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We close out our wonderful Alec Guinness Centennial with the David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia. This nearly four hour masterpiece is like digesting a great novel in one evening–you emerge from the theater shaken, a bit overwhelmed, maybe a tiny bit starstruck, and better for the experience. Add to that the fact that this may be the last time Lawrence is screened on 35mm, like, ever. You can’t beat this for a brilliant summer night’s diversion. Besides, what else are you going to watch? X-Men?

This is the movie that made Peter O’Toole a star, and it seemed to weigh heavily on him the rest of his career. Guinness, for his part, plays Prince Faisal, the King of Syria and Iraq. Supposedly, Guinness did such a great job that many people mistook him for the real Faisal while visiting the set. He also claimed to have learned his accent from co-star Omar Sharif.

Lawrence of Arabia also holds the record for being the longest film ever to win Best Picture. Don’t miss this rare epic screening!

Lawrence of Arabia screens at the Trylon Friday and Saturday at 7:00, Sunday at 5:00 (please note ONE SHOW PER DAY.) Purchase tickets here.

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The Trylon and Heights Theater’s 1939: Hollywood’s Zenith series begins at the Heights on Thursday night, with Frank Capra’s acclaimed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington review by Trylon regular Ben Schmidt.

In roughly a month, Michael Bay’s new Transformers movie will flicker to life in theaters across America. In its latest trailer, we’re teased with a scene in which a large robot (man) rides into battle atop another, larger robot (dinosaur). Honestly now, shouldn’t that be the whole bit? Faced with the breathy promise of fire-breathing theropod robotic locomotion, most of us are either all in or all out.

Point being, for those who aren’t eagerly awaiting Bay’s latest installment of constant motion and àla carte idealism, I prescribe its polar opposite, Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

This is the perfect time to (re)visit a film whose arresting power comes to stand in the complete absence of motion. Where the strength of a young senator’s idealism is pushed to the limits, as he must filibuster, refusing to yield the floor of the Senate in order to defend both his honor and his ideals.

So iconic is Stewart’s performance in these filibuster scenes, it’s easy to overlook the rest of the film entirely. Snippets from Smith’s third act are often featured in awards shows and are easily accessible online. Because really, who can make the time?

Why, you can.

On Thursday evening, choose to sit in witness of Mr. Smith as if perched high up in the Senate gallery, cringing as the deck is stacked again and again against the titular hero of this film.

And at the end of it all, when Jefferson Smith has all but been crushed, marvel as Capra stubbornly refuses to send in the cavalry, dino or otherwise, to save the day.

For of the two directors, Capra is certainly bolder than Bay, believing that our job as citizens is to cling dearly to that which is most good and true. And by doing so, we give truth the power to remain standing, even when our legs have given way.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington screens Thursday night at 7:30 at the Heights Theater. Purchase tickets here.

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The Trylon’s celebrated Alec Guinness Centennial continues with our final Ealing Studios comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Review by Trylon volunteer David Berglund.

In a few short weeks, the Tony Awards will take place at Radio City Music Hall. More likely than not, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, nominated for a leading 10 awards, will take home a haul, including Best Musical. While I was lucky enough to see this very entertaining production on a recent trip to New York, I could not help but find myself comparing it to another work that shares its source material (Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank: the Autobiography of a Criminal). That work is, of course, the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, a personal favorite of mine, and, as far as I am concerned, a bona fide masterpiece.

Both works share the ludicrous and ingenious plot of a discarded distant heir to nobility systematically knocking off his eccentric and pompous relatives to attain status, but it is Kind Hearts that ultimately proves to be the more daring and impressive work. Where Guide thrives on its witty wordplay, physical comedy, and an energetic, Gilbert and Sullivan-esque score, Hearts does something far more interesting – it allows its sociopathic protagonist to wholly have the stage and control the film’s tone and perspective, largely by way of ever-present, carefully crafted voiceover.

One would think that this would be an unpleasant experience, but by drawing outcast Louis Mazzini (played with a deliciously dry sensibility by Dennis Price) as a witty, affable, and meticulously reasoned fellow whose pragmatism simply supersedes a moral code, the film allows viewers to simultaneously hold sympathy for him and comfortably denounce his murderous actions. By allowing Mazzini to present himself as a gentleman of sincere intent, the film pulls off a daring trick in creating an antihero who is both quite thoroughly entertaining while being wholly condemnable. It is a tightrope that director Roger Hamer walks with absolute perfection, mirroring Louis’s studied words with equally carefully crafted compositions.

All of this is aided by the presence of the shape shifting Alec Guinness, who plays all eight of the doomed heirs standing between Louis and his goal. What is most impressive about Guinness’s performances are that they are all distinct and amusing, but never distracting. It is clear that Guinness is not concerned with stealing the show, but rather with providing the film with a subtle quirkiness and continuity. To put it another way, his presence throughout the film adds uniformity to the object of Mazzini’s vengeance and furthers the idea that the family shares an ugliness that is simply begging to be eradicated. While Mazzini’s vengeful tactics are clearly unjustified, we nevertheless cannot help but wish for justice to be served and feel a twinge of excitement with him as his victims fall. Thus, by filling the story with a cast full of entertaining and despicable scoundrels, the film once again expertly walks a fine line in making murder equal parts deplorable and enjoyable. Needless to say, it is a one of a kind cinematic experience.

David Berglund is a proud Longfellow resident and ardent cinema junkie who previously wrote on film with his wife, Chelsea Berglund, on their Movie Matrimony blog.

Kind Hearts and Coronets screens Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 & 9:00 at the Trylon. Purchase tickets here.

936full-family-plot-posterThe Sixth Annual Hitchcock Festival closes with the Master’s final film, Family Plot. Don’t miss this rare screening!

Family Plot review by Trylon volunteer Greg Hunter.

Imagine a film of hazy California afternoons. A film in which a stretch of sun-bleached coast is as fine a backdrop for violence as any back alley. Our guide at this time, in this place, is an unserious take on the existential detective—a man who can barely guide himself sometimes. Inhabiting this character is an actor perfectly suited to Hollywood’s iconoclastic seventies. Our director, surveying the scene, finds poetry in confusion.

The film, of course, is Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. But Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot meets a couple of these criteria, too. Unlike The Long Goodbye, Family Plot is screening at the Riverview this Monday.

Family Plot found Hitchcock returning to the United States after his final shoot in England (for 1972’s  Frenzy)—and perhaps trying to apprehend the change in the air. The movie features Bruce Dern as a Californian cab driver who, along with his fake-psychic girlfriend (Barbara Harris), stumbles into a criminal conspiracy. Dern’s wonderfully named George Lumley is more a figure of fun than most of Hitchcock’s leads, and the film as a whole plays as a not-wholly-successful caper—a transitional work for which there is no next step. The piece that follows is not a work of contrarianism, not an essay suggesting that Family Plot isn’t one of Hitchcock’s weaker movies. Family Plot is one of Hitchcock’s weaker movies. But no one needs a spirit of adventure in order to attend a really good Hitchcock film. So here are incentives for the adventurous.

Hitch on the Verge: Family Plot is not quite the Hitchcockian equivalent of the Quincy punk episode, but the movie does find the director navigating some cultural shifts. It’s not just a movie Hitchcock made in the seventies—it’s Hitchcock making a seventies movie. Hitchcock had told California stories before, but unlike Vertigo, Family Plot was produced after The Long Goodbye (1973) and Chinatown (1974), films that established the state as the decade’s destination for noir. Hitchcock’s final film is more cumbersome than those Altman and Polanski works, but it has an interesting sort of interpretability: a viewer can watch Family Plot and wonder if Hitchcock is trying to run with the dogs, or if he’s reacting against the works of his younger peers by creating something a little quainter.

Weirdo Heroes: Maybe the most seventies thing about Family Plot is Hitchcock’s casting of Bruce Dern as his lead. Dern’s an affable goober in the film, as opposed to one of the psychotics or neurotics he has also played. He’s also, on a more basic level, odder looking than previous Hitchcock leading men. Give Hitchcock credit here: if he had begun to see a world or a culture he didn’t recognize, he at least cast his final film according to his impressions of that world. Bolder still: Barbara Harris in the place of Hitchcock’s typical leading lady.

Not only was Barbara Harris older than many of her predecessors at the time of filming—around forty—she also performs the role of Blanche the fake psychic with little of the rigidity that Hitchcock often demanded from female actors. In fact, Blanche seems kind of stoned most of the time. It might be a stretch to say that, with Harris, Hitchcock intended to capture the zeitgeist—to depict, with Harris, a new cultural fuzziness. Even so, the onscreen result is Hitchcock (not the best at gender relations) introducing a new type of female character at the eleventh hour of his career (and one who’s more adept at navigating a criminal conspiracy than she first appears).

Weirder Villains: Barbara Harris is at once more grounded and cartoonier than earlier Hitchcock blondes. But the film’s antagonists are stranger still, and, at least on a visual level, some of Hitchcock’s most memorable baddies. As the thieving Arthur Adamson, William Devane looks like Alfred E. Newman grown up and gone to seed, with skeevy mannerisms to match. His scenes occasionally play as if they’re anticipating the type of villainy that flourished on ’80s primetime action shows rather than maintaining the tradition established by Robert Walker and Joseph Cotton, but even that suits the film’s relatively-low-stakes vibe. Meanwhile, the scenes in which Adamson’s accomplice (Karen Black) disguises herself to retrieve a payday play as if they’ve been spliced in from a different film entirely. Decked out in huge polygonal sunglasses and a wide-brimmed black hat, Black’s character Fran is halfway to being a giallo-film character, a costuming choice that—in a movie full of discordant details—rings out powerfully.

Fodder for the John Williams Completist: Even if you think that John Williams, say, crapped all over the final third of Lincoln, he still wrote some of the most memorable scores in the history of motion pictures. Family Plot arrived in theaters not long after the success of Jaws, and about one year before Star Wars, and people who know more about the composing of music than I do could probably go crazy examining the shared DNA in these different pieces. Talk about a transitional work!

Sexy Closure: Many Hitchcock fans consider Family Plot the closing entry in trilogy of films about theft and sex (in particular, the allure of criminal activity). To Catch a Thief, Marnie, and Family Plot weren’t released one after the other, but together they form a spiritual arc. Even if Family Plot is not as revolutionary a work as that of Robert Altman or his contemporaries, watched in the context of Hitchcock’s filmography, it underscores how weird popular film managed to get for a while.

Finally, This Scene: In all its frantic charm:

Greg Hunter (gregjhunter.tumblr.com) is a writer-editor from Minneapolis. His work has appeared in The RumpusThe Comics JournalThe Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, and elsewhere. He concept-tweets in obscurity as @Dialogue_Log.

Family Plot screens Monday night at the Riverview Theater at 7:00. Purchase tickets here.