J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tribeca ’15: Anniversary Screenings

In fourteen years, the Tribeca Film Festival has grown into an impressive institution, with well-respected grant-writing and film distribution arms. Still, the thirteenth anniversary just isn’t a very round number. However, this year’s Tribeca Film Festival will commemorate a number of films reaching milestones ending with fives and zeroes. Best of all, several of these special screening will be free of charge (although advance ticketing is still required in some cases).

You might have missed the anticipation for the 30th anniversary of Clue the movie, based on the perennially popular board game, which is why Tribeca’s free Drive-In screening is such a public service. Jonathan Lynn’s film was not kindly reviewed at the time, but in retrospect, we can acknowledge it as one of his wittiest works since the Yes, Minister franchise. The spooky old house set is wonderfully detailed and the all-star cast is relentlessly hammy—in a good way. The random uncredited Howard Hesseman sightings also add a dash of surreal humor, but the real star is the deliciously caustic dialogue. Lynn pushes the rapid-fire delivery, as if he broke out Howard Hawks’ old stop-watch. There are actually more films based on board games these days, but Clue remains the best. It screens for free this Thursday (4/16) at the World Financial Plaza.

In 1985, all the love denied Clue was showered on Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, which has become iconic for a reason. The effects were pretty cool for its time, but it had tons of heart. It heralded Michael J. Fox’s apparent arrival as a big time movie star, but despite some successful subsequent releases, Back to the Future 1 remains his cinematic high-water mark. As likable as he and Christopher Lloyd are together, it is impossible to think of the film without hearing Huey Lewis’s Power of Love in your mind’s ear, but that just proves how all the elements truly came together for it. Nostalgically recommended, it screens for free at the BMCC on Saturday (4/25).

Back to the Future presents a very innocent, 1950s version of love, but it is nowhere near as endearing as Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, celebrating its sixtieth anniversary. Arguably, the spaghetti sequence is the first movie moment that suggests to boys and girls kissing scenes might be okay after all. Let’s face it, the film is just adorable, plus it features the sassy vocals of Peggy Lee, performing original songs she co-wrote with Sonny Burke. Parents should take their kids to see it at the Drive-In this Friday (4/17), before Disney cheapens it with another live-action remake.

If you like Peggy Lee (and who the heck doesn’t?), you’re probably okay with Frank Sinatra too. 2015 marks the Sinatra centennial (1915-1998), so Tribeca will celebrate with free screenings of On the Town, Some Came Running, and High Society (trailer here). They are all worth seeing, but the latter is particularly notable. A musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, it co-stars Sinatra in the Jimmy Stewart role, Bing Crosby fearlessly stepping in for Cary Grant, and Grace Kelly in her final film, assuming Katherine Hepburn’s duties. Yes, Philadelphia is the better film, but Society has one thing the other lacks: Louis Armstrong, playing himself.

In fact, Armstrong gets the sort of star treatment he lacked in some of his more problematic early films. He serves as a sort of narrator in the opening and closing segments and performs a flat-out flag-waver, “Now You Has Jazz,” with Crosby. Perhaps the coolest aspect of the number is that each of the All-Stars gets a brief solo, introduced by Crosby. At this time, the line-up consisted of Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), Barrett Deems (drums), and the New Orleans legend in his own right, Edmond Hall on clarinet (but sadly, no Velma Middleton). Society was also the first full screen musical Cole Porter had written in a number of years. It might not be his most memorable work, but there are flashes of that classic wit, like “have you heard, its in the stars, next July we collide with Mars” in “Well, Did You Evah!” It screens at the Regal Battery Park next Friday (4/24), but you’re going to have to deal with rush tickets at this point.

Perhaps the biggest ticket anniversary will be Monty Python and the Holy Grail celebrating forty years of lunacy. In fact, there will be several decidedly not-free Python screenings at Tribeca, as well as the premiere of the documentary Monty Python: the Meaning of Live chronicling their live performances at London’s O2 Arena, designed to pay-off their lawyers’ fees and Terry Jones’ mortgage (full review to come). The Rifftrax guys will also give the live treatment to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, which is only marking its twelfth anniversary, but it feels like it has always been with us. Altogether, it is an interesting selection of old favorites programmed (sometimes for free, sometime not, check the website) at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

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