Double your viewing pleasure
By pairing the old and the new, this revival house gives cinephiles the big picture.
Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek in Depression-era Los Angeles, as envisioned by Robert Towne. Towne also wrote Chinatown, a touchstone L.A. film set in the same period. (Melinda Sue Gordon)
The New Bev has gotten a bad rap in recent years for its unabashedly down-market decor, but the theater's sound and projection have been upgraded and it retains much of its uniqueness as the city's only true revival theater.
Perusing its distinctive double-sided calendar — one can be glimpsed on Jon Favreau's refrigerator in "Swingers" — will whet a savvy filmgoer's appetite for two months of cinemania. June promises double doses of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa and Elia Kazan. Other classics include a Marx Brothers triple-bill and Abel Gance's 1927 silent epic, "Napoleon." If your tastes run more to the lurid, there is the monthly Grindhouse night, plus Italian horror and '50s 3-D offerings.
DVDs have made it easier to see many of these films, but unless you have one of those monolithic home-theater setups, it's a little like looking at a postcard rather than visiting a museum. Also, with theatrical release windows rapidly shrinking, it's become increasingly difficult to catch new films in their limited runs on the big screen. The New Beverly frequently pairs recent releases with an earlier film by a director, screenwriter or actor, often providing a last chance to see a film projected full-size.
Beginning Friday, the 1974 Robert Towne-Roman Polanski classic "Chinatown" is paired with Towne's adaptation of John Fante's novel "Ask the Dust." It's a chance to contrast Towne's vision of Depression-era Los Angeles in films made 30 years apart.
Though "Ask the Dust" was a disappointment and didn't last long in theaters this year, for fans of L.A. literature and films, it's still a must-see. Colin Farrell seems miscast as aspiring writer Arturo Bandini, but Salma Hayek shines as the Mexican waitress who beguiles him. Towne's recreation of 1930s Los Angeles — the film was shot in South Africa — is likewise something to behold. Specific locales such as Bunker Hill, the Angel's Flight funicular and the 3rd Street tunnel are strikingly imagined.
One of the touchstone L.A.-set films, "Chinatown" is always ripe for viewing. Jack Nicholson wears Towne's private eye Jake Gittes like a finely tailored suit, sneering his way through the whiplash plot while falling under the hypnotic spell of Faye Dunaway. John Huston plays Noah Cross, one of the great loathsome villains of the 1970s. Towne's script was recently selected by the Writers Guild as the third greatest of all time, behind only "Casablanca" and "The Godfather."
More Jack is in store Sunday through Tuesday with two Stanley Kubrick films from the '80s — actually the only Kubrick films of the '80s — "The Shining" and "Full Metal Jacket." In the former, Nicholson discovers that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" in Kubrick and co-screenwriter Diane Johnson's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's novel. Contemporary directors working in the horror genre could learn a thing or two from Kubrick, who expertly balances suspense and terror with Nicholson's outrageous turn as Jack Torrance, a writer who moves his wife and son to an isolated hotel called the Overlook, where he is to be the caretaker.
It would be seven years before Kubrick would return with another kind of horror — the Vietnam War of "Full Metal Jacket." Divided into two parts, a platoon of Marines endures boot camp at Parris Island and their experience in the war. Matthew Modine stars as Joker, a smart-mouthed recruit slated to be a combat journalist. Joker runs headlong into an immoveable object: Lee Ermey's no-nonsense drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. The breakout performance, however, comes from Vincent D'Onofrio as a slovenly, obese recruit who draws Hartman's ire and the unflattering nickname Pvt. Pyle (as in Gomer).
The Coen brothers finish out the week with 1990's "Miller's Crossing" and 1991's "Barton Fink." On the heels of their first two films, "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona," the Coens made a pair of stylish period pieces that feature their usual retinue of character actors and unusual star turns.
"Miller's Crossing" stars Gabriel Byrne as Tom, the right-hand man to a powerful Irish mobster, Leo (Albert Finney), whose mistress, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), he happens to be sleeping with. Verna has an untrustworthy brother, Bernie (John Turturro), who needs to be eliminated, but Leo's hesitation leads to a chain of events that plunge the city's Prohibition-era underworld into chaos. Jon Polito, Mike Starr and Steve Buscemi are among the Coen regulars on hand. The Dashiell Hammett-inspired story is particularly lively whenever the cigar-smoking, machine gun-wielding Finney is on-screen.
Turturro steps up to leading-man status as the bespectacled, Clifford Odets-like title character in "Barton Fink." Fink, a lefty playwright from the East, comes to Hollywood to write a Wallace Beery wrestling picture for studio head Jack Lipnick (played by another Coen regular, Oscar-nominated Michael Lerner). A case of writer's block of biblical proportions propels Fink into a living hell populated by a deceptively jovial insurance salesman (John Goodman), a Faulkneresque author (John Mahoney) and his saucy secretary-girlfriend (Judy Davis).