[Pickups: February. Revival edition.]

* The Little Princess screened as part of the Children’s Film Festival. This was the 1917 adaptation starring Mary Pickford, and the Film Forum got me in with the magic words “live score”. Performed by Leslie McMichael on three harps, it was a perfect match to a great hour of classic silent melodrama.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Children’s Film Festival audience was one of the best behaved I have ever experienced. Adults would do well to take a lesson from them. (Especially, ironically, paying audiences. Free screening audiences know to put the damn phones away.)

* As a tie-in with the SciFi and Fantasy Short Films, SIFF Cinema again ran a series of SciFi on Blu-ray. (Yes, film would be better. But Blu-ray in a theater is still light years ahead of my TV. Plus, audience! And leaving the house! Anyway.) Last year I made it out for 2001: A Space Odyssey (which put me to sleep every damn time I tried to watch it on video, but in the theater? It is just as brilliant as everyone says. If you have the opportunity, take it.)

This year was a change of pace from that, with a double feature of Time Bandits and Galaxy Quest. The former I had never seen before & found utterly charming, and the latter I have long adored, even though I have never seen any Star Trek at all. It still totally works, and it was a treat to see them both on the big screen.

* Earth Girls Are Easy is an 80s classic, terrible and also awesome, and quite formative in my, uh, perception of Jeff Goldblum. In other news, it’s for the best that I don’t live closer to Central Cinema, or I would be there every damn night.

* I saw the American cut of John Woo’s historical epic Red Cliff when it was released in 2009, and was unimpressed. I did think it was unfair to judge on half of the film (especially considering what a fan I am of the talent it had both in front of and behind the camera), so I was delighted when SIFF Cinema programmed the complete version. All 16 reels of it! (insert dreamy sigh).

It truly was a totally different feature, and though there were melodramatic and overly sentimental moments, they felt better earned this time around. The sex scene was still boring, though. Sad but true. The action was epic, dramatic, and absolutely clear, which is not always a given; the cinematography was beautiful; and I can’t imagine seeing it anywhere but on the big screen.

…also, can we take a moment to scan that list of films and giggle about the fact that they are all technically revival? A silent film, scifi/fantasy cheese, and a Chinese epic. Awesome.

[Red Cliff]

The full version of Red Cliff is actually two films, totaling over four hours. For the Western release, it’s chopped down to two-and-a-half hours. There was a representative at the screening I attended, asking people on their way out how they liked they film. I was tempted to respond, “nice and all, but I’d like to see the whole thing someday”.

The full release can’t fix all of the problems, like that it features one of the dullest sex scenes I have ever seen (quite a feat considering it features Tony Leung), and it would be bound to include even more trite scenes (such as the classic alliance-building scene of one blade of grass easily broken, but several woven together can resist). It would, however, spare us the horrible English voice-over at the beginning, and could perhaps give more power behind the many great action sequences.

John Woo is, after all, masterful at action, but perhaps not at scale. The film is gorgeous (I loved the paper lanterns rising), the battles are clear and not difficult to follow (and have some great maneuvers with only a little wire-fu), but we just aren’t made to care all that much most of the time. Takeshi Kaneshiro’s military strategist is a lot of fun, and of course Tony Leung would be worth seeing in a dramatic staging of the phone book, but it’s just not enough.

If you want to see Leung break your heart in wire-fu, rent Hero. To see him & Woo work action magic (with Chow Yun-Fat), rent Hard Boiled. For Kaneshiro, try House of Flying Daggers or Chungking Express & Fallen Angels.