The movie I am looking forward to most next year is I SAW THE LIGHT, Marc Abraham’s Hank Williams biopic starring Tom Hiddleston. Executive Music Producer (and one of the great singer/songwriters of our times) Rodney Crowell offers a report:
A little-known moment from contemporary British history steps into the spotlight with Pride. In 1984, as U.K. coal miners strike in a showdown with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, they receive support from an unexpected quarter: gay and lesbian activists. Director Matthew Warchus’ comedy drama limns this unusual alliance in a film that stars Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Pirate Radio), Dominic West (The Wire), Paddy Considine (Submarine, The World’s End), Andrew Scott (Locke), Sherlock‘s Moriarty), and Imelda Staunton (Maleficent, Another Year. This CBS Films release opens stateside on September 19.
Twenty-six years ago, book lovers and science geeks everywhere bought Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, his attempt to make cosmology understandable for the layman. The book made the astrophysicist a rock star among scientists, a legend that continues to fascinate not just for his big brain, but also for his very survival. Diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) when he was only 21, Hawking was given two years to live. He’s now 72.
Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th and in theaters on November 7th, The Theory of Everything relates Hawking’s story as a young man who does not let a horrible disease prevent him from working on his theories or stop him from falling in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, Shadow Dancer), the film stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
George Miller’s last three movies were Happy Feet Two (2011), Happy Feet (2006), and Babe: Pig in the City, but back in the late 1970s and 1980s, the director made his bones with a trilogy not so family friendly. Not by a long shot. Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome were action movies with brains in their collective portrait of a horrifying future dystopia where mere survival is a day-to-day battle.
Perhaps Miller grew tired of dancing penguins and sweet-natured pigs, or perhaps he noticed that the world’s people are still burning through resources and killing each other rate at an alarming rate. Whatever the reason, he’s returned to the Australian Outback and resurrected Mad Max with Tom Hardy—last seen as a well-meaning blockhead in Locke (2013), a taciturn bootlegger in Lawless, and Batman villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)—taking over the role from Mel Gibson. Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures unveiled a teaser trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road at last weekend’s Comic-Con, it’s furious action, explosions, and outsized violence compressed into 2:44 minutes signaling that Miller hasn’t grown soft in the intervening decades since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Of course, moviegoers won’t know that for sure until next May 15 when Mad Max: Fury Road arrives in theaters, but this is one promising trailer.–Pam Grady
After toiling in television for half a dozen years, Don Murray made his big screen debut in Joshua Logan’s romantic comedy drama Bus Stop (1956). His role as a cowboy smitten with a singer played by Marilyn Monroe earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and made him a movie star at 27. He went on to make a number of high-profile films, including A Hatful of Rain (1957) and Advise and Consent (1962), but his career never quite reached the heights that Bus Stop promised.
Instead, Murray’s career became much more idiosyncratic and much more interesting. He worked on a number of his own projects, including writing, producing, and starring in The Hoodlum Priest (1961), an involving drama shot by Haskell Wexler with Murray as a priest struggling to keep juvenile delinquents on the straight and narrow, and writing, producing, and starring in Confessions of Tom Harris (1969), a truly eccentric drama in which Murray plays the titular character, a one-time vicious criminal who became a prison chaplain as well as Murray’s stand-in and stunt double after a conversion to faith. He also appeared in independent features, such as Herbert Danska’s Sweet Love, Bitter (1967), a downbeat drama set to Mal Waldron’s evocative score, in which Murray plays an alcoholic college professor in free fall who becomes friends with a Charlie Parker-like, junkie jazz musician played by comedian Dick Gregory.
All of these films and more will screen July 11-13 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater as part of A Very Special Weekend with Don Murray. Coordinated by Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine and filmmaker Don Malcolm, who is currently directing and producing Unsung Hero, a documentary about Murray, the program offers a broad range of Murray’s movie and television work. The actor, who turns 85 this month, will be on hand over the weekend along with other special guests.
Malcolm will also screen clips from Unsung Hero throughout the retrospective. In this Q&A, he talks about Murray, his career, and what inspired Malcolm to make a documentary.
Q: Was there a defining movie for you, one that made you think, ‘There’s a film here?’
Donald Malcolm: I would say The Hoodlum Priest really broke something open. Don was the writer of the script, the producer, and all of that. I said, ‘How could that combination of talent not end up doing more of that kind of work?’ I found out why later on as we got into it. I think it really galvanized him—it didn’t happen all at once—I went and did the research and found the things that were hard to find.
I suddenly realized there were two phases to his career, the one that was sort of in the wake of Bus Stop up through The Hoodlum Priest. Then there was the material that followed, which then became more puzzling, more interesting, and just made the story even more needed to be told. As I got to know Don, I got to understand his perspective on it. Then I realized there were aspects of what he had been doing and the type of person he was when he wasn’t making movies that made it clear there was another thread that can be told in the story.
Q: In his more personal work there seems to be an emphasis on social justice and faith, most explicitly in The Hoodlum Priest.
DM: There’s a point of connection between social justice and the benefits of religious faith, and understanding how to apply it and how to use it in one’s life without being doctrinaire about it…Hoodlum Priest is what I would call a combination of a social problem film and neorealism jammed together to make a very hyper-dramatic point, which I think it’s very successful in doing, but it is looking backward into a different style of filmmaking that I think Don became enamored with when he first came to Hollywood. Obviously, he had an idea of how he wanted that film to look and he found Haskell Wexler making B noirs. He signed Wexler and [director] Irvin Kershner to do it from that side of the camera for him.
Q: Did you have any problems tracking down material for the documentary? Obviously, there are the things you’re screening at the Roxie, but beyond that group of movies, did anything prove elusive?
DM: There’s tons of stuff we weren’t able to get and we’re still working on getting bits and pieces to show in the film. One of the areas that will be covered as part of the quartet of films we’re showing on Saturday that deal with race relations is the live Philco Playhouse TV show called A Man Is Ten Feet Tall where he is opposite Sidney Poitier. Live television experience was something that buoyed Don quite a bit, because his contract with Fox didn’t push him to do that many movies and he was having trouble finding movies, because they kept trying to find some variation of Bus Stop or cowboy or whatever. They never quite figured out how to market him or go with him beyond that, because he also had a mind of his own and said, ‘I don’t want to do that kind of work.’
Don never wanted to do the same thing twice. As he said, ‘I came to Hollywood and they said I needed to establish a persona that the audience could relate and would be a reliable thing for them to get behind. I did the exact opposite.’ Live television turned out to be a great way for Don and many other actors with similar predilections to stay working…The actors enjoyed the challenge of working in a live context. It was like doing a play one time in front of a national audience. It also kept them in the public eye, because those shows were popular. That sustained Don quite a bit and that is one of the areas of his career that is difficult to reconstruct sufficiently in the documentary.
Q: How much time have you spent with Don?
DM: Quite a bit. Quite a bit of time, quite a lot of discussion to understand his perspective and finding out about his development as a young man and how he came to form a lot of his ideals and beliefs. It was important to have the time and also meet some of the people who worked with him when he was doing the refugee project that he did in the late ’50s that was an outgrowth of him doing alternative service as a conscientious objector during Korea. That’s all part of the story, trying to get people to understand the kind of person he is and how that shapes a lot of work that he’s done.
Don said, ‘Are you sure that my story is really the one that should be told? Is it really all that bad?’ I said, ‘All that bad? You’re a stoic. You’re a survivor. You’re a guy that found a way to forget about be forgotten and found a way to live a life that had nothing to do with all the hype and the craziness that can go in being in that kind of profession.’—Pam Grady
For more information about A Very Special Weekend with Don Murray, visit roxie.com.
Sometimes truth is more colorful than fiction. Such is the case of John Wojtowicz, the inspiration behind Sidney Lumet’s classic thriller Dog Day Afternoon. Like Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik character, Wojtowicz claims he robbed a Chase Manhattan bank branch for the love of a transgendered woman. But there is a lot more to Wojtowicz’s story than that, and Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren capture it all in The Dog, a hugely entertaining and surprisingly poignant documentary. Blending archival footage and contemporary interviews, the film presents an in-depth portrait of a man who evolved from Goldwater Republican to Stonewall era gay rights activist before taking his legendary detour into crime. The Dog comes to theaters August 8 and VOD August 15. –Pam Grady
Elmore Leonard fans take note: Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime, his adaptation of Leonard’s novel Switch, is coming to theaters and VOD on August 29. Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes star as, respectively, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Jackie Brown) and Louis Gara, two Detroit low lifes who kidnap millionaire Frank Dawson’s (Tim Robbins) wife Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), expecting to cash in on a huge ransom. Isla Fisher, Mark Boone Jr., Will Forte, Kevin Corrigan, Charlie Tahan, and Clea Lewis complete the ensemble of this comic caper set in a gritty, ’70s era Motor City and filled with Leonard’s vivid, witty dialogue.
Thirty films will unreel at the 2014 edition of Elliot Lavine’s I Wake Up Dreaming noir film festival, a staple since 1990 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. During the festival’s 10-day run—Friday, May 16-Sunday, May 25—Lavine promises “a spectrum of pre-code crime, proto-noir, full-on film noir, and even a smattering of post-noir.” He will announce the full lineup and screen 1948’s The Argyle Secrets, a rarity not seen on the big screen locally in nearly seven decades, at the Roxie’s first ever I Wake Up Dreaming benefit on Wednesday, March 26.
The Roxie event promises to be a memorable evening that will also include an auction of vintage noir memorabilia; the unveiling of the 2014 I Wake Up Dreaming poster, featuring the work of artist Mark Stock, who will be on hand to sign posters; a screening of Rudolph Maté’s 1949 classic D.O.A.; and free liquor.
The evening’s highlight, Cy Endfield’s The Argyle Secrets, stars William Gargan as a reporter implicated in murder and on the hunt for an album, made distinctive by its argyle cover, that contains the names of American Nazi collaborators.
Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, “[The Argyle Secrets] shot on a B-minus budget in six days and running just over an hour, crams so much hallucinatory plot into one 24-hour period that the results have some of the hysteria as well as the dreamy drift of subsequent apocalyptic thrillers like Kiss Me Deadly.”
All money raised at the benefit will go toward supporting the nonprofit Roxie’s repertory programming.
Tickets for the first ever I Wake Up Dreaming benefit are $25. The event begins at 7pm with entertainment, the auction, poster signings and refreshments. The Argyle Secrets screens at 8pm, followed by D.O.A. At 9:30.
For more information, call the Roxie at 415-431-3611 or Elliot Lavine at 510-482-1659.
Forget about Rice-A-Roni. The real San Francisco treat this week can be found in the Mission at the Roxie Theater where they are celebrating upcoming opening of Wes Anderson’s latest confection (a word entirely appropriate to this particular movie) The Grand Budapest Hotel with a 35mm retrospective of Wes Anderson’s finest. Even better: Buy a ticket to any of the shows to enroll automatically in the Zissou Society, the perk of membership being a special sneak preview of what the Roxie is calling “a very exciting new movie” (read between the lines, people) on Thursday, March 13.
The Roxie Theater’s Wes Anderson retrospective runs Saturday, March 8-Thursday, March 13, a schedule that runs as follows:
Saturday, March 8: Moonrise Kingdom, 2:15pm and Rich Kids, 4pm. (The latter may not be a Wes Anderson film, but MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS is co-presenting with the promise that this 1979 comedy-drama—executive produced by Robert Altman—will reveal Anderson’s “secret DNA.”)
Sunday, March 9: The Royal Tenenbaums, 7pm
Monday, March 10: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 7pm
Tuesday, March 11: The Darjeeling Limited, 7pm
Wednesday, March 12: Fantastic Mr. Fox, 7pm
Thursday, March 13: The delectable surprise sneak preview for Zissou Society members. A hint: It involves Wes Anderson. (Presented in DCP), 7pm.
For tickets and further information, visit http://www.roxie.com.