Film on TV: January 18-24

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Away from Her, playing on IFC on Tuesday, January 20

Among the new offerings this week: A pair of “great teacher” movies on Monday with Blackboard Jungle and To Sir, With Love, the classic and not very often screened Max Ophuls film Lola Montes late Sunday night, and Sarah Polley’s highly impressive directorial debut Away from Her on Wednesday. Not a lot of new stuff, but what’s there is good.

Monday, January 18

3:45pm – Sundance – Man on Wire
One of last year’s most highly-acclaimed documentaries tells the story of high-wire walker Philippe Petit as he embarks on perhaps his most dangerous stunt yet.
2008 UK/USA. Director: James Marsh. Starring: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau.

4:00pm – TCM – Blackboard Jungle
Glenn Ford is the teacher who takes on rowdy inner-city kids in one of the earlier “heroic teacher” films. A young Sidney Poitier is one of the students, and a scene in which a record of “Rock Around the Clock” is played is reputed to be the first time rock n’ roll appeared in a film.
1955 USA. Director: Richard Brooks. Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier.
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6:00pm – TCM – To Sir, With Love
Twelve years after being the troubled student in Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier takes on the role of the teacher, trying to take hold of a bunch of bored, acting-out London teenagers.
1967 UK. Director: James Clavell. Starring: Sidney Poitier, Judy Gleeson, Christian Roberts, Suzy Kendall, Lulu.
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Tuesday, January 19

7:30am – TCM – The Band Wagon
There are many reasons to consider The Band Wagon among the best movie musicals ever made. The satirical plot involving a Shakespearean director who tries to turn a lighthearted musical into a doom-and-gloom version of Faust, the bright yet sardonic script and score by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who basically appear in the film as the characters played by Nanette Fabrey and Oscar Levant), the last really great role for Fred Astaire (maybe Funny Face is a contender, but barely), and of course, the never-surpassed beauty of dance numbers like “Dancing in the Dark” with Fred and Cyd Charisse. But even if it didn’t have all that, I’d still rank it among my favorites for the epic “Girl Hunt Ballet” number spoofing hard-boiled detective fiction.
1953 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabrey.
Must See

11:15pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler.
1950 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olsen, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton.
Must See

4:15am (20th) – TCM – Some Like It Hot
After musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon unwittingly witness the St. Valentines Day Massacre, they have to escape the mob by impersonating women and joining an all-girls band. The fact that Marilyn Monroe is the band’s lead singer doesn’t help them stay undercover. Easily one of the greatest comedies ever put on film.
1959 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown, George Raft.
Must See

Wednesday, January 20

6:05pm – IFC – A Fish Called Wanda
It’s not a Monty Python picture, but with John Cleese and Michael Palin on board as participants in a zany crime story, along with ambiguous-relationshiped Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, it has some of the same absurd charm.
1988 USA/UK. Director: Charles Crichton. Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson.
(repeats at 6:35am and 2:15pm on the 21st)

9:35pm – IFC – Away from Her
A very strong directing debut film from actress Sarah Polley, about an older woman (Julie Christie) suffering from Alzheimer’s and her husband’s difficulty in dealing with essentially the loss of his wife as she has more and more difficulty remembering their life together. It’s a lovely, heartbreaking film, bolstered by great understated performances.
2006 Canada. Director: Sarah Polley. Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Stacey LaBerge.
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(repeats at 4:35am on the 21st)

Thursday, January 21

11:30pm – IFC – The Cooler
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 much his best role until 30 Rock.
2003 USA. Director: Wayne Cramer. Starring: William H. Macy, Mario Bello, Alec Baldwin.

4:45am (22nd) – IFC – The Seven Samurai
Probably Kurosawa’s best-known film, The Seven Samurai is an eastern version of a Western, with down-on-their-luck samurai (led by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune) working together to help a ravaged village hold off bandit invaders. Completing the cycle of cinematic borrowing, the film was remade in the US as The Magnificent Seven.
1954 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima.
Must See

Friday, January 22

8:45am – Sundance – Bob le flambeur
Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirish crime film about an aging gambler/thief who takes on one last job – knocking over a casino. Melville was the master of French crime films, and an important figure leading up to the New Wave – Godard name-checks this film in Breathless, mentioning Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler) as an associate of Michel’s.
1956 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr, Daniel Gauchy.
(repeats at 3:15pm)

9:00am – TCM – Royal Wedding
This isn’t one of the all-time great Fred Astaire musicals, but it’s quite charming in its small way, and has the distinction of including the Fred’s “dancing on the ceiling” extravaganza, as well as a few surprisingly competent dance numbers from Fred and not-dancer Jane Powell. Oh, and Fred’s love interest is Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s daughter, which is interesting (Powell plays his sister).
1951 USA. Director: Stanley Donen. Starring: Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Sarah Churchill, Peter Lawford.

10:45am – TCM – Father of the Bride (1950)
Long before Steve Martin kicked off his nearly twenty-year run of remaking classic comedies with his version of this film, Spencer Tracy was the Father of the Bride, dealing with the difficulty of letting his only daughter, Elizabeth Taylor, go to some other man. I don’t hate the Martin version, but this one is better. The family’s son is played by a young Russ Tamblyn (of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and West Side Story).
1950 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett, Russ Tamblyn.

8:30pm – IFC – Kill Bill: Vol. 1
A lot of people would point to Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s best film, and I think Inglourious Basterds is right up there, too, but I vote Kill Bill Vol. 1 for sheer amount of fun. He homages spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong fighting flicks, and revenge-sploitation, and ties it all together with incredible style.
2003 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine.
Must See
(repeats at 3:00am on the 23rd)

Saturday, January 23

8:00am – TCM – In a Lonely Place
Simply a brilliant film from director Nicholas Ray – Humphrey Bogart gives probably his best performance as washed-up screenwriter Dixon Steele, who’s trying to make a comeback with a new adaptation. When a coatcheck girl gets murdered after he was the last to see her, he naturally comes under suspicion, but his neighbor Laurel (Gloria Grahame) gives him an alibi and soon the two begin a relationship which just might save Dix from more than a murder charge – or might not. There’s a raw intensity here that few films have ever matched.
1951 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame.
Must See

8:15am – IFC – Renaissance
In near-future Paris, a brilliant young scientist is kidnapped; her employer Avalon (a highly influential company that sells youth and beauty itself) wants her found, but her importance to them may be more sinister than first meets the eye. The story’s not handled perfectly here, but it’s worth watching for the beautifully stark black and white animation.
2006 France. Director: Christian Volckman. Starring (English version): Daniel Craig, Romola Garai, Ian Holm, Catherine McCormack, Jonathan Pryce.
(repeats at 3:15pm)

10:05am – IFC – Hero
Jet Li is the titular hero in this Zhang Yimou film, arguably the best of Yimou’s period action-on-wires films (though I’m partial to House of Flying Daggers myself). The story unfolds in flashback as Li explains to a warlord how he eliminated three would-be assassins (who happen to be three of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest stars, incidentally) – but all may not be precisely how it seems.
2002 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung.
(repeats at 5:15pm)

8:00pm – IFC – Pulp Fiction
Tarantino’s enormously influential and entertaining film pretty much needs no introduction from me. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta give the performances of their careers, Tarantino’s dialogue is spot-on in its pop-culture-infused wit, and the chronology-shifting, story-hopping editing style has inspired a host of imitators, most nowhere near as good.
1994 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames.
Must See

8:00pm – Sundance – The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are married writers/academics who finally drive each other too crazy to keep living together, bringing their two adolescent sons into their turmoil when they separate. Everything about the film works together to create one of the best films of the past few years. Writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a highly intelligent script which is achingly witty and bitterly funny; the acting is superb all around; the music fits beautifully, and even the setting (1980s Brooklyn) is something of a character.
2005 USA. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline.
Must See
(repeats at 4:10am on the 24th)

10:35pm – IFC – Gangs of New York
It’s hard to argue with the concept of a Scorsese/diCaprio/Day-Lewis trifecta in a story about Irish gangs at the dawn of New York’s existence, though I found myself underwhelmed with it.
2003 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo diCaprio, Cameron Diaz.

Sunday, January 24

4:00pm – TCM – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Audrey Hepburn’s signature role in a career full of memorable films, as party girl Holly Golightly, trying to make her way in mod New York City. Breakfast at Tiffany’s for me encapsulates 1960s style probably more than any other film, and with a grace and warmth that never grows old.
1961 USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Mickey Rooney.
Must See

2:45am (25th) – TCM – Lola Montes
Max Ophuls’ only widescreen, color feature about the rise and fall of the title character in the courts of Europe is sumptuous and a great example of the circular plotting he tends toward as well as the elaborate tracking shots he’s known for. Quite lovely visually, and recently restored, so hopefully this is that version.
1955 France. Director: Max Ophuls. Starring: Martine Carol, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook.
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