Like many of you, Katie and I have followed news about the Coronavirus with nervous interest. We hoped that public enjoyment of the art form we love so much could continue unabated this spring. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
With COVID-19 testing in the U.S. still limited at best, there is no way for most people to know whether or not they are infected. Consequently, the only responsible policy is to encourage social distancing until more is known. Ethically, we cannot recommend that anyone attend public gatherings at this time — not as an expression of fear, but of sensible caution.
Soon, we hope to recommend film events we can all see together once again. In the meantime, we will explore other ways to advocate great films during these difficult days. We’re not leaving you — please don’t leave us!
We know all too well that the movie theaters Marquee regularly champions will be taking a financial hit over the coming weeks, whether they choose to close or keep the show going. The short-term future is uncertain for freelancers, gig workers, and hourly earners, which includes many theater employees. If you are able, please consider buying a membership or donating to any of your favorite venues and organizations. Below are some that have donation options, membership or subscription plans, or merchandise. Let us know if and when you see others so we can update.
We’ve been waiting for this! One of the highlights of Noir City: Hollywood — The 22nd Annual Los Angeles Festival of Film Noir is this program, which begins with Fritz Lang’s moral thriller M before rolling through two remakes. In the original, Peter Lorre plays a child murderer whose reign of terror leads to a police crackdown on all manner of criminal activity in Berlin — so the underworld goes in search of the killer to protect their own interests.
Lang’s movie is programmed often; Joseph Losey’s L.A.-set 1951 version is not. Losey shot almost entirely in the now-bulldozed Bunker Hill neighborhood; his remake was released just before he fled HUAC questioning to set up shop overseas for the remainder of his career. It goes without saying that Lang’s original version is the gold standard; it’s one of the greats, period. But Losey’s movie has wonderful flourishes, an excellent performance by David Wayne as the elusive killer, and a view of Bunker Hill that you can’t get anywhere else. The Argentine El Vampiro Negro, which is recently restored, is an even more rarely seen revamp of Lang’s masterpiece.
When DNA from SNL is vat-incubated into a full-length movie, the source material is typically a marquee character or concept: Wayne’s World or Coneheads. And then there’s MacGruber, which began as absurd minute-long SNL gags which granted star Will Forte license to blow up stuff (and himself). The movie version couldn’t possibly rely on the sketch concept, because the sketches were too rudimentary to inflate to feature length. Rather, as critic Amy Nicholson wrote for Rolling Stone, “movie MacGruber is more like the macho men of the 1980s, who pumped up America to get over the pain of the Vietnam War and convinced us we were winners.” It’s a gleeful demolition of every puffed-up, ‘roided-out action movie myth.
MacGruber only gets better with age, and its early niche audience has steadily expanded. This screening will be followed by an extended Q&A with stars Will Forte and Ryan Phillippe; co-writer John Solomon; and writer/director Jorma Taccone. Tickets on sale March 5.
In the frontier-America-set First Cow, a cook played by John Magaro tenderly examines a forest mushroom, almost talking to it, as he collects ingredients for his next meal. It’s a moment among a dozen distinctive and delicious others in Kelly’s Reichardt’s new movie that makes cinema feel like a salve for wounds you didn’t know you had.
March 9, 7:00 PM – The Michelle and Kevin Douglas IMAX Theatre, USC
Spanish-American horror productions of the ’80s look familiar enough but feel like queasy dreams. Populated with casts drawn from Europe and the US, they feature exterior locations shot in the States and interior work done on Spanish stages. Violent and odd, these movies feel like viciously broken reflections of home. Pieces is the most notorious example, thanks to the U.K.’s Video Nasty controversy. Edge of the Axe is more moody and strange and in many ways a better slasher movie. It was also, for a long time, fairly difficult to see. A surprise slot at the New Beverly’s recent all-night Halloween marathon, and a restoration by Arrow Video, have put it back on the map. This is a presentation of Arrow’s restoration.
The Billy Wilder screens Alice Wu’s feature debut as part of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center 50th Anniversary Film Festival, which also includes a 35mm screening of Justin Lin’s debut Better Luck Tomorrowon March 7. Unlike Lin, who went on to make a bunch of Fast & Furious movies, Wu is just finishing her second feature now, 16 years later. Saving Face is a generational rom-com, with Michelle Krusiec and Joan Chen starring as a gay woman and her traditional mother, respectively, who spar over their respective relationships… or lack thereof.
Diao Yinan’s 2014 movie Black Coal, Thin Ice deserves to be mentioned alongside cynical and world-weary modern detective exemplars like Zodiac and Memories of Murder. If the director’s gangster movie The Wild Goose Lake is not quite as strong, it has a commitment to pulpy violence and bluntly coded political commentary, and a blurry-beautiful nighttime visual palette shot by Dong Jinsong, who also captured gorgeous images for Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
Thanks to the New Beverly, you can often see Quentin Tarantino’s best movie on 35mm, but to catch it as part of a double making up the Ray Nicolette Shared Universe? That’s a great night out. The real draw here is a 35mm screening of Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, which still plays like classical Hollywood cinema filtered through the early ’90s American indie movement. Michael Keaton’s cameo in Out of Sight, reprising his role as Nicolette from Jackie Brown, is a nice bonus. This double feature is part of the Aero’s series Women Film Editors: An Assembly. The late Sally Menke ran the Steenbeck for Jackie Brown, while Anne V. Coates (who also edited The Elephant Man and Lawrence of Arabia, among many other movies) cut Out of Sight.
A car accident turns the life of young Mary Henry, played by Candace Hilligoss, into a gauzy delirium in this low-budget ultra-independent horror movie. Actually, calling Carnival of Souls “horror” is insufficient to capture what makes the production so special. As Mary fends off the attention of men both corporeal and spectral, the jittery, detached performance from Hilligoss turns the movie into an uncanny social commentary. Hosted by TCM’s Alica Malone.
Actor Song Kang-ho — best known for starring in Bong Joon-ho films such as Parasite — here plays an uncanny, sympathetic and, uh, super hot Catholic priest who becomes a vampire. Oldboy director Park Chan-wook is behind Thirst, which is a constantly surprising, sometimes salacious horror story turned love triangle which flirts with familiar vampire tropes before warping them into unfamiliar shapes.
Artisan Entertainment encouraged people to believe the original Blair Witch Project was an actual documentary. Naturally, some people bought it. That annoyed documentarian Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost), who pitched a sequel about obsessive fans who descend into madness while touring Blair Witch locations. Artisan greenlit the movie but ultimately wasn’t happy with Berlinger’s submitted edit, which interrogated and even mocked the company’s cash cow. A post-production battle turned Book of Shadows into a purgatorial project, which was finally gussied up with extra violence. Despite the fact that the end result is clearly compromised, the original shape of Berlinger’s intended movie is still visible, and Blair Witch 2 is a good cautionary tale about the value of having final cut.
It is remarkable that this — a realistic working-class movie starring Ernest Borgnine as a romantic lead — would ever be as successful as it was at the box office (and the Oscars). But the unfussy Marty, which observes the title character as he reconciles his desire for happiness with the jealousy and judgment of friends and family, is a unique movie. It’s one of the best-ever Best Picture winners, a small, lovingly crafted delight.
dir. Kent MacKenzie / Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers, Joseph Strick
January 23, 7:30 PM – Billy Wilder Theater
We’ve discussed The Exiles before (way back in the summer of 2018) and will recommend it once again: a documentary/narrative hybrid featuring non-professional Native American actors, focused on the community in L.A.’s now-demolished Bunker Hill neighborhood. This dreamy and somewhat surreal nighttime trek through a part of the city that no longer exists is one of the most significant Los Angeles independent movies. It is well paired with The Savage Eye, another hybrid that uses the story of a recently divorced woman to explore currents of urban isolation and disenchantment.
John Carpenter’s Stephen King adaptation, about a high school kid (Keith Gordon) locked in an abusive relationship with his car, is basically a perfect midnight movie. Gordon undergoes a full transformation from terminally shy geek to cocky d-bag as he is empowered by his car’s supernatural ability to enable his teen fantasies.
One of the best aspects of this year’s Oscar nominations is the attention given to this Best Documentary Feature nominee. Honeyland follows an elderly keeper of wild bees in Macedonia as she deals with changes in an environment that had long been static. Filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov do not speak Turkish, the primary language of their subjects; while they did gradually translate the dialogue in footage captured over the course of several years, they crafted Honeyland as a largely visual narrative.
This New Year begins with a collection of new film venues. In our last newsletter, we mentioned that the Laemmle Music Hall is now Lumiere Cinema at the Music Hall; it’s the same location, with new independent operators. Their website is a work in progress, but the programming is already in full swing, with a collection of adventurous independent and international cinema. Craig Hammill, who has been programming 35mm screenings at the Vista Theatre for the last couple years, is opening his own space in the Arts District. The Club is a 99-seat theater and arts space. Preview shows take place through January before a proper opening in February. And the old Cinefamily space has been rebranded and reopened as Fairfax Cinema. Given that the current operators have ties to the ignominiously-closed Cinefamily, we’re curious to see how this new space plans to rebuild a sense of community.
Most notably, Maggie Mackay is fundraising for the new Vidiots theater located at the former Eagle Theatre in Eagle Rock. A fall 2020 opening is planned for the space, which will encompass a 200+ seat primary theater with 35mm and DCP capability, a 50-seat screening/event space, a video rental store housing the full Vidiots collection, and a beer and wine bar.
WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (2001)
dir. Tsai Ming-liang
January 9, 7:30 PM
James Bridges Theater
Few filmmakers truly engage the irony that filmmaking — a collaborative endeavor best seen in a communal atmosphere — is a wonderful means to explore quiet isolation and loneliness. Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, who earned international festival fame with this hymn of romantic yearning, is among those who gets it on a fundamental level. Lee Kang-sheng, the director’s leading man in all his feature endeavors, plays a street vendor who sells watches; a brief encounter with a woman en route to Paris leads the vendor to express his longing by setting watches and clocks to Paris time.
All of which sounds almost impossibly twee, but Tsai’s films do not traffic in idealized wish fulfillment. What Time Is it There? is patient and sensitive, but not sentimental. When the characters assuage their desires with stand-in sex, their intimate moments are unvarnished and raw. We always love to see Tsai’s films programmed on the big screen; this one is free, making it an easy pick for one of the best cinematic events in L.A. this month.
Exiled American filmmaker Joseph Losey, who left Hollywood in 1951 following his tangle with the House Un-American Activities Committee, made two fairly astounding movies with Elizabeth Taylor in 1968. “Astounding” in the sense of “I can’t believe these exist.” Like many of Losey’s films, they’re off-kilter, disreputable, and honest all at once. Boom!, scripted by Tennessee Williams based on his own play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” is high camp. John Waters loves the movie; he has called it “beautiful, atrocious, and perfect.” The decadent, proto-goth psycho-sexual morass of Secret Ceremony, in which Taylor’s character becomes a surrogate mother to a young woman (and ultimately her avenger), is more difficult to reckon with — and possibly more rewarding.
SPRING NIGHT, SUMMER NIGHT (1967) / IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHTS (2020)
dir. J.L. Anderson / Ross Lipman
January 10, 7:30 PM — Billy Wilder Theater
In denial of their stifled lives in a depressed Ohio mining town, half-siblings Carl and Jessie have an illicit encounter which ultimately defines their futures. Nonprofessional actors and documentary-style filmmaking lend Spring Night, Summer Night an unaffected honesty. Director J.L. Anderson intended this first feature as an American Neorealist effort to match post-war Italian films like Umberto D. He succeeded incredibly well. Once slated to debut at the New York Film Festival, Spring Night, Summer Night was bumped from the festival program. It was recut with explicit new footage, released as the exploitation film Miss Jessica Is Pregnant, and all but forgotten — until Peter Conheim worked to restore the film with help from Nicolas Winding Refn. That history is chronicled in the short In the Middle of the Nights, which runs after the feature.
While Deliverance — John Boorman’s story of Atlanta city boys who encounter a backwoods nightmare — is notorious for its provocations, some of its extreme actions undermine the best efforts from the cast and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright, however, is far more than Deliverance‘s Australian prototype. Schoolteacher John Grant is stranded in a remote Outback mining town, where his middle-class ambitions prove to be inadequate preparation for a collision with the locals. It is one of the most harrowing depictions of primal masculinity ever put to film, and the framework for a tour de force performance from Donald Pleasence.
dir. Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert, and Farihah Zaman
January 15-17 — Lumiere Cinema
Food fosters community in this fiction-documentary hybrid which comes from the reliably thoughtful online film magazine Reverse Shot. What begins as the dramatic story of a dinner party thrown under a heavy cloud of grief turns into a documentary about an upstate New York farm. Feast of the Epiphany is experimental in the sense that it isn’t bound by any typical form or convention.
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All of these movies are better than Cats
SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927)
dir. F.W. Murnau
January 26, 7:00 PM at Walt Disney Concert Hall
All silent films that still get regular play are landmarks. Their continued existence implies a concerted effort to preserve the movies; meanwhile, the great bulk of films from the silent era were allowed to crumble to dust or suffered a fiery end.
With that said, Sunrise is truly something else. This drama from Faust and Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau tells an elemental story, in which a man plots an act of heinous violence as part of a plan to leave his wife and child for another woman. George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor are exceptional as the man and wife, but the true stars may be cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss, whose camerawork achieves gliding, haunted movements unmatched in the era. Their work makes Sunrise the most approachable silent drama for audiences unaccustomed to the first wave of narrative film. Plays with a new score by House of Cards composer Jeff Beal, written for choir and chamber orchestra.
Once a fashion model, then an activist, 75-year old Benedetta Barzini wants nothing more than to escape from every expectation draped on her shoulders. Benedetta wants to disappear. Thus: Is this the most relatable movie of 2019? Her son, director Beniamino Barrese, documents her history, filming her planned departure from society, and negotiates his own separation from Barzini as an act of familial understanding. Plays at the newly rebranded Lumiere Cinema, which is the new venture that opened at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills after Laemmle moved out last month.
THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937) / THEODORA GOES WILD (1936)
dir. Leo McCarey / Richard Boleslawski
December 27, 7:30 PM
at the Aero Theatre
End the year with Leo McCarey’s near-perfect screwball comedy about a couple (Irene Dunne and Cary Grant) whose divorce isn’t as permanent as they expect it to be. Ostensibly based on Arthur Richman’s play of the same name, director Leo McCarey worked with Viña and Eugene Delmar on a script that jettisoned most of the play’s material — and then McCarey reportedly chucked the Delmars’ work in favor of his own script, which deviated even further. Regardless of how it went down, the result is a richly funny screenplay that gives Dunne, Grant, and co-stars Cecil Cunningham, Ralph Bellamy, Esther Dale, and Joyce Compton some of the best lines in any comedy of the era, while McCarey gave the cast room to improvise their own material, too.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s chamber drama has been added to the Egyptian’s holiday repertoire of 70mm epics. Daniel Day-Lewis’s emotionally volatile dressmaker can easily out-tantrum the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is also playing in the series. Meanwhile, we know that Phantom’s canny and ambitious characters played by Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville can easily stand up against the other titans in this program, Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, and Barbara Streisand’s matchmaker Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!. 70mm | INFO + TICKETS
THE FAREWELL (2019)
dir. Lulu Wang
January 3, 7:30 PM at the Aero Theatre
The specific proves universal yet again in Lulu Wang’s exceptional dramedy. The Farewell lifts the curtain on what, for many audiences, is a fresh cultural insight into Chinese family life. Awkwafina deserves all the acclaim she’s collected since the film debuted at Sundance earlier this year, and Zhao Shuzhen — who plays her nai nai — is an international treasure. This screening is followed by a Q&A with Wang. DCP | INFO + TICKETS
SAFE IN HELL (1931) / PARTY HUSBAND (1931)
dir. William A. Wellman / Clarence Badger
January 3, 7:30 PM at the Billy Wilder Theater
In William Wyler’s grimy and tawdry pre-code drama Safe in Hell, a sex worker played by Dorothy Mackaill flees New Orleans for a Caribbean island where (she thinks) she can take refuge from the specter of violence in her recent past. The film’s title should be a good indicator that things don’t go that way. Mackaill’s character is the only woman on the island and confronts, as one writer notes, “the slimiest cast of characters ever seen in a studio film.” If you think of pre-code movies as fizzy indulgences in excess, this one will be an eye-opener. 35mm | INFO + TICKETS
FANTASTIC PLANET (1973)
dir. René Laloux
January 10, 11:59 PM
at the Nuart Theatre
Oh, you think Cats is insane? (You’re right, it is.) This psychedelic French animation, rendered in a mix of watercolor and colored pencil, truly exists on the outer realms of WTF-ery. Fantastic Planet imagines a world of blue aliens who tower over the (comparatively) hamster-sized humans they keep as pets. “I was just a living plaything that sometimes dares to rebel,” says Terr, the narrator, who grows from infancy to adulthood while kept as a living toy — and then manages to escape into a dangerous life of liberty. This willfully bizarre allegory argues for animal rights, civil rights, intellectual freedom, and probably a few other things as well. DCP | INFO + TICKETS