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.

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