Each of the clips below originally appeared as an editorial recommendation in the calendar of the Houston Press.
Beetlejuice, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
Before director Tim Burton became lost in the beautiful abyss that is Johnny Depp’s brown eyes, he came out swinging and connecting with his first two directorial features, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. The former went on to almost save network television from itself. The latter, screening at midnight this Friday and Saturday at the River Oaks theatre, wrote Burton’s vision of the world across the back of our optical nerves forever, in broad pinstripes and googly-eyes. It features a hopped-up on sleaze Michael Keaton at his comic peak as the titular character, a fixer/scammer from the afterlife, as well as a hunky young Alec Baldwin, a fetching Geena Davis, Winona Ryder as a goth princess, a shrimp cocktail calypso number, and a hot, hot, hot supporting cast of ghouls, freaks, and soul-eating giant worms. This special Halloween screening threatens happy movie-goers with the prospect of props and conga lines.
Paris, Texas, at Axelrad
Sometimes the only proof against sorrow is bearing witness to the greater sorrows of another. Hence the ongoing relevance of Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. While the film stands on its own cinematic merits and its killer cast, it also bears the secondary distinctions of being, arguably, the most Houston of Houston films, which is to say, perverse and stewed in melancholy, and famously featuring a cameo by Mydolls. Come catch this classic slow-burner for free on the patio at Axelrad.
Manifesto, at 14 Pews
Although it’s only psychics, spiritualists, and televangelists who know for certain whether it will is Tilda Swinton or Cate Blanchett who first meets a soul in heaven, I’m hoping for the latter. Both actresses seem to have caught themselves in the down-diving spiral roll that is art considering itself aloud. Here, Blanchett pulls off a Cindy Sherman-esque tour-de-force. Though the film is about art and artsy things, that may not be enough to put out her fire. Remember, prior to this, Blanchett did a killer turn as Bob Dylan in the similarly inauspicious I’m Not There. Similarly, Swinton has put in her own captivating portrayal of David Bowie here and there. Either qualifies for an Academy Award just for showing up. Either could read a phone book aloud at the Rapture and we’d all of us miss the lift.
Freaky Friday, at Levy Park
Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan star in this 2003 adaptation of Freaky Friday, in which a quarrel-prone mother and daughter awake to find that they have switched bodies with one another and their lives are no longer their own. Levy Park and the Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow present this classic, free-to-the-public, as part of their extended Mother’s Day celebration. Quite wisely, they’ve taken the precaution of showing the film on a Thursday, in order to lessen the chance of any embarrassing body-switching in the park. Just how long ago was 2003? Well, consider this, Lindsay Lohan was once the star of family-friendly movies.
Grease Sing-Along, at the River Oaks Theatre
Dancing on couches, singing into oil-slicked combs and hairbrushes, making lewd with the hip swivels, and otherwise pantomiming the feature film Grease is an American tradition nearly as time-hallowed as Sha Na Na or American Graffiti. From the first disco strings to the ubiquitous mega-mix, Grease is the ’50s as seen through a fully-dilated 70’s lens, perhaps the raunchiest musical to ever bring families together in song and double-entendre. So all you T-Birds and Pink Ladies, even you Scorpions, here’s a chance to shake your tailfeather in the land of Vince Fontaine everlasting. If you take the party out of the theater to the bar it’s almost a sure thing that you’ll catch the bartender’s eye. Who knows, after a stirring serenade of “Sandra Dee” they might even stand you a drink or two (though we implore you, by all that’s holy, under no circumstances should you perform your best “Greased Lightnin'” on the bar itself). If the Exxon Valdez spill and the Deepwater Horizon disaster have taught us anything, it’s that Grease can’t be contained.
El Topo, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
Let’s say you aren’t already a foaming at the mouth fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s visionary films, any one of which could serve as a substitute for a psychotropic drug experience. In that case, El Topo is a good place to start, as it at least takes place with one black leather boot placed inside a recognizable genre, to wit, the spaghetti western. The plot mostly the travails of a mysterious desert drifter. What you make of where it goes from there says as much about your own taste for picaresque literature, shamanic totems, and metempsychosis. Did I already mention this is the easiest to get of all Jodorowsky’s films? John Lennon was a huge fan; he went so far as to help finance Jodorowsky’s next work, the epic The Holy Mountain, in return for which he stole most of his 70s garb from El Topo‘s titular hero.
The Holy Mountain, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
A little too long for a midnight movie, a little too all-consuming for dinner theater, The Holy Mountain is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s big work, a freaked-out freak-out concerning alchemy and the hidden order of things, including, among other things, big hats, the kind you see at festivals these days, due to the resurgence of this film among neo-hippies a decade or so again. More than that, The Holy Mountain is a high-water mark for obsessive production design, perhaps too outre for Kubrick-heads, but unrivaled in terms of its visual verve. Don’t go in drunk, don’t go in stoned, you’re going to need all of your faculties to take it in. In fact, you may need to borrow some ESP and the collected works of Athanasius Kircher, too.
Jodorowsky’s Dune, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
For a fairly straightforward piece of sci-fi, essentially an orientalist fantasy ala Lawrence of Arabia, minus about 80% of that epic’s fun, Frank Herbert’s Dune has attracted some of cinema’s least straightforward, most visually exciting storytellers. David Lynch’s Dune almost, almost makes sense if you’ve already read the original novel, nonetheless it is a dull, piece of b-movie stodge about which the best that can be said is that it has a few nice visual touches including the sandworm design and the steampunk mise-en-scene. Whereas Alejandro Jodorowsky side-stepped the whole novel versus film problem simply, by not reading the book at all. His Dune promised to be a completely insane piece of visionary psychedelic nonsense. He brought in Pink Floyd and Magma on hand to help with the music, and H.R. Giger to do the art design. Though his film was never finished, this film about the unfinished film makes the case that in terms of production design, aesthetics, and ambition, Jodorowsky’s Dune prefigured most of the sci-fi hits of the 70s and 80s, Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, and more.
Santa Sangre, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
The Alamo Drafthouse’s ‘Jodorowsky July’ series continues with Santa Sangre. It may not be the Chilean filmmaker’s most famous film, but is likely his best. This is a story about Fathers and Sons, owing more to Freud than to Turgenev. There’s a little something for circus freaks and tattoo lovers, as well as for enthusiasts of life’s rich and bloody pageant.
M*A*S*H is the film that kicked off director Robert Altman’s long reign over American cinema, as well as the long-running television show of the same name that outlasted the war in which it was set. The screenplay was written by Ring Lardner, Jr, who in 1970 was only five years free to work after decades on the Hollywood blacklist, on which he had been named since 1947. Perhaps that’s a part of why its tone as a feature on army surgeons deployed to the Korean War is more Dulce et Decorum Est than Be All That You Can Be. M*A*S*H is perhaps the most sophisticated anti-war comedy ever made. The screwball antics of Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland pre-date Bill Murray and Harold Ramis’ similar roles in Stripes, but more than that, even more than its own predecessor in black humor Dr. Strangelove, the film is soaked in the blood of the operating theater and the laughs are never far from a feeling of loss and horror.
Eraserhead, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
There’s a line that has it that every serious artist front-loads everything they’ve got into their first major work, and spends the rest of their life unpacking it. Revisiting David Lynch’s extra-icky legendary debut, Eraserhead, after a dip in the return of Twin Peaks or a zip through Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, surely bears this out. A long time in the making, Eraserhead doesn’t so much tell a story as present a rorschach blob of undigested dreams, television flashbacks, and psychoanalytic nightmares. Each of Lynch’s subsequent films resonates with a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the big E. It’s a stylized, surreal, completely eggy mess of Bunuel and Dali-esque images, Twilight Zone atmosphere and menace, all built atop an unforgettable architecture of sound. You owe it to yourself to see it big and loud when the Museum of Fine Arts bring it out this Sunday in conjunction with the recent documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, at the River Oaks Theatre
Just ahead of the premiere of the new series of Twin Peaks, 25 years in the making, the River Oaks Theatre presents these special midnight screenings of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. David Lynch’s feature film prequel is a different beast than the television series from whence it spun. It’s much darker, with a tone that’s much closer to horror than the high camp of the show.
Sun Ra Sunday, at Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly A Kite Lounge
Come celebrate the life of the most far out man in jazz and space travel with a special double feature of A Joyful Noise and Space Is The Place at newish east side ice house, Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly A Kite Lounge. Sun Ra stretched the possibilities of music and pre-Stargate Egyptology, and even now we’ve yet to catch up.
1984, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
From the book to the films to the music, the whole 1984 franchise casts the idea of living in a totalitarian society at perpetual war with an ever-changing array of national enemies in a dark, bleak light. Whereas one needs only look out the window to see that it’s sunny outside. It’s a good thing for him that he was a close, prophetic observer of the inherently punitive nature of the panopticon state, the concomitant withering of due process and civil liberties, the degradation of language, and man’s brutality to man, because George Orwell would not have cut it as a weatherman. This 1984 classic features a score by the Eurythmics!
The Princess Bride, at River Oaks Theatre
It’s inconceivable that you’d want to miss this midnight movie screening of The Princess Bride featuring the elusive, adorable Cary Elwes, Spinal Tap alum Christopher Guest, Andre The Giant in his biggest movie role, House of Cards‘ FLOTUS Robin Wright, and a dashing Mandy Patinkin as you’ve never seen him before (or since). Directed by Rob Reiner, this 1987 comedy fantasy is a leading contender for the funniest and most good-natured family film of the ’80s.
Dawn of the Dead, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
Dawn of the Dead is the second entry in George Romero’s Living Dead series, preceded by Night of the Living Dead, the most perfect zombie film ever made. Each entry in the series stands alone, except insofar as they combine the horrible aspect of the risen undead with Mid-century modern social commentary. Whereas Night was a damning allegory of racism and horror in the United States, Dawn, set a few years later, satirizes the old era of American prosperity. The main action takes place in a shopping mall over run with creepy, slow-moving zombies, going through the same motions they made while alive, shopping, milling about, preying on human flesh.
Lawrence of Arabia, at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park
Lawrence of Arabia is not really about the titular, historical T.E. Lawrence, still less about the historical goings-on around the Arabian peninsula. What it is is a cinematic tour de force of slow panoramas wide enough to take in the expanses of the desert and the near-blinding play of light in star Peter O’Toole’s diamond-glinting, mascara-framed eyes. Coming in just under four hours, David Lean’s epic may play better in our age of binge-watching than it did when it first hit screens over fifty years ago.