The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, July 6-12

the mermaid

The Mermaid (2016)
Directed by Stephen Chow
Sony Corporation of America dumped Chow’s latest in a few theaters across North America during its theatrical run this February. In China though, The Mermaid was a box office smash. It’s one of the top grossing movies of all time in the country. It’s a pretty damn good film too, and now returns (in 3D!) to Metrograph following their retrospective on Chow the actor, the filmmaker, and comedy king of Hong Kong and now, mainland China.

A bigwig tycoon (Deng Chao) destroys marine life with crippling sonar technology. To prevent even more destruction, a band of mer-people (and an octopus) send a mermaid (Jelly Lin) to assassinate the capitalist. The problem is, mermaid and man fall in love. This could be the logline for this movie that plays like many movies smashed together. Yet what rings clear are the maximalist and minimalist comic set pieces shot in exquisite formal compositions. Chow down on Chow’s visual humor—rare for this day and age. Tanner Tafelski (July 8-14 at the Metrograph; showtimes daily)

privilege-peter watkins

Privilege (1967)
Directed by Peter Watkins
It’s hard to imagine a contemporary audience being shocked by anything in Watkins’s acid-tongued mockumentary about rock star fascism in 70s England. The prophecy of fictional rocker Steven Shorter (Manfred Mann’s lead singer Paul Jones), who is nothing more than a puppet controlled by big business to manipulate the masses, has been fulfilled so often over the last forty years that any recent attempts at satirizing the music industry have been met with fading interest. In fact, Watkins’s vision of pop culture’s future seems tame compared to how it actually turned out. A scene in which Shorter dons a medieval costume and sings in a advertisement for apples is a quaint precursor to the time when Dylan hawked women’s lingerie or Led Zeppelin pushed Cadillacs. This scrappy film is Spinal Tap‘s paranoid and disillusioned older brother. AJ Serrano (July 6, 7pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, followed by a conversation and book signing with Chuck Klosterman)

car wash

Car Wash (1976)
Directed by Michael Schultz
Rose Royce’s theme song guides this wonderful Universal near-musical, which unfolds over the course of a workday spent in and around a Los Angeles car wash (among the last to promise “hand jobs”). While George Carlin and Richard Pryor appear in small satirical roles, the bulk of the ensemble dramedy’s action is staged by lesser-known actors playing people that take pride in their work while dreaming of what to do once work finally ends. The largely African-American car washing crew’s ranks include a pair of soul singers (Darrow Igus and Otis Day); a tart-tongued cross-dressing queen (Antonio Fargas); a young convert to Islam (Bill Duke) enraged at what he considers to be wage slavery; and an older ex-convict (Ivan Dixon) struggling both to advance his station and to keep peace. The mens’ day is filled with women, including a resourceful urchin (Lauren Jones) in constant flight as she greets scorn for being a prostitute, and other girls who kill time thinking about how to unchain themselves from their own jobs. All these characters and others (such as the white schlubby car wash owner and his naively radicalized son) interact in ways resolved with light glimmers of hope. It comes to seem possible for people to treat each other with equal respect, even if they inhabit an unequal world. Aaron Cutler (July 8-9, midnight at the Nitehawk)

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Moneyball (2011)
Directed by Bennett Miller
It would be a stretch to call Miller an “auteur,” but based on his first three films, one can at the very least detect a stylistic signature: principally, a dourness of address supported by drab visuals and starkly naturalistic dialogue scenes. The solemnity worked hand-in-glove with the psychologically dark material of Capote and Foxcatcher; it’s a more awkward fit with the sports-movie uplift and attempts at humor in Moneyball, though paradoxically, that surface incompatibility is precisely what makes it easily his most interesting directorial effort to date. From the true story of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s (Brad Pitt) astonishingly successful attempt in 2002 to fashion a winning baseball team on a limited budget through the economic calculations of sabermetrics, screenwriters Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (adapting Michael Lewis’s nonfiction book) dramatize clashes between haves and have-nots; intellectual control and unpredictable humanity; and even, to some extent, reason and faith. In this context, Miller’s deliberate dampening of the usual rah-rah genre expectations play like a visceral embodiment of the film’s essential ambivalence: Like Beane, he aims for emotional detachment but occasionally can’t help but exude a low-key romanticism about the sport and the people involved. Kenji Fujishima (July 9, 6:30pm at Metrograph as part of “Bennett Miller and James Toback present each other”)

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But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Directed by Jamie Babbit
Megan must be reprogrammed. She’s a tofu-eating, Melissa Etheridge-listening, Georgia O’Keeffe-admiring teenager, and naturally, this means she’s a lesbian. Babbit’s raucous comedy focuses on the retransformation of this high school cheerleader (the adorable and infectious Natasha Lyonne), who is thrust into an intervention in which her jock boyfriend, fellow pom-pommers (including a cherubic Michelle Williams), and her parents let Megan know they are sending her away to True Directions, an organization that will take of her, er, problem. From here, hilarity and camp ensue, as Megan is transported and placed under the tutelage of Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty) a stoic Stepford woman, and her reprogrammer Mike (RuPaul Charles, out of drag). The camp is essentially a dollhouse in the middle of nowhere, filled with teens just like Megan (the terrific Clea DuVall and Melanie Lynskey, among others) who “suffer” from homosexuality and are forced to shed their “liberal arts brainwashing.” Overwhelmed by heteronormativity, the kids rebel against True Directions and are taken to a nearby bar by two ex-ex-gays who also felt Mary Brown’s wrath. At the bar Megan succumbs to her feelings for Graham (DuVall), and begins down the path of accepting herself, notwithstanding the repercussions of being abandoned both by the program and her family. Though the film’s trajectory is a bit predictable, it’s become a favorite on the midnight cult circuit and allows us to laugh at the absurdity of such institutions like True Directions thanks to stellar, knockabout performances from an impassioned cast. Samantha Vacca (July 11, 8pm at the IFC Center’s “Queer/Art/Film”)

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