Movie Tickets: “The Iron Lady,” “Carnage,” and “King: A Filmed Record”
Our picks for the best in film over the next seven days.
Corman’s World, about producer Roger Corman, opens tomorrow at West End Cinema. Photograph courtesy of Anchor Bay Films.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, plus three Corman classics
Roger Corman, hyperprolific producer of exactly the kind of low-budget, low-concept, high-fun trash that the Motion Picture Academy turns up its nose at during Oscar season, received an Academy Award in 2010. You may not remember it, as he didn’t get up onstage to swelling music during a broadcast that went out to hundreds of millions, but rather received an honorary Oscar in the Academy’s separate Board of Governors ceremony. It seems appropriate that Hollywood should honor him away from the spotlight. Corman produced and/or directed nearly 400 films in his career, and has had an unquantifiably massive impact on the film industry—this is, after all, the man who gave first big breaks to the likes of Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Jonathan Demme, to name just a few. Yet he could probably walk down the street in any city in America without a second glance from all but the most ardent film nerd. Alex Stapleton’s documentary gathers many of those folks to talk about Corman’s legacy, and what makes him such a unique and underappreciated figure in cinema.
The film opens at West End Cinema this weekend, and the venue is also using the opportunity to screen a few of Corman’s classics as late-night fare Friday through Sunday. That starts tomorrow night with one of the number of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations he made with Vincent Price, Fall of the House of Usher. Saturday it’s Little Shop of Horrors, the original film that inspired the musical that inspired the musical film, both of which are, like many of the things Corman is responsible for, much more well known than their inspiration. It’s also a prime example of Corman’s legendary thrift: Little Shop was shot in just two days, on film sets left over from another production, for $30,000. Finally, Sunday night West End will have The Terror, a fun bit of low-budget gothic horror from 1963 that’s perhaps most notable for its incredible collection of talent: The film starsBoris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson, and Corman handed over directorial reins for sections of the film to Nicholson, Coppola, Jack Hill, and Monte Hellman, surely the most impressive roster of uncredited directors in the history of cinema.
As it does every year on Martin Luther King Day, the AFI is screening Sidney Lumet and Joseph Mankiewicz’s sprawling MLK documentary on Monday. The two directors began putting the film together not long after King’s assassination, pulling together as much newsreel footage as they could find about the man. That includes plenty of famous moments, such as his “I have a dream” and Nobel Prize acceptance speeches, and, with a running time of three hours, lots of seldom-seen footage, as well. Lumet and Mankiewicz enlisted the services of celebrities including Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Burt Lancaster, and Charlton Heston, among others, to narrate the piece. There is still no home video release of the film, making the AFI’s annual screenings one of the few venues to see the full, uncut work. This event is always presented for free; tickets can be obtained on Monday at the AFI box office, with a limit of four per person.
The Global Film Initiative is an organization that seeks to use cinema to promote cross-cultural understanding, and in service of that mission, it assembles an annual Global Lens film series that screens at locations across the country. The first DC appearance of the series in 2012 is this weekend at the Freer, with a screening of Turkish director Tolga Karaçelik’s 2010 film about a tollbooth attendant dealing with an overbearing father and a numbingly dull life that winds up driving him to the breaking point. The director will be on hand this weekend to discuss the film afterward.
If seeing Hugo or The Artist in the past few weeks piqued your interest in early silent cinema, the National Gallery has a double feature this weekend from one of the first 20th-century movie studios based in the original home of the American movie industry: Fort Lee, New Jersey. Before Hollywood became synonymous with the movies, Fort Lee was home to an explosion of early movie studios, one of which was Éclair, a French studio looking to make inroads in an American market hungry for new movies. The first of the films from Éclair’s catalog on tap this weekend is Robin Hood, based on an 1890 operetta, followed by Alias Jimmy Valentine, a crime drama from French directorMaurice Tourneur. Both of these films will be accompanied by pianist Andrew Simpson, and introduced by Richard Koszarski, who literally wrote the book on cinema in Fort Lee.
These two are combined into one blurb this week because they’re both films I was looking forward to beforehand that ended up hugely disappointing me. I’m not so much recommending them as trying to curtail expectations for a pair of films many of you may also have been anticipating. Yes, Meryl Streep is transformative as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. And yes, Roman Polanski does gather an impressive and committed cast for a blackly comic exercise in psychological discomfort, an area that ought to be right in his ballpark, in Carnage. Unfortunately, Streep is undercut by a film that is almost unwatchably maudlin, a paradigm of calculated prestige-grabbing that might be just forgettable without a framing device that concentrates all its time on showing a modern-day Thatcher debilitated by dementia; no matter one’s opinion of her politics, she deserved a better film than this. Meanwhile, Polanski’s film suffers from being based on a play that never feels as if it was fully adapted into a movie. The single setting of a New York City apartment, with two sets of parents having passive-aggressive and then just aggressive arguments over an altercation between their respective sons, never stops feeling like a four-walled stage, and the film ultimately seems awkward and forced.
Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week: Moneyball
It seems unlikely that anyone would turn portions of a book about a statistical approach to baseball management into a feature film, let alone one as entertaining and, yes, even emotional as Moneyball—but somehow it works. It doesn’t hurt that the real-world story being told here centers on one of the most exciting winning streaks in baseball history: that of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who, under general manager Billy Beane, managed to make it to the playoffs despite being the poorest team in the majors. Pitt stars as Beane, who attempts to rebuild an Athletics team that’s lost three marquee players to other, richer teams, and decides to do so not by paying money that the team doesn’t have to more marquee players, but by using the sabermetrics statistical concepts to build a team that can score runs without relying on superstar players. Check out my full review at DCist from last year for more on how director Bennett Miller managed to make a movie about spreadsheets and statistics so engaging.
Special Features: Featurettes on various aspects of the making of the movie, as well as about the real Billy Beane, and a more in-depth look at the statistical concepts that drive his approach to baseball, plus outtakes and deleted scenes.
View the trailer: