The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, October 5-11

Saadi Yacef (second from left) and Brahim Haggiag (right) in Gillo Pontecorvo's THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Friday, October 7 - Thursday, October 13. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo
Based on the eponymous campaign during the Algerian war, The Battle of Algiers is perhaps best known for its technical aspects, which have been rarely, if ever imitated: the almost universal use of non-actors; the hand-held, documentary-style aesthetic, so convincing that the film ran in America with a disclaimer that “not one foot” of actual war footage was used. But none of this would be nearly as powerful without the tense directorial prowess and incredible vision of Pontecorvo, who fashioned a political portrait of urban warfare so even-handed and influential that it was an inspiration for both 60’s radical groups and Pentagon officials pre-Iraq. The Battle of Algiers is an always-relevant political film, but more than that, it is one of the great works of fiction-as-documentary. Ryan Swen (October 7-13 at Film Forum, showtimes daily)

Marlon Brando in his ONE-EYED JACKS (1961). Courtesy Film Forum via Universal Pictures. Playing Friday, October 14 - Thursday, October 20.

One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Directed by Marlon Brando
The New York Film Festival will screen a Universal Studios and Film Foundation 4K restoration of Brando’s only film as a director shortly before it receives a theatrical run at Film Forum. Brando also stars in the 1880s-set Western as Kid Rio, a bank robber and prison escapee striving to avenge himself against Dad Longworth (played by Karl Malden), the partner who betrayed him five years earlier. Dad has since assumed a new life as a domesticated sheriff in a Monterey seaside town, leading Kid to show up with murderous thoughts and plans to seduce his ex-pal’s soulful Mexican stepdaughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer)—with whom the outlaw, to his own surprise, finds himself falling in love. Charles Lang’s photography of Paramount’s last VistaVision film often features actors in opposite corners of the frame positioned at oblique angles to each other, a fitting visual pattern for a tale in which people’s motives are often unclear. Brando directs himself as though he were an block of stone with feelings peeking out between his face’s cracks; Malden as an ostensibly honest man who takes long strides in seeming efforts to hide his shadow; and the film’s numerous fine actresses as desperate improvisers scrambling to survive in a world run by beastly men. It’s rare to find a Hollywood film so nakedly Freudian in its atmosphere—one that uses big-budget means to represent a society filled with precariously civilized beings. Aaron Cutler (October 9, 12pm as part of the “Revivals” program at the New York Film Festival; October 14-20 at Film Forum, showtimes daily)

nyc repertory cinema-desperate hours

Desperate Hours (1990)
Directed by Michael Cimino
Cimino’s contrasting passions—the erotic destruction of perfect bodies, the immutable majesty of the American landscape—meet in the queasy battleground of a suburban house, belonging to a family tearing itself apart from the inside. From the opening scene, a nearly Hitchcockian game of poses in a backdrop so serene and glorious it looks like a matte painting, it’s clear that Cimino will be mixing the sacred and the profane with lusty aplomb, caring not a whit who he offends. Appallingly handsome Mickey Rourke breaks out of jail with the help of his stupefied sexpot lawyer, leaving her holding the bag the minute he’s free. He and two accomplices kidnap Anthony Hopkins and his squabbling brood in the palatial manse he no longer presides over (they’re divorcing). Cimino’s zooms and cranes around people like he’s worried they’ll shapeshift on him, revealing more and more of the beauty of every actor and location as he swivels and racks. Hopkins and Rourke are presented as cocksure nemeses, right down to their matching wool coats, wanting what the other possesses. As usual for Cimino post-Heaven’s Gate, his tone needs a horse tranquilizer and his sexual gaze is disturbing, but there’s just no arguing with his images, which are all he cared about anyway. Desperate Hours is as radiant and lovely a collection of images as any American ever produced. If they happen to add up to a living nightmare of juvenile derangement, then so be it. Cimino’s compositions were worth twice of most of his peers’. It’ll be a long time before someone this mad and smart wants to make genre films again. Scout Tafoya (October 5, 4:30pm, 7pm, 9:15pm at BAM’s Cimino retrospective)

nyc repertory cinema-i am twenty

I Am Twenty (1965)
Directed by Marlen Khutsiev
Khutsiev, 91 yesterday, was 34 when he began to shoot his I Am Twenty (the original title was Ilyich’s Gate, referring to a public square in Moscow, which is beguiling as ever at the age of 1000 or so). Made during the Krushchev Thaw—a jazzy, woozy, Stalin-free time—the film was thought by Krushchev himself to have partaken of those joys too much; only in 1989 was Ilyich’s Gate released in its original three-hour-plus cut. Now both versions are screening at MoMA, where I Am Twenty should be seen by anyone who was twenty once, or is, or plans to be. Consider it a New Wave time capsule—the whispered monologues, the poetry, the 35mm, the pleasant anguish of smoking in the empty city street at 2am, not knowing what to live for or how to do it. Khutsiev shoots a May Day parade and manages to leave the bad-faith communism out of it; all that remains is flowers, the girl you saw on the train, the boy from the book stand, the hell with the five-year plan. Elina Mishuris (October 5, 6:30pm; October 6, 4pm at MoMA’s Khutsiev retrospective)

nyc repertory cinema-all the marbles

… All the Marbles (1981)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
For his final act, Aldrich found riches of humor and stubborn dignity in the unlikely world of women’s wrestling. Too much fun for reverence, the rollicking film nevertheless avoids mocking or debasing its tag-teaming wrestlers (Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon as “The California Dolls”) or their saw-spouting, soft-centered but adamant manager (Peter Falk). It’s not above a voyeuristic shower cry (with Frederick’s arms lifted just so), and it does allow for one tank top-shredding mud match outside Cincinnati, but even there, the trio only agree because it will boost their pay grade, and the Dolls make sure to dunk the cornball promoter, who then must tromp to the bleachers to ooze aside his offended wife.

In a role written for Paul Newman, the thankfully cast Falk is perfect—hard-bitten but also something of an epigrammatist, tossing off adages both stale (“Candy is dandy…”) and more inspired (“Unfortunately, in the words of Toulouse-Lautrec, I’m a little short”). Stopping a catfight, he mumbles, “I hate to break up this duel of wits.” Cautioning against using his potent-in-Ohio “funny dice” in Reno: “In this town you’d find yourself laid to rest beneath Liberace’s parking spot.” These gems and the plotting of this briskly moving road-sports film hybrid are credited to Mel Frohman, whose only other points are from shabby TV movie jobs, so you have to assume uncredited Carson and Letterman staffers Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland furnished much of the good stuff, much of which comes in the form of a hurricane of offscreen ADR. A wholly committed Falk gives no indication that this subject matter is beneath him, full-throatedly hectoring refs (“You’re missing a hell of a fight!”) and nursing a dormant love for former flame Frederick’s Iris, especially when he must endure her sleeping with oleaginous venue owner Cisco (inevitably, Burt Young) to score the film’s climactic, thirty-minute real time bout at Reno’s MGM Grand (MGM being the film’s distributor, in a happy coincidence). Falk seems to channel his buddy Ben Gazzara from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a film also about the dignity of the disreputable entertainer which likewise shades into filmmaker autobiography.

…All the Marbles makes for a personal, appropriately rambunctious victory lap and bow-out for Aldrich, whose repeat collaborators here include cinematographer Joseph Biroc (the blue-brown hues of industrial northern Ohio are especially nice), producer William Aldrich (his son), and actors Richard Jaeckel and Young, who was also in Twilight’s Last Gleaming and The Choirboys. The affecting Frederick and Landon both cared enough to endure extensive wrestling training for the film, and those aren’t doubles in the ring during the multiple rough bouts. “Mean” Joe Greene cameos as himself introducing the Reno match, which is announced by Los Angeles sportscasting legend Chick Hearn (coiner of “slam dunk”), who seems just as excited as we are when the Dolls finally bust out the dreaded “sunset flip”. Justin Stewart (October 5, 9pm; October 7, 7:30pm, 10pm at the Metrograph’s Aldrich retrospective)

nyc repertory cinema-nilsson

Son of Dracula (1975)
Directed by Freddie Francis
Like fellow Beatle George Harrison, Ringo Starr’s post-breakup was partly spent backing films, one of which boasted singer-songwriter/late friend Harry Nilsson. Combine their drinking club’s name, Hollywood Vampires, with Ringo’s Halloween fixation and Son of Schmilsson‘s Munster-esque sleeve and Son of Dracula could’ve written itself. Also, who knows? Ringo was probably partial to dressing like Merlin and needed to tell the world. But really, this creaky ode to elegant horror harkens the Fab Four’s high-concept vehicles, with Nilsson’s role as the bloodsucking brood providing more thematic weight to tracks “Remember” or “Without You.” It’s an earnest goof, like a less contemptuous Paul Morrissey take. The story, though thin—a half-human vampire seeks to shake the curse—is bested by stellar gig footage, including Keith Moon on “Jump Into The Fire.” Despite his under-qualified leads, Anglo-horror veteran Francis shoots straight, packing in silent-era tricks (iris shots; blue filters) to balance out the blatant low budget, which afforded, amongst other horrors, a werewolf with Trumpian hair. Glitter it ain’t. Max Kyburz (October 7, 4:30pm, 9:30pm at BAM’s Nilsson series)

nyc repertory cinema-veronique

The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
A psychic, euphoric film, Kieslowski’s French-Polish story has a rudimentary plot, yet it leaves you with the utmost clarity and exhilaration in the midst of a nebulous world. It expresses the feelings and states of mind of two women, Weronika and Véronique (both incomparably portrayed by the serene, porcelain Irene Jacob), who live similar lives, look identical, but have never met, though they are profoundly and unavoidably connected. The director contains his metaphors of sky and earth, heaven and hell, love and death, through visceral tones of green, red, and gold—evoking the paintings of Edward Hopper.

The film is designed to make us fall in love with the stunning face on screen, from the first shot of Weronika singing in the rain, to the last of Véronique caressing a tree. A then practically unknown Jacob delivers a delicate, unblemished performance. Few but Kieslowski could execute such a film; though it welcomes analysis, it spigots ethereal sensuality and a universal human understanding. A finespun balance of candor and complexity, Véronique confronts the nameless, the invisible, the dark matter surrounding all of us and the inevitability that we’re all banded together via life, and via death. Samantha Vacca (October 7, 7pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Kieslowski retrospective)

nyc repertory cinema-tenebre

Tenebre (1982)
Directed by Dario Argento
Reflexive, cerebral, bloodletting: Argento created Tenebre during one of his most inspired, distressing periods, returning to giallo after veering into supernatural horror with Suspiria and Inferno. Indeed, his homecoming seems to have many of the echoing thoughts that come with revisiting a familiar place—minus the body count. Tenebre opens with hallmark Argento flair: a pair of black-gloved hands (his own, in fact) thumbing through a murderous passage in a book before tossing it in a fire. It’s the same book, also titled Tenebre, that becomes the inspiration for a series of violent murders (even ending up shoved down one victim’s throat), embroiling and implicating the book’s author, his critics, and a small slew of others—including, you, the viewer—in a mystery of doublings, flashbacks, and veiled clues. Argento stylishly weaves a world that multiplies with complications and dark transferences, then collapses it violently, suddenly, invoking still one more more tenebrae, the Catholic liturgical service where candles are extinguished till all is dark. For Argento, the answer like the mystery, is both simple and unfathomable. Jeremy Polacek (October 7, 8, midnight at the Nitehawk)

nyc repertory cinema-beetlejuice

Beetlejuice (1988)
Directed by Tim Burton
Decades before Winona Ryder burst back onto the scene to charm, frighten and disturb us as a justifiably spastic mother in Stranger Things, she played similar games with our emotive and mental states as Lydia Deetz, the anything-but-spastic, impressively impassive adolescent daughter of post-mortem sorts and dispositions in Beetlejuice, one of Burton’s greatest masterpieces that must be seen at least once, and that simply cannot be seen too many times. Winona’s essentially career-launching performance is but one of the acting-related hallmarks of this genre-twisting, darkly comedic piece of mild terror. Another is that of Michael Keaton in the role of Beetlejuice himself, a most bizarrely clad and apoplectically tempered, tyrant-like ghoul of the afterlife, a mode of greater or lesser existence which at turns seems not entirely unpalatable—thanks not least to one of the most unforgettable scenes in all of Burton’s œuvre, that in which a levitating Lydia grooves to the tune a certain song by Harry Belafonte to make you want to get up and shake along with their direly felicitous party. Also, the “honk-honk” sound effect after Beetlejuice kicks over a wonky little tree: hella ballsy. Also, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, and music by Danny Elfman. You just can’t go wrong with this winner of a movie. Unless, you know, you take the covered bridge, but still. Paul D’Agostino (October 8, 9, 11:30am at the Nitehawk)

nyc repertory cinema-ugetsu

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
After a recent restoration, Mizoguchi’s adaptation of 18th century ghost stories returns to the big screen just in time for the Halloween season. Set in 16th century Japan, the film follows two peasant families whose lives are uprooted by military turmoil. Genjuro leaves his wife and son behind to sell pottery in the city. Tobei abandons his wife to fulfill his dreams of becoming a samurai. The film’s supernatural elements are rooted in the real, derived from themes of greed, love, and loss. The celebrated cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa lends the film an unsettling atmosphere with his constantly moving camera. A.J. Serrano (October 8, 12:30pm as part of the “Revivals” program at the New York Film Festival)

nyc repertory cinema-all-about-my-mother

All About My Mother (1999)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Too often Almodóvar is linked to kitschy flamboyance, lively melodrama and sexual antics, always garnished with some colorful Spanish cliches and a dash of gender politics. Even though his 1999 drama might not be an exception, the intricacy of his female characters allows for some more nuanced complexity and heartwarming humanism. In All About My Mother, Manuela (Cecilia Roth), travels from Madrid to Barcelona in search of the father of her recently killed son. Manuela, who once lived an erratic past in the old city, finds help from some eccentric characters like Agrado (Antonia San Juan), an old friend from her days as sex worker, an aging theater diva, Huma Roja (Marisa Paredes), whom her late son (an aspiring writer) was enamored with, and a pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz) who has been diagnosed HIV positive after sleeping with Lola (Toni Cantó), Manuela’s transgender ex-partner and her son’s father. Just as Almodovar intertwines his characters’ plights and struggles, he layers some Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and All About Eve into the wild mix. Alejandro Veciana (October 8, 6pm at the Metrograph’s “Queer 90s”)

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