Cool Stuff to Check Out in NYC: June 2016

For all you dedicated cinephiles out there, here are some upcoming film screenings and retrospectives that are sure to excite you this June in New York City. Information regarding the theaters and dates/times can be found by clicking the links provided at the beginning of each series or event’s entry.

tumblr_o7qahmjgow1s5o8nro1_1280

Danger lurks behind every corner for Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill (1980).

“Brian De Palma” at the Metrograph (Wed. June 1 – Thurs. June 30): The new arthouse cinema on Ludlow Street (Lower East Side) will be hosting this look back at director Brian De Palma’s half-century-long career as a master teller of Hitchcockian tales filled with sex and violence, as well as a maker of more commercial, action-oriented fare like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. With the exception of Murder à la Mod (1968), Metrograph will be showing Brian De Palma’s entire history of feature films. If you’ve never experienced Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill or the crazy, extravagant mess known as The Black Dahlia, here is your chance to do so.

The Series IncludesThe Wedding Party (released in 1969 but shot in 1963), Greetings (1968), Dionysus in ’69 (1970), Hi, Mom! (1970), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Sisters (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Home Movies (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), Body Double (1984), Wise Guys (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Casualties of War (1989), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Raising Cain (1992), Carlito’s Way (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), Snake Eyes (1998), Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006), Redacted (2007), Passion (2012)

tumblr_o7qa3efp181s5o8nro1_1280

The skydiving sequence in Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow).

“Genre Is a Woman” at Film Forum (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 16): This is the series I am most excited about this June. The retrospective will be looking at films made by nineteen women directors (spanning the early silent era to the present day), none of whom were or are restricted by the usual stereotyped boundaries (e.g., “chick flick” romantic comedies). You will see teen comedies, fast-paced action flicks, sci-fi thrillers, biopics, sexploitation dramas and much more. My personal recommendations among the selections here are Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless (1981) and Point Break (1991), so you should definitely make time for those.

The Series Includes Films ByAlice Guy Blaché (silent short films including Babies from Cabbages; The Detective’s Dog; The Pit and the Pendulum), Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance), Ida Lupino (Not Wanted; The Hitch-Hiker; two episodes of “Thriller”), Doris Wishman (Nude on the Moon; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Let Me Die a Woman; A Night to Dismember), Barbara Loden (Wanda), Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurse; Group Marriage), Barbara Peeters (Bury Me an Angel), Kathryn Bigelow (The Loveless; Near Dark; Blue Steel; Point Break; Strange Days), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Amy Holden Jones (The Slumber Party Massacre), Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Katt Shea (Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls; Dance of the Damned; Streets; Poison Ivy), Sondra Locke (Impulse), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer), Mary Harron (American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page), Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff; Night Moves), Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

tumblr_o7q9movseo1s5o8nro1_1280

Kamikaze ’89 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 9): BAM is showing the final film starring the incomparable German auteur/artiste Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kamikaze ’89 (1982, dir. Wolf Gremm), for a week in early June. This rarely-screened thriller is set in a dystopian future society and R.W.F. plays a detective; the cast includes roles for Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators Günther Kaufmann (Whity (1971), In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), the miniseries “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980)), Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975), Chinese Roulette (1976)), and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s editor for films and TV, as well as his girlfriend, from the late 70s until his death in 1982), as well as an appearance by international star Franco Nero. Kamikaze ’89 cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger also worked with Fassbinder on his own projects, photographing “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), Lili Marleen (1981), Lola (1981), Veronika Voss (1982) and Querelle (1982).

Trivia: Fassbinder was buried in the leopard-print suit he wore in Kamikaze ’89.

tumblr_o7q9prjfsh1s5o8nro1_1280

Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung share a quiet, contemplative moment during a rendezvous in In the Mood for Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar Wai).

“Luminosity: The Art of Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing” at the Museum of Modern Art (Thurs. June 16 – Thurs. June 30): MoMA pays tribute to one of the most talented cinematographers in Asian and European cinema. One of the must-sees is the romantic drama In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s take on Brief Encounter set in Hong Kong in 1962.

The Series Includes Films By: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Dust in the Wind; The Puppetmaker; Flowers of Shanghai; The Assassin), Wang Tung (Strawman), Ann Hui (Eighteen Springs), Tran Anh Hung (The Vertical Ray of the Sun; Norwegian Wood), Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), Tian Zhuangzhuang (Springtime in a Small Town), Ivy Ho (Claustrophobia), Chiang Hsiu-Chiung and Kwan Pun-Leung (Let the Wind Carry Me), Gilles Bourdos (Renoir), Jay Chou (The Rooftop), Yang Chao (Crosscurrent)

The Expected “Virtue” of Ignorance

I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this afternoon to see Birdman. I’ll reserve my review for a later time – although I will say, in short, that I didn’t feel anything for the characters and I feel far more feelings at learning that Lesley Gore (of whom I am a big fan) has passed away – but what’s currently on my mind is something that happened in the theater prior to the start of the film. BAM shows movie-trivia quizzes on the screen and the theater’s audience demographic, which is downtown-Brooklynites ages 25-35, is often vocal in the attempts to solve the questions. Today was no different, but two such examples of quizzing led to unfortunate revelations about the moviegoers.

1. “Who described Marilyn Monroe as ‘an endless puzzle without any solution’?” (I knew that the answer was Billy Wilder.) A woman approximately thirty years old, sitting behind me with some friends of about the same age, guessed Billy Wilder. After getting the answer right, she admitted, “I don’t know who that is.” She and her friends laughed it off and seemed to come to the conclusion that whoever it was, he wasn’t anyone interesting. (I recall the word “whatever” in particular.)

2. “Which of these actresses was born on July 4?” I knew it was Eva Marie Saint (7/4/1924) and not Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. The same woman from before said, “I’m going to guess Bette Davis.” Answer revealed. “Eva Marie Saint? Huuuuh? Never heard of her.” Cue raucous laughter and agreement that this name must be a random nonentity in the movie business. This response was more expected to me; I figured that Ms. Saint, who is one of my favorite actresses, is probably not as famous a name for recent generations, even though films of hers like On the Waterfront and North by Northwest might ring a bell for even the least aware culture-consumer.

When Birdman began and the opening credits announced the subtitle of the film, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, I had to sigh a little. Ignorance is, sad to say, all too expected and actually congratulated. This is not de rigueur for all movie houses; the Film Forum and MoMA expect a bit more out of their customers, particularly the older moviegoers who like to test each other’s knowledge on directors and actors (from memory, sans screen-quiz) while waiting for the movie to start. There is nothing wrong with not knowing movie history, but it is in poor form to applaud the lack of cognizance. Given the current state of our technology, any of the adults sitting behind me could have taken a phone out and Googled “Eva Marie Saint,” but it is a mark of where we are at today that we have more information than ever at our fingertips and yet, more often than should be the case, people don’t care to find out more than what they already know.

Viva Buñuel!: A Film Retrospective at BAM

The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Rose Cinemas is hosting a retrospective of 32 of Spanish auteur Luis Buñuel’s films made between 1929 and 1977. Although I missed the film that opened the festival, Los Olvidados (1950), I got the chance to see Buñuel’s macabre comedy The Criminal Life of Archibaldo De La Cruz (1955), which was great. It combines themes that recurred throughout Buñuel’s career: sex, violence and hidden desires (and on occasion, lacy undergarments). Here are a few of the other movies that will be playing at BAM’s festival, which continues for the next month until August 14.

Un Chien Andalou (1929) – Tuesday, July 15 – One of the most infamous edits in film history involving this eyeball and this razor can be seen in this Surrealist short film, a landmark in international cinema which was made in collaboration with artist Salvador Dalí.

Susana (1951) – Thursday, July 17 – This melodrama of a young woman’s sexual awakening, starring Rosita Quintana in the lead role, is a forerunner of the title women in Buñuel’s Viridiana and Belle de Jour.

Viridiana (1961) – Friday, July 18 and Saturday, July 19 – Surrealism swirls through this drama of religion, incest, the music of Bach, Handel and Mozart and an extended dinner scene reminiscent of The Last Supper.

El Bruto (aka The Brute) (1953) – Thursday, July 24 – Pedro Armendáriz and Katy Jurado, two Mexican actors who found success in Hollywood, star in a drama that could be viewed as an update of the Frankenstein story.

Robinson Crusoe (aka The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe) (1954) – Tuesday, July 29 – Buñuel’s only foray into Hollywood filmmaking tells Daniel Defoe’s seafaring adventure tale. The film received an Oscar nomination for Dan O’Herlihy’s lead performance, the first time that any of Buñuel’s films was recognized by the Academy.

The Young One (1960) – Thursday, July 31 – This production, filmed in Mexico but with dialogue in English, stars American actors Zachary Scott (best known for the 1940s films The Southerner, Mildred Pierce, Cass Timberlane and Flamingo Road), Bernie Hamilton and Crahan Denton in a story of a black jazz musician on the lam.

Belle de Jour (1967) – Friday, August 1 through Sunday, August 3 – Buñuel’s masterpiece (in my opinion) stars Catherine Deneuve as a housewife in a stagnant marriage who unlocks her inner passion and a kind of autonomy when she secretly begins work as an upscale call girl. Deneuve’s beauty, Sacha Vierny’s lush cinematography and Yves Saint Laurent’s très chic clothes are all exquisite.

Wuthering Heights (1954) – Tuesday, August 5 – This retelling of Emily Brontë’s classic Victorian novel transplants the story to Mexico in the 1800s. The film’s Spanish-language title, Abismos de pasión, translates to The Abyss of Passion.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) – Friday, August 8 – Buñuel’s final film stars French actress Carole Bouquet and Spanish actress Ángela Molina as the same character, Conchita, a maid who is coveted by her employer (Fernando Rey). Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière adapted the screenplay from a book by Pierre Louÿs.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) – Saturday, August 9 – Winner of the 1973 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (France) as well as a nominee for Best Original Screenplay (another Buñuel-Carrière collaboration), this famously surreal and dreamlike film features many of the most recognizable faces in world cinema, including Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Bulle Ogier, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Claude Piéplu and Michel Piccoli.

Film Preview: Snowpiercer

Last night I had the privilege of seeing Snowpiercer, the new feature by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, in its New York premiere as the centerpiece of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 6th annual BAM Cinema Fest. (This post also serves as “Filmmaker Firsts” post #16 since it was my first time seeing any of Bong’s films.) Director Bong – as the Q&A’s moderator, Variety critic Scott Foundas, always referred to him – was in attendance, as were screenwriter Kelly Masterson, co-producer Dooho Choi (who served as Bong’s translator) and one of the stars, John Hurt. Two other actors from the film, Clark Middleton and Paul Lazar, were in the audience.

Snowpiercer, which opens in New York theaters on June 27, is a good film, but it falls short of being the masterpiece that so many have claimed it to be. There are better dystopian tales, to be sure, and better action movies too. One of the major flaws is in the casting of Chris Evans as the hero. This was my first time seeing him as someone other than a Marvel superhero (as in the two Captain America films and The Avengers) and I must say I was unimpressed. While Evans generally does a decent job when called on to don his big-budget franchise tights and armor, he doesn’t fare as well when asked to play a normal human being and to actually emote. There are a few scenes when his character sheds tears and in none of those cases did they ever feel believable enough to affect me.

The basic premise of the film is that a global-warming-related ice age has rendered Earth an arctic wasteland and that the only surviving humans are passengers on a train, the Snowpiercer, though I don’t remember if anyone actually utters the name of the train during the film. Tilda Swinton, complete with Yorkshire accent, glasses and fake teeth, plays Mason, the prime minister of these last dregs of humanity (FYI: the character was originally written for a male actor) and Ed Harris plays Wilford, the mastermind behind the creation and maintenance of the train. Swinton is a vicious delight as a villain who is really just a pawn in the greater scheme of things. Besides her, the film’s most engaging performances are found in the work done by the other supporting players. John Hurt brings his usual gravitas to the role of Chris Evans’ mentor, which does not involve much for Hurt beyond giving advice in his wheezing tones and hobbling around with a wooden leg and crutches, although his solemnity elevates the role beyond whatever was on the page. Korean actor Song Kang-ho is very good (a purely cinematic presence, to paraphrase what John Hurt said in the Q&A) as the security expert who helps Evans in getting to the front of the train. Alison Pill also has some great moments as a deceptively cheerful schoolteacher.

Again, this isn’t a bad movie, but I don’t like being hit over the head with symbolism. The front of the train is the top echelon of society! The tail end is the lower class! Gee, who’d have thunk it? Good action sequences liven up the proceedings, but the banal dialogue and some emotionally manipulative moments involving families bring the film down for me. Anyway, it was cool seeing it at BAM’s Harvey Theater, which has a huge screen. The only real negative to the viewing experience was that the couple sitting directly in front of me was canoodling for the entire two hours. (Well, almost two hours; whenever the guy stopped to come up for air, he would noisily slurp water from a bottle for a few minutes.) Otherwise, it felt good to see a new movie before its general release to the public. Plus it was described as being the “director’s cut,” so that was an interesting bonus.

RIP Vera Chytilová

Vera Chytilová (1929-2014), a director at the forefront of the Czech New Wave in the 1960s, has passed away at the age of 85. Her most well-known and well-regarded feature film, Daisies (1966), was shown in retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the summer of 2012. Chytilová was also known for her films Something Different (1963), the omnibus Pearls of the Deep (1966), Fruit of Paradise (1970), Panelstory (1980), Wolf’s Hole (1987), A Hoof Here, a Hoof There (1989), The Inheritance (1993), Traps (1998), Flights and Falls (2000) and Expulsion from Paradise (2001), among others.

As I have written about before, there are so few women directors compared to the number of men, something which I hope will change with time. Vera Chytilová has secured her place in film history, but there is a lot of room left for more female voices in cinema, especially those who are as interested in exploring the avant-garde as Chytilová was.

Great Moments in Movies: Bruce Dern’s Costumes in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood

There’s a lot of love for Bruce Dern at the moment. A starring role in the Alexander Payne-directed dramedy Nebraska won Dern the Best Actor award at Cannes earlier this year and the New York Times published a pretty big write-up about Dern this past weekend. The Brooklyn Academy of Music is also doing an amusingly titled “Hot Dern!” retrospective, featuring films like The King of Marvin Gardens, Smile and Coming Home, starting in a few days. All of this critical attention is wonderful, but I’d like to turn the focus to one of Dern’s finest films, the 1976 comedy Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Best known as the film which features cameos from dozens of old-timey movie stars (everyone from Dorothy Lamour to Victor Mature to Milton Berle), the real highlight is the elaborate wardrobe donned by Bruce Dern. (Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find out who designed these terrific clothes or else I would credit him/her.) Let’s take a look at a dozen of Dern’s finest costume changes.

The same outfit featured in the first photo: an excellent argyle-vest-and-plaid-trouser ensemble with argyle socks and spats. It’s hard to see the details of the shirt (probably easiest in the photo at the top of the page), but the vertical line pattern there is just another interesting element.

Is that not a great paisley tie? The checkered shirt is a nice touch as well.

One of Dern’s many outfits while his character is busy directing and producing films.

Another fine directing outfit.

I love the attention to detail shown in these suits, shirts, ties and hats.

Another fine tie, paired with spats, a three-piece suit and a stylishly striped shirt.

One of the film’s best outfits, a safari-inspired look complete with hat and neckerchief.

The white shoes! I don’t know why, but those shoes really make the outfit.

This particularly suave attire blends the dark suit with the light-colored coat so well.

No look at 1920s decadence would be complete without a polo outfit.

If you’re going to get married to Madeline Kahn, you might as well have Billy Barty as your best man. Two great suits with equally great hats.

Dern’s last outfit: an excellent pajama set. The colors! All in all, such a fun film.

2012: Part 3

Farewell, My Queen. Directed by Benoît Jacquot. This uninvolving historical drama chronicles the last days of Marie Antoinette as seen through the eyes of one of her servants. There are some fine actors on display – including stars Léa Seydoux and Diane Kruger – but the pacing drags down an already meandering plot. The film does not maintain the requisite momentum to make it an engaging tale, often sinking to the depths of sleep-inducing Gallic soap opera. Lead actress Seydoux’s character, the fictional servant Sidonie, clearly has romantic feelings for Marie Antoinette but can never act on them; similarly, the Queen has a doomed relationship with Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac. (At MoMA, where I saw the film, there were grown men giggling at the lesbian subplot, a subject which Jacquot actually handles in a mature manner.) Sidonie has a brief scene of unconsummated sexual activity (looking bored all the while) with an impudent young gondolier, but Sidonie is called to the Queen’s side and so rushes off, knowing where her heart lies. No one, including Sidonie, is particularly likeable, except actor Michel Robin as Jacob-Nicolas Moreau, the wise old archivist at Versailles. Another veteran character actor, Jacques Herlin, who has an especially expressive face, does well in a small part as the Marquis de Vaucouleurs. But when all is said and done, Farewell, My Queen is a royal bore and no amount of powdered wigs and sumptuous costumes can fix that problem.

Life of Pi. Directed by Ang Lee. Currently my favorite film of 2012, Life of Pi was a magnificent experience. I think I benefited from not knowing anything about the film, or even the original novel, before seeing the film. That way, I could just sit back and be in awe of the story unfolding on the screen. Newcomer Suraj Sharma does a tremendous job in the lead of role of teenage Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, allowing every emotion to show in his face, voice and body language. The saga of his survival adrift in the Pacific Ocean with the tiger “Richard Parker” as his sole companion (both as an enemy and as an friend) will captivate you. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda is extraordinary, making the visuals pop with gorgeous clarity and auxiliary 3D flourishes. Lee’s expert direction evokes feelings which can only be described as movie magic. Life of Pi proves that a big-budget adventure does not have to be another tired franchise reboot. This is a film which grabs you – mind, body and soul – from the very beginning and never lets go.

The Sessions. Directed by Ben Lewin. The Sessions is graced with a brilliant leading man, John Hawkes, who propels the film to great heights even though the screenplay leaves much to be desired. In spite of the weak writing, there are bright spots when the script quotes Mark O’Brien’s own words from his 1990 article “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” Hawkes brings the role of O’Brien to life, making you really believe that Hawkes is as physically and emotionally fragile as his real-life counterpart. Additionally, writer/director Lewin’s personal experience with polio gives the film a unique cinematic viewpoint. Although The Sessions does have certain “movie-of-the-week” tendencies (as was remarked upon in the review by New York Daily News critic Joe Neumaier), its performances elevate the overall result. Hawkes’ physical and emotional partner in the film, Helen Hunt, is Oscar-worthy as well, playing the sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen Greene with warmth and compassion. William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Rhea Perlman and Robin Weigert also make strong impressions in roles both big and small.

Silver Linings Playbook. Directed by David O. Russell. This surprising and engaging dramedy boasts a noteworthy cast and nuanced writing/directing from Russell. Bradley Cooper does excellent work as bipolar protagonist Pat, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games) who gives a star-making performance. She has a vibrancy that is undeniable, a firecracker quality which is perfectly matched by Cooper’s own deftly shaded portrayal. Robert De Niro has perhaps his best showcase for his acting talents in many years, while Jacki Weaver shines as Cooper’s mother. Further credit goes to Anupam Kher as Cooper’s therapist and Paul Herman – a stalwart of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese films – as one of De Niro’s buddies. One of the loveliest aspects of the film is Cooper and Lawrence’s attempt at taking part in a local dance competition. The finished product dance routine is one of the most thoroughly exhilarating scenes I have witnessed in a new movie this year. Cooper and Lawrence go all-out, running the gamut from hard rock to a Singin’ in the Rain homage. Despite relying on some rom-com crutches (and saddled with an unnecessary character played by Chris Tucker), Playbook is worth the watch.

Sister. Directed by Ursula Meier. I did not know much before seeing Sister, which was a plus. Clearly inspired by classics like The 400 Blows, this Swiss film has a committed lead performance from its boy thief-protagonist, Kacey Mottet Klein. Léa Seydoux stars as the title sister, giving a performance which is much better than what she did in Farewell, My Queen, though not as charming as her character in the movie I first knew her for, Midnight in Paris. Gillian Anderson, in an unusual turn, has what I would call a “large cameo” as an American tourist at the ski resort where Klein steals and trades ski equipment and food. Martin Compston, a young Scottish actor probably best known for the Ken Loach film Sweet Sixteen (2002), is tough but sympathetic as a resort worker who bonds with Klein. I had the chance to see Sister at the Museum of the Moving Image with director Meier and stars Seydoux and Klein in person, which was enjoyable although difficult because of the not-quite-fluent translator. If Sister is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (it is Switzerland’s official submission), I would support the win.