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Burt Lancaster makes a killer film debut in classic 1946 noir from Robert Siodmak

THE KILLERS (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
July 19–25
Series runs July 19 - August 15

In 1950, Edmond O’Brien starred as auditor Frank Bigelow in Rudolph Maté’s classic noir D.O.A., a story told in flashback as Bigelow tries to figure out why someone has poisoned him. Four years earlier, O’Brien dealt with another kind of fatalism in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers, playing insurance agent Jim Reardon, who is investigating why a gas station attendant was brutally gunned down in his bed in suburban Brentwood, New Jersey. The film — which kicks off Film Forum’s four-week salute to Manhattan-born Hollywood star Burt Lancaster on July 19 — opens with cold-hearted contract killers Al (Charles McGraw) and Max (William Conrad) arriving in town, looking for the Swede (Lancaster), aka Pete Lund and Ole Andreson. They waltz into Henry’s Diner, giving orders and exchanging mean-spirited dialogue with no fears or worries. When Nick Adams (Phil Brown) warns the Swede that the men are coming to kill him, the former boxer knows there’s nothing he can do about it anymore; he’s tired of running, and he’s ready to meet his end.

It’s a shocking way to begin a movie; up to that point, it’s a faithful version of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, but the rest is the splendid invention of writers Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, and John Huston and producer Mark Hellinger. Reardon soon finds himself meeting with a series of gangsters as they relate, through flashbacks, a plot to rob a payroll, perpetrated by a motley crew that includes “Dum Dum” Clarke (Jack Lambert), “Blinky” Franklin (Jeff Corey), the Swede, and mastermind Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker), along with Big Jim’s gun moll, femme fatale extraordinaire Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Reardon’s boss (Donald MacBride) wants him to forget about it, since it’s essentially about a meager $2,500 insurance claim, but Reardon is determined to find out what happened to a quarter million in cash, with the help of the Swede’s childhood friend, Lt. Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene).

Ava Gardner turns more than a few heads in THE KILLERS

Ava Gardner turns more than a few heads in The Killers

The Killers is an intense, passionate heist flick, structured like Citizen Kane, starting with a death and then putting everything together via interviews and flashbacks. Lancaster and Gardner are magnetic, he in his screen debut, she in the film that made her a star. Siodmak (The Dark Mirror, The Spiral Staircase) masterfully navigates the noir tropes, from Miklós Rózsa’s jazzy score, which jumps out from the opening credits, and Woody Bredell’s oft-angled black-and-white cinematography that maintains an ominous, shadowy sensibility throughout to deft characterizations and surprising plot twists. As it makes its way through the seven deadly sins, The Killers lives up to its fab billing as a “Raw! Rugged! Ruthless drama of a man who gambled — his luck — his love — his life for the treachery of a girl’s lips.”

Nominated for four Oscars, for Best Director, Best Film Editing (Arthur Hilton), Best Music, and Best Adapted Screenplay, The Killers, which was also made into a 1958 student short by Andrei Tarkovsky and a 1964 crime drama by Don Siegel starring Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes, Norman Fell, and Ronald Reagan, is screening July 19-25 at Film Forum; the Lancaster tribute continues through August 15 with such other Burt classics as Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, Fred Zinnemann’s From Here to Eternity, and Louis Malle’s Atlantic City in addition to such lesser-known movies as John Cassavetes’s A Child Is Waiting, Sidney Pollack’s The Scalphunters, and Norman Foster’s Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.

The Killers

The future’s not so bright, but Clu Gulager and Lee Marvin still have to wear shades in remake of The Killers

THE KILLERS (Don Siegel, 1964)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Saturday, July 20 – Monday, July 22

In conjunction with the screening of the 1946 version of The Killers kicking off Film Forum’s four-week Burt Lancaster festival, the downtown institution is also presenting Don Siegel’s 1964 remake July 20-22. Siegel, who at one point was supposed to direct the 1946 original, sets this adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story in a bright, candy-colored world that is a far cry from the intricate, shadowy darkness of Robert Siodmak’s earlier noir version; in fact, it’s so luminous that hitmen Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) are often wearing dark sunglasses (à la Jake and Ellwood Blues), and the film opens with them walking into a home for the blind, passing by two blind boys playing their own version of cops and robbers. The men are there to kill former race-car driver Johnny North (John Cassavetes), who is now a teacher. Despite being warned by an old man (longtime character actor Burt Mustin) that they are coming, Johnny waits for them, choosing not to run. His lack of a survival instinct confounds Charlie, who goes on a search to find out why Johnny didn’t fight for his life but instead essentially welcomed a brutal death.

The Killers

Ronald Reagan plays a villain for the first time in his last movie, Don Siegel’s 1964 version of The Killers

Johnny’s sordid tale is related to Charlie and Lee in flashback as they meet up with his mechanic and best friend, Earl Sylvester (Claude Akins); Johnny’s lover, femme fatale Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson); Farr’s other lover, crime boss Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan); and Jack’s flunky, Mickey Farmer (Norman Fell), as they tell a story of racing, double crosses, and a million-dollar heist. Written by Gene L. Coon and initially intended as a television movie but deemed too violent in the wake of the assassination of JFK and released theatrically, The Killers features plenty of cheesy scenes and none-too-subtle melodrama, but it’s still loads of fun, with a campy sense of humor lurking behind all the blood and guts, with a Rat Packy feel. Reagan is fun to watch in his final movie role before turning to politics — and his first time playing a villain — while the glamorous Dickinson shows off some fine hairdos and couture. Siegel, who had previously directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers and would go on to make Dirty Harry, Madigan, and Escape from Alcatraz, never veers off track as he relies on the great Lee Marvin, in the midst of a terrific run that included The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank, to drive the action. It might not be very Hemingway-esque, but who cares?



Shu Qi is an expertly trained killer with a conscience in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s gorgeous period drama The Assassin

THE ASSASSIN (刺客聶隱娘) (NIE YINNIANG) (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Thursday, July 18, free, 6:00 & 8:00
Festival runs Thursdays (and one Wednesday) through September 11

On summer Wednesdays at 6:00, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting “50th Mixtape: Free Double Features,” celebrating the institution’s golden anniversary by pairing older favorites with newer ones. The series kicked off June 27 with Agnés Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 and Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady and concludes on Wednesday, September 11, with an audience choice. On Thursday, July 18, King Hu’s 1966 Hong Kong wuxia classic from the Shaw Brothers, Come Drink with Me, starring Cheng Pei-pei as Golden Swallow, Yueh Hua as Drunken Knight, Chan Hung-lit as Jade Faced Tiger, and Lee Wan-chung as Smiling Tiger, will open things up, followed by Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 2015 The Assassin. Hou’s first film in eight years is a visually sumptuous feast, perhaps the most beautifully poetic wuxia film ever made. Inspired by a chuanqi story by Pei Xing, The Assassin is set during the ninth-century Tang dynasty, on the brink of war between Weibo and the Royal Court. Exiled from her home since she was ten, Nie Yinniang (Hou muse Shu Qi) has returned thirteen years later, now an expert assassin, trained by the nun (Fang-Yi Sheu) who raised her to be a cold-blooded killer out for revenge.

After being unable to execute a hit out of sympathy for her target’s child, Yinniang is ordered to kill Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), her cousin and the man to whom she was betrothed as a young girl, as a lesson to teach her not to let personal passions rule her. But don’t worry about the plot, which is far from clear and at times impossible to follow. Instead, glory in Hou’s virtuosity as a filmmaker; he was named Best Director at Cannes for The Assassin, a meditative journey through a fantastical medieval world. Hou and cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing craft each frame like it’s a classical Chinese painting, a work of art unto itself. The camera moves slowly, if at all, as the story plays out in long shots, in both time and space, with very few close-ups and no quick cuts, even during the martial arts fights in which Yinniang displays her awesome skills. Hou often lingers on her face, which shows no outward emotion, although her soul is in turmoil. Hou evokes Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa, Ang Lee, and Zhang Yimou as he takes the viewer from spectacular mountains and river valleys to lush interiors (the stunning sets and gorgeous costumes, bathed in red, black, and gold, are by Hwarng Wern-ying), with silk curtains, bamboo and birch trees, columns, and other elements often in the foreground, along with mist, fog, and smoke, occasionally obscuring the proceedings, lending a surreal quality to Hou’s innate realism.

There are long passages of silence or with only quiet, barely audible music by composer Lim Giong, with very little dialogue, as rituals are performed, baths are prepared, and a bit of black magic takes place. The opening scenes, set around a breathtaking mountain abbey in Inner Mongolia, are shot in black-and-white with no soundtrack, like a silent film, harkening to cinema’s past as well as Yinniang’s; when it switches over to color, fiery reds take over as the credits begin. Throughout the film, the nun wears white and the assassin wears black, in stark contrast to the others’ exquisitely colorful attire; however, the film is not about good and evil but something in between. Shu and Cheng, who played a trio of lovers in Hou’s Three Times, seem to be barely acting in The Assassin, immersing themselves in their characters; Hou (The Puppetmaster, Flowers of Shanghai) gives all of his cast, professional and nonprofessional alike, a tremendous amount of freedom, and it results here in scenes that feel real despite our knowing better.

Sure, a touch more plot explication would have been nice, but that was not what Hou was after; he wanted to create a mood, an atmosphere, to transport the actors and the audience to another time and place, and he has done that marvelously. The Assassin is a treasure chest of memorable moments that rewards multiple viewings. I’ve seen it twice and can’t wait to see it again — and I’ve given up trying to figure out exactly what it’s about, instead reveling in its immense, contemplative beauty. Hou’s previous full-length film was 2007’s Flight of the Red Balloon; here’s hoping it’s not another eight years till his next one. “50th Mixtape: Free Double Features” continues with such other double headers as Luchino Visconti’s 1963 The Leopard and Alice Rohrwacher’s 2018 Happy as Lazzaro on July 25, Bertrand Bonello’s 2016 Nocturama and Lee Chang-dong’s 2018 Burning on August 15, and Hou’s 2005 Three Times and Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning 2016 Moonlight on September 5. Admission is free, first-come, first-served.


Summer Night

A group of friends experiences a wild and crazy day in Summer Night

SUMMER NIGHT (Joseph Cross, 2019)
Cinema Village
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, July 12

Summer Night, actor Joseph Cross’s directorial debut, offers a twist on the standard ensemble coming-of-age flick: Its protagonists are not a bunch of high school teens looking to get stoned and laid before leaving for college (or not) but a group of older twenty-somethings facing more serious choices about their future. The film, which opens this weekend at Cinema Village, still has to fight genre clichés and mundane digressions as it tells the stories of close-knit friends gathering at a music bar appropriately called the Alamo in their small-town American community on the last night of summer. Jameson (Ellar Coltrane) is the film’s centerpiece, an all-around-good dude with a sound perspective on life who surprises everyone that night by arriving at the show with the impossibly hot, black-leather-clad Harmony (Victoria Justice), who’s not the kind of woman he usually dates. The less-flashy Corin (Elena Kampouris), who is working the door at the Alamo, is more his speed, but as we will learn, most of the characters are deeper than the usual genre stereotypes.

Summer Night

Vanessa (Melina Vidler) is not exactly having the night of her life in debut film from actor Joseph Cross

Longtime couple Seth (Ian Nelson) and Mel (Analeigh Tipton) reach a crossroads when she tells him she is pregnant, while Jack “Rabbit” (Bill Milner) is shocked to learn his best friend, and possible true-love romantic partner, Lexi (Lana Condor), has lost her virginity to someone else. Rugged musician Taylor (Callan McAuliffe) unexpectedly meets up with the very sweet, younger Dana (Ella Hunt) after he is mugged in the woods. Bass player Caleb (Hayden Szeto) is a nice guy who just wants to have fun, Vanessa (Melina Vidler) has a thing for Taylor, and Andy (Justin Chatwin), the most outgoing and boisterous among them, secretly wonders whether his time has already passed. Meanwhile, older bar patron Luke (Khris Davis) represents potential stability, having settled down with a wife and kids.

Written by first-time screenwriter Jordan Jolliff, Summer Night takes a while to kick into gear as you figure out whether you want to spend any time with these characters, and there’s too much live music (featuring real bands Ruby the RabbitFoot, Roadkill Ghost Choir, and Deep State) — “Is this, like, all you guys do? Sit around and talk about bands nobody cares about?” Vanessa asks — but Cross, who played Tom the barista in Big Little Lies and Augusten Burroughs in Running with Scissors, eventually finds his groove. The relationship between Caleb and Dana is sweet, and Coltrane (Boyhood, Blood Money) stands out as the group’s conscience as the characters realize there are consequences to their actions, and inactions. The key line just may be when Mel says, “This is not the plan,” with some adapting better than others.


The Sweet Requiem

Tenzin Dolker makes a strong film debut as a Tibetan refugee living in a settlement in India in The Sweet Requiem

THE SWEET REQUIEM (KYOYANG NGARMO) (Ritu Sarin & Tenzing Sonam, 2018)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, July 12

The immigration and refugee crisis is at the heart of husband-and-wife filmmaking team Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin’s The Sweet Requiem, opening July 12 at IFC. Unfortunately, the film gets bogged down in its agenda-driven narrative. Writer-director Sonam and producer-director Sarin, who were both born in India — Sonam’s parents were Tibetan refugees — have been outspoken regarding the treatment of Tibetans by the Chinese government, as depicted in such earlier works as 2007’s fictional Dreaming Lhasa and the 2010 documentary The Sun Behind the Clouds, but they tend to make their points with a heavy hand, often preaching to the choir. The Sweet Requiem follows that pattern.

The film travels back and forth between the present day, when a grown Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker) is shocked to see Gompo (Jampa Kalsang) at the Tibetan refugee settlement in North Delhi where she and other exiles live, and eighteen years in the past, when Gompo leads a small party, including the young Dolkar (Tenzin Dechen) and her father, Migmar (Rabyoung Thonden Gyahkhang), on a dangerous journey across a frigid, snow-filled landscape as they attempt to escape China and make it to the Indian border alive, knowing that the Chinese military is looking for them. Dolkar works in a threading salon but wants to go back to school, and she has a tight-knit group of friends, including Dorjee (Shavo Dorjee), who is attracted to her, but she is haunted by what happened on the journey, especially to her father and old man Ghen-la (Nyima Dhondup) and by her inability to contact her mother, Tsering (Tashi Choedon), and sister, Wangmo (Lobsang Dolkar), who stayed behind. Desperate to know what’s happening in the land she left, Dolkar watches as a stream of monks set themselves on fire as political statements.

The Sweet Requiem

Gompo (Jampa Kalsang) leads a dangerous journey across the Himalayas to possible freedom in India in The Sweet Requiem

The Sweet Requiem has a strong setup and it looks great, David McFarland’s (mostly) handheld camera moving from the pristinely white Himalayan mountains of the past to the refugee settlement of the present, with its dark and narrow winding corridors. Sonam and Sarin explore the connection between the refugees and the Tibetan culture; several characters wear pro-Tibet T-shirts, but they also attend dance-workout sessions that meld India with Tibet and other cultures. Sadly, such lines as “The spirit of the Tibetan people will never be broken” land like lead; subtlety is not the filmmakers’ forte. But Dechen, in her cinematic debut, gives a poignant performance, and the cinematography and Michael Montes’s score stand out. Opening weekend will feature several Q&As with Sonam and Sarin, joined by Tim McHenry on July 12 at 2:30, Beth Citron on July 13 at 2:30, John Halpern on July 13 at 7:40, and Scott Macaulay on July 14 at 2:30.



Sergey Urusevsky’s dazzling camera work is a character unto itself in The Cranes Are Flying

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1957)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
Opens Friday, July 12

Even at a mere ninety-seven minutes, Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying, having a weeklong revival July 12-18 at Film Forum in a 2K restoration, is a sweeping Russian antiwar epic, an intimate and moving black-and-white tale of romance and betrayal during WWII. Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov) are madly in love, swirling dizzyingly through the streets and up and down a winding staircase. But when Russia enters the war, Boris signs up and heads to the front, while Veronika is pursued by Boris’s cousin, Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin). Pining for word from Boris, Veronika works as a nurse at a hospital run by Boris’s father, Fyodor Ivanovich (Vasili Merkuryev), as the family, including Boris’s sister, Irina (Svetlana Kharitonova), looks askance at her relationship with Mark. The personal and political intrigue comes to a harrowing conclusion in a grand finale that for all its scale and scope gets to the very heart and soul of how the war affected the Soviet people on an individual, human level, in the family lives of women and children, lovers and cousins, husbands and wives.


Unforeseen circumstances trap Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) in wartime Russia in Mikhail Kalatozov’s masterful The Cranes Are Flying

The only Russian film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes by itself, The Cranes Are Flying is a masterful work of art, a searing portrait of the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of one desperate woman. Adapting his own play, Viktor Rozov’s story sets up Boris and his family as a microcosm of Soviet society under Stalin; it’s no coincidence that the film was made only after the leader’s death. It’s a whirlwind piece of filmmaking, a marvelous collaboration between director Kalatozov, editor Mariya Timofeyeva (Ballad of a Soldier), composer Moisey Vaynberg (the opera The Passenger), and cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky, who also worked with Kalatozov on I Am Cuba and The Unsent Letter; Urusevsky’s camera, often handheld, is simply dazzling, whether moving through and above crowd scenes, closing in on Samojlova’s face and Batalov’s eyes, or twirling up at the sky. Poetic and lyrical, heartbreaking and maddening, The Cranes Are Flying is an exquisite example of the power of cinema.


America prepares for the bomb in The Atomic Cafe

America prepares for the bomb in The Atomic Cafe, recently restored documentary about the Cold War

THE ATOMIC CAFE (Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader & Pierce Rafferty, 1982)
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Saturday, July 13, 6:30
Series runs July 12-14

The time is ripe for a 4K restoration of the absurdist 1982 documentary The Atomic Cafe as President Trump deals with the nuclear capabilities and arsenals of Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty were searching archives for propaganda films when they discovered a treasure trove of military and government shorts about the atomic and hydrogen bombs and how the American people should face any oncoming threats. The three filmmakers, who will be at Metrograph on July 13 at 6:30 to introduce a special screening of the 2018 restoration, weaved sensational footage together into an hour and a half of clips that range from the hysterically funny to the dangerously outrageous. Young students are taught to “duck and cover.” Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets Jr. describes how easy it was to fly over Hiroshima and drop the bomb but then admits his shock over the eventual destruction it wrought. Presidents Harry S Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower discuss the impact of the bombs. A radio duo makes jokes about the decimation. Scenes of the horrific damage to Japanese victims are shown in silence. Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy defends the Bikini Atoll test, where island residents are assured everything will be fine — as are soldiers who will be in the vicinity of various tests.

While Russia escalates the Cold War — yes, they were our avowed enemy for quite some time, although the film includes President Richard Nixon joking around with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev — and a battle between North and South Korea looms, Americans drink “Atomic” cocktails and dance to “Atomic” songs. The execution of Ethel Rosenberg is explained in disturbing detail. A military officer tells the troops, “Watched from a safe distance, this explosion is one of the most beautiful sights ever seen by man,” and in a training film a military chaplain says to a few soldiers, “You look up and you see the fireball as it ascends up into the heavens; it’s a wonderful sight to behold.” Loader and the Raffertys fill the film with a vast array of black-and-white and color footage of nuclear bombs exploding into immense mushroom clouds, accompanied by a wide range of mood-enhancing music. It would be easy to dismiss most of the archival material in the film as ridiculous, outdated propaganda from a bygone era, but in this age of fake news, social media, lies from the White House, a war on journalism, and a president cozying up to enemies and taking issue with longtime allies, it’s more than a little bit frightening too. The Atomic Cafe is screening in the three-day series “Secret Histories: The Films of Kevin Rafferty & Friends,” which runs July 12-14 and also includes 1991’s Blood in the Face, 1992’s Feed, 1999’s The Last Cigarette, and 2008’s Harvard Beats Yale 29-28, offering unique looks at parts of the American experience.



Who: Janet Biggs and Scott MacDonald
What: Panel discussion and book launch
Where: Cristin Tierney Gallery, 219 Bowery, second floor, 212-594-0550
When: Thursday, July 11, free with advance RSVP, 6:30
Why: In his new book, The Sublimity of Document: Cinema as Diorama (Oxford University Press, August 1, 2019, $125), author and film history professor Scott MacDonald writes of visual artist Janet Biggs, “I first became aware of Biggs when she visited Hamilton College in the spring of 2017 to present a talk about her work. As she showed stills and clips from recent videos, I was struck by the fact that Biggs had traveled to and filmed particular far-flung locations that I had been introduced to by other filmmakers. . . . I was interested not only that multiple artists would be drawn to these precise locations, but also that, in somewhat different ways, these locations can be dangerous to visit. As I became familiar with Biggs’s work, I came to wonder why an artist would go through the considerable difficulties of visiting distant, potentially dangerous locations, not in order to produce films that might have substantial audiences, but to offer relatively brief visual experiences to comparatively smaller audiences within gallery and museum spaces. I came to realize that my experiences with Biggs’s work offered an opportunity to explore, at least in a small way, the issue of installation cinema versus theatrical cinema.” The book continues with an interview between MacDonald and Biggs that was conducted online.

On July 11, MacDonald and Biggs will be together in person at the Cristin Tierney Gallery for a discussion on film and art in conjunction with the publication of The Sublimity of Document and Biggs’s most recent exhibition, “Overview Effect,” the second part of which, Seeing Constellations in the Darkness between Stars, continues at Cristin Tierney through August 2. MacDonald’s book features interviews with Biggs and more than two dozen other “avant-doc” filmmakers, including Ron Fricke, Laura Poitras, Frederick Wiseman, Bill Morrison, Abbas Kiarostami, and James Benning. Biggs has also contributed the article “Fragility Curve” to the current edition of the Brooklyn Rail, writing about her experiences making her latest films, which deal with Mars. “The earth will remake itself and survive the legacy of its human inhabitants, but will we?” she asks. The conversation with Biggs and MacDonald will be followed by a book signing; in addition, Biggs, who has participated in two twi-ny talks, will be presenting the multimedia performance piece How the Light Gets In July 18 at the New Museum.