Spider-Man has been hitting screens (prior to 2002, small ones rather than large) in various forms for decades, so it should perhaps not be as big a surprise as it seemed when the decision was made to reboot the cinematic version of everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood webslinger. Ten years after Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire created the definitive cinematic version of the character, Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield reset the clock to retell Spidey’s origin story. Advance reviews have been good, but not great, so it remains to be seen whether audiences have room in their hearts for a new version of this story while the previous one is still relatively fresh in their minds. Raimi’s films (the first two, at least) provide some pretty big shoes to fill, but Garfield’s surprise appearance at Comic-Con last year in conjunction with the film at least revealed the passion for the character that will be necessary to try to step into them.
With Silverdocs over and the AFI’s spring series over or winding down, it’s time for a new crop of retrospectives and special engagements to provide audiences with a respite from the summer heat.
Totally Awesome 6: Great Films of the 1980s: One of the AFI’s most beloved annual series, the Totally Awesome ’80s series, kicks off its sixth installment this weekend with the usual diverse array of audience favorites, cult classics, and a few semi-forgotten gems thrown in the mix. This year’s programming may be the best I’ve seen, with even more of the sort of “deep cuts” that give this series more character than what most people go for in ’80s retrospectives. One of the best films in the whole run is also the first: Bruce Robinson’s fantastic cult comedy Withnail & I, about two out-of-work British actors who go for a vacation in the countryside that ends up being anything but relaxing.
Spy Cinema: This year marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond in the movies, so the theater is looking back at spy films in general throughout the decades. That’ll also start this week, with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic North by Northwest and Greta Garbo in Mata Hari.
70-Millimeter Spectacular: Before IMAX, the most spectacular visual experience available to viewers was that provided by 70-millimeter film, a much wider format than the 35-millimeter film most movies were shot on, which offered higher resolution that made epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Laurence of Arabia seem even more epic in scope. The AFI is equipped for 70-millimeter film projection, and it’s always a treat when one of these prints makes its way into the grand Theater One. This summer, there’s a whole series of 70-millimeter prints planned, starting this week with 2001.
Jean Harlow: One of Hollywood’s early sex symbols, synonymous with the image of the blonde bombshell, Jean Harlow would have been 100 years old last year. This summer the AFI revisits a number of her films, starting this weekend with Red Dust, her 1932 film with Clark Gable about a rubber plantation owner who has an affair with Harlow’s character, a woman married to one of his employees; and Bombshell, in which Harlow really stretches by playing a Hollywood sex symbol who attempts to escape her scandalous image by trying to appear more normal.
Full programming and dedicated webpages for a number of these series aren’t yet available; check back at the AFI in the coming days for more comprehensive listings.
Winner of a Special Jury Prize at Cannes last year, this dark Russian thriller from director Andrey Zvyagintsev is about the desperate measures taken by a wife when her husband’s sudden illness reveals that she and her son (from a previous relationship) may not do so well in the will. A study in the limits of survivalist self-interest, the film has been praised for Zvyagintsev’s evocative visuals as well as for the tense Phillip Glass score that ups the film’s uneasy anxiousness.
With only a few more films on his schedule before his self-imposed early retirement from filmmaking, why would Steven Soderbergh waste his time on a flashy, silly romantic comedy starring Channing Tatum as a male stripper in a Tampa dance revue? The answer is that 1) Soderbergh enjoys nothing more than subverting expectations and genre conventions, and 2) Magic Mike is nothing like what the advertising makes it look like. The film finds Soderbergh in much the same territory that defined his Haywire from earlier this year: taking something that looks shallow (in that case, a generic action flick) and seeing how he can give the material depth without sacrificing the expectations for entertainment. As a result, Magic Mike may surprise those who just showed up to see lots of well-chiseled bare abs while still giving them what they came for.
The long collaboration between the Maysles brothers and larger-than-life artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude ended up producing six films, in which the iconic documentarians chronicled the often difficult paths the couple had to take to realize their massive environmental art projects. Umbrellas was the first of the two films done by Albert Maysles after the death of his brother, David (the second being 2008’s The Gates). In it, Maysles’s camera observed as Christo and Jeanne-Claude undertook a project six years in the making that sought to erect 3,100 huge, quarter-ton umbrellas, half of them in blue near Japan’s Pacific coast, and the other half in yellow across the sea in California.
As was the normal format for these films, Maysles’s approach was to hang back during as much of the organization and implementation of the project as possible, showing the day-to-day drama that unfolded. The director is an unapologetic fan of the sometimes controversial pair, and that affinity comes through here. But that affection didn’t prevent them from showing some of the worst moments of the project, however, including the tragedy that unfolded after the umbrellas killed a California woman near the end of the exhibit’s planned duration. The artists decided to close the exhibit early, and during the dismantling, a Japanese worker was also electrocuted and killed.
This weekend’s screening at the National Gallery features a brand new director’s cut of the film.
DVD Pick of the Week: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
One of the most celebrated art house hits of the spring, this Turkish drama follows a group of men as they drive around the countryside searching for a dead body that one of the men, a suspect in the killing along with his brother, is trying to help them find. Only he can’t seem to remember exactly where the body is buried. The search continues through the night, with the search party engaging in conversations that sometimes run to what might seem mundane—yet the film maintains interest throughout its lengthy running time, as secrets begin to be revealed once the body is found and more details of the murder itself begin to come out.
Special Features: A making-of documentary; an interview with the director, Nuri Bilge Ceylan; a featurette on the film’s run at Cannes; and a visual essay from Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive.