15 Films to See This Week: Cronenberg, Renoir, Elaine May + More

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From David Cronenberg at BAM and Jean Renoir at FIAF to Bonello at Film Society and Elaine May at MoMa, check out the 15 films you should be seeing in New York.

***MONDAY, MAY 4***

MIKEY AND NICKY, Elaine May
MoMA

This is a weeklong run of MoMA’s recently struck 35mm print of Mikey and Nicky, the third of Elaine May’s brilliant contributions to 1970s American cinema, after A New Leafand The Heartbreak Kid. (Ishtar, from 1987, also has its fierce partisans.) In this noir chamber piece, set over a long, tense night in some of the seedier redoubts of Philadelphia, a jittery John Cassavetes becomes convinced that a local mobster has put a price on his head. As he looks to childhood friend and small-time crook Peter Falk for salvation, old wounds and new treacheries arise.

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BEGGARS OF LIFE, William Wellman
Film Forum

On the run after killing a molesting stepfather, dressed-as-a-boy Louise Brooks is befriended by Richard Arlen and falls in with Wallace Beery’s band of hoboes. Long-thought-lost silent classic, with Brooks’ best pre-German work and dazzling location work on speeding trains. William Wellman, Jr., author of a new memoir, Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel (published by Pantheon), will introduce the screening. Copies of Mr. Wellman’s book will be available for sale at our concession, with book signing to follow the screening.

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GRAVITY + OTHER GRAVITY
BAM

Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón

Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) in command. But on a seemingly routine mission, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. “Shows us the glory of cinema’s future” (Time).

Other Gravity – Trisha Baga

Multimedia artist Trisha Baga, whose work explores “the acts of looking and recognizing, and the gap in between,” created this 3D projection for her 2013 mixed-media installation, Gravity, named after Cuarón’s film.

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HOUSE OF PLEASURES, Bertrand Bonello
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

“I could sleep for a thousand years,” drawls a 19th-century prostitute—paraphrasing Lou Reed—at the start of Bonello’s hushed, opium-soaked fever dream of life in a Parisian brothel at the turn of the century. House of Pleasures is, among other things, Bonello’s most gorgeous and complete application of musical techniques to film grammar, his most rigorous attempt to sculpt cinematic space, his most probing reflection on the origins of capitalist society, and his most sophisticated study of the movement of bodies under immense constraint. A shocking mutilation, a funeral staged to The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” a progression of ritualized, drugged assignations and encounters: Bonello captures it all with a mixture of casual detachment and needlepoint precision.

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PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST, Bertrand Bonello
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Bertrand Bonello stars as “Bertrand,” a filmmaker approaching his next project with a peculiar obsession—monstrosity. Convinced it should be the central theme of his film, he fixates on the notion of monstrous imagery, visiting museums and even hiring a mysterious art historian (played simultaneously by Jeanne Balibar and Géraldine Pailhas) to help him find the painting that best embodies the idea (considering works by Francis Bacon, Caravaggio, and others). But to his shock, the mania consuming his mind begins to manifest itself in his body as a monstrous red stain takes shape on his back. A disquieting yet fascinating (and funny!) mixture of body horror and character study, co-starring Barbet Schroeder as a physician and Joana Preiss as Bertrand’s wife, Barbe.

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***TUESDAY, MAY 5***

THE RULES OF THE GAME, Jean Renoir
FIAF

Set in a country manor, this classic farce follows members of high society—smartly dressed in Chanel— as they sit down to extravagant dinners, hunt rabbits, get ready for a costume ball, and sneak in and out of each other’s bedrooms. Made just before the outbreak of the second World War, Renoir’s labyrinthine film is a powerful and prescient satire of a philandering ruling class. 

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IRIS and LOSING THE THREAD
Film Forum

Iris – Albert Maysles

She has a shock of white hair, signature thick, round black glasses – and is adorned by a vast number of fabulous bracelets and necklaces. You’ve probably seen Iris Apfel at galleries, openings, flea markets, and in the pages of The New York Times’s Styles section. “My mother worshipped at the altar of the accessory,” confides the 93-year-old fashion icon to 87-year-old legendary documentarian Albert Maysles, long famous (with his brother David) forSALESMAN, GIMME SHELTER, and GREY GARDENS. Iris is a master of bravura style: mixing valuable antiques, colorful plastic doodads, Native American handicrafts, and high-end costume pieces, all to wonderful effect. The furthest thing from an empty-headed fashionista, she is witty and disarming, unpretentious, and full of the kind of wisdom you wish your grandmother had imparted.

Losing the Thread – Vivian Ostrovsky

Complemented by Vivian Ostrovsky’s short paean to fashion, LOSING THE THREAD. In the spirit of Iris Apfel, it’s a funny and stylish compendium that conflates Coco Chanel, Charles Bukowski, Fellini’s 8½, Soviet fabrics from the 1920s, Man Ray’s art, and much else.

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***WEDNESDAY, MAY 6***

NAKED LUNCH, David Cronenberg
BAM

Movies on the Radio and Spinning on Air host David Garland comes to BAM to discuss the work of three-time Academy Award-winning film composer Howard Shore, who wrote the music for this brilliant mind-melter. A writer and cockroach exterminator (Weller) gets hooked on his own insecticide, accidentally kills his wife, and winds up in the frighteningly surreal Interzone, where typewriters transform into giant talking bugs and shadowy agents peddle a drug called The Black Meat. William S. Burroughs’ bizarro Beat novel finds its perfect interpreter in David Cronenberg, who brings it to the screen with all its weirdness and melancholy fully intact.

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BUSINESS AND PLEASURE, David Butler
MoMA

1932. USA. Directed by David Butler. With Will Rogers, Jetta Goudal, Joel McCrea. Business and Pleasure is one in a series of “Innocents Abroad” comedies from Fox Film Corp. featuring the Oklahoma sage Will Rogers as a no-nonsense Midwesterner forced to contend with the cultural eccentricities of foreign lands. This time, Rogers is an aw-shucks manufacturer of razor blades whose family vacation in Arabia provides cover for his attempt to purchase the secret of “Damascus steel” from Bedouin chief Boris Karloff. McCrea is a stuffy New York playwright who warms to the blue eyes of Rogers’s corn-fed daughter (Peggy Ross), while silent star Jetta Goudal, in her final film, employs her own heavily lidded orbs to vamp Rogers on behalf of his business rivals. Rare 16mm print. 78 min.

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THE SPEECH OF PRIME MINISTER TANAKA and HOME TOWN
MoMA

The Speech of Prime Minister Tanka – Kenji Mizoguchi

1928. Japan. “The only surviving film produced by Showa Kinema, the first company of pioneering sound-film producer Yoshizo Minagawa, records a speech by conservative Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka, who served from from 1927 to 1929, when he resigned after a dispute with the Emperor. The film features Tanaka standing in front of black drapes, talking directly into the camera as he presents his position on issues ranging from the economy to diplomacy and foreign policy. The identity of the cameraman is unknown, as is the exact date of shooting, but the film passed state censorship on February 6th, 1928, shortly before elections for the House of Representatives, the lower house of Japan’s Diet. As a historical record, the film is important since it not only constitutes Japan’s earliest surviving sound film, but also provides a record of concerns central to Japanese politics in the late 1920s.” In Japanese; English subtitles. 6 min.

Home Town – Kenji Mizoguchi

1930. Japan. Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. With Yoshie Fujiwara, Shizue Natsukawa, Isamu Kosugi, Takako Irie. “Home Town was the first sound film both of its director, Kenji Mizoguchi, and of his studio, Nikkatsu, who co-produced it with sound-film pioneer Yoshizo Minagawa’s second company, Mina Talkie. Yoshie Fujiwara, a European-trained tenor who was the leading Japanese opera singer of the time, played the lead role. A part-talkie, it combines the mobile camerawork of the scenes shot silent with a self-conscious exploration of the rich potential of the new medium, especially in the use of the title song as performed by Fujiwara. The star’s fame, coupled with the novelty of sound, helped to win a limited degree of commercial success and some favourable reviews for this entertaining melodrama. As Mark LeFanu writes, ‘the soundtrack brings Tokyo to life. There is a fine sense of documentary immediacy…. As in many films on the cusp of the silent era, sound is used here with an experimental confidence—a verve, a bravura—that was subsequently lost as sound movies “naturalised” themselves by concentrating merely on registering dialogue clearly.'” In Japanese; English subtitles. 86 min.

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Our Neighbour, Miss Yae – Yasujiro Shimazu
MoMA

1934. Japan. Directed by Yasujiro Shimazu. With Yukichi Iwata, Choko Iida, Yumeko Aizome, Yoshiko Okada, Den Obinata. “Our Neighbour, Miss Yae is considered the representative work of director Yasujrio Shimazu, and one of the major achievements of the 1930s shomin-geki (the drama of the urban lower middle class). Shimazu’s penchant for understated melodrama and his blending of humour and pathos are perfectly expressed in this delicate study of family life and romance. Both in tone and style (an often static camera; a focus on the resonances of interior spaces), comparisons with Ozu are almost inevitable, but Shimazu’s looser, somewhat less formal style has its own distinctive pleasures. Typical of its genre, the film creates characters who are both meticulously detailed individuals and exemplary of the 1930s Japanese family as a whole, allowing viewers to identify closely with their experiences and feelings. The result is a moving, funny and subtle study of prewar Japanese domestic life.” In Japanese; English subtitles. 76 min.

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***THURSDAY, MAY 7***

First Steps Ashore – Yasujiro Shimazu
MoMA

1932. Japan. Directed by Yasujiro Shimazu. With Yaeko Mizutani, Joji Oka, Ureo Egawa, Choko Iida. “Though little known in the West, Yasujiro Shimazu was a key figure in prewar Japanese cinema, one of the pioneers of the gendai-geki (film of contemporary life), and, as patron of such younger directors as Heinosuke Gosho, Yuzo Kawashima, Keisuke Kinoshita, Senkichi Taniguchi, Shiro Toyoda, and Kozaburo Yoshimura, who served as his assistants at Shochiku, a crucial influence on postwar Japanese film. First Steps Ashore, the story of a sailor who begins a love affair with a woman he saves from suicide, was Shochiku’s second sound film and Shimazu’s first. It is a reworking of Josef von Sternberg’s silent classic The Docks of New York(1928) transplanted to the waterfront of Japan’s cosmopolitan port city, Yokohama. Shimazu’s film borrows some of Sternberg’s lustrous lighting techniques as well as plot elements, but also draws on the influence of Japaneseshinpa (“new school”) theatre. Star Yaeko Mizutani was one of the biggest names both in shinpa and in early Japanese sound film, and her sensual, sultry performance is among the film’s greatest assets.” In Japanese; English subtitles. 88 min.

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THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, Nicolas Roeg
BAM

Soundcheck host John Schaefer joins philosopher Simon Critchley (author of the recently published book Bowie) for a conversation about the film that made David Bowie a screen icon. A human-like alien (played by alien-like human Bowie) crash lands on Earth to retrieve water for his planet, but instead discovers pain, loneliness, and the sick soul of American society. Nicolas Roeg’s science-fiction mind-bender is a provocative parable about diseased capitalism in a television-obsessed culture told in a swirl of hallucinatory imagery.

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