Friday, February 26, 2010


UPDATED 3/1/10

And now the Muriel Award Best Picture Countdown. From a three-way tie for number #56 all the way to Number One:

#56 (tie) (Daniel Getahun)

#56 (tie) (Simon Abrams)

#56 (tie) (Michael Lieberman)

#19 (tie) (Adam Lemke)

#19 (tie) (Matt Noller)

#16 (Patrick Williamson)

#15 (Danny Baldwin)

#12 (Bryan Whitefield)

#10 (Andrew Dignan)

#9 (tie) (Andy Horbal)

#9 (tie)


#6 (Sean Burns)

#5 (Craig D. Lindsey)

#4 (Jim Emerson)

#3 (Scott W. Black)

#2 (Phil Nugent)

#1 (Jason Alley)


In 2006 Paul Clark and Steve Carlson concocted The Muriel Awards, their version of a year-end critics group award ceremony. The rules and voting on the 20 categories they settle on were fairly simple and consistent and easy to follow—five answers were allowed for each category of individual achievement, and 10 for the categories involving achievement in film by year. Paul and Steve invited a group of Internet-based film writers to participate in that first year, including myself, Jim Emerson, Andy Horbal, Craig Lindsey, Lucas McNelly, Andrew Bemis and a ton of others. There have been new additions in each of the four years, and some of us, four years later, are still hanging around. The Muriels are one of the things I look forward to most about the year just starting, one last chance to chime in on personal favorites and to see what’s on the mind of some of my closest colleagues in the blogosphere. They also afford some of us a chance to write one last time to wax poetic about our favorites, as the winner in each category gets a new essay devoted to the reveling in exactly why this choice was the right one.

But the Muriels aren’t like the average contentious critics group, with levels of voting and jockeying to position one title as the least objectionable film to represent the group’s choice as the winner in any particular category. The winners are the winners, by simple majority, and the runners-up (four) are revealed and tabulated by amount of votes garnered. And beyond that, each film that gets a vote is mentioned in a full tabulation that can be clicked on to get the full picture of just how wide-ranging were the choices. (Still no tying of names of voters to actual votes cast, so there’ll be no snickering at the one guy holding a flickering candle in the wind for Jonah Hill as Best Supporting Actor in Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian.) The Muriels are also unique in that they aren’t named after some guy’s bald uncle, but after Paul’s beloved guinea pig compadre, the entrancing Muriel. (This year’s first category, Best Film of the Decade, carried with it some sadness as well, involving the fate of one of Muriel’s closest pals, Charlotte, seen here on the far right. Chuck Bowen has the news below.)

The deadline for votes cast was January 31, and ever since then Paul and Steve have been tabulating the results. If you’ve been clicking the button on the sidebar of this blog over the past three weeks, you’ve probably been following Steve as he posts a new category for each day, along with all the attendant statistics, on his blog Down Inside You’re Dirty (don’t try to argue the point—we all know it’s true). Well, the coming weekend will see the Muriels reach their long-anticipated and shattering climax. The Best Actor winner (winner by a wide margin, but not my choice) was revealed this morning. It was quickly followed by a bait-and-switch Best Actress announcement that actually got me excited... for a second. All that's left now is for the winner of the Muriel Award for Best Picture of 2009 to be unveiled, leaving all the good taste of our awards program to be washed away during the coming week by Oscar’s sins of excess and opprobrium. (Always nice to keep an optimistic ken to one’s view, eh?) So let’s start at the beginning. The following are links to each of the 19 Muriel categories that have so far been made public, the parenthetical name following each indicating the name of the esteemed writer who holds forth on the subject after the jump. (After the list of links, you’ll find my own Muriels ballot in its entirety, even the categories where I could only think of two entries worthy enough to mark down.) So let us salute Muriel (and remember once again Charlotte) and jump right in for one last happy remembrance of the movies that moved us in 2009.

Best Film of the Decade (plus Sadness) (Chuck Bowen)

Best Performance of the Decade (Male) (Phil Nugent)

Best Performance of the Decade (Female) (Jeff McMahon)

Best Directorial Body of Work of the Decade (Ari Dassa)

50th Anniversary Award (Best Film of 1959) (Scott Von Doviak)

25th Anniversary Award (Best Film of 1984) (Craig D. Lindsey)

10th Anniversary Award (Best Film of 1999) (Michael Lieberman)

Best Web-based Film Criticism (Philip Tatler)

Best Body of Work (Craig Kennedy)

Best Cinematic Breakthrough (Mark Pfeiffer)

Best Music (Original, Adapted or Compiled) (Steve Carlson)

Best Cinematography (Paul Clark)

Best Ensemble (Dennis Cozzalio)

Best Screenplay (Andrew Bemis)

Best Supporting Actor (Daniel Getahun, Patrick Williamson)

Best Supporting Actress (Lucas McNelly)

Best Director< (Jeff McMahon)

Best Actor (Andy Horbal)

Best Actress (Simon Abrams, James Frazier)

Only the Best Picture award left to be handed out, sometime this weekend, at the whims of Mssrs. Carlson and Clark. Stay tuned! (This space will be updated with the final result whenever it becomes available.)

And now, not that anyone’s clamoring for it, my own Muriels ballot, as submitted to the committee. It is what it is.

Best Feature-Length Film [10]
(the best film- documentary, experimental, or fiction- over 70 minutes)

Best Lead Performance, Male [5]
2. SHARLTO COPLY District 9
5. GEORGE CLOONEY Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Lead Performance, Female [5] *
1. MERYL STREEP Julie & Julia
5. EMILY BLUNT The Young Victoria

(* I somehow overlooked Sandra Bullock, who would have been my first choice. So there, you snarky Muriels tricksters. You’re mean!)

Best Supporting Performance, Male [5]
1. CHRISTOPH WALTZ Inglourious Basterds
3. DARYL SABARA World’s Greatest Dad
4. JEMAINE CLEMENT Gentlemen Broncos
5. HANK AZARIA Year One/Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Best Supporting Performance, Female [5]
1. MELANIE LAURENT Inglourious Basterds
4. EDITH SCOB Summer Hours

Best Direction [5]
1. QUENTIN TARANTINO Inglourious Basterds
3. WES ANDERSON Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. KATHRYN BIGELOW The Hurt Locker

Best Screenplay [5]
(original or adapted)
1. QUENTIN TARANTINO Inglourious Basterds
5. DAVID JOHNSON (Screenplay) ALEX MACE (Story) Orphan

Best Cinematography [5]
(film or video)
2. ROBERT RICHARDSON Inglourious Basterds
3. ROGER DEAKINS A Serious Man
4. ERIC GAUTIER Summer Hours

Best Music [5]
(original, adapted, or compiled)

Best Cinematic Moment [10]
(best scene or sequence- include YouTube link if available)
1. Revenge of the Giant Face INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
2. A Marriage in Four Minutes UP
3. Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms FOOD, INC.
4. Long-distance Shootout THE HURT LOCKER
5. Accept the Mystery A SERIOUS MAN
6. Drive to the Mountain GOODBYE, SOLO
7. “The Saarne Institute isn’t an orphanage…” ORPHAN
8. The Parking Garage DRAG ME TO HELL
9. Stoned in the Desert LAND OF THE LOST
10. “I always took you as more of an INXS fan…” BROTHERS

Best Cinematic Breakthrough [5]
(vague explanation: a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made a notable debut in film, took his/her career to a higher level, or revealed unforeseen layers to his/her talent during the year 2009)
1. QUENTIN TARANTINO, for Inglorious Basterds, and for stepping in to save the New Beverly Cinema from certain closure, thereby preserving and renewing Los Angeles’ only surviving calendar-based, classically programmed repertory cinema for the foreseeable future.
2. The glorious return of STOP MOTION ANIMATION in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and A Town Called Panic
5. MIMI KENNEDY (In The Loop)

Best Body of Work [5]
(a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made superior contributions to multiple films released in calendar year 2008)
1. MICHAEL FASSBENDER (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds)
2. HANK AZARIA (Year One, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian)

Best Ensemble Performance [5]

Best Web-Based Criticism [5]
(Please include the site name and URL. Remember, sites run by Muriel Awards voters are ineligible to win, although sites that Muriel voters contribute to are eligible. Also, The House Next Door is ineligible this year, as it was last year's winner and we'd like a little variety.)

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1999 [5]

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1984 [5]

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1959 [5]

Best Film of the Decade [10] (In Quite Arbitrary Numerical Order)

Best Performance of the Decade, Male [5]
1. Clint Eastwood GRAN TORINO
3. Robert Downey Jr. ZODIAC
4. Kurt Russell DEATH PROOF

Best Performance of the Decade, Female [5]
1. Naomi Watts MULHOLLAND DR.
2. Maggie Cheung IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
4. (originally submitted ineligible performance from 1999, can’t remember what I replaced her with)
5. Nicole Kidman BIRTH

Best Directorial Body of Work of the Decade [5]
1. Ethan and Joel Coen
2. Brad Bird
3. Gus Van Sant
4. Robert Altman
5. Werner Herzog


Thursday, February 25, 2010

SLIFR REVIVAL PICK: Feb. 24 - Mar. 3

Well, the word around Movietown this week isn’t Avatar or even Alice, it’s Oscar, and the activity that follows is mostly about filling out Oscar office pool ballots (unless, of course, you’re a member of the Academy, in which case you have actual Oscar ballots to complete before the March 2 deadline) and catching up on the last holdouts among the nominated releases. (I somehow still have to make time for A Single Man and The White Ribbon, and if I can make it to a Laemmle Theater early enough, The Messenger.) In the same way, some of the biggest attractions on the revival circuit this week aren’t the inevitable collection of Best Picture winners from years past or any programming like that. If you poke your nose around there are Q&A screenings at the Guilds and at various auditoriums around Los Angeles geared toward filling in those Oscar gaps, and of course the best places to locate these screenings are within the pages of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Among those screenings are the program of Oscar Nominated Short Subjects (both live action and animated) which continues its run at the Nuart through next Thursday, March 4. And the Academy itself has a Short Films Night scheduled as part of Oscar Week activities next Tuesday, March 2. Wednesday will bring a symposium night devoted to the nominated short and feature documentaries hosted by Oscar-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., 1976). (More Oscar week activity at the Academy will be highlighted next week.)

And if you should want to get a leg up on your own Oscar office pool chances, the American Cinematheque is making available a special seminar which should help to answer one of the age-old questions of the Oscars—what the hell is the difference between Best Sound and Best Sound Mixing? The Cinema Audio Society will be presenting a seminar this coming Sunday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. at the Egyptian (tickets are free and will be available at the door on the day of the event only). It’s a panel discussion featuring the winners of the Cinema Audio Society’s awards for outstanding achievement in sound mixing, which ill e awarded in a closed-envelope ceremony the night before. Those winners will then be invited to participate in a round table discussion to talk about not only their winning projects but all the projects they have been involved with in the past. Awards will be given for teams involved with projects for television movies and miniseries, television series, TV series or specials (non-fiction, variety, music), and DVD original programming, as well as the one for motion picture features. The nominees in that category this year include Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The seminar will commence at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 28.

Just prior to that seminar, in the same auditorium, the American Cinematheque will host its annual KPCC 89.3 FilmWeek Oscar preview, featuring the host of the weekly FilmWeek program on KPCC-FM (89.3), Larry Mantle, moderating a conversation between himself and film critics Andy Klein (Brand X), Lael Lowenstein (Variety), Wade Major (Boxoffice), Jean Oppenheimer (KPCC), Claudia Puig USA Today), Henry Sheehan (, Peter Rainer (Christian Science Monitor) and Charles Solomon, animation expert and critic for The host and the guest critics will be discussing their Oscar picks in a 90-minute panel discussion that will be taped for broadcast the following weekend on 89.3 KPCC-FM, Southern California Public Radio. The seminar, which is always fun to listen to, both in person or on the radio, is free to American Cinematheque members and will cost nonmembers a nominal fee.

And speaking of a gathering of critics, while not exclusively Oscar-oriented, you can reasonably bet that the subject will come up as IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson gathers together an impressive panel of critics—among them John Powers, Richard Schickel, Ella Taylor and critic-filmmaker Gerald Peary-- to discuss Peary’s film For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism Saturday night, February 27, at the Billy Wilder theater inside the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood. In the documentary, Peary recounts the storied history of the practice of film criticism in America, spanning from the prose of James Agee and Manny Farber to the pixels of Harry Knowles, and in the process makes a case for why criticism still matters, which is a subject dear to a least a few of us left out there in the dark. Some of those questioned on the subject for the film include Knowles, Powers, Lisa Schwarzbaum, Elvis Mitchell, B. Ruby Rich, Andrew Sarris and Richard Corliss, with clips featuring Farber, Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael. For anyone to whom criticism is still a vital form, as well as for those who fear it can never again be what it was when the likes of Farber and Sarris and Kael were operating at their peak, this screening and panel is a rare opportunity to hear from those whose voices will this night not be responding to someone else's but instead reflecting upon the practice of their own art. The screening begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 27, and tickets, while they will be snapped up as the weekend comes closer, are still available.

The Rest of the Week has its own share of delights, both rare and not-so-rare, all made extra attractive by their availability on the big screen. If it weren’t for homework and the fact that it’s a school night, my daughters and I would be first in line at the Egyptian tonight to see Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1988) together on one cacophonous double bill of unmatched Looney Tunes-infused anarchy. Joe Dante’s first installment was the big hit, cross-wiring It’s a Wonderful Life with Star Trek’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” (only these Tribbles had teeth and a penchant for satirizing the foibles of human behavior). But Dante (and scenarist Charlie Haas) really hit their stride with the sequel, which mutated, like the gremlins themselves, into a full-frontal pop culture assault, one of the great meta-pop culture satires ever made. Of course it was but a shadow of its forerunner at the box office and consequently seen as a “failure.” But anyone who has actually seen it knows of its awesome hurricane force, probably an even closer approximation of the Looney Tunes aesthetic than even Dante’s Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” which would again be eclipsed when Dante released Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003.

One fact about living a movie-going life in Los Angeles has always been, and remains so, that one must sometimes make difficult choices, because when presented with the bounty of revival screenings at the ready on Friday night, February 26, those choices seem more difficult than usual. The Essential Clint Eastwood series at LACMA concludes with a chance to see the movie that convinced a much broader swatch of influential moviegoers—critics at the Cannes Film Festival, for example—that Eastwood was a director to be reckoned with. (Some of us were already convinced by the likes of The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Gauntlet and Bronco Billy.) The movie that turned a lot of heads toward the idea that Eastwood might just be an artist in the classical Hollywood mode was his 1988 Charlie Parker biopic Bird, starring Forrest Whitaker as the titular and sublime bebop sax master. Bird flummoxed as many as it entranced, however (dooming it at the box office in the process), by foregoing the standard chronology of the “well-told” biopic in favor of jazz-inflected free-associative editing rhythms and fragmented storytelling shards that reflected the life of Parker as it drifted and jutted and thrust itself amongst a litany of professional, legal, chemical and emotional conflicts. Eastwood, himself a serious jazz aficionado, clearly approached Bird as a labor of love, brilliantly conjuring the smoky milieu of post-war New York jazz clubs, utilizing master tracks of Parker’s actual solos and integrating them with fresh takes on the tunes blown by a roster of inspired musicians. (The movie's innovative use of sound in this regard earned it an Oscar.) This is one of Eastwood’s darkest (sometimes literally) films, and if you’ve never seen it projected you will likely be stunned by the way in which Jack Green’s cinematography, murky and vague on DVD, becomes an expressive seductive force of its own in 35mm. The movie screens Friday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. inside the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

If you’re like me and you have a youngster whom you’re schooling in the fine arts of Hollywood movie history, then you’ll probably want to follow me and my girl to the New Beverly Cinema on Friday night to take in two Columbia Pictures classics directed by George Cukor and starring the mousy-voiced life-force Judy Holliday. Number one on the bill is Holliday’s hilarious Oscar-winning turn as Billie Dawn, the none-too-bright moll to Broderick Crawford’s gangster tycoon Harry Brock, who hires William Holden’s suave Paul Verrall to tutor her in book-learning and social sophistication , and who hits the roof when Billie’s smarts start to eclipse Brock’s own and the student starts to take a shine to her teacher. The movie is Born Yesterday, and even if it betrays its stage origins a little too obviously at times it’s still hilarious, buoyed by Crawford’s slow-burn, Holden’s easygoing attractiveness and the luminous presence and richly funny cadences of Judy Holliday. Less celebrated, but just as much fun (and perhaps even more pertinent to The Times We Live In), is Cukor and Holliday’s follow-up It Should Happen to You (1954), in which Holliday transforms herself into one Gladys Glover, seeker of fame, who achieves her immodest goal in the most immediate fashion-- by plastering her name across a Columbus Circle billboard. The movie, scripted by Garson Kanin (who also wrote Born Yesterday) features Peter Lawford, Vaughan Taylor and Jack Lemmon in his movie debut. I can’t wait to hear my daughter cracking up over Judy Holliday for four hours. The double bill graces the New Beverly screen Friday and Saturday, February 27 and 28, with accompanying late matinee shows on Saturday afternoon in addition to the evening 7:30 p.m. show time.

Cultra Video has sponsored the Art of Exploitation series all month at the Cinefamily, and it comes to a rollicking close Friday night, February 27, with David Gottlieb’s 1977 B-movie classic Game Show Models. The history of this one is pretty entertaining in and of itself. It apparently began as a strange AFI-funded art film entitled The Seventh Dwarf and rather quickly mutated into this mishmash of music-business satire, inexplicable nudity and, as the Cinefamily notes have it, “assorted sleaze grafted on at the eleventh hour.” The plot, such as it is, revolves around a record executive who beds a mean-spirited and childish new singing starlet, only to have her friends and co-workers turn the tables on him, threatening his life if he doesn’t succumb to their increasingly weird advances. Features odd cameos by Dick Miller, former Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin, and a bunch of mimes. (Perhaps it’s better just to go see it for yourself and ask no questions, until afterward.) The movie is joined by Christopher Odin’s Groove Tube knock-off entitled, none too surprisingly, The Boob Tube (1975), which features more TV and occasional commercial parodies, headed by a lumpy cast of straight-faced actors who may not even get jokes (or that they’re even in a film). The Cinefamily gives it “points for being puerile, witty and raunchy all at the same time,” and as such it could be the perfect capper for the Art of Exploitation series at the Silent Movie Theater.

Also wrapping up the next night is the theater group’s Czech Your Head series, featuring fascinating and none-too-frequently screened films from the early ‘70s when Czech cinema was, hard as it may be to imagine now, somewhat in vogue among connoisseurs on these shores. Saturday, February 28, the Cinefamily rings the velvet curtain down with Jaromil Jires’ lavish and witty Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), a coming-of-age tale from a time and sensibility that did not require a red flag be raised at the very phrase “coming of age.” Valerie’s first menstruation ushers in her sexual awakening and sets off a wild and hallucinogenic series of experiences bracketed and informed by the conflicting nature of teenage sexuality, the excitement, the sense of frontiers unexplored, and the strangely manifested fears. It’s all set to a beautiful and buoyant and darkly insinuating score by Lubos Fiser which the Cinefamily describes as “one of the great film scores of the era, a cocktail of psych-folk and avant-garde classical.” The Cinefamily presents this rare Czech film, the finale to the Czech Your Head series, in 35mm and would like nothing more than for you to join Valerie as she navigates her wondrous week.


But as bounteous as these options are which we've just gone through, the SLIFR Revival Pick of the Week, again a multi-pronged pick designed to let me off the hook and give you a harder time in choosing amongst the ridiculous amount of treasures we have at our disposal here every week in Los Angeles, comes from none of the above.

Instead, three different engagements and 10 different films make up the Pick of the Week high points, and we start off back at the Egyptian on Friday night, February 27. It has been said that, whether you like CGI and all of its slick creations or not, they would not have been possible without the stop-motion animation techniques of Willis O’Brien (King Kong), Ray Harryhausen (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) and the various effects artists, stop-motion and otherwise, who were inspired in the wake of the work generated by these two men. Embrace it or dismiss it, Avatar too, as Glenn Kenny has rightly observed, is only possible because of the pioneering, handmade work of Harryhausen et al., not in spite of it. And one of the greatest showcases for that work unspools on the Egyptian screen Friday night. Don Chaffey’s Jason and the Argonauts (1964) may not necessarily be a great film, but really, none of the movies for which Ray Harryhausen created effects were great films. The greatness they had in them was supplied usually exclusively by Harryhausen, his fertile imagination and his steady, patient hands, and for many of his fans Jason represents the zenith of his imagination on film. Just by coincidence a clever rejoinder to the super-slick Greek mythology-lite of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Jason and the Argonauts is packed with one classic sequence derived from Greek mythology after another—the descent of the harpies; the heroes warding off an attack by a giant bronze statue; Poseidon himself making himself known and providing safe passage for their ship as they pursue the Golden Fleece; and the final battle against an army of living skeletons, the template for a generation’s worth of nightmares and inspiration for the can-you-top-this? effects maestros who would sprout like weeds from the Star Wars phenomenon. Along with Jason is Jack the Giant Killer (1962), director Nathan Juran’s follow-up to The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, a surprising potent and snappy entry into the Sinbad-esque swashbuckler/giant monster genre, with effects by Harryhausen protégé Jim Danforth. If you’re a Harryhausen devotee and you’ve never seen Jack the Giant Killer, this is an opportunity you should not deny yourself.


Over at the Aero, starting tonight, four evenings devoted to the splendid comic vision of Jacques Tati. His masterful Playtime (1967), in which M. Hulot gets swept up in an American tourist invasion in Paris, is a brilliantly funny display of Tati’s physical talents and a superb architectural tour of the city. In 70mm!

Friday brings Mon Oncle (1958), in which M. Hulot (Tati) makes his way through an unfamiliar modernized society. It’s doubled with the Los Angeles premiere of Michael House’s hour-long documentary The Magnificent Tati (2009), which traces the rise of the director from the Parisian music hall stage, through his Oscar-winning films of the ’50, right up to his biggest challenge, Playtime. The Cinematheque promises a delightful documentary portrait “filled with rare Tati archival footage, television appearances and commentary from an eclectic mix of film historians, animators, rock stars and fans.” Plus, following the feature film the Aero will spotlight three rare shorts co-written or directed by Tati, and all starring Tati: René Clement’s Soigne ton gauche (1936, 20 min.), Tati’s School for Postmen (L’Ecole des facteurs; 1947, 18 min.) and Nicolas Ribowski’s Evening Classes (Cour du soir; 1967, 30 min.) Of all the nights of the Tati series, if your familiarity with this great comic director is fairly limited, this could be the most enriching night to attend.

Saturday will be a real treat for Tati fans as well, however. The Cinematheque will be showcasing a beautifully restored print of Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), in which Hulot’s attempts to keep his destructive slapstick tendencies tamped down meet with a decided lack of success while on holiday in a tiny French resort town. This classic is paired with Tati’s directorial debut, The Big Day (Jour de Fete) (1949), in which he plays a mailman who attempts to modernize the mail delivery system and discovers such an ambitious undertaking, especially during a coinciding Bastille Day celebration, probably wasn’t such a good idea.

The series concludes on Sunday with the return of M. Hulot in Tati’s vibrant and calamitous Traffic (1971), who must escort a camper vehicle loaded with absurd gadgets from its factory to an auto show in Amsterdam. Would it be a Hulot outing if everything went well? The evening is capped by Tati’s rarely screened Parade (1974), in which the Hulot persona is put away in favor of the pantomiming and looser-formed clowning that marked his years as a youthful music hall star. The entirety of the four days at the Aero will be a guarantee treasure chest for those who know Tati largely by name, and a wonderful chance to get reacquainted with the master on the big screen for those you already love him well.


Finally, stay up late Saturday night (Sunday morning) at your own risk for Phil Blankenship and Shock Till You Drop’s midnight presentation of a movie that doesn’t get seen much on big screens these days. It’s David Cronenberg’s visionary 1983 science fiction masterpiece Videodrome, a movie that, despite its being anchored in visual imagery based on a video technology (the Betamax and the Beta tape) that was all but gone by the time the movie had its first video release, has remained fresh and alarmingly prescient regarding its sobering geopolitical perspective and the ideas behind its dated technology. To say nothing of Cronenberg’s fairly radical narrative strategies, in which not only protagonist James Woods but also the audience is continually shifting and adjusting, trying to get oriented and grounded in some sort of reality before that accepted reality begins to mutate into… something else. In true great midnight movie fashion, the experience of seeing Videodrome may, in fact, be augmented by the typical punchiness and fighting against sleep that can often kick in midway through a late night showing such as this. I remember seeing Night of the Living Dead for the first time at midnight in a packed theater and convincing myself that upon leaving the cinema the audience would actually be set upon and consumed by meat-eating zombies. Similarly, I can recall a couple of times beginning to slip into a fugue state while watching this movie and having little trouble at all identifying with the tortured loyalties and static-infused confusion that beset Woods on his way toward realizing the New Flesh. Videodrome at 11:59 p.m. at the New Beverly Cinema this coming Saturday night is the very definition of a can’t-miss.


As always, more information on tickets, prices, parking and show times for all of the above venues and more can be found by clicking the links to the Art Theater in Long Beach, the Cinefamily (at the Silent Movie Theater), the Billy Wilder Theater, the Bing Theater at LACMA, the Downtown Independent theater, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and the Aero, the New Beverly Cinema and the Nuart.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Last summer I reported on a fearlessly pretentious line of film geek T-shirts that mashed up corporate rock logos with the names of art film directors who fit phonetically, if not philosophically, with the rockers in question. Ozzy, meet Ozu, Van Halen, meet Von Trier, Danzig, meet Herzog, and so on. (One of the latest is Almodovar done up in early ‘70s Aerosmith.) I have resisted picking up one of these shirts at the Cinefile store in Santa Monica, mainly because even the largest size looks suspiciously like “West Side X-Large,” if you know what I mean—one wash would send it straight to my daughter’s night shirt bin, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t cherish the idea of a logo bearing the name Von Trier snuggling up to my nine-year-old at night. (Speaking of Von Trier, however, the Nuart had/has some keen “Chaos Reigns” T-shirts that I would have leapt at if not for the fact that all the large boys in town already snapped up the stock in my size.)

But I’ve been birthday shopping in the world of novelty T-shirts a bit over the past few months, and I just felt the time was right for highlighting a slightly less highfalutin model of subtle T-shirt branding for the slightly nerdier (but not exclusively Watchmen-obsessed) film fans among us, of whom I obviously count myself as one. I provided a link to Last Exit to Nowhere at the end of last summer’s Cinefile T-shirt post, but I felt it was worth revisiting just to show off some of the great designs this company offers. These are T-shirts that proclaim possession of beloved films along with an added extra degree of verisimilitude and obsessive detail that will appeal to the film nerd’s need to shout about his favorites while preserving a little of their mystery (and exclusivity) as well. While Last Exit’s stock in general tends to favor sci-fi/tough guy fanboy favorites (Blade Runner, Brazil and the Alien franchise are very big in this catalog), I would, for example, proudly wear any of the following designs, all of which appeal to me because of their specificity in representing their films, or because of the odd context which results from mentioning certain films in the context of any kind of T-shirt. These won’t be too difficult, I’m guessing, for most readers of this blog, but see how many of the designs you can match up to the movie from which they were derived.

Also, I ordered a Marx Brothers T-shirt for my daughter from an online company called November Fire, which looks to be the go-to fashion source if you’re an godless, baby-eating, devil-worshiping metal-head, but which also features a terrific array of horror movie-themed T-shirts, many of them created directly from the one-sheets and newspaper advertisements used to promote the movies when they flashed through theaters (mostly in the ‘70s, it seems). I had a grand old time just thumbing through the catalog when the Marx Bros. T-shirt was delivered, and as a result my best friend ended up with a Shriek of the Mutilated T-shirt for his birthday this year, poor bastard. The shirts here are tacky, deliberately, each and every one, but the November Fire catalog is an excellent source to find just the right piece of clothing to show off at the next midnight cult movie you find yourself attending. If you’re like me you will be able to rack up an impressive e-shopping cart full of delightfully cinematic sartorial statements before good sense and economic awareness grab hold of your lapels (or your T-shirt collar, because if you really are like me you don’t have lapels) and wisely guide you to scale back your choices. Here are some of the heartwarming selections I had to put back.

Granted, I’m enough of a grown-up to realize that the idea of wearing a T-shirt with a giant Vincent Price/Dr. Anton Phibes noggin emblazoned on the front, or one boasting a super-fine transfer of a newspaper ad for the (popular?) grindhouse double bill Beast of the Yellow Night and Creature with the Blue Hand is probably a better idea (if even that) than one realized in the light of day. But there is a big part of me that can’t resist cheesy garments such as these, and if you’re one of us (One of us! One of us!) then you’ll either want to check out these catalogs quickly, or are already familiar with them and wondering to yourself about now, what the hell took him so long to find this stuff? And why wouldn’t you proudly wear a Green Slime T-shirt?


Friday, February 19, 2010


UPDATED 2/22 9:45 a.m.

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

The rumors have been swirling around for a couple of years now. The first I’d heard of Quentin Tarantino’s possible involvement in keeping the New Beverly Cinema operational was around the time of the release of Grindhouse (April 2007), when Tarantino curated a massive two-month Grindhouse Festival at the New Beverly in order to both celebrate beloved B-movie (and below) fare and also promote Grindhouse itself. But it was just a whispered rumor, and I certainly had no solid information on which to base anything but wishin’ and hopin’ that it was true. Then a few months after the big splash of the Grindhouse Festival (and the relative box-office disappointment of Grindhouse) the New Beverly’s longtime owner, Sherman Torgan, passed away while riding his bicycle in Santa Monica, and suddenly the fate of the theater, so tied up in the Torgan family, who had more urgent and pressing matters of grief to deal with, was suddenly very much in doubt.

But last summer Sherman’s son Michael Torgan, who supervises the day-to-day operation of the New Beverly after seeing the business up close and personal under his dad’s tutelage, wrote publicly of Tarantino’s involvement on the Cinema Treasures web site in a post dated August 19, 2009:

“By purchasing the property, Quentin Tarantino has saved the New Beverly Cinema from facing the same fate as the NuWilshire and so many other single screen theaters - conversion into retail space. Shortly after my dad Sherman's sudden death in 2007, our then landlord decided to sell the building to a real estate investor, and the property's future as a single use movie theater was uncertain. There was the possibility the property would be divided into two separate retail spaces. Mr. Tarantino's heroic purchase assures that the building will remain a movie theater for many years to come.

The business known as the ‘New Beverly Cinema’ has been a tenant of the building since 1978, and I continue to run the business my dad and some other partners started 31 years ago. Had another landlord purchased the building, the New Beverly would have likely closed due to either a major rent increase or the conversion of the space into another use.”

This was the first public confirmation I was aware of that Quentin Tarantino had effectively stepped in and put his money where his mouth and his movie love reside. And it’s why I felt comfortable in pointing out and honoring Tarantino’s unusual move within the year-end piece I recently posted. (Scroll down just past the end of the top 10 list and you’ll see it.) But according to John Scott Lewinski, writing in a new piece in The Hollywood Reporter dated February 19, Tarantino’s involvement actually began not with the outright purchase of the heater, but with monthly contributions to ensure its survival long before Sherman Torgan died.

“Since I'm a print collector and I screen movies at my home, I heard from other collectors and projectionists that Sherman might have to close down," Tarantino told Lewinski. The director then contacted Torgan and flatly asked him how much money was needed every month to keep the lights on and the projector humming. “The answer was about $5,000," Tarantino revealed to THR. “So, I just started paying him that per month. I considered it a contribution to cinema."

When Sherman died, Michael’s mother, distraught over her loss and agonizing over what to do to preserve the elder Torgan’s legacy, reached out to Tarantino, who offered to buy the cinema outright. It wasn’t an easy process, and there were a couple of attempts to block the sale, along with other legal entanglements, that made sure no one could breathe easily until the final papers were signed. But those days are past and Tarantino now is the sole owner of the theater, leaving programming decisions to Michael, excepting those occasions when the director just has to see something special on the big screen of his own choosing. “"I can make programming suggestions when I want to," Lewinski reports Tarantino as saying with his customary cinematic ardor. “It is cool to have a theater that I can use to show what I like." Even cooler, I’d imagine, is having a landlord who understands the vibe and intention of the cinema and is as interested in preserving its legacy and integrity as the average real estate genius would have been to turn the theater into a SuperCuts or some other commercial blight on Beverly Boulevard. "Quentin couldn't be a better landlord," Michael Torgan has said on more than one occasion, and it’s not difficult to see why. The New Beverly got new seats and digital projection capability over the past summer, and is currently undergoing renovations to the façade and marquee.

And speaking quite personally, the New Beverly has become for me, as it has for many of the people I see there every time I go (which is not nearly as often as I’d like), a place that feels like home. I’ve met more people and made more new friends by attending the New Beverly Cinema over the past four years than I can even keep track of. Every time I go, especially when I bring my daughters or any of the rest of my family with me, Michael and Julia and Phil and Brian and all the rest of the core New Beverly-ites make us feel very special, like they’re really glad to see us. And the programming there has really lit a fire beneath my eldest daughter’s aspiring cinephilia—after a year of seeing Preston Sturges and the Marx Brothers and Randolph Scott and Billy Wilder and Abbott & Costello et al. at the New Beverly, she now loves black-and-white classics as much as any movie-loving adult would and has learned a truckload about cinema history in the process. She loves the theater so much that she’s drawn two pictures, one memorializing the marquee, the other capturing the snack bar in all its glory-- Michael has honored her by placing them in the box office window for every patron to see. And in two weeks we’ll celebrate her 10th birthday within the walls of the New Beverly—a magician, pizza and a movie of her choice, courtesy of Michael’s generosity and desire to reach out and imprint the legacy of classic and repertory cinema on a brand-new generation of kids like my daughter.

Clearly Quentin Tarantino and Michael Torgan both care about not only the theater, but also about the people who flock to the old-school repertory programming (which changes approximately three times weekly) with almost religious regularity. "As long as I'm alive, and as long as I'm rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing double features in 35mm," Tarantino proclaimed to The Hollywood Reporter. For a cinephile in Los Angeles, few more reassuring and wonderful words have ever been spoken, words that will ensure that, whether I like his subsequent films or not, I’ll be patronizing Tarantino movies for the rest of my life as a way of saying “thank you” for this astounding act of movie-fan generosity. As long as the New Beverly is there, I will be too.


UPDATE 2/22 9:45 a.m.

After reading the reactions here and from other sources over the weekend, I feel like commenting further and saying that this all makes me feel pretty lucky and happy as a Los Angeles filmgoer for several reasons. First, it's so rare to see someone of Tarantino's stature in the film community step up and do something on this level of generosity. Sure, if you're a cynic you can say that he imagined that he might receive a lot of acclaim and positive reaction from news of the purchase (as he should). I've even heard someone suggest that Harvey Weinstein somehow orchestrated the public announcement of Tarantino's purchase in order to sway Oscar voters, who have until March 2 to return their final ballots. (Frankly, I have very little problem with that, if it's true. What Tarantino has done for the film community with Inglourious Basterds AND the New Beverly purchase is about as good a reason to vote the man an Oscar as any I can think of. What's James Cameron done for you lately?)

But the legal red tape to go through in order to buy a building that houses a theater that will probably never be a profit-making machine would be a pretty big hurdle if a burst of admiration were your only motivation. In much the same way that Tarantino's own movies can point in the direction of the various sources of inspiration that he openly acknowledges, in his work and in his relentless promotion of that work, buying the building and ensuring that Michael Torgan and the New Beverly can continue to provide the opportunity for new generations of film buffs and potential film buffs to discover the classics of cinema on the big screen is a real world extension of what he's already doing with his movies. (As someone in the comments following Devin Faraci's article noted, it's a shame that another filmmaker couldn't have done the same to preserve Forrest J. Ackerman's extensive collection of sci-fi and horror memorabilia.)

It should be noted, though, amongst all the accolades Tarantino is receiving for stepping up in such a big way, that he has only (only!) provided the foundation on which the New Beverly can continue to operate. The real day-to-day work of creating and maintaining of that operation is being done by Michael Torgan, Julia Marchese, Phil Blankenship, Brian Quinn, Eric Caidin, Adam Trash, Marion Kerr and all the others who are in there booking the films, manning the box office, running the projectors, keeping the place clean (and that includes picking up the trash less considerate patrons leave on the floor of the auditorium) and just generally creating the atmosphere that has kept people coming back to this place for years. QT may suggest a movie now and again, and no doubt he's put the place in a very enviable position, one that probably no other revival cinema in the country shares-- that of an assured future-- but it's not like he's in there actually programming the films and balancing the books. The theater is being run essentially as it has been ever since Sherman began his revival run in 1978, and that's why QT's contribution is important. He didn't buy the building so he could step in and rename the place the New Tarantino. He bought the building so Michael Torgan could independently continue his father's legacy and keep the projector and the marquee bulbs burning. That in itself is pretty astonishing-- QT isn't busting down the door and demanding to come in and screw around with the New Beverly's formula, to put his stamp on it. He just wants to make sure Michael et al get to keep doing what they're doing. Absolutely we should thank him for that, but more importantly we should thank Michael and the staff for being there every night.

(The original comment from which these additional thoughts were adapted can be read below.)


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SLIFR REVIVAL PICK: February 18-24

A survey of the Los Angeles repertory and special screenings landscape this week reveals it to be a good one in general, but especially if you’re a fan of hard-to-find classic exploitation pictures.

The Art of Exploitation series continues at the Silent Movie Theater this weekend when the Cinefamily presents Lawrence Mascott’s Teenage Divorcee (aka Josie’s Castle; 1971), according to the Cinefamily “equal parts eccentric travelogue, drug bummer dramaturgy and salacious swinger smorgasbord -- all continuously punctuated by a giant sackful of lilting musical montages.” Doesn’t sound strange enough? Well, it stars George Takei (Star Trek’s original Sulu), Tom Holland (director of Child’s Play and Fright Night) and some other guy not well known enough to be of note apparently, as three recently divorced friends who decide to pack up, move to San Diego and start a commune, where surely all their troubles will end and their lives will turn around for the better. Right? Right. Teenage Divorcee screens as the first half of a double bill completed by porn maestro Charles De Santos’ Honky Tonk Nights (1978), a soft-core mix of comedy, romance, country tunes and, of course, sex (some) and nudity (plenty). It may not be Nashville, but DeSantos gets points for having the nerve to cast Georgina Spelvin, Chris Cassidy, Serena and Carol Doda for their acting abilities! The Silent Movie Theater will undoubtedly be swingin’ for this double feature Friday, February 19.


Friday and Saturday the Aero features four from horror auteur Wes Craven on the big screen. Look for the original down-and-dirty versions of The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Last House on the Left (1972) to hold your retch reflex hostage on February 19. Then on Saturday, it’s two from Craven’s more “respectable” period, the twisted and goofy Reagan-era social satire The People Under the Stairs matched with his straight-up scary adaptation of Wade Davis’ first-person account of voodoo horror and zombification The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), again with an eye toward the material’s distinct political subtext.


But the week’s best two-fer dip into the grimy Grindhouse gene pool comes courtesy of Brian Quinn, Eric Caidin and the twice-monthly Grindhouse Film Festival at the New Beverly Cinema. The boys are hauling out two blaxploitation nuggets that are definitely worth stepping out for, from two of the genre’s most distinctive and over-the-top filmmakers. The evening starts with Jamaa Fanaka’s downright crazy Penitentiary III, starring series stud Leon Isaac Kennedy, with appearances by gusto-filled soap star Anthony Geary (as “Serenghetti”) and flamboyant female impersonator Jim Bailey as Cleopatra. It all has something to do with Kennedy getting thrown in prison (again), tortured in the most pictorially and cinematically fascinating ways, and then forced to go up against the prison’s most notorious and brutal fighter—And that’s all I’ll say about that. But believe me, it’s worth the surprise to see for yourself. But as flamboyant as Mssrs. Fanaka, Kennedy, Geary and, of course, Bailey are, they can’t hold a candle to blaxploitation superstar Rudy Ray Moore, whose Dolemite character epitomized the extremes to which the genre could go in fulfilling the fantasies of its mostly urban, ill-served African-American audiences. If you ever get a chance to see Moore’s satanic masterpiece Petey Wheatstraw (The Devil’s Son-in Law), by all means do. But until that day comes, you’d be well-advised to “settle” for the outrageous bumper car ride that is Disco Godfather, I which retired cop Moore becomes a DJ at a local club, where the women are sweet (especially Carol Speed), the music is hot (especially Moore’s blistering theme song) and the trouble doesn’t take too long in coming. Disco Godfather doesn’t have the manic razzle dazzle of the Dolemite movies at their best, not to mention the mind-blowing visual energy and no-holds-barred lunacy of Wheatstraw-- it’s a nasty comedy, not unlike Richard Pryor’s old Exorcist routine done up a full speed by a cast of drunken carnies with the devil’s fire in their eyes. But Disco Godfather has its own seedy moves down pat, and Moore is a delight even in this more grounded variation on his familiar persona.


It’s not a revival program per se, but for the next two weeks the Nuart will be playing host to all the films nominated for Oscars in the Live Action Short Film and Animated Short Film categories. The animated shorts include: French Roast (France), in which an uptight businessman in a fancy Parisian café finds his wallet missing just as the check comes due; Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland) tells the story of a grandmother who loses her way through the plot of a fairy tale as she relates her version of "Sleeping Beauty" to an increasingly terrified granddaughter; The Lady and the Reaper (Spain), a tale of lost love in which an old lady is invited to enter death's domain, where she expects to be reunited with her beloved husband, if her plans are not thwarted; Logorama (Argentina), featuring spectacular car chases, an intense hostage crisis and wild animals rampaging through the city (Jumanji meets Ronin?); and A Matter of Loaf and Death (UK), the welcome return of Nick Park, who brings Wallace & Gromit back as proprietors of a successful bread-baking business who begin to worry about a rash of disappearances of local bakers and decide to take charge of sleuthing the mysterious details of an apparent murder mystery which may claim them next. Filling out the bill are three non-nominated shorts: Pixar's Partly Cloudy (USA), Poland's The Kinematograph and Canada's Runaway.

The live action program includes The Door (Ireland), about a father who attempts to come to terms with the devastating affects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster; Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden), in which Tomas, who is a bit too old to still be living at home with his parents, is left with few options when his attempts to become a magician continue to fail, which leads to a bizarre performance at his father’s 60th birthday party; Kavi (India/USA), which tells the story of a boy in India who wants to play cricket and go to school but who is instead forced to work in a brick kiln as a modern-day slave. Restless and unsatisfied, Kavi must either accept the conventional wisdom about his life and circumstances or fight to change them, even if he's unconvinced that the change will make his life any better; Miracle Fish (Australia), in which a boy named Joe spends his eighth birthday in an infirmary after being mercilessly teased by friends. When he wishes that everyone in the world would go away, he wakes up to discover that he may have to face a strange new reality where his wish has come true; and in The New Tenants (Denmark/USA), two men looking for a fresh start (Kevin Corrigan, Vincent D’Onofrio) move into a new apartment which gradually reveals to them its terrifying history in a narrative that has been described as “funny, frightening and unexpectedly romantic.”

For more information on show times and schedules, consult the Nuart page at the Landmark Theaters web site.


A special program of shorts also helps wrap up the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s salute to Iranian Cinema. Coming up Friday night, February 19 you can see Abbas Mohammadi’s My Little Country (2008), The Legend of Gordafarid (2008), directed by Hadi Afarideh, and Reza Haeri’s Final Fitting (2008) all on one bill. Each film runs approximately 30 minutes and provides a succinct, poetic and vastly entertaining window onto the worlds of education, theater and tailoring in modern-day Iran. The following evening the series closes with Iran’s official entry for this year’s Academy Awards, Asghar Faradi’s About Elly (2009). A beautiful schoolteacher is whisked away by friends on a pleasure trip, but soon she finds out their true agenda-- to marry her off to a recently divorced man who she barely knows. The untruths begin to pile up and become even more significant when Elly disappears and the film becomes a lyrical inquiry into the mystery surrounding her fate.


Three other directors take the spotlight this week. The American Cinematheque gets an Elia Kazan retrospective under way tomorrow night. You can see Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal in Kazan and writer Budd Schulberg’s prescient political drama A Face in the Crowd (1957) paired with the director’s 1960 social drama Wild River starring Montgomery Clift as a TVA administrator who comes to oversee the building of a dam on the Tennessee River and gets caught up in the lives of the people who are protesting the project. The evening will be highlighted by the scheduled appearance of Patricia Neal, who will at the Egyptian to speak about Kazan and A Face in the Crowd.

Friday, February 19, brings Fredric March, Terry Moore and Gloria Grahame in Kazan’s 1953 Man on a Tightrope, the fictionalized story, based on actual incidents, surrounding a small circus in an Eastern Bloc country and its planned escape to the West during the Cold War. The movie is paired with Kazan’s classic On The Waterfront (1954), starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger.

Saturday, February 20, features two films in which Kazan pushed the accepted boundaries of adult storytelling—his Tennessee Williams adaptations of Baby Doll (1956) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1954) have become nothing if not even more powerful with the passing of time and have, through the brilliant performances by the likes of Marlon Brando, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Kim Hunter, Vivien Leigh and Eli Wallach between them, managed to avoid the mothballs of caricature and atmospherics that have hampered the staying power of some productions of Williams’ work. This might be the week’s flat-out best double bill.

And finally, on Sunday evening, February 21, comes Kazan’s epic America, America (1963), the heartfelt story of Kazan's uncle, who grew up in a small village as a member of the Greek minority in Turkey in the end of the 19th century and who dreams of a better life emigrating to the United States. Perhaps less widely seen that some of Kazan’s work in the ‘50s, this movie remained a personal favorite of the director and its reputation has certainly grown in the years since its release. The Egyptian’s big screen should show off its ample ambitions and emotions to great effect.


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art continues its series in tribute to director Clint Eastwood with screening throughout the weekend at the sumptuous Bing Theater. The entire weekend is devoted to four of the director’s most potent and lived-in examinations of masculine mythology. Bronco Billy (1980), with its allusions to Buffalo Bill Cody and its own seedy approximation of the legendary wild west show, was perhaps Eastwood’s first full-on attempt to grapple, in a very Capra-esque way, with the dimensions of his public persona. And Honkytonk Man (1982) finds Eastwood beginning to work more consciously in the more breezy, meandering rhythms of his marginal characters in this story of a consumptive country singer on one last road trip with his son. Saturday February 20 affords another opportunity to see Eastwood’s great, Oscar-winning western Unforgiven (1992) in tandem with one of the director’s most underrated movies, his adaptation of Peter Viertel’s White Hunter, Black Heart (1990), in which he takes on the persona of John Huston in search of a wild elephants on the set of The African Queen and, as it happens, an assessment of his own masculine ideals and limitations.


Finally, speaking of directors, Jason Reitman has only made three movies, but he’s been nominated for an Oscar three times now (twice as director) and he might just win one this year (for screenwriting). But way more importantly, he’s finally got his own movie series to curate at the New Beverly Cinema, and it gets underway Friday night. These are movies in which Reitman has presumably found some influence and/or inspiration, and while a cynic (or someone like me) might suggest that he hasn’t yet himself made one as good as any of the six he has in store for the enthusiastic New Beverly crowd, that should in no way detract from your appreciation of his appreciation of these movies. You can have all kinds of fun drawing lines connecting the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Election, Shampoo, Boogie Nights, Breaking Away and Bottle Rocket to Reitman’s own bittersweet oeuvre, and he will be there in person all week to help you along in that endeavor.


All of these choices are enough to make anyone not living in Los Angeles insanely jealous on their own, but none of them made my pick status for the week. Since initiating this weekly column last month, I have been incredibly spineless in my refusal to narrow the field down to one pick. I have usually offered at least three programs, and one time even as many as 11 films, as the highlight of the week’s movie-going. And this week’s SLIFR Revival Pick is no different—three different choices on two separate days of the weekend in which to enrich your cinematic experience, although the Friday night selections might involve some fairly hairy traffic dodging down the southbound freeway system in order to take it all in.

Make your way to the Aero Theater Friday night to pay tribute to a comedy legend, Bob Newhart, who will be in attendance to screen two of his best movie comedies. A con artist (Peter Ustinov) fresh out of prison gets hired as an insurance company computer programmer and begins embezzling the company for Hot Millions (1968). Maggie Smith plays the twerpy secretary who falls for him, and Newhart is the (I’ll say it) buttoned-down office manager who sniffs out Ustinov’s scheme. But Millions is definitely eclipsed by the hilarious satire at the heart of Norman Lear’s caustic comedy Cold Turkey (1970), in which a small town is offered $1 million by a sinister tobacco company if they can stop smoking for one month. The movie’s curdled Americana is a riot, and Newhart is just one in an amazing ensemble cast (Jean Stapleton, Graham Jarvis, Dick Van Dyke, Pippa Scott) but he's a standout nonetheless— he plays the tobacco company shill who orchestrates the many attempts to undermine the town’s efforts, which just might succeed if withdrawal from smokes don’t kill them, or make them kill each other first. Characterized by Randy Newman’s bitterly funny hymn of sacrilege “He Gives Us All His Love,” Cold Turkey is a rarely seen treat and evidence that Lear, had he not gotten sidetracked by that whole Archie Bunker thing, might have had a real career as a director of merciless movie comedies.

That same night, at the beautifully restored Art Theater on Fourth Street in Long Beach, you can see Benjamin Christensen’s eye-popping 1922 “documentary” Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages with a live score performed by Cabeza de Vaca Arkestra. Often seen with a pre-recorded score written and performed by Jean-Luc Ponty, the opportunity to see it with the Cabeza score performed live is just too good to pass up. And that’s not even considering the film itself, which purports to trace the history of witchcraft and Satanism throughout history-- the movie’s bizarre, gooseflesh-inducing visuals, which invoke the starkly agonized hellscapes of Goya and the prevalent style of depicting weird, sexualized satanic rites in elaborate wood carvings, are transcendently unsettling. (There is an awful lot of devil’s ass-kissing going on in art from this period, apparently.) Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is singularly haunting and unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

And finally, you’ll find me and the girls at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Armand Hammer on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. for the free screening of Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou’s spectacular nature documentary Microcosmos (1996). Years of research and planning went into the conception and photography of this phenomenal documentary which goes David Lynch one better and takes a long, fascinated look into the hidden world of insects populating a small expanse of French countryside. But despite how it may sound, Microcosmos is no mere technical triumph, or a simple bit of Discovery channel fare. The directors infuse their luxurious, eye-popping imagery with layers of expressive meaning, tracing the connections between these arachnids and arthropods and gastropods at work (and at play) and the motivations and even desires and self-conscious human world. (The scene of two snails making love might be one of the most erotic sequences ever filmed.) As the notes for the UCLA presentation make clear, “As science meets the sublime, children of all ages will delight in the film's infectious sense of discovery.” Absolutely right. Microcosmos locates the universal in the specifically magnified majesty of these creatures by meticulous filmmaking means both expansive and poetic. (Note that Microcosmos will be projected digitally, which means DVD and not 35mm, so a certain downgrading of imagery should be expected.)


And as always, more information on tickets, prices, parking and show times for all of the above venues and more can be found by clicking the links to the Art Theater in Long Beach, the Cinefamily (at the Silent Movie Theater), the Billy Wilder Theater, the Bing Theater at LACMA, the Downtown Independent theater, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and the Aero, the New Beverly Cinema and the Nuart.