For our readers in New York City, there are a lot of exciting movie options beyond the new releases at the multiplex this weekend. And if you aren’t in New York, you still may find a couple recommendations here worth pursuing. (Almost all of these movies are available on DVD and/or Blu-Ray.)
Check it out!:
The first BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984, d. Martin Brest) is a pretty-much perfect Hollywood movie, a fish-out-of-water story with genuinely hysterical one-liners, an earworm of a main theme, a terrific supporting cast that includes Ronny Cox, John Ashton, Judge Reinhold, and the super-cute Lisa Eilbacher, at least two enjoyably-hissable villains (Steven Berkoff and Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks), and a comedic supernova of a leading man in Eddie Murphy, on a streak that went from Saturday Night Live to 48 HRS. to TRADING PLACES to his concert film DELIRIOUS and then here, to the biggest box-office hit of 1984. The movie surrounding him is a serviceable action-thriller, but it’s the unparalled comic swagger of Eddie Murphy that lifts BEVERLY HILLS COP into the realm of the classics of the era. Everybody I knew growing up wanted to be Han Solo. I wanted to be Axel Foley. Still do.
BEVERLY HILLS COP is the midnight movie at IFC Center. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, get the fuck on that!
CB4 (1993, d. Tamra Davis) is a sorely-underappreciated comedy, one of the funniest of the 1990s. It’s a viciously smart and completely hysterical send-up of hip-hop culture. Chris Rock stars as Albert, a kid with dreams of hip-hop stardom. He takes his nom-de-gangsta, MC Gusto, from a local criminal (Charlie Murphy) and starts a group called CB4 with his buddies Euripides and Otis, who come to be known by the (brilliant) aliases of Dead Mike and Stabmaster Arson. It’s a pitch-perfect parody of NWA (with Rock as Gusto strongly resembling Eazy-E), among many other groups and stars of the time, but made by people who genuinely love music. Chris Rock wrote it with cultural critic Nelson George, and the director, Tamra Davis (BILLY MADISON, HALF BAKED) made plenty of music videos for big names — not to mention married Mike D from the Beastie Boys. So this isn’t the kind of SCARY MOVIE junk spoof that favors pratfalls over sharp satire — the best parody comes from familiarity with your targets. It’s even better when you kid with love. This was Chris Rock’s first starring role, and he brought along an incredible cast which includes Chris Elliott, Khandi Alexander, Richard Gant, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Rachel True, Tommy Davidson, Halle Berry, Eazy-E himself, Isaac Hayes, and the great Phil Hartman.
CB4 screens tonight at 92Y Tribeca. Journalist Touré will moderate a Q&A afterwards featuring Tamra Davis, Nelson George, producer Sean Daniel, and a secret surprise guest. (I’d put even odds on it being Chris Rock or Chris Elliott.)
WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? (1957, d. Frank Tashlin) is a satirical romp starring Tony Randall (GREMLINS 2), Joan Blondell, and the geometrically impossible Jayne Mansfield, a favorite of director Frank Tashlin, who started out as an animator with Warner Brothers. Tashlin’s movies, including the many he made with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, were like live-action cartoons. Along with Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield was Tashlin’s most perfect muse. ROCK HUNTER is actually one of the Tashlins I haven’t yet managed to see, but with all that and a cameo from Groucho Marx, I can’t wait to catch up with it.
WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? is playing all weekend and into next week at Film Forum.
HOUSE OF BAMBOO is another movie I haven’t seen, but it looks incredible. Sam Fuller directing Robert Ryan? Come on!!! Here’s what Film Forum writes on their site:
HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955, d. Samuel Fuller) “A wounded man is immediately killed” is pachinko kingpin Robert Ryan’s ironclad law for his gang of dishonorably discharged ex-servicemen — so why doesn’t Ryan waste echt Ugly American recent recruit Robert Stack, after he takes a bullet during a Tokyo Bay heist? Ryan’s erstwhile ichibanCameron Mitchell’s hysterical outbursts make it clear he wants to know. But Stack is already romancing, first as a blind and then for real, henchman’s widow Shirley Yamaguchi (so often the “Chinese” girl in wartime propaganda movies, she had to prove Japanese parentage to beat postwar treason charges), who introduces a very Japanese variation on the “walls of Jericho” from It Happened One Night. A favorite of Godard and the Cahiers crowd, Sam Fuller’s very free remake of The Street with No Name was the very first CinemaScope and color picture shot on location in Japan, with a rooftop Kabuki rehearsal; a surreptitious meeting at the Great Buddha of Kamakura; a glimpse of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lost masterpiece The Imperial Hotel (demolished 1968); water spouting from a standing bath as a suspected stoolie is riddled with lead; and a showdown atop a department store’s revolving globe. Approx. 102 min. DCP.
CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND (1967, d. Alfred Vohrer) is yet another movie I haven’t seen, but see if you’re like me in that reading Spectacle Theater‘s description of the movie makes you want to see it immediately…
The proto-giallo classic in its original, uncut German-language version!
Klaus Kinski stars twice-over as a pair of possibly evil twins, one of whom— but which?— has recently escaped from an institution for the criminally insane. Coincidentally, a mysterious caped killer begins stalking his estate, clutching victims one-by-one in the grip of its BLUE STEEL CLAW!
Director Alfred Vohrer is perhaps the greatest, and certainly one of the most prolific, practitioners of the krimi film, which became the primary influence on the giallo explosion. Creature with the Blue Hand is adapted from the work of Edgar Wallace and full of byzantine twists and insane red herrings while being just as lurid and Gothic as its Italian progeny.
In the U.S., it became a cult favorite though late-night television broadcast in the 1970s, dubbed into English and alternately chopped for violence or padded out with additional gore from unrelated movies. This evening we present the full, untouched German-language version, which totally slays.
RESERVOIR DOGS is Quentin Tarantino’s first job as director. You may have heard of this movie before. But even if you’ve seen it hundreds of times already, I’m betting there are some of you who haven’t yet seen it with a packed house up on the big screen. You should definitely do that.
RESERVOIR DOGS is the midnight movie at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962, d. John Ford) is essential. It’s essential as a work of storytelling art. It’s essential as cinematic text. It’s an essential piece of the careers of its stars, and of that of its director. This film came towards the end of John Ford’s directing career, and it’s the second-to-last he made with John Wayne. (DONOVAN’S REEF, a lark, was their final collaboration.) This one has incredible symbolic power. Without getting into a more fraught conversation about offscreen politics, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are two of the stars in cinema history who most clearly represent America. Wayne was the pioneering, swaggering, boistrous side of America, and Stewart was a more relatable, emotional, idealistic, and valiant side. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is where these two visions of America collide, and where they end. This movie is almost exactly the midpoint of American movies. It’s an explosive elegy for the great films of the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s. From here, the 1960s dawned, and America changed.
The genius of this film is how it is about all of these things even while providing a terrific story. The way that the film is bookended by scenes that take place in the character’s old age certainly confirms the historical reading of the film, but it’s certainly also possible to enjoy the film as a purely commercial old-school Western. Stewart plays a lawyer whose Arrival in a frontier town called Shinbone begins with a brutal assault by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin!), the guy in the title. He’s rescued by the Wayne character, the only man around who isn’t afeared of Liberty Valance. What follows is nothing less than a battle between civilization and frontier justice. Wayne wants to deal with the outlaw gang in the most effective way, while Stewart argues for the more democratic solution. On top of that, both Wayne and Stewart are in love with the same girl (Vera Miles, best known to younger generations for her role in PSYCHO). This movie has an incredible cast, including Ford stock players such as John Qualen and Andy Devine, and Woody Strode and Edmond O’Brien on the side of goodness and decency, and Strother Martin and Lee Motherfucking Van Cleef on the side of lawlessness and nasty-actin’.
And then there’s Lee Marvin, patron saint of shitkickers, who from this role graduated to leading-man parts. He played heels and heavies for years before playing this, quite possibly the nastiest of them all (although he’s pretty fucking ugly in THE BIG HEAT). Lee being Lee, he continued to play bad men, but they were a more likable breed. This was arguably his last straight-up villainous role. After this definitive bad-guy, there was no way to deny that Lee was not on the iconic level of a John Wayne, rather than playing support to him, which is why their next movie, DONOVAN’S REEF, literally isn’t much more than a series of epic slugfests between the two of them.
This movie is necessary in every way. It’s a virtual textbook of masculinity, it’s a profound statement on history and mortality, and it represents some of the best work of all of its bold-faced participants. Fail to see it and fail to have your opinions on film taken seriously.
THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is playing Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend at IFC Center.
PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971, d. Clint Eastwood) is Clint’s first film as director. The first surprise is the logline: A FATAL ATTRACTION style thriller about a radio DJ (Clint) who is stalked by an obsessed fan (Jessica Walter, now best known as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development!) That’s a long way from the Westerns for which Clint was then and is now still best known. In PLAY MISTY FOR ME, Clint took a script written by a woman, Jo Heims (although Clint later had Dean Riesner, of DIRTY HARRY and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER fame, do some work on it), and essentially cast himself in the role of the victim. It’s fucking fascinating. Here is the definitive macho screen icon, choosing to play the traditionally female role. Usually the psycho-killer is a man, and the pretty victim he’s obsessed with is a woman. Here that paradigm is flipped. Clint as Janet Leigh, Clint as Jamie Lee Curtis, and so on — this film exists in conversation with the thrillers of the past and the thrillers which at that point were yet to come. And of course it’s personal. Clint sets the movie in his beloved Carmel and casts himself as a jazz DJ. Those are personal touches. The vibrant cinematography is by Eastwood & Siegel regular Bruce Surtees. That alone is worth the watch, even if you don’t agree with my championing of Clint’s work here. I can see how another point of view might look at the villainization of Jessica Walter’s character as somehow less than feminist, but I don’t agree. I think Clint is at the very least trying out some big ideas here, and whether or not you agree that he hit the target, it sure was a bold swing to make right out of the gate, accurately predicting the brilliant four-decade-long-and-counting directorial career that was to follow.
Keep an eye out for the extended cameo by Clint’s mentor and DIRTY HARRY director Don Siegel — he’s really good in the part!
PLAY MISTY FOR ME is another midnight movie this weekend at the very busy IFC Center.
[[cold shivers]] Woof. Rough note to end on. Just typing the title of this movie makes me flash back to certain images that I just plain don’t want to think about. THE SHINING is psychological horror of the first degree. There’s an unnatural yet deliberate pacing to every frame that sets this movie apart from all movies of similar ambition. Its creeping dread is methodical, unsentimental, and unstoppable. Stephen King reportedly has some issues with how Stanley Kubrick adapted to screen his novel of THE SHINING, but it would take someone on that level of pop-cultural importance to be able to question a Stanley Kubrick movie. I’m sure as hell not going to. I love Stephen King, but I also love what Stanley Kubrick did with THE SHINING. Actually, I don’t exactly love it. It freaks me the fuck out! But there’s no list of essential horror films that could conceivably be complete without it.
THE SHINING is something of a perennial on the late-night circuit here in New York, so this is hardly your last chance to catch it. However, I suspect IFC Center is running it now because they are currently running ROOM 237 , the new documentary about conflicting interpretations of THE SHINING. So make it a double-feature!
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