Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mid-May revivals

Hey all, Mike here with a revival list for the middle of May. Once I get back in the groove of movie watching, what do I do? Fall behind as usual. Let me not waste time, here we go with the list. I'll try to keep the descriptions short:

KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979) with a post film Q and A with director Robert Benton by writer Michael Schulman- Thurs May 12 at 7:30- IFC Center- The end of the Meryl Streep retrospective. The Academy Award winner regarding divorce, what makes a good parent, and a whole bunch of stuff that the zeitgeist of 1979 perfectly. May not be an AFI Top 100 film like Apocalypse Now, and may not be adventurous filmmaking like Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. But it's still a pretty darn good drama. Oscar nominations for Justin Henry for Supporting Actor (among the best child performances on screen ever), Jane Alexander for Supporting Actress, Editing, and Nestor Almendros' underrated Cinematography. Oscars for Best Picture, Dustin Hoffman for Actor (over Peter Sellers for Being There? Interesting.), Robert Benton for both Direction and Screenplay Adaptation, and Streep, in a A list creating performance, for Supporting Actress.

After the screening, writer-director Benton will participate in a Q and A with Michael Schulman, author of a new Streep biography. This may or may not sell out, but the house should be at least 3/4 full. Some planning in advance would be needed:  

AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000)- BAM- Fri May 13 at 4:30 and 9:30- Part of BAM's Labor of Love's: 100 Years of Movie Dates series. Ouch, there isn't a single good date depicted in this film, but that's not what this retrospective depicts, so, ok then.

One of the best films of 2000, we follow one Patrick Bateman. A successful Wall Street banker-type with a lovely fiancee (Reese Witherspoon) and a respectable amount of wealth for someone so relatively young. But none of this satisfies Bateman. Becoming a Master of the Universe isn't satisfying either; not when something as small as a somewhat more attractive business card can send you into a tailspin. So he has a mistress and hires prostitutes from time to time. But none of this satisfies Bateman either, even if he beats his prostitutes. No, the only thing that seems to give poor Patrick any satisfaction is killing someone. Anyone who stands in his way. Anyway powerless to stop him. Anyone will do. Like any addiction, Bateman can only be satisfied by killing more and more. Like anyone with a few remaining twinges of a conscious, he wants to stop, or be stopped. But . . . . well the ending I leave to you to decide how you feel.

Controversial from the get-go, thanks to the source material. Ideas to humanize Patrick as opposed to giving him twinges of conscious (as was the plan in an attempted DiCaprio- Oliver Stone adaptation) were shot down by both fans and Gloria Steinem. The subdued approach and the aim to make this a comedy/satire of manners by director/ writer Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner works. In part to give the violence consequences when it does occur/ threatens to occur. In a East Coast variation of Fight Club, we see him get everything he wants or "needs", it gives him nothing. And despite keeping it in the late 80s to maintain the attack on Reagan/ Bush 1 era yuppie/preppie-types, narcissism, and overall thinking, it felt just as relevant in 2000 as it did then. And unfortunately in 2014, this film feels as relevant as ever. Right down to the type of profession that has gotten away with financial crimes with slaps on the wrists, if even that much.

But that didn't make the film a hit in 2000. Audiences and critics were divided. Even though the film toned down the book's brutality, the scenes that did stay in that avoided the dreaded NC-17 rating (the Hip to be Square scene, the chainsaw sequence), pissed some people off. And since some of the satire was subtle, I think some people from the day confused said subtlety with approval by the filmmakers. The ending didn't help. It made enough money to avoid being considered a flop and supposedly has developed a cult following. But if you're talking about films remembered from the year 2000, you're talking about say, Cast Away, Gladiator, Crouching Tiger, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, maybe X-Men because of Hugh Jackman's star-making turn. 
Speaking of star making turns, that might be the reason why anyone watches this film anymore. Christian Bale, rising from nearly forgotten child actor to British art house lead (and former Jesus of Nazareth) to leading man in American films. A few missteps and some underrated American art house films were to come before Batman Begins, but as far as I was concerned, American Psycho showed us an actor who would be around for a long while to come. Narcissistic yet occasionally empathetic, funny yet dangerous enough to make you think what he could have done as Hannibal Lecter. Able to switch on a dime; whether we're talking about the Hip To Be Square scene (opposite Jared Leto), or the scene were Bateman brings his smitten secretary (Chloe Sevigny) back to his apartment with some hard decisions to make . . . 

In some ways, it was appropriate for Christopher Nolan to cast Bale in his series of Batman films. Though with Bateman, he seems more akin to Harvey Two-Face Dent than Bruce Wayne. The monster gains more control over time, but that other face, clean, handsome, keeps popping up. Is it a mask? Is it that last sign of positive humanity left in him? Is it guilt mixed with the need to be punished? A face that contorts farther as his behavior goes ignored, possibly excused? No matter how bat shit the film gets (still more muted than the novel), Bale allows you to believe it and follow it. And even this performance polarized critics and audiences. Too on the nose, too over the top were some of the complaints. But it's not a complaint of mine. We got a three-dimensional person, whose heights tend to be on the bloody side (or are they?). Go see this if you've never seen it before, or even if you've seen the Broadway musical:

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) Sat May 14 at 6 (post film Q and A with director Amy Heckerling) and 8:30 (introduced by Heckerling)- The Metrograph- 7 Ludlow Street- Hey, lookit this. we have a new place to include for revivals screenings. The Metrograph, near the F train at East Broadway and the B and D train at Grand Street. A place that can show DCPs and film, where you can eat lunch or dinner while you watch, and where special events are done from time to time. I've never been here and I am very curious. So I'll start posting films from this location with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. 

A sleeper hit from the summer of 1982. A film Universal had no confidence in, and seemed to try to just dump out there. Word of mouth, plus some key good reviews from Siskel and Ebert among others, turned the distribution scheme into a happy accident. Just as the film was dying out on the West Coast, it starts to play big in the East Coast. Sometimes, studio execs are so lucky . . . From Amy Heckerling, who would never direct a better film. So what is this film best remembered for? The realistic glimpse of high school life during a certain time from soon-to-be-very-well-known Cameron Crowe? The compilation of young acting talent, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stolz, Judge Reinhold, Nicolas Cage, and Anthony Edwards? The shots of Cates rising from the pool, and Leigh lying on the couch? Or for the casting of Sean Penn? His ascent in the acting world, begins with his perf as the iconic partying surfer dude. His scenes with Ray Walston as Mr. Hand still hold up today. I'm guessing all who read this have seen this film. I'm guessing maybe one at best, actually saw this film on the big screen. Time to correct this . . .

Director Heckerling will do a psot film Q and A after the 6pm screening, and will introduce the 8:30 screening. Since I've done a screening here before, I don't know how things are run at the Metrograph, or how quickly special event screenings sell out. So some mucho planning will need to be done:

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (1966) for 10 dollars- Thurs May 19 at 7- Bow Tie Chelsea Cinemas- A cheap-ish screening, complete with Hedda lettuce screening. Among the best of the stage-to-screen transfers ever. I've been waiting a long time for this to play in a revival house. Hell of a first film for director Mike Nichols. Richard Burton and Taylor (heavier and made up to look far older and tired in a successful attempt to de-glamorize) are George and Martha; bitter middle-aged alcoholics, who in order to keep any semblance of interest in their marriage, tear into each other and the young couple (George Segal, Sandy Dennis) who come to their little party. As the film goes on, the head games get more cruel and vindictive.

Not necessarily a happy film, but with Albee's words, a joy to behold. No matter the attempts to open up the film, the house still feels like a steel cage. The attempts at opening, in particular the diner, doesn't hold as well, but everything else does. Some modern audiences might consider the acting as over the top at times, but I would disagree. I have a weakness/high tolerance to some excess, but it fits the piece.

Not on the first AFI Top 100 list, but on the second Top 100 list. 13 Oscar nominations. Oscars for Taylor for Actress, Dennis for Supporting, Art Direction Costume and Cinematography for a black and white film. Nominations include for Picture, Burton for Actor, Segal for Supporting Actor, Nichols for Director, Editing, and Alex North's very good score. I hope the overture and closing music are played here. Also nominated was Ernest Lehman for his screenplay, despite the fact that the actors hated his version so much, they and Nichols went behind his back and replaced all but 2 lines back to Albee's original. For me, best film of 1966. Excuse me if I'm not agreeing with the Academy with their choice of A Man For All Seasons. I want to go. Unless you want to see the other Liz and Dick film playing in Manhattan that night:

BOOM!(1968)- Thurs May 19 at 10:15- Film Forum- The end of the Forum's Noel Coward retrospective. Sorry this is the only film from the retrospective I'm posting. But I've done Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit before, I'm in no hurry regarding Bunny Lake Is Missing, and they're not screening the original version of The Italian Job. They can't show that film, yet they're screening Boom? Oh I'm sorry, Boom!

From director Joseph Losey, apparently in a state of constant drunkenness. Written by Tennessee Williams, who adapted his infamous flop, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. His favorite adaptation of all his work; aw Jeez. Elizabeth Taylor stars as the most beautiful terminally ill person you've ever seen. On her personal island mansion, surrounded by nurses and bodyguards, she meets two people. One is the Witch of Capri (Coward), and a young poor poet (Burton, in a role even he felt was miscast) who seems to fulfill her every need, and who might be the Angel of Death.
The 1968 poster child for a My Year of Flops fiasco (all credit to Nathan Rabin for that). Everybody took it seriously, except the 1968 moviegoing public. The beginning of the end for both Williams's career success, and Liz Taylor as an A-List movie draw. If John Waters appreciates the excessive, over-the-top drama, you know it has fiasco written all over it. In an interesting, if not good way:   

DESTINY (1921)- Fri May 20 and Mon May 23 at 6:20, Sat May 21 at 4:40 and 6:40, plus Mon May 23 at 10:10- A DCP restoration of Fritz Lang's silent film, which was a major influence on both Hitchcock and Luis Bunuel. I don't know this at all, so I'll have to go the old cut and paste route, from the Forum's website:

(1921) In a vaguely 19th-century German village, a tall, sepulchral stranger builds a high wall around his property sans doors or windows, then Lil Dagover’s lover disappears — could the stranger be D...? (The German title translates as The Weary Death). So, is “love stronger than death?” The stranger gives Dagover visions of lovers at bay in an Arabian Nights Bagdad, in a Renaissance Vienna at Carnival, and in a highly stylized China, complete with special effects admired —
and copied — by Douglas Fairbanks. But there is one final test. Acclaim abroad reverberated back to make this Lang’s first smash hit: both Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel got the movie bug after seeing it. DCP. Approx. 98 mins.

A FACE IN THE CROWD- Sat May 21 at 3- The Metrograph- Part of the Metrograph's Budd Schulberg retrospective. Not the best film Elia Kazan has ever directed or even the most subtle, but a potent one nevertheless. And I know some of you have caught this before, either with or without me. But for those who haven't, who've probably caught most of the other films I'm listing hear, this is the one I want you to catch. A passionate gem of a film that, with this current election cycle, remains as potent and as relevant as ever.

From 1957, Patricia Neal works on the radio, and gives a chance behind the microphone to a hobo type, with possible anger issues, played by Andy Griffith. So basically, by sheer force of personality, this early Howard Stern/ Rush Limbaugh type goes from small time Southern radio voice, to big time National radio voice, to selfish, borderline power-mad egomaniacal personality on this new fangled medium called television.

The writing and directing team behind On The Waterfront, went out of their way to make a large chunk of this film as unsubtle as possible. This was on purpose, since this was more a call to arms of the way TV and advertising was changing America, and not in a good way. Is right up there with Network, in terms of standout films that not only attacked and critiqued media, but also in terms of how despite the changing times, audience sizes and technology; the accuracy it has about our current times is uncanny. the idea of politicians packaged like a new car or a fast food place, or that the audience will follow some wannabe demagogue on TV and almost blindly follow what the person says (unless the audience feels blatantly tricked). Boy, that human nature crap hasn't changed at all.

Of course, this wouldn't work if we didn't at least empathize with the characters, and this certainly wouldn't work if the performances weren't outstanding. Neal, Walter Matthau (as the bitterly observant East Coast type), and Anthony Franciosa (as the slimy manager), are just the better known names in a wonderful cast. Lee Remick makes her fresh faced screen debut. But if you just think of Andy Griffith as the sheriff of Mayberry or as Matlock, his performance in A Face In The Crowd will shatter those perceptions. Funny, driven, ravenous, tender, lonely, subtle, brutal. Griffith bounces from one to another of these states and more, and you never see the seams. You see the cruel glint in his eye early, but you can sympathize with him for long stretches. In effect, you can understand why Neal's character would throw away her principals a piece at a time to love a man who may not be the misunderstood kind-hearted person she thinks he is. Very good film, one you really need to make time for at some point

ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)- Sat May 21 at 5:30- Also part of the Metrograph's Budd Schulberg retrospective. You can only choose between A Face In The Crowd or this on Saturday, May 21. Can't really go wrong, no matter what your choice is.
Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder. Consider this a film-noir/drama. Kirk Douglas stars as a disgraced newspaper man, forced to work in a lowly newspaper in Albuquerque. But when a man seems doomed to die in a cave-in, Douglas will do anything to cash in, by making this national news, and make himself a name again. But the feeding frenzy from the newly arrived media and the townspeople, even the trapped man's wife, seem even creepier than Douglas.

This was Wilder's golden ticket film. Yes he had some hit films already, but this was the dream project he got to do after the success of Sunset Blvd. But the critics attacked this as being over the top and unlikeable, as well as inaccurate in its depiction of the media, and it became the first major flop in Wilder's career. But similar to Network; by the time we got to the mid 80s, where you had the baby Jessica story (the girl trapped in the well) played in the media with similarities to Ace, the Wilder film seemed prophetic. And this was before we had more cable channels and more media outlets that desperately need a steady diet of sellable news. It may not have helped in 1951 that the only likable person in the picture, was the poor schmuck trapped in the cave in, but it seems to fit the noir style.

I'd also say it's similar to A Face In The Crowd. Not big hits in its day, both dark as hell, but both better appreciated today. Maybe A Face is appreciated much more among film fans. And in Wilder's career, it would later be dwarfed, with films like Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie coming down the pike. But Ace In The Hole is rarely screened on TCM, is only available on DVD through the Criterion Collection, so chances are high that you haven't seen this. We can change that now:

PUTNEY SWOPE (1969)- Sat May 21 at 8:40- Film Forum- A DCP screening from the Forum's Robert Downey Sr. retrospective. A black comedy that I believe was Downey's biggest indie hit. A CEO of a Madison Avenue ad firm dies, and thru weird voting by-laws, the Board of Directors accidentally vote in the token black member of the board, Putney Swope. He's played by Arnold Johnson, though his lines were later dubbed by Downey since Johnson supposedly screwed up his lines constantly. Most of the white people are fired, more women and minorities are hired, and the business tries to be more ethical under Putney's stewardship. Yeah, good luck with that in the world of advertising in the face of commerce.

Cited as influence on the likes of the creators of Kentucky Fried Theater (and Movie), the creators of The Groove Tube, The Coen Brothers (who must have been inspired by this in part of The Hudsucker Proxy), Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Louis C.K. Never seen all of it, but I am curious: 

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

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