onceupon a time in the westtvln06-17-08Don’t forget, centered around Westwood the Los Angeles Film Festival is starting this week and runs for ten days until the closing gala on 28th (Hellboy II). There’s up to 170 separate films showing, so surely you can find something of interest. If not, there’s always these:

Fri 20 at 7.30: Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)

Sergio Leone honed his craft with the Dollars trilogy before spreading his operatic wings with an intimate epic as grand(iose) as its title. The hypnotic opening gives way to a sudden violence that will erupt regularly throughout the film, against a backdrop of civilization’s westward advance via the railroad. Henry Fonda’s baby blues glint with pure evil for once, Charles Bronson is the voiceless “Harmonica” on a quest of his own, and Jason Robards plays the (wily) fool. They are all drawn to Claudia Cardinale’s widow, holding onto her land ’til the railroad comes, and the tangle of relationships, the inexorable passage of time and progress, and the bravura film-making add up to a masterpiece, accompanied by one of Ennio Morricone’s finest score.

Wed 25 at 8.00: The Bird Man of Alcatraz (1961)

Burt Lancaster tends not to get a great deal of credit as an actor. With his infectious grin and easy manner, his performance in Sweet Smell Of Success is often cited as a surprise, but his work here is far more subtle and ambiguous as he plays true-life convicted double murderer Robert Franklin Stroud. Stroud kept birds in prison (tho not Alcatraz, in fact), studied them, then wrote papers on them, all the while fighting for his right to do so. With unassailable dignity, Lancaster carries to perfection this quiet but compelling film, and the ending is as bleak as that other Lancaster gem, The Swimmer.

Mon 23 at 7.30: Reds (1981)

The three-hour Reds was a surprising film from Warren Beatty, adapting the life of communist American journalist John Reed and his account of the Russian October revolution, Ten Days That Shook The World. What’s most surprising is that it’s really good and that the talking head “witnesses” (the most notable being a very old Henry Miller) are perfectly integrated with the retold story, centring on Beatty as Reed and Diane Keaton as his lover and fellow traveler Louise Bryant. The cast is well fleshed-out by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Jerzy Kosinski and M. Emmet Walsh, and fiery communist English playwright Trevor Griffiths co-authored with Beatty (with uncredited help from Elaine May, which is always good).

Fri 20 at 7.30: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) / Hail the Conquering Hero (1943)

Two great movies from the great Preston Sturges. In the first, he manages to contrive the whole plot about a young woman’s one night stand with any one of six soldier, and the much-heralded advent of the resulting sextuplets. In the latter, puny Eddie Bracken, rejected by the army because of hay fever, is steamrollered by a bunch of soldiers into returning home in uniform as a hero. He has no control over the situation from the get-go, and things spiral more crazily from there. Sturges’s movies are crammed full of incident, their frames crammed full of people, and the script crammed full of funny business for the whole cast; the stock company is on fine form in both movies, and a great time is guaranteed. (plus, that Sturges managed to pass off such wickedly satirical scripts right in the middle of the war is extraordinary).

gildatvln06-17-08Sat 21 at 1.00pm: Gilda (1946)

Ravishing Rita Hayworth and brooding, sulky Glenn Ford exchange barbs whilst falling for each other hard in a South American night club. Her husband’s the problem. Tough, exotic, sexy, exciting, and that’s just Rita, who’s a bad, bad girl – “If I were a ranch they’d have named me the Bar None” – and shows just how to sing like you’re stripping.

The Hammer and various other venues around Westwood:Thu 19 – Sun 29: Los Angeles Film Festival

With films, shorts, documentaries, cartoons, music videos etc, a Shaw brothers tribute, free screenings, Ford Amphitheatre screenings, special screenings like The Lost Boys (with sneak preview of The Lost Boys 2) and a swear-along Scarface, you’ve really no excuse not to check it out.

Fri 13 at 7.30: War and Peace pts 1 & 2 (1963-5)

Sat 14 at 7.30: War and Peace pts 3 & 4 (1963-5)

Sergei Bondarchuk’s massive 70mm, 7-hour epic, never until recently seen in complete form outside Russia, is split over two indulgent evenings at LACMA. With a cast of thousands, sumptuous art direction, exhilarating camera work and a story that attempts to say it all, it should quite an impressive experience. That it won the best foreign film oscar during the cold war deep freeze is some testament to its achievements. The appalling dubbing of versions previously available in the west has finally been replaced with subtitles and the original Russian soundtrack. Hooray!

Tue 24 at 1.00pm: The Big Sky (1952)

Epic Howard Hawks western with Kirk Douglas as a woodsy fur trapper encountering numerous problems as his motley band proceed into uncharted Blackfoot territory to trade with the natives. The familiar professional camaraderie is there, but doesn’t sparkle as much as in Hawks’ movies with Wayne (Douglas is always a lone wolf), and if the tone is a touch Saturday matinee, the characteristically relaxed structure carry things nicely, there’s a surprisingly harsh scene around the campfire, and Big Sky itself is magnificently photographed in black and white by Russell Harlan (Gun Crazy, To Kill A Mockingbird).

Fri 19 at 7.30: Husbands and Wives (1992)husbandsandwives06-18-08

Woody Allen’s last decent film? I’m going to say yes, since it’s better than Sweet and Lowdown (1999) in that it’s deadly serious, in the Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) / Hannah and her Sisters (1986) register. There are still some good jokes, but with a new (for Allen) jittery handheld camera and strong echoes of his private life (also new), as his relationship with Mia Farrow foundered in very public scandal. They play the leads, and the tension is palpable; the late Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis are flawless in support as the couple’s friends whose separation announcement prompts all sorts of ponderings on the state and nature of marriage; Bergman’s influence is fully absorbed and surpassed.

Fri 20 – Thur 26 at 5.15, 7.30, 9.45 (12.45, 3.00 Fri/Sat only) : My Winnipeg (2007)

Super8 superstar Guy Maddin dives further into his own fantasy silent-movie world of psychodrama and myth, by quite appropriately retelling the story of his Winnipeg childhood, with hired actors, in the very house in which he grew up. The commitment to the lunatic vision seems to be winning some converts (primed after his 2006 offering, the marvelous Brand Upon The Brain!) but the faithful already know it’s going to be great.

Fri 20 at 12 midnight: Tales From The Gimli Hospital (1988)

In Maddin’s first feature his obsessioned film-making style emerges almost fully formed. Silent film-like chiaroscuro black and white, shot in jittering super8, capturing strange women-centred psychodrama and obscure, archetypal legends, as an ancient tale is related to her two young grandchildren by an old woman dying off the plague in a Manitoba hospital. Maddin’s films are undeniably strange, but the single-mindedness with which he pursues his visions turn the strangeness into beauty.


images: wikipedia, 2, 3, allocine, trash.