Film on TV: June 29-July 5

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Cléo from 5 to 7, playing on IFC at 6:45am on July 4th

Well, TCM’s showcase of great directors is winding down this week, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of great cinema playing. On Thursday, TCM is running a bit of a tribute to 1939, widely considered one of the best years in filmmaking history, at least in terms of the sheer quantity of great films released that year. Also, IFC really picked up the ball this week, and are showing a bunch of really great films.

Monday, June 29

8:00pm – IFC – Raising Arizona
This relatively early Coen Brothers comedy has Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a childless ex-con couple who decide to rectify that situation by stealing one of a set of quintuplets. They’ll never miss him, right? Wrong. Zany complications ensue.
(repeats 2:30am on the 30th)

9:45pm – IFC – The Player
Robert Altman takes on Hollywood in this story of a script screener (Tim Robbins) who gets drawn further and further into a web of blackmail and double-crosses when he’s threatened by a screenwriter whose script he rejected. You gotta love it for the virtuosic opening pan at the very least; the rest of the Hollywood insider references are just gravy.
(repeats 4:05am on the 30th)

Tuesday, June 30

Great Directors on TCM: Anthony Mann
Though Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah and later Clint Eastwood often get well-deserved credit for developing the revisionist western, some of it should also probably go to Anthony Mann. Along with frequent star James Stewart, Mann tapped into a darker side of the quintessential American cowboy hero, showing him as a little more morally compromised, a little more expedient, and a little more personally haunted than most classic westerns.

8:00pm – TCM – The Man from Laramie
Of course TCM is playing the one Mann-Stewart western I HAVEN’T seen. But given the high quality of their other films together, I set my DVR for it immediately.

Wednesday, July 1

7:45am – IFC – Miller’s Crossing
The Coen brothers take on 1930s gangland with this film, and do so admirably well. As they do most things. I have to admit I wasn’t quite as enamored of it as I usually am of Coen films, but it definitely has its moments and I think a rewatch would jump it up in my estimation greatly.
(repeats 2:15pm)

9:45pm – IFC – Mad Max
The first entry in the post-apocalyptic punk-action series that made Mel Gibson a star.
(repeats at 3:45am on the 2nd)

12:00M – IFC – Platoon
Director Oliver Stone won an Oscar for this Vietnam film (as did the film itself). I haven’t seen it, but I’m gonna DVR it and see if I get around to it.

12:30am (2nd) – TCM – The Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film
Warner Bros. basically created the gangster film in the 1930s with a series of great, gritty and hard-hitting (for the time) crime films. This documentary looks to be a nice introduction to the genre.

2:30am (2nd) – TCM – The Petrified Forest
Bette Davis and Leslie Howard are top billed in this 1936 crime drama, but the thing you’ll remember is Humphrey Bogart in his first major film role as criminal-on-the-run Duke Mantee. They’re all holed up in a remote gas station while Mantee figures out his scheme to escape the manhunt for him. He fairly sizzles on screen.

4:00am (2nd) – TCM – High Sierra
Bogart’s breakout role as an on-the-run con man who gets involved with the lame Joan Leslie. (No, I mean actually crippled.) He’d been bumming around for a few years as a Warner second lead or villain, but with 1941’s double punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, he unequivocally arrived.

Thursday, July 2

11:15am – IFC – Maria Full of Grace
Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and floors me – this quiet little film about a group of South American women who agree to smuggle drugs into the United States by swallowing packets of cocaine did just that. Everything in the film is perfectly balanced, no element overwhelms anything else, and it all comes together with great empathy, but without sentimentality.
(repeats at 4:30pm)

5:30pm – TCM – Rope
Hitchcock is well-known for his formal experimentation. In Rope, he shoots everything from a single camera position – on top of the chest containing the body of the boy that John Dall and Farley Granger killed before inviting several people over for a party. It’s also meant to appear as one take, though the ten-minute max reel length of the time forced him to fudge a bit on that. The story is based on the real-life Leopold-Loeb murder case, where two young men killed an acquaintance just to see if they could pull it off.

8:00pm – TCM – The Wizard of Oz
I’ve simply got nothing bad to say about The Wizard of Oz. It’s been one of my favorite movies for years, and I doubt that’ll change any time soon – one of the great classics of imagination, wonder, and self-fulfillment. Must See
(repeats 6:00pm on the 3rd)

11:15pm – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film every made (there are no men at all, so of course George Cukor directed it, right?). Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written. Must See

1:30am (3rd) – TCM – Ninotchka
“Garbo Laughs!” proclaimed the advertisements, playing up the comedic factor of the usually implacable Greta Garbo’s 1939 film. True enough, though it takes a while for the charms of Paris and Melvyn Douglas to warm the Communist Ninotchka to the point of laughter. Pairing up director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (who had yet to become a director himself) turns out to be a brilliant move, as Ninotchka has just the right combination of wit and sophistication.

Friday, July 3

9:00am – TCM – Bachelor Mother
Slight Ginger Rogers vehicle, but one I always enjoy – she picks up a baby left on the steps of an orphanage just in time for everyone to think it’s hers, including her boss (David Niven) at the department store where she works. So she has to keep it.

9:15pm – IFC – My Life as a Dog
Lasse Hallstrom gives us this simple but effective coming-of-age story, focusing on the every day life of a young boy as he’s sent to live in a provincial village after acting out at home (his behavior is both caused by and threatens his mother’s poor health).
(repeats at 2:00pm)

Saturday, July 4

6:45am – IFC – Cléo from 5 to 7
Almost all New Wave films were directed by men, and there’s a definite undercurrent of misogyny in most of them – or at least a clear lack of understanding of women. Enter Agnes Varda, who took New Wave sensibilities, added in her own painterly touches, and a strong feminine perspective – and you get incredible films like this one, a spare story of a woman who discovers she has cancer. The mix of New Wave detachment and the evocation of the woman’s flittering emotions just under the surface combine perfectly to skyrocket the film onto my all-time favorites list. Must See
(repeats at 1:30pm)

3:30pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Wonderful comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.

5:45pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.

9:45pm – IFC – Fargo
Still one of the Coen Brothers’ best films, despite over a decade of mostly good films in the intervening years. Dark comedy is not an easy genre, and Fargo is the gold standard, blending shocking violence and a noir-ish crime story with comical inept criminals and a perfectly rendered performance from Frances McDormand. Must See
(repeats at 3:30am on the 5th)

1:15am (5th) – TCM – The Philadelphia Story
Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord, a spoiled socialite about to marry Ralph Bellamy when ex-husband Cary Grant turns up. Throw in newspaper columnist James Stewart and his photographer Ruth Hussey, along with a bunch of great character actors filling out the cast, and you have both rollicking wedding preparations and one of the best films ever made. Must See

Sunday, July 5

12:00N – TCM – The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was really MGM’s first foray into noirish crime films. Being MGM, it’s more polished and, to me, less interesting than the crime dramas that Warner Bros. and the smaller studios were putting out, but hey. It’s still pretty good. And has a really young Marilyn Monroe.

2:00pm – TCM – War of the Worlds
The 1953 version of H.G. Wells’ classic Martian attack story – the alien ships land mysteriously, then start randomly attacking without warning. The mix of realistic March-of-Time style narration, incorporation of actual war/newsreel footage within the film, and fairly decent special effects for the time make it one of the more interesting of 1950s sci-fi efforts. The ending is a little deus ex machina, but up until that, very enjoyable.

7:15pm – IFC – Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Baz Lurhmann admittedly has a love-it-or-hate-it flamboyantly trippy aesthetic, especially in the informal Red Curtain trilogy which Moulin Rogue! closes. And sure, it’s over the top; sure, the story is fairly routine; sure, the acting is so-so. I love it to pieces anyway.
(repeats 4:30am on the 6th)

8:00pm – TCM – Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
French writer/actor/director Jacques Tati specialized in nearly-silent physical comedy that reminds one at times of Chaplin or Keaton, but with a slightly more ironic French flair about it. In Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a trip to the seashore turns out to be anything but relaxing.

9:30pm – IFC – Office Space
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will identify with Office Space immediately – with the paper-jamming printers, the piles of beaurocratic paperwork, and the difficulty of keeping up with staplers if not the plot to make off with boatloads of money due to an accounting loophole. In fact, if you do or have worked an office job, I’m gonna call this required viewing.
(repeats 3:00am on the 6th)

10:00pm – TCM – To Catch a Thief
Not one of my personal favorite Hitchcock films, but certainly one of his classiest, most sophisticated entries. Cary Grant is a notorious cat burglar, Grace Kelly the Monte Carlo socialite he woos. It’s one of Kelly’s last films, and she’s already looking like the princess she was about to become.

12:00M – IFC – Trainspotting
Days in the lives of Scottish heroin addicts. Sounds like a downer, and I won’t say it’s not, but it’s also brilliant and searing. Danny Boyle seems to always be able to take stories that could be routine and make them into something special. (Though I won’t deny he often loses control of his endings – the rest of the film is usually worth it, though.)