A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM (Amos Gitai, 2018)
Walter Reade Theater, Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Saturday, January 12, 7:00, and Sunday, January 13, 3:45
Festival runs January 9-22
Israeli auteur Amos Gitai makes a subtle plea for peace and equality in A Tramway in Jerusalem, having its US premiere January 12-13 at the New York Jewish Film Festival. The ninety-four-minute movie consists of a series of scenes shot along Jerusalem’s Light Rail Red Line, a tram shuttling passengers between the northeast and the southwest, stopping in such locations as Beit Hanina, Shu’afat, Ammunition Hill, Damascus Gate, Jaffa, and the Central Bus Station. The tram is a place where men, women, and children of all religious denominations, races, genders, classes, and nationalities exist on the same level, paying the same fare, no one receiving priority treatment as the tram moves from Palestinian to Israeli neighborhoods, from day into night. In the scripted Israeli-French coproduction, Gitai and cowriter Marie-Jose Sanselme create humorous, poignant, and occasionally cringeworthy scenarios featuring approximately three dozen actors, many of whom have appeared in such previous Gitai works as Kadosh, Kippur, Free Zone, and Kedma. Each scene is shot continuously by cinematographer Eric Gautier, with no cuts, essentially making the viewer a passenger on the tram, watching the goings-on in real time.
The film opens with Israeli vocalist Noa (Achinoam Nini) singing the Hebrew song “Etz Chayim” (“The Tree of Life”) in extreme closeup as she looks out the window of the tram, outlining Gitai’s purpose. “It is a tree of life for those who cling to it / and those who uphold it are happy / Its ways are pleasant / and all of its paths peaceful,” she sings in Hebrew. A group of Orthodox men enthusiastically chants prayer and song, declaring, “The world is a very narrow bridge / But what’s really important / is not to be afraid / not afraid at all.” The new coach of a youth soccer team can’t get a word in edgewise as the manager hogs the spotlight with a reporter. A Muslim man complains about the Oslo Accords. A woman speaks about very intimate personal matters with a friend. A priest (Italian actor and director Pippo Delbono) mumbles about love and freedom. A man (French star Mathieu Amalric) and his son (Pierre Amalric) watch a strumming musician; later, the man reads passages Gustave Flaubert wrote about his journey to Israel with Maxime Du Camp, such as the following: “Jerusalem feels like a fortified mass grave, where old religions are silently rotting.” A security guard wanders through the tram, a reminder of the nation’s ills and ever-present dangers, particularly on public transportation. An ugly scene between a husband and wife about an affair is one of several moments that feel too random and out of place. It is all brought together smoothly by editor Yuval Orr and an evocative score by Louis Sclavis and Alex Claude, with each section separated by a black screen imprinted with the time of day (but not chronological). To avoid getting too claustrophobic, Gitai occasionally films outside the train, but only on the platform.
Gitai made A Tramway in Jerusalem on board a regularly scheduled tram, taking up two cars with the rail’s permission, although he did not get official government consent, partially because he has been openly critical of the current administration and Minister of Culture Miri Regev, who Gitai believes is reducing Israeli cinema to a propaganda machine. Israel’s diversity is represented by a diverse cast, which also includes Hana Laszlo, Yaël Abecassis, Yuval Scharf, Karen Mor, Lamis Ammar, and Mustafa Masi, speaking Hebrew, English, French, German, or Arabic. Gitai (Rabin, the Last Day; West of the Jordan River) is very clear about what he hopes to accomplish with the film. “A Tramway in Jerusalem is an optimistic and ironic metaphor of the divided city of Jerusalem in which we, Israelis, Palestinians, and others, try to simulate how life can happen in this microcosm or ‘sardine can’ of a tramway, in the utopian days to come,” he explains in his director’s statement. “Beyond the current days of conflict and violence, how can people accept each other’s existence, their differences and disputes, with no killing. Is this tram the sign that a peaceful coexistence is possible?” A Tramway in Jerusalem is screening January 12 at 7:00 and January 13 at 3:45 at the Walter Reade Theater, with Gitai participating in Q&As after each show. A joint presentation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum, the New York Jewish Film Festival runs January 9-22, with such other films as Eric Barbier’s opening night Promise at Dawn, Yehonatan Indursky’s centerpiece Autonomies, and Bille August’s closing night A Fortunate Man.
One of the most brilliant and revered storytellers in the world, Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi proves his genius yet again with his latest cinematic masterpiece, the tenderhearted yet subtly fierce road movie 3 Faces. The film, which made its US premiere this past fall at the New York Film Festival and won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, is screening January 13 as part of IFC Center’s inaugural Iranian Film Festival New York. As with some of Panahi’s earlier works, 3 Faces walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction while defending the art of filmmaking. Popular Iranian movie and television star Behnaz Jafari, playing herself, has received a video in which a teenage girl named Marziyeh (Marziyeh Rezaei), frustrated that her family will not let her study acting at the conservatory where she’s been accepted, commits suicide onscreen, disappointed that her many texts and phone calls to her hero, Jafari, went unanswered. Deeply upset by the video — which was inspired by a real event — Jafari, who claims to have received no such messages, enlists her friend and colleague, writer-director Panahi, also playing himself, to head into the treacherous mountains to try to find out more about Marziyeh and her friend Maedeh (Maedeh Erteghaei). They learn the girls are from a small village in the Turkish-speaking Azeri region in northwest Iran, and as they make their way through narrow, dangerous mountain roads, they encounter tiny, close-knit communities that still embrace old traditions and rituals and are not exactly looking to help them find out the truth.
Panahi (Offside, The Circle) — who is banned from writing and directing films in his native Iran, is not allowed to give interviews, and cannot leave the country — spends much of the time in his car, which not only works as a plot device but also was considered necessary in order for him to hide from local authorities who might turn him in to the government. He and Jafari stop in three villages, the birthplaces of his mother, father, and grandparents, for further safety. The title refers to three generations of women in Iranian cinema: Marziyeh, the young, aspiring artist; Jafari, the current star (coincidentally, when she goes to a café, the men inside are watching an episode from her television series); and Shahrzad, aka Kobra Saeedi, a late 1960s, early 1970s film icon who has essentially vanished from public view following the Islamic Revolution of 1978-79, banned from acting in Iran. (Although Shahrzad does not appear as herself in the film, she does read her poetry in voiceover.) 3 Faces is gorgeously photographed by Amin Jafari and beautifully edited by Mastaneh Mohajer, composed of many long takes with few cuts and little camera movement; early on there is a spectacular eleven-minute scene in which an emotionally tortured Behnaz Jafari listens to Panahi next to her on the phone, gets out of the car, and walks around it, the camera glued to her the whole time in a riveting tour-de-force performance.
3 Faces is Panahi’s fourth film since he was arrested and convicted in 2010 for “colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic”; the other works are This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, and Taxi Tehran, all of which Panahi starred in and all of which take place primarily inside either a home or a vehicle. 3 Faces is the first one in which he spends at least some time outside, where it is more risky for him; in fact, whenever he leaves the car in 3 Faces, it is evident how tentative he is, especially when confronted by an angry man. The film also has a clear feminist bent, not only centering on the three generations of women, but also demonstrating the outdated notions of male dominance, as depicted by a stud bull with “golden balls” and one villager’s belief in the mystical power of circumcised foreskin and how he relates it to former macho star Behrouz Vossoughi, who appeared with Shahrzad in the 1973 film The Hateful Wolf and is still active today, living in California. Panahi, of course, will not be present at the IFC screening, as his road has been blocked, leaving him a perilous path that he must navigate with great care. However, Iranian writer, director, and producer Bahman Farmanara will be at the festival for Q&As following three of his films, opening night’s Tale of the Sea in addition to I Want to Dance and Tall Shadows of the Wind. Cofounded and coprogrammed by Godfrey Cheshire, the first Iranian Film Festival New York includes such other classic and cutting-edge films as Asghar Yousefinejad’s The Home, Abbas Amini’s Hendi & Hormoz, and Houman Seyedi’s closing night Sheeple, in addition to a tribute to Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away in 2016 at the age of seventy-six, pairing Seifollah Samadian’s 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami with Kiarostami’s 2016 short Take Me Home.
Inspired by his brief stint as a suburban New Jersey garage-band drummer with rock-and-roll dreams, Sopranos creator David Chase made his feature-film debt with the 2012 musical coming-of-age drama Not Fade Away. Written and directed by Chase, the film focuses on Douglas (John Magaro), a suburban New Jersey high school kid obsessed with music and The Twilight Zone. It’s the early 1960s, and Douglas soon becomes transformed when he first hears the Beatles and the Stones — while also noticing how girls go for musicians, particularly Grace (Bella Heathcote), whom he has an intense crush on but who only seems to date guys in bands. When his friends Eugene (Jack Huston) and Wells (Will Brill) ask him to join their group, Douglas jumps at the chance, but it’s not until he gets the opportunity to sing lead one night that he really begins to think that music — and Grace — could be his life. Not Fade Away has all the trappings of being just another clichéd sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll movie, but Chase and musical supervisor (and executive producer) Steven “Silvio” Van Zandt circumvent genre expectations and limitations by, first and foremost, nailing the music. Van Zandt spent three months teaching the main actors how to sing, play their instruments, and, essentially, be a band, making the film feel real as the unnamed group goes from British Invasion covers to writing their own song. Even Douglas’s fights with his conservative middle-class father (James Gandolfini) and his battle with Eugene over the direction of the band are handled with an intelligence and sensitivity not usually seen in these kinds of films. Not Fade Away does make a few wrong turns along the way, but it always gets right back on track, leading to an open-ended conclusion that celebrates the power, the glory, and, ultimately, the mystery of rock and roll.
The film is being shown at IFC Center on January 10, with Chase, Magaro, and Van Zandt in attendance, as part of the Sopranos Film Festival, six days of screenings, related works, and discussions in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the HBO series, which debuted on January 10, 1999, to instant acclaim. The festival, programmed by Matt Zoller Seitz, coauthor with Alan Sepinwall of The Sopranos Sessions, kicks off January 9 at the SVA Theatre with “Woke Up This Morning: The Sopranos 20th Anniversary Celebration,” featuring clips and conversation with Chase, executive producers/writers Terence Winter and Matthew Weiner, executive producer Ilene S. Landress, and cast members Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore, Robert Iler, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler, moderated by Zoller Seitz. Also on the schedule are Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell’s Performance, Kristian Fraga’s My Dinner with Alan, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge, Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy, and such key Sopranos episodes as “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” “Proshai, Livushka,” “Pine Barrens,” and “The Test Dream,” paired with Bugs Bunny and Three Stooges shorts as well as Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, placing the series, which garnered 111 Emmy nominations and 21 wins during its six seasons, in rather wide-ranging context.
GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Saturday, January 5, 9:00, and Monday, January 7, 7:00
Series runs January 4-8
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a breathtaking thriller that instantly enters the pantheon of such classic space fare as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Right Stuff. While medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is fixing a computer glitch outside the shuttle Explorer, veteran astronaut and wisecracker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), on his final mission before retirement, is playing around with a new jetpack and Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) is having fun going on a brief spacewalk. But disaster strikes when debris from a destroyed Russian satellite suddenly comes their way, killing Shariff and the rest of the crew and crippling the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski on their own in deep space, their communication with Mission Control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris, in a nod to his participation in Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff) gone as well. Kowalski is cool and calm, listening to country music as he tries to come up with a plan that will get them to the International Space Station, but the inexperienced Stone is running out of oxygen fast as she tumbles through the emptiness, Earth in the background, so close yet so far. Written by Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men) with his son Jonás, Gravity is spectacularly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, the master behind numerous works by Cuarón and Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life), among others. Lubezki and his team even created a new LED light box to increase the film’s realism, which is nothing less than awe-inspiring and mind-bending as it takes place in real time. Despite the vastness of space, Gravity often feels claustrophobic, particularly as Stone struggles to get a breath or attempts to operate a foreign module.
Close-ups of Stone and Kowalski reveal reflections of the shuttle and Earth, emphasizing the astronauts’ dire situation as they engage in a very different kind of pas de deux. Gravity also succeeds where directors like James Cameron often fail, as a solid, relatively unsentimental and unpredictable script accompanies the remarkable visuals, which evoke both harrowing underwater adventures as well as dangerous mountain-climbing journeys. (Cuarón also manages to bring it all in in a terrifically paced ninety minutes.) Cuarón and Lubezki favor long takes, including an opening shot lasting more than thirteen minutes, immersing the viewer in the film, further enhanced by being projected in IMAX 3D, which is not used as merely a gimmick here. Stephen Price’s score increases the tension as well until getting melodramatic near the end. Clooney is ever dapper and charming and Bullock is appropriately nervous and fearful in their first screen pairing, even though they only make contact with each other through bulky spacesuits, their connection primarily via speaking. Cuarón, who also edited Gravity with Mark Sanger, has made an endlessly exciting film for the ages, a technological marvel that should have a tremendous impact on the future of the industry. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing, Gravity is screening January 5 and 7 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Complete Cuarón,” comprising all eight of his movies (Y tu mamá también, Children of Men, Sólo con tu pareja, Great Expectations, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) in conjunction with the success of his latest, Roma.
THE 16th MoMA INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FILM PRESERVATION: THE VENERABLE W. (Barbet Schroeder, 2017)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Festival runs January 4-31
“To Save and Project: The 16th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation,” comprising newly restored and preserved works from throughout the history of cinema, kicks off January 4 with a tribute to Iranian-born Swiss-French director Barbet Schroeder’s self-described “trilogy of evil”: 1974’s Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait), about the Ugandan dictator; 2007’s L’avocat de la terreur (Terror’s Advocate), a portrait of Siamese-born French lawyer Jacques Vergès, who has defended such clients as Klaus Barbie, French philosopher and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, and Carlos the Jackal; and last year’s Le vénérable W. (The Venerable W.), a look at controversial Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. According to long-standing traditions and beliefs, Buddhists have empathy and compassion for all sentient beings. For example, in the 2017 documentary The Last Dalai Lama?, His Holiness expressed such feelings even for the Chinese military and government that have waged war on the Tibetan people for more than fifty years and have decided that they will select the next Dalai Lama.
So when Schroeder, who is best known for such fiction films as Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, and Single White Female, first heard about Wirathu, a Buddhist monk in Myanmar advocating violence against a Muslim minority known as the Rohingyas, he headed to the country, formerly known as Burma, where he was so shocked and disturbed by what he saw that he can still barely say the monk’s name in interviews; nor could he bring himself to use it in the title of his film about Wirathu. The Venerable W. consists of archival footage and new interviews with Wirathu, as Schroeder essentially lets the leader speak his mind, in sermons to his rabid followers, at public events, and in his monastery, where he espouses his beliefs to the filmmaker. “The main features of the African catfish are that: They grow very fast. They breed very fast too. And they’re violent. They eat their own species and destroy their natural resources. The Muslims are exactly like these fish,” Wirathu, who was born in Kyaukse near Mandalay in 1968, says with a sly smile. He regularly boasts of his accomplishments in subduing the Rohingyas, whom he often refers to using a slur that is the equivalent of the N-word in America.
A megalomaniacal nationalist with extremist positions on patriotism, protectionism, and border crossings and a clever manipulator of social media, Wirathu, inspired by the 1997 book In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, also makes extravagant, debunked claims using false statistics, from declaring that he started the 2007 Saffron Revolution to arguing that the Rohingyas are burning down their own villages so they can blame the Buddhists. Much of what he is saying sounds eerily familiar, evoking racist, nationalist sentiments that are gaining ground around the world, particularly in France, England, and America. “In the USA, if the people want to maintain peace and security, they have to choose Donald Trump,” Wirathu says. Schroeder also speaks with seven men who share their views about Wirathu: W.’s master, U. Zanitar; investigative magazine editor Kyaw Zayar Htun; Saffron Revolution monk U. Kaylar Sa; Fortify Rights creator Matthew Smith; Muslim political candidate Abdul Rasheed; Spanish journalist Carlos Sardiña Galache; and highly revered monk U. Galonni. Together they paint a portrait of a dangerous fanatic who is fomenting bitter hatred that has led to extensive episodes of rape, violence, and murder while the military and the government, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, either support what Wirathu’s doing or merely look the other way. In numerous voiceovers, Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros recites quotations from Buddhist texts, including the Metta Sutta, and states various sociopolitical facts. “The Buddha is often above good and evil, but his words should help us limit the mechanics of evil,” she narrates.
Meanwhile, Wirathu, who was declared “the Face of Buddhist Terror” in a June 2013 Time magazine cover story, insists he is doing the right thing for his country. “I help people who have been persecuted by Muslims,” he says. “The threat against Buddhism has reached alert level.” It’s a brutal film to watch, infuriating and frightening, as Schroeder and editor Nelly Quettier clearly and concisely present the facts, without judgment, including scenes of people on fire and being viciously beaten; the director might not make any grand statements against what Wirathu and his flock are doing — he lets the monk take care of that by himself — but the film is a clarion call for us all to be aware of what is happening around the world, as well as in our own backyard. The Venerable W. will be preceded by the short film Où en êtes-vous Barbet Schroeder? (What Are You Up to, Barbet Schroeder?), which goes behind the scenes of his decision to tell Wirathu’s story. Schroeder will be at MoMA to introduce multiple screenings of The Venerable W., Terror’s Advocate, and General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait as well as Charles Bukowski par Barbet Schroeder (The Charles Bukowski Tapes) and “Four by Barbet Schroeder,” a compilation of Koko, le gorille qui parle (Koko: A Talking Gorilla), Le cochon aux patates douces, Maquillages, and Sing Sing. “To Save and Project” continues through January 31 with such other international films as Yvonne Rainer’s Journeys from Berlin, Alexander Korda’s The Private Life of Henry VIII, F. W. Murnau’s Faust, and Chantal Akerman’s Histoires d’Amérique: Food, Family and Philosophy.
MIDNITE MOVIE: BLACK CHRISTMAS (Bob Clark, 1974)
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Friday, December 21, and Saturday, December 22, 12:10 am
American-Canadian filmmaker Bob Clark might be best known for the holiday favorite A Christmas Story, but he also directed another, very different yuletide cult classic, Black Christmas. Clark, who had previously made Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and would go on to make such wide-ranging fare as Rhinestone, Turk 182!, Porky’s, and Baby Geniuses, assembled quite a cast for the 1974 horror flick, also known as Silent Night, Evil Night: Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey, Bunny Lake Is Missing), Margot Kidder (Sisters, Superman), John Saxon (Enter the Dragon, A Nightmare on Elm Street), Art Hindle (The Brood, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and Andrea Martin (SCTV, Pippin). The story is set in a sorority house run by Mrs. MacHenry (Marian Waldman), who lets the young women pretty much do whatever they want (while regularly sneaking drinks herself). A series of obscene phone calls has some of the sisters on edge while Barb (Kidder) is much more bold, challenging the twisted voice. After Clare (Lynne Griffin) disappears, the other women start growing more concerned, including Phyllis (Martin) and Jess (Hussey), as do Phyllis’s boyfriend, Patrick (Michael Rapport), Clare’s boyfriend, Chris (Hindle), and Olivia’s lover, Peter (Dullea), along with Clare’s prim and proper father (James Edmond) and local police lieutenant Kenneth Fuller (Saxon). With Christmas approaching, the body count starts piling up, as do the genre clichés, but it’s all in good fun.
Written by A. Roy Moore and shot in dark, eerie killer’s-point-of-view creepiness by former documentary cinematographer and longtime Clark collaborator Reg Morris (A Christmas Story, Empire of the Ants), Black Christmas is a choppy yet scary slasher flick, evoking the giallo tradition exemplified by Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Clark keeps things mysterious as the brutal murders unfold while also avoiding the key question: Why does no one ever check the freaking attic? Red herrings abound as Carl Zittrer’s sinister score ups the tension. Inspired by real murders as well as urban legends, Black Christmas, which was remade by Glen Morgan in 2006 (with Andrea Martin as Ms. MacHenry!), should be a seasonal tradition in every household, but for now you can check it out in its annual screenings at Nitehawk Cinema, December 21 and 22, as part of the Holiday Show Spectacular, which continues through the end of the year with such other Xmas classics as Scrooged, Fargo, Hook, Little Women, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Tales of hustlers, swindlers, con artists, scammers, flim-flammers, and the like have been part of cinema since the early days of the medium. We often find ourselves rooting for the snake-oil salesmen while believing that we would never fall for these elaborate, costly hoaxes. From December 14 to 22, Metrograph is presenting “In the Year of the Grifter,” consisting of sixteen flicks with complicated plots involving lots of fakery and fraud, dating from 1932 to 2013. The series begins with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane reimagination, Mr. Arkadin, and continues with David Mamet’s House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner, Frank Borgaze’s Desire, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, and Stephen Frears’s The Grifters, among others. It’s not quite a primo collection, but it has some real doozies. Don’t forget to keep looking over your shoulder while watching these flicks.
F FOR FAKE (Orson Welles, 1976)
Sunday, December 16, 6:00 & 10:15
Orson Welles plays a masterful cinematic magician in the riotous F for Fake, a pseudo-documentary (or is it all true?) about art fakes and reality. Exploring slyly edited narratives involving art forger Elmyr de Hory, writer Clifford Irving, Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, the iconoclastic auteur is joined by longtime companion Oja Kodar and a cast of familiar faces in a fun ride that will leave viewers baffled — and thoroughly entertained. Welles manipulates the audience — and the process of filmmaking — with tongue firmly planted in cheek as he also references his own controversial legacy with nods to such classics as Citizen Kane and The Third Man. It’s both a love letter to the art of filmmaking as well as a warning to not always believe what you see, whether in books, on canvas, or, of course, at the movies.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
Friday, December 21, 7:00
Saturday, December 22, 1:00
Based on Jordan Belfort’s 2007 memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street relates the rise and fall of a fast-talking, high-living stockbroker, played to the hilt by an impressive Leonardo DiCaprio. But Martin Scorsese’s picture, his fifth starring DiCaprio, has trouble walking that fine line between glorifying Belfort’s money, drugs, and women lifestyle and portraying him as a greedy con man who ransacked innocent people’s savings and ruined their lives. In 1987, Belfort gets a job working for rather strange LF Rothschild trader Mark Hanna (Matthew McConnaughey) and immediately gets a taste for the business; however, Black Monday strikes, and he soon finds himself selling penny stocks with a rag-tag group of losers out of a Long Island storefront run by a man named Dwayne (Spike Jonze). But he’s able to excel at the job, taking home big bucks and eventually opening his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with right-hand man Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). Nearly instant success leads to endless partying, strippers, prostitutes, dwarf tossing, cocaine, ludes, and absurdly lavish expenses that enrage Belfort’s father, Max (a hysterical Rob Reiner), when he goes over the books. But nothing can stop Jordan and Donnie as they rake in the dough and do whatever they want, seemingly without consequence, even when the Feds, led by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), start sniffing around. Even when it does come crashing down, it still doesn’t seem to have too much of an effect on Belfort and his buddies, who keep feeling invincible.
Written by Terence Winter, who previously celebrated criminals in The Sopranos and currently on Boardwalk Empire — two cable series that deal with the good/evil delineation much better — The Wolf of Wall Street is far too long at three hours, and it features a surprising number of bad continuity and synching edits by longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker. And the soundtrack lacks the usual Scorsese power, found in such films as Goodfellas, which bears a strong thematic resemblance to Wolf. The large cast also includes Jean Dujardin as Swiss banker Jean-Jacques Saurel, Cristin Milioti as Belfort’s first wife, Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife, Joanna Lumley as her aunt, Jon Favreau as his lawyer, Jake Hoffman as Steve Madden, Sharon Jones as a singer, Fran Lebowitz as a judge, and private investigator Bo Dietl as private investigator Bo Dietl. The real Belfort, who recently took to Facebook to explain that he is using one hundred percent of his profits from the book and film to pay back the victims of his shady dealings, makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film as an emcee. Despite its drawbacks — even PETA has attacked the film for its treatment of animals — The Wolf of Wall Street, which was nominated for five Oscars, nails the feeding frenzy that was the financial fury of the late 1980s, which set the table for future economic disasters.
THE LADY EVE (Preston Sturges, 1941)
Tuesday, December 25, 6:15
Wednesday, December 26, 5:00 & 9:15
Monday, December 31, 6:00 & 10:00
Barbara Stanwyck delivers one of her most nuanced and beguiling performances as the tough-talking title character in The Lady Eve. Usually lumped in with her classic screwball comedies, Preston Sturges’s black-and-white film, based on an original story by Irish playwright Monckton Hoffe (who was nominated for an Oscar), is much darker and slower than its supposed brethren. A brunette Stanwyck is first seen as Jean Harrington, a con artist looking to trick a wealthy man on a cruise ship. At her side is her father, “Colonel” Harrington (Charles Coburn), a gambler and a cheat. As soon as Jean sees rich ale scion Charles Pike (a wonderfully innocent Henry Fonda), she digs her claws into the shy, humble man, challenging the Hays Code as she shows off her gams and leans into him with a heart-pounding sexiness. Pike of course falls for, but when his right-hand man, Muggsy (William Demarest), discovers that she regularly preys on suckers, Charles is devastated. However, in this case, Jean’s feelings might actually be real, forcing her to go to extreme circumstances to try to get him back. Stanwyck is, well, a ball of fire as Jean/Eve, determined to win at all costs. Fonda, not usually known for his comedic abilities, is a riot as poor Hopsie, as Jean calls him; the looks on his face when she ratchets up the sex appeal are priceless, and a later scene when he keeps falling down at a party displays a surprising flair for physical comedy. The opening and closing credits feature a corny animated snake in the Garden of Eden; in The Lady Eve, Stanwyck offers the apple, and Fonda can’t wait to take a bite. And there’s nothing shameful about that.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
Saturday, December 29, 1:15
Sunday, December 30, 3:15
Monday, December 31, 4:00 & 8:00
“Beginnings are always difficult,” suave thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) says at the beginning of Trouble in Paradise, but it’s not difficult at all to fall in love with the beginning, middle, and end of Ernst Lubitsch’s wonderful pre-Code romantic comedy. It’s love at first heist for Gaston and Lily (Miriam Hopkins) as they try to outsteal each other on a moonlit night in Venice. Soon they are teaming up to fleece perfume heir Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) of money and jewels as the wealthy socialite takes a liking to Gaston despite her being relentlessly pursued by the hapless François Filiba (Edward Everett Horton) and the stiff Major (Charles Ruggles). Displaying what became known as the Lubitsch Touch, the Berlin-born director has a field day with risqué sexual innuendo, particularly in the early scene when Gaston and Lily first meet (oh, that garter!) and later as Madame Colet’s affection for Gaston grows, along with Lily’s jealousy. Loosely based on the 1931 play The Honest Finder by Aladár László, which was inspired by the true story of Romanian con man George Manolescu, the 1932 film remained out of circulation for decades during the Hays Code, and it’s easy to see why.