WEEKEND CLASSICS: THEY LIVE (John Carpenter, 1988)
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
March 17-19, 11:00 am
Series continues weekends through April 2
How can you possibly not love a movie in which wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper, brandishing a shotgun and standing next to an American flag, declares, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass . . . and I’m all out of bubblegum.” IFC Center’s Trump-inspired “Autocratic for the People: An Unpresidented Series of Star-Spangled Satires” continues March 17-19 with John Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek Reagan-era cult favorite, They Live. In the goofy 1988 political sci-fi thriller, Piper, who passed away in 2015 at the age of sixty-one, stars as John Nada, a drifter who arrives in L.A. and gets a job working construction, where he is befriended by Frank Armitage (Keith David), who is otherwise trying to keep to himself and away from trouble as he makes money to send back to his family. Frank invites John to stay at a tent city for homeless people, across the street from a church where John soon finds some disturbing things happening involving a blind preacher (Raymond St. Jacques), a well-groomed man named Gilbert (Peter Jason), and a bearded weirdo (John Lawrence) taking over television broadcasts and making dire predictions about the future. John then discovers that by using a pair of special sunglasses, he can see, in black-and-white, what is really going on beneath the surface: Alien life-forms disguised as humans have infiltrated Los Angeles, gaining positions of power and placing subliminal messages in signs and billboards, spreading such words and phrases as Obey, Consume, Submit, Conform, Buy, Stay Asleep, and No Independent Thought. John seeks help from Frank and cable channel employee Holly Thompson (Meg Foster), determined to reveal the hidden conspiracy and save the planet.
Loosely based on Ray Nelson’s 1963 short story and 1986 comic-book adaptation “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” They Live is a fun, if seriously flawed, film that takes on Reaganomics, consumerism, the media, and capitalism and doesn’t much care about its huge, gaping plot holes. Carpenter, an iconoclastic independent auteur who had previously made such other paranoid thrillers as Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape from New York, and a remake of The Thing, wrote They Live under the pseudonym Frank Armitage (the name of David’s character as well as a reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s Henry Armitage from “The Dunwich Horror”) and composed the ultracool synth score with Alan Howarth. The movie is famous not only for Piper’s not exactly brilliant performance but for one of the longest fight scenes ever, as John and Frank go at each other for five and a half nearly interminable minutes, as well as the influence They Live had on activist artist Shepard Fairey, who admitted in 2003 that it “was a major source of inspiration and the basis for my use of the word ‘obey.’” The film is all over the place, a jumble of political commentary and B-movie nonsense, but it’s also eerily prescient, especially with what is going on in America today. Keep a watch out for such recognizable character actors as Sy Richardson, George Buck Flower, Susan Blanchard, Norman Alden, Lucille Meredith, and Robert Grasmere, whose names you don’t know but whose faces are oh-so-familiar. They Live is screening in a DCP projection March 17-19 at 11:00 am at IFC; the Weekend Classics series continues through April 2 with Andrew Fleming’s Dick and Trey Parker’s South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
The brilliant mind of Spike Jonze dazzles again with the spectacularly original romance her. In the very near future, geeky nerd Theodore Twombly (a radiant Joaquin Phoenix) makes his living writing personally commissioned letters for Handwritten Greeting Cards, developing relationships with the people he writes for, considering them family. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), are divorcing, although he is hesitant to sign the final papers. His life takes an unexpected turn when he buys the world’s first AI operating system and slowly falls in love with her during an extremely romantic twenty-first-century-style courtship. The talking OS (the sexy, gravelly voice of Scarlett Johansson), who names herself Samantha, wants to experience the world, so she and Theodore go everywhere together, including on a double date that is pure genius. When he shares his news with his best friend, Amy (Amy Adams), she doesn’t act the slightest bit concerned for his sanity, instead showing true happiness for his blossoming relationship. But as his and Samantha’s love grows, so does their need for something more from each other, which doesn’t always work out as planned.
Jonze’s fourth film as director and first solo screenplay (he cowrote Where the Wild Things Are with Dave Eggers, while Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.), her is a beautifully rendered love story filled with humor and heart. Phoenix shows a whole new, freer, playful side of himself as Theodore, particularly during a rousing scene in which he spins Samantha through a carnival. Wearing his pants way up high, as all men seem to do in Jonze’s vision of the future L.A., Theodore — who must make quite a lot of money at his job, considering his extremely large apartment with its amazing views of the city — serves both as an endearing protagonist and a warning about the importance of human connection. “Are you social or antisocial?” the new program asks him before initiating Samantha. As unique as the film is, it does echo themes found in a pair of Twilight Zone episodes; in “From Agnes — with Love,” a supercomputer falls in love with her creator (played by Wally Cox), while in Ray Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” a robot grandmother (Josephine Hutchinson) has the ability to grow emotionally with the family she takes care of. Watching her is like falling in love all over again, not only with the story but with the movies themselves. Nominated for five Academy Awards, the film is screening March 17 in the Rubin Museum Cabaret Cinema series “Perception,” part of the institution’s latest Brainwave series of special programs, and will be introduced by cognitive research scientist Dr. Eran Agmon. “Perception” continues Friday nights through April 28 with such other mind-bending films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Matrix, and Ghost in the Shell; meanwhile, Brainwave takes on such topics as “Why Magicians Are Master Manipulators” with Asi Wind and Tony Ro on March 22, “Keeping Your Eye on the Ball” with Patrick Vieira and John Krakauer on April 17, and “What Makes a True Work of Art?” with Tobias Meyer and Frank Moore on April 26.
Who: Val Kilmer
What: Screening of Cinema Twain, introduced by star Val Kilmer and followed by a Q&A
Where: SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
When: Friday, March 24, $39 (VIP $199)
Why: Val Kilmer, who has appeared in nearly eighty films since his debut in 1984’s Top Secret!, actually started his career onstage, including performing at the Public Theater (How It All Began) and on Broadway (The Slab Boys, with Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Jackie Earle Haley, and Brian Benben). The L.A.-born writer, actor, and director is now on the road presenting Cinema Twain, the filmed version of his one-man show in which he portrays Mark Twain. The brief tour comes to the SVA Theatre on March 24, when Kilmer (Top Gun, True Romance) will introduce the ninety-minute film and stick around for an audience Q&A after. Tickets are $39; if you go for the VIP experience, you get to chat with Kilmer for $199 and take photos with him.
CinéSalon: DAGUERRÉOTYPES (Agnès Varda, 1975)
French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison & Park Aves.
Tuesday, March 7, $14, 4:00 & 7:30
Series continues Tuesday nights through March 21
On February 28, legendary auteur Agnès Varda was at FIAF for the special talk “Agnès Varda: Visual Artist.” The Belgium-born, France-based Varda, who is eighty-eight, will be back at FIAF on March 7 for the 7:30 screening of her 1975 documentary, Daguerréotypes, after which she will participate in a Q&A with former MoMA curator Laurence Kardish. (The film will also be shown at 4:00; both screenings will be followed by a wine and beer reception.) The eighty-minute work, which only received its official U.S. theatrical release in 2011 at the Maysles Cinema, is an absolutely charming look at Varda’s longtime Parisian community. In the film, Varda, who has made such New Wave classics as Cléo de 5 à 7 and Le Bonheur as well as such seminal personal documentaries as The Gleaners and I and The Beaches of Agnès, turns her camera on the people she and husband Jacques Demy lived with along the Rue Daguerre in Paris’s 14th arrondissement. Varda, who also narrates the film, primarily stands in the background while capturing local shopkeepers talking about their businesses and how they met their spouses as customers stop by, picking up bread, meat, perfume, and other items. Varda uses a goofy, low-rent magic show as a centerpiece, with many of the characters attending this major cultural event; the magician references the magic of both life and cinema itself, with Varda titling the film not only after the street where she lives but also directly evoking the revolutionary photographic process developed by Louis Daguerre in the 1820s and ’30s. Daguerréotypes has quite a different impact now than it did back in the mid-1970s, depicting a time that already felt like the past but now feels like a long-forgotten era, when neighbors knew one another and lived as a tight-knit community. The FIAF CinéSalon series “Agnès Varda: Life as Art” continues with Jacqot de Nantes on March 14 and Lola on March 21. Varda fans will also want to check our her gallery show at Blum & Poe, which runs through April 15.
UGETSU (UGETSU MONOGATARI) (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
209 West Houston St.
Film Forum is presenting a new 4K restoration of one of the most important and influential — and greatest — works to ever come from Japan. Winner of the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 1953 Venice Film Festival, Kenji Mizoguchi’s seventy-eighth film, Ugetsu, is a dazzling masterpiece steeped in Japanese storytelling tradition, especially ghost lore. Based on two tales by Ueda Akinari and Guy de Maupassant’s “How He Got the Legion of Honor,” Ugetsu unfolds like a scroll painting beginning with the credits, which run over artworks of nature scenes while Fumio Hayasaka’s urgent score starts setting the mood, and continues into the first three shots, pans of the vast countryside leading to Genjurō (Masayuki Mori) loading his cart to sell his pottery in nearby Nagahama, helped by his wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), clutching their small child, Genichi (Ikio Sawamura). Miyagi’s assistant, Tōbei (Sakae Ozawa), insists on coming along, despite the protestations of his nagging wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito), as he is determined to become a samurai even though he is more of a hapless fool. “I need to sell all this before the fighting starts,” Genjurō tells Miyagi, referring to a civil war that is making its way through the land. Tōbei adds, “I swear by the god of war: I’m tired of being poor.” After unexpected success with his wares, Genjurō furiously makes more pottery to sell at another market even as the soldiers are approaching and the rest of the villagers run for their lives. At the second market, an elegant woman, Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyō), and her nurse, Ukon (Kikue Mōri), ask him to bring a large amount of his merchandise to their mansion. Once he gets there, Lady Wakasa seduces him, and soon Genjurō, Miyagi, Genichi, Tōbei, and Ohama are facing very different fates.
Written by longtime Mizoguchi collaborator Yoshitaka Yoda and Matsutaro Kawaguchi, Ugetsu might be set in the sixteenth century, but it is also very much about the aftereffects of World War II. “The war drove us mad with ambition,” Tōbei says at one point. Photographed in lush, shadowy black-and-white by Kazuo Miyagawa (Rashomon, Floating Weeds, Yojimbo), the film features several gorgeous set pieces, including one that takes place on a foggy lake and another in a hot spring, heightening the ominous atmosphere that pervades throughout. Ugetsu ends much like it began, emphasizing that it is but one postwar allegory among many. Kyō (Gate of Hell, The Face of Another) is magical as the temptress Lady Wakasa, while Mori (The Bad Sleep Well, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) excels as the everyman who follows his dreams no matter the cost; the two previously played husband and wife in Rashomon, which kicked off the Asia Society series. Mizoguchi, who made such other unforgettable classics as The 47 Ronin, The Life of Oharu, Sansho the Bailiff, and Street of Shame, passed away in 1956 at the age of fifty-eight, having left behind a stunning legacy, of which Ugetsu might be the best, and now looking better than ever.
Shimon Dotan’s The Settlers opens with purposefully shaky, uneasy shots from a car speeding down a highway and through a tunnel, then cuts to a calm, peaceful view of a vast, beautiful landscape interrupted by a community of bland houses, creating just the right mood shifts for this compelling documentary, which traverses the history of the controversial Israeli settlements that have been a pivotal part of a possible peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians. Dotan speaks with Rabbi Hanan Porat, the Israeli man considered to be one of the founders of the settlement movement; Palestinian human rights activist Raja Shehadeh, esq.; and a wide range of settlers who defend their right to live where they want to. Dotan also traces the political history of the region over the last century, examining several wars and how the map of the area has continued to change. The film opens March 3 at Film Forum, with writer-director Dotan, whose previous award-winning films include Hot House and The Smile of the Lamb, participating in Q&As following the 7:30 show Friday night, the 7:15 show on Saturday, and the 2:50 show on Sunday.