Reading a little about this makes me think it was karma that Wilder had to deal with Monroe for Some Like It Hot). And let me not forget the source material: James M. Cain's novel, based on actual murder case from the 1920s.  I don't mean to dismiss Fred and Barbara, their chemistry is obvious. 

7 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Wilder for Director, Stanwyck for Actress, and Wilder and Chandler for Screenplay. Surprisingly, nothing for MacMurray or Robinson. I guess after all these years, it's still easy to think of Fred as the calm presence from My Three Sons, or from the Disney movies like The Absent Minded Professor. But he's just as realistic here, smarter than he looks yet almost as smart as he thinks, dissatisfied bordering on bored, spotting the honey trap (to use the term from Munich), and yet just leave it alone without taking a taste, and then wanting more till he's over his head.

No Oscar wins, since Going My Way was a juggernaut that year. On the short list for the best film noirs ever made. Sorry, but I won't put this above the likes of Maltese Falcon, Sierra Madre and can't put this above Laura, which was released the same year as Indemnity. But I enjoy the dance Wilder, Chandler and the cast do around the Production Code: 

SCARFACE (1932) and I'M A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932)- Mon July 20 at 6 (Scarface), 7:50 (Chain) and 9:40 (Scarface)- Film Forum- A Paul Muni double feature, both from 1932, both pre-Production Code pictures, and both part of the Forum's True Crime film retrospective. A DCP screening for Scarface and a 35mm print for Chain Gang.

First, the original Scarface, sub-titled "The Shame Of A Nation", it's actually pretty effective for a gangster film from 1932. Co directed by Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson, Muni stands out so well in the title role, he could give Pacino's version of the character (Italian in the original, Cuban in the remake) a run for his money. With George Raft and Boris Karloff. One of those that perhaps helped usher in The Production Code a little sooner then planned. Based loosely on the crime career of Al Capone, who supposedly had his own copy made. When it comes to brushing up on your early gangster films, start with Little Caesar, go to The Public Enemy, and move straight into this. Or just start by seeing this.

Next, I'm a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. More of a drama than most of the films in this retrospective. Based on a true story, but it seems to follow the serialized version of the story as opposed to the autobiography "I'm a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang". Also a version that wears its heart on its sleeve and  wants the viewer to get upset by what they see. Credit director Mervyn LeRoy and Screenwriters Howard J. Green and Brown Holmes for that. 

WW1 vet Muni,like many veterans from different eras, has trouble adjusting to civilian life. And like many Americans in the Great Depression, he can't find work. He drops below the poverty line, accidentally gets involved in a robbery, and is arrested and eventually sentenced to 10 years in a brutal chain gang down South. At this point the film heads straight long into Tragedy, as he goes thru a cycle of escape, redemption, success, betrayal, none of which Muni's character can escape.

Successful enough to cause sufficient anger at the judicial system to inspire questioning in general, and the appeal and release of the real life protagonist. Oscar nominations for Picture, Muni for Actor, and Sound:

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

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