Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More nights with Edgar Wright at the New Beverly

I recently wrote about English director Edgar Wright's awesome eight night "take over" [his words] of the New Beverly cinema in a couple of earlier posts covering the epic binge of Los Angeles movies and movie related history a friend and I went on during his visit. Too fun a series to leave to just those posts, here's the details of the other four nights of the "Wright Stuff III" that I also attended. To refresh just what the "Wright Stuff III" is even though I wrote a description of it here, all eight nights of the series are double features that Wright has never seen. All shown with film prints and with guest speakers to announce and talk about the films with Edgar before and after they screen. It really was a terrific idea.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg/Chungking Express. The only bad thing about this double-bill was I forgot to get a photo of the marquee. Blame it on the rainy weather that inspired Sarah and I to head right to the ticket window instead of loitering outside. Having a crisp, rainy night was actually perfect weather for these two romance drenched films. First up was the 1964 French musical from director Jacques Demy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Introduced by Mad Men writer/producer Matthew Wiener, the former Jeopardy contestant [something I didn't know until he mentioned it] talked eloquently about not only the film, but about culture, the 1960s, the French and the undeniable star power of the female lead, Catherine Deneuve. Edgar mentioned that his parents saw this film while on a date and then had the horrible vision of his parents "doing it" which wasn't as bad for the rest of the audience since we've never met his mom and dad. If you aren't familiar with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, every line of dialogue is sung throughout the entire film. The moments where the movie is completely silent is so rare, when it happens, it is quite jarring on the viewer to have unexpected quiet in a film with non-stop music. The film is a celebration of romance and "French" essence and has a beautiful, bittersweet ending that rates up there with best endings in a French movie for me.

While I looked forward to seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with a film print and an audience, it was Chungking Express, a 1994 picture from Hong Kong's Wong Kar Wei that really got me to the New Beverly on this night. The last time I saw this was in the mid-1990s on a crappy 18" television. It might have even been on VHS. Not tonight. Introduced by Super director James Gunn [on a previous night John Landis commented that Gunn called his film Super just so he could place the title and the word "director" before any introduction of himself. Landis said he was going to make a movie called Handsome Genius for his future introductions.] in one of the shorter intros of the festival, I was ready to just get to the over-the-top, kinetic visuals of Wong Kar Wei and see Chungking Express again. I love this movie. Dazzling, romantic, saturated colors, repeated use of music--all of Wong Kar Wei's trademarks are here with dashes of comedy thrown into the mix. Non-stop fun.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance/Ride the High Country. I'm a western lover. It is the quintessential genre for "American" storytelling that is completely unique to us as a nation and people. It's the one and only genre that is instantly recognizable as "American" and its popularity in the Golden Age of Hollywood cemented its popularity with the masses. I'm one of those people who gets kind of depressed that I don't get to see new westerns every single year. Luckily, there are so many from the past, but new ones would sure be great from time to time. This night saw two of the genres best directors in a double bill with releases from the same year of 1962: John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. When you think about westerns, the names Ford and Peckinpah should be the first ones to pop out of your mouth, so this double bill was highly anticipated by me.

Writer/director Peter Bogdanovich held court for about 40 minutes before The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Who better than Bogdanovich to talk about Ford since he knew him well and made a documentary and wrote a book about him. A born racanteur, Bogdanovich told stories [which included spot-on impressions] that included Ford, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, James Cagney, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. I could have listened to more of those stories for another hour and still watched the two films that followed. Bogdanovich called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Ford's last great western and it sure is that. I've seen it before, but with an packed house, this film plays incredible. Funny, tense and darkly heroic, the crowd really ate this movie up. Lee Marvin plays a wonderful villain, brimming with the threat of violence. If you want to see a bad guy in a movie played to full-tilt with raging menace, check out Marvin's performance in this. Incredible.

Ride the High Country is Sam Peckinpah's second film as a director and another one that gets a lot better when you watch it on the screen with other people. This is the second time I've seen Ride the High Country and the same two things stood out to me while I watched it: I sure love Warren Oates and Randolph Scott is awesome in a western setting playing a bad guy. It's hard not to watch Scott on the screen as he just has that "it" that certain movie stars have. That makes it all the more surprising that Ride the High Country is Scott's last film. Sadly, as he retired from acting at the age of 64. How I wish I could see more westerns!

To Be or Not to Be/The Bad News Bears. There were other nights I was happy to head over to the New Beverly to watch a double feature [when all was said and done, I was there for six of the eight nights], but this one was special for one reason: The Bad News Bears. While I enjoyed the screening of Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 comedy To Be or Not to Be [and Joe Donte and Leonard Maltin's serious introduction--see photo of Maltin, Dante and Wright on left], I was here to see the beloved 1976 comedy with a film print and an eager audience. It did not disappoint me at all. Comedian Doug Bensen, screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and Wright were responsible for the intro [with some help from an e-mail from the Coen Brothers who say this is one of the influential films responsible for them that inspired them to make movies]. I think The Bad News Bears has gotten better with every passing year. As pointed out by Karaszewski, this is an adult movie about kids--real kids--and is not afraid to show the darker elements of human nature on display. This is a 1970s PG film with cursing, drinking, smoking, racial epitaphs and all kinds of things that were sanitized out of the horrendous remake a few years ago. PG in 1976 is a lot better than PG in 2011, that's for sure. I skipped the LACMA live read of The Princess Bride to see The Bad News Bears again and it was worth it. In fact, there is not a place on earth I'd rather have been on this night than watching this movie, with this audience, in Los Angeles, such is my love for The Bad News Bears. I honestly think that Michael Ritchie's film should go down as not only one of the best comedies of all time, this is one of the best movies of all time and it should get its due!

Hickey and Boggs. Tonight was the last night of the "Wright Stuff III" and while I'm a little sad its ending, I could use the rest. I was actually under the weather and only watched the first film of the double bill due to that. It will be nice to catch up on my sleep and take a few days off from eating Junior Mints and Red Vines [my candy of choice at the New Beverly]. I'd never seen Hickey and Boggs, which is kind of nuts because I really love Walter Hill and 1970s movies, so this was a good one to start off the last night. Introducing this one was the film's writer, Walter Hill himself. I'm a long-time fan of Hill's tough, lean, no-bullsh*t directing style [The Long Riders, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, plus many others], so it was a real treat to hear him talk about his writing spare writing style and tell some stories about the 1972 film Hickey and Boggs. Hill as a speaker is kind of like the scripts he's penned--unflowery, speckled with curse words, tough. Hill's just a cinematic bad-ass even at the age of 69. He's got a movie coming out next year called Bullet to the Head just to prove how bad-ass he is.

Hickey and Boggs is a bleak neo-noir set in sunny Los Angeles [I could write about this in my "Los Angeles Cinema" series as this is a quintessential Los Angeles movie] that stars Robert Culp [he also directs] and Bill Cosby. I'm so ruined by the image of Cosby due to the fact of his TV show from the 1980s and his image since then. In 1972, he was a cigar chomping, wisecracking, skinny actor who belongs as much in the dark material of this film as he would later destroy all competition as a mainstream sitcom juggernaut. I like this side of Cosby more. Here's a blurry photo of Edgar and Mr. Walter Hill to end the festivities that was the "Wright Stuff III." Even though it just ended, I'm ready for part IV!


Windswept Pacific said...

Matthew Weiner was a real highlight. He really know his stuff and made me appreciate Umbrellas, though I can't say I really loved that movie...

puffer @ digital lofi said...

So glad to see Bad New Bears working its way up the list of great American movies. I was 10 or 11 when I saw it for the first time, during its initial theatrical release and I cannot express how profound an effect it had on me, probably both positive and negative. Not only was it a constant topic among my agemates —we would talk about our favorite parts endlessly— but it has stayed with me as only a few other films from my childhood have. Every time I've revisited it subsequently I'm reminded how great it is. Yes, it is outwardly very funny. Yes, it is an underdog saga that is unafraid to state what most of know, that heart and plunk doesn't always prevail with outward victories (when's the last time you saw a movie do that?). But a greater understated examination of family and striving in America, seen through the lens of the kids who suffer for failed ambition. I can without hesitation state it is among what I consider the best movies ever made, top 5 or 10. I'm a envious of you all who got to see a full 35mm print on a large screen with a full audience. They really don't make movies like this any more.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I liked it a lot more the second time I saw it and as I said in the post--the ending is terrific.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Puffer: You are dead right regarding Bad News Bears. It works on all those levels and feels just as fresh and authentic today as it did in the 1970s. The remake was a woeful, empty attempt to recapture the magic that was Michael Ritchie's film.