Film on TV: July 6-12

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4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, playing on Sundance on Thursday, July 9th, at 8pm

In my haste to get this post ready this week, I nearly skipped checking Sundance’s schedule, since they usually only have a couple I want to highlight anyway. Glad I didn’t, because they’re running some of my favorite foreign films from recent years, including Romania’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which I’ve been touting everywhere I can since it came out. TCM of course has its usual high quality stuff as well.

Monday, July 6

6:00am – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with his classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its greatness. Must See

8:00am – TCM – The Manchurian Candidate
The original 1962 version, not the pale comparison of a 2004 remake. Former soldier Frank Sinatra starts having nightmares about his war experience, then finds that he and his unit were part of a brainwashing experiment – the result of which was to turn his colleague Laurence Harvey into a sleeper agent assassin. A classic of the Cold War era, full of well-honed suspense and paranoia.

6:15pm – IFC – Millions
Danny Boyle has a way of making very simple stories into something special, and this is no exception. A young British boy finds a bag with millions of pounds in it; the catch is that Britain is days away from switching to the euro, so the money will soon be worthless. The shifting ethical questions combined with a sometimes almost Pulp Fiction-esque style and a fascinating religious backdrop (I’m still not sure where he was going with that) at the very least means an intriguing couple of hours.
(repeats at 4:00am and 11:30am on the 7th)

8:00pm – TCM – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection. Must See

2:35am (7th) – Sundance – Volver
Pedro Almodovar deftly straddles the line between drama and comedy in one of his more accessible films. Two sisters return to their home at the death of their aunt, only to find their mother’s ghost – or is it a ghost? And as always in Almodovar’s films, there are related subplots aplenty. Penelope Cruz is incredible as the younger, fierier sister – she’s never been more moving than in her passionate rendition of the title song, nor funnier than when calmly cleaning up a murder scene. Must See
(repeats at 2:15pm on the 7th)

Tuesday, July 7

8:00pm – TCM – Scaramouche
Stewart Granger was sort of a poor man’s Errol Flynn in his 1950s swashbucklers – never quite had Flynn’s panache, but hey, he tried. Scaramouche is one of his better films, and does boast the longest sword fight in cinema history. So there’s that.

12:00M – IFC – The Cooler
In this under-the-radar film, William H. Macy plays a loser whose bad luck gets him a job as a “cooler” at a casino – his luck spreads and cools off any hot winning streaks that might be going on. But when he starts a relationship with Maria Bello, his new-found love and acceptance turns his luck. This film reinforced my knowledge of Bill Macy’s talent, made me take notice of Maria Bello, and gave Alec Baldwin pretty his best role until 30 Rock.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 8th)

Wednesday, July 8

8:00am – TCM – Till the Clouds Roll By
MGM throws its bevy of musical stars at a biopic of Jerome Kern that, like most of MGM’s 1940s biopics, has very little in common with Kern’s actual life. What it does have, is Kern’s great songs performed by some great singers and dancers. The most interesting section looking back on it now is an extended section from Show Boat starring Kathryn Grayson and Lena Horne – Grayson would get the part of Magnolia five years later when MGM produced Show Boat in full, but they were unwilling to actually cast Horne as mulatto Julie, instead giving the role to Ava Gardner.

10:15am – TCM – Ziegfeld Follies
Rather than go the biopic route to exploit Ziegfeld and their cast of thousands (oh, wait, they already did that with The Great Ziegfeld 10 years earlier), MGM instead modeled Ziegfeld Follies after an actual Ziegfeld show – it’s basically just a series of sketches and musical sequences in revue format. Most are decent, a few are duds, and a few are exceptional, as you might expect. But it’s worth it at least for Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dancing together, Judy Garland imitating Greer Garson, and a rare cinema sighting of Fanny Brice (who was in many of the original Ziegfeld shows on Broadway).

11:30am – Sundance – Paris, je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.

12:15pm – TCM – Words and Music
Words and Music is another excuse for MGM to bring out their stable of stars to retell of the career of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and it’s pretty routine. What isn’t routine is Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen’s dazzling rendition of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” a ten-minute dance number that is 100% worth the price of the film.

12:00M – TCM – I Know Where I’m Going!
This is one of those little films that doesn’t get much press and is very quiet and unassuming, but once you watch it you won’t easily forget it. Wendy Hiller is a confident young woman who knows exactly what she wants and where she’s going – that is, to meet her wealthy fiance and marry him on one of the Scottish Hebrides. But when a storm strands her on the way, she finds herself thrown off-course in more ways than one. There’s nothing wasted here, and I Know Where I’m Going! stands as one of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s crowning achievements, even if it’s not as well-known as Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes.

12:00M – IFC – A Hard Day’s Night
Richard Lester’s 1964 Beatles-starring film straddles several genres – musical, concert film, documentary, comedy. The good news is that it’s an excellent film in any genre. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any film an exuberant as this one, and with the Beatles right on the cusp of becoming the greatest band of all time, it’s a definite Must See

4:30am (9th) – TCM – Lassie Come Home
Family classic that has every kid wanting a collie at some point in their lives. Hint: Get a border collie. Regular collies are quite high-strung.

Thursday, July 9

8:00pm – IFC – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
This is the one Wes Anderson film I haven’t seen. I need to rectify that, because I LOVE everything else he’s done.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 10th)

8:00pm – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it. Must See

10:00pm – IFC – Chasing Amy
Kevin Smith’s third film, not as low-fi indie as Clerks, as goofy as Mallrats, as irreverently genius as Dogma, as self-referential as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, or as racy as Zach and Miri Make a Porno, but perhaps sweeter than all of them – Ben Affleck falls for Joey Lauren Adams, with the only slight obstacle being that she’s a lesbian.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 10th)

10:30pm – TCM – Dodge City
Dodge City, not a particularly great movie. It’s a fun entry in the group of Errol Flynn-Olivia de Havilland matchups, as Flynn deals with the outlaw element in the western frontier town of Dodge. The real reason I like it? Fantastic barroom brawl at one point.

12:00M – Sundance – That Obscure Object of Desire
Luis Buñuel, ever one to come up with outlandish conceits, here directs two women playing the same role. The result is trippy and mesmerizing.

12:30am (10th) – TCM – Stagecoach
Major breakthrough for John Wayne, here playing outlaw Cisco Kid – he and the various other people on a stagecoach form a cross-section of old West society that has to learn to get on together to make it to the end of the ride alive. The most memorable, though, is Claire Trevor’s prostitute – a woman who does what she must to survive, and is shunned by everyone except Wayne. Her reaction to him treating her as a lady is perfect. Must See

Friday, July 10

6:00am – IFC – Umberto D
Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic about an aging man struggling to live on his meager pension in post-war Rome. Doesn’t sound like a lot, and granted, not a lot happens. But by the end, you’ll have extraordinary sympathy for gentle Umberto and his dog. Oh, and a fantastic performance by non-actress Maria Pia Casillio – she offered to take acting lessons for the part but De Sica forbade her. Good choice.
(repeats at 12:15pm)

7:00am – Sundance – Avenue Montaigne
Sometimes you’re just in the mood for an unassuming, heartwarming little French film. Avenue Montaigne fits the bill well, following a waitress working on the titular Parisian avenue (an arty area with art galleries and a concert hall nearby) and the people she interacts with. There’s not a LOT of substance here, but the French can carry these slight things off with a great deal more panache than we Americans can, and Avenue Montaigne is likely to put a smile on your face.
(repeats 2:35pm)

10:15am – 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 at 3:30pm)

8:00pm – TCM – On the Waterfront
Marlon Brando’s performance as a former boxer pulled into a labor dispute among dock workers goes down as one of the greatest in cinematic history. I’m not even a huge fan of Brando, but this film wins me over. Must See

8:45pm – IFC – Moulin Rouge!
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 at 5:15am on the 11th)

10:00pm – TCM – A Streetcar Named Desire
A Streetcar Named Desire won Vivien Leigh her second Oscar as fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, and made a star out of Marlon Brando. It’s also one of the films I’m most embarrassed to say I’ve never seen. I even have it on DVD somewhere! Someday, I will get to it.

Saturday, July 11

4:00pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.

Sunday, July 12

7:30am – TCM – Baby Face
If you want a good dose of Pre-Code film style, look no further than 1933’s Baby Face, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a girl quite willing to sleep her way to the top of a downtown firm – literally moving up floor by floor as she moves from conquest to conquest. Look quickly to see a young John Wayne, in a suit, no less!

4:00pm – TCM – High Society
This is not one of the best music-centric films ever made, but it is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story, with both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra crooning it up with songs by Cole Porter. Oh, and one of Grace Kelly’s last roles before she retired to become a princess and stuff. Still, you wish with that pedigree that it were better than it is. Ah, well.

7:15pm – IFC – Garden State
Somehow it has apparently become fashionable to hate on Garden State, but I refuse. I love it, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.
(repeats at 5:00am on the 13th)

8:00pm – TCM – The African Queen
One of several films John Huston and Humphrey Bogart did together pits Bogart against the Amazon river – and straight-laced missionary Katharine Hepburn, who is forced to travel with him to escape Germany enemies. Well, boats are small, and one things leads to another, you know.

9:00pm – IFC – A Fish Called Wanda
John Cleese and Michael Palin bring their patented Monty Python-esque slapstick humor to this comedy of a jewel-heist gone terribly wrong. Also along for the farcical ride are Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline (who won an Oscar for his role).
(repeats at 3:00am on the 13th)

10:00pm – TCM – Night of the Hunter
If there’s ever a film that defined “Southern gothic,” it’s this one. Underhanded “preacher” Robert Mitchum weasels his way into a young widowed family to try to gain the money the late father hid before he died. But what starts off as a well-done but fairly standard crime thriller turns into a surreal fable somewhere in the middle, and at that moment, jumps from “good film” to “film you will be able to get out of your head NEVER.” In a good way. Must See