Tag Archives: A Streetcar Named Desire

My 2011 in Film: Favorite Non-2011 Films

My Favorite Films of 2011 are posted here, but like any good film buff, I also watched a whole lot of non-2011 films. Here are some of my favorites of those first-time watches in loosely descending order (more favorites at the top). I didn’t limit this to a specific number. If I feel like it’s worth mentioning and I want to write a few words about it, it’s on here.

Le cercle rouge (1967)

I had a feeling I was going to like this film, just based on how much I’ve liked Jean-Pierre Melville’s other films, especially Le samourai, which, if I recall correctly, topped my favorites list in 2010. I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Melville weaves several plotlines together, involving a criminal just out of prison, the mob he steals money from, a detective chasing a different escaped con, a former sharpshooter cop who’s now an alcoholic, and more. Each of them has their own narrative rise and fall, and each character has their own arc, but they all interplay in an incredibly intricate way, as different ones join up on a heist (one of the best heist sequences in cinema) and others try to track them down for their own reasons. It’s hard to explain, but very easy and clear to watch. Brilliant work on all levels.

Blue Valentine (2010)

This film just missed my 2010 best of list (I saw it mere days after last year’s posts were made), but it would’ve ended up about #4 on that list. It might be even higher now. The film parallels the beginning and end of a single romance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both in career-best performances), juxtaposing the courtship and the break-up of this couple to incredible emotional effect. Despite the temporal contrivance, the film is incredibly raw and realistic, with no easy answers for what causes a couple who seem so perfect for each other to hit the skids so badly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Why in the world did it take me this long to watch this movie? That phrase actually applies to the next two as well, but the prestige of those two be darned, this is the one that I can’t get out of my head. The tales surrounding it are as legendary as the film itself, playing on the long-standing bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who here play two aging showbiz sisters who have a long-standing bitter rivalry. It may be high camp, but this is quite possibly Bette Davis’s best performance – it’s mean and grotesque and pitiful and naive. And the movie itself is quite possibly the best example of Hollywood gothic, yes, even giving Sunset Boulevard a run for its money.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

There is a reason I’d been avoiding watching this classic must-see. I’m not a big Brando fan. I’d seen On the Waterfront, Sayonara, The Godfather, and more, and I just didn’t really get the whole Brando thing. But I finally sat down with this one and suddenly GOT IT. He’s utterly magnetic here, and the film is far more stylistically interesting than I’d expected. It wears its stage origins on its sleeve, but in a heightened way that works, and the clash of Leigh’s old-school Hollywood acting with Brando’s muttering animalism is palpable. Now I want to go rewatch all those other Brando films – I bet I’ll like them more.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

And the reason I’d been avoiding this one was simply that I figured it’d be depressing and Important Movie-esque. (Also I dislike Steinbeck based on “The Red Pony” traumatizing me as a child.) Wrong on both counts. It’s certainly not a happy peppy movie, and a ton of bad things happen to this Dust Bowl family, but I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeously this is shot (Gregg Toland, should’ve known) and how intense it can be, sharing in this family’s troubles and little joys, as well as dealing with the subplot of Tom Joad’s fugitive status. His final speech is justly praised, but the whole thing is pretty great.

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Often cited as one of the prime examples of the haunted house mystery comedy, a genre that was apparently prominent in the silent era, and rightly so. Simply a ton of fun from start to finish, as a group of people gather in a long-deserted mansion to read the will of their crotchety old relative. There are threats of insanity, a murderer running rampant, an asylum escapee on the loose, plus various positive and negative interpersonal interactions among the varied potential heirs. Moody cinematography counterbalances the humor in the plot.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

I watched the Man with No Name trilogy all out of order (I’d already seen the other two…yeah, backwards), but Jonathan wasn’t about to let me get away with not having seen this one, which is his favorite. I still like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more, but there’s a lot I did like about this one, especially the way the story really follows Lee Van Cleef instead of Clint Eastwood – that was an interesting touch. Also, the bank robbery segment is just awesome. Next up – watching all three of these actually in order. :)

The Godless Girl (1929)

I always enjoy Cinefamily’s Silent Treatment nights because I get to see films that are rarely if ever screened and aren’t on DVD, plus learn a bunch about silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood and chat with film archivists. I’m always appreciative of the films I see, but to be honest, a lot of times, they’re mostly of historical significance. This is an exception, because this film is gangbusters fun. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it’s the story of a clashing set of teenagers – one the leader of a group of young Christians, the other the leader of a group of Atheists. After the groups get in a riotous fight, they’re carted off to reform school, where they get to know each other. Frankly, there are like five or six sections of story (and tones!). But they’re all crazy and fun, and it ends with a massive escape/chase sequence followed by a climactic fire.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Seems like every year a film I’ve never heard of wins Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, upsetting one I either wanted to win or thought was a shoo-in. And then every year when I get around to seeing the actual winner, I’m blown away. This is an extremely solid mystery/character study of a detective flashing back to that one case, you know that one he never quite managed to solve. It’s tough to find the balance between mystery and character in films, but this one does it wonderfully, and with a lot of style to boot – just wait for the seemingly one-take stadium shot. It’s incredible.

The Naked Island (1960)

I happened to be volunteering on a night when Cinefamily screened this film, which I’d never heard of and knew nothing about – I hadn’t even read the blurb on the Cinefamily schedule. I stuck around to watch it anyway, and I’m certainly glad I did. An almost silent picture, depicting the day-to-day lives of a family struggling to maintain their farm on an unwelcoming island. Much of the film is just watching them cart water from the mainland, carry it up a treacherous hill, and water their crops one at a time. Sounds boring, but it isn’t, and when larger events do happen, they hit you like a ton of bricks.

The Illusionist (2010)

A sweet and simple ode to the entertainments of the past, the pleasures that progress has robbed us of in search of bigger, faster, louder thrills. The main character, once a popular vaudeville magician, finds himself less and less wanted as rock bands and television replace his craft – all except for one little girl, entranced by his magic. Like Sylvain Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is almost silent – as befits its origin as an unproduced script from Jacques Tati. Charming, simple, warm, and wistful.

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, this is one of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales films, and so far, I think it’s my favorite. Each of these films presents some sort of moral dilemma, but not in a didactic way – in this case a happily married man daydreams about other women, with no intention of taking action – until his friend Chloe decides to seduce him. Like most French New Wave films, it’s emotionally aloof in such a way that you actually end up supplying the emotions yourself, and this one presents its characters without judgement, but with a great deal of fairness and empathy. I love New Wave noncommital-ness, and this is right in my ballpark.

Night Train to Munich (1940)

I already knew director Carol Reed was more than just The Third Man, from having seen The Fallen Idol, but this would’ve clenched it – Night Train to Munich is a WWII spy story with double agents, concentration camps, undercover espionage, and daring mountaintop chases, all of which it does with a wit and panache that set it apart from most other spy films. It’s classy and silly and genuinely thrilling. Also, and this is not unimportant, it knows when to stop and doesn’t clutter everything up with needless denoument and codas.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

Frank Sinatra may have already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity two years earlier, but with this film he really cemented his standing as an actor. Pushing the envelope of the Production Code, the film tells of Frankie Machine, a card dealer and drug addict who just wants to get clean and play the drums, but he can’t get out of the gambling game – tied in by debts and drugs and a shrew of a wife. It’s not always easy to watch, and it does have an old-school realist melodrama angle, but when it’s on, boy is it on. The withdrawal scene gave ME the DTs.

The Descent (2005)

Director Neil Marshall continually impresses me with his genre films, and this one was no different – a group of girlfriends tries to reconnect after one of them experiences tragedy by going spelunking. But in an unknown cave, anything can happen, and everything does. This film is great on every level, with the dangers of the cave itself creating enough intensity, but the film is hardly content to stop with that. The pacing, the use of sound design, and the thematic content all raise this film above your standard horror thriller.

My Winnipeg (2007)

Easily the most accessible Guy Maddin film I’ve seen so far, and thus my favorite, at least until I get more accustomed to his extremely unique style of filmmaking – this time he takes us on an idiosyncratic tour of his hometown of Winnipeg, a surreal blending of his childhood, his attempts at recreating his childhood to deal with past trauma, and legends and stories of the town itself. It’s associative, bizarre, dreamlike, and definitely an experience.

Wayne’s World (1992)

I totally did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did – I had it mentally lumped in with a bunch of other early ’90s comedies that just struck me as stupid and juvenile, but Jonathan convinced me to watch it, and yeah. This one is much smarter than it seems on the surface, with a lot of clever writing and meta humor that worked like gangbusters for me. Jonathan already quoted this one a bunch (leaving me shrugging my shoulders in ignorance), but now we’re quoting it together ALL THE TIME. See our “He Says, She Says” post.

Changing Husbands (1924)

Another hit from the Silent Treatment folks at Cinefamily, this one has Leatrice Joy (no, I’d never heard of her) in a double role as a bored rich housewife who wants to be an actress and a poor browbeated actress who just wants some peace and rest. Yep, you guessed it, they run into each other and decide to switch places for a bit, since the rich woman’s husband is out of town anyway. Surprise, he comes back and wants to take his “wife” on holiday. More mix-ups ensue, with a lot of sly innuendo and some great comic timing from all involved. It’s frothy, but great fun, and one of my favorite new-to-me silents of the year.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

I hesitate to put this movie (a big-screen film to go along with the campy ’60s TV show) into the “so bad it’s good” category, because I think the people who made it knew exactly what they were making, and did it all – the cheesy line readings, the over-abundance of villains, the ridiculous plot elements – totally on purpose. There’s no way they didn’t, there are too many self-referential jokes (“some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). If you go into this with the same kind of pure enjoyment of ridiculousity that they did, you’ll have fun. I sure did.

Woman in the Window (1944) / Scarlet Street (1945)

I’m lumping these two together because it’s hard not to. In 1944, Fritz Lang got together with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and made a quiet little noir film about a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman and gets drawn into a crime because of her. It worked out so well. They all got together and did the same thing the next year. The details of the plot are different of course, but that trajectory is the same. Both films are solid noirs; it’s hard to rank them against each other, though, because WotW has a better and more interesting plot overall, but has a serious cop-out ending, while SS follows through on the ending beautifully, but has a less interesting/believable plot throughout. Both worthwhile, though, especially for noir fans.

Loves of a Blonde (1965)

Cinefamily did a series on the Czech New Wave a couple of years ago, but either they didn’t play this Milos Forman entry, or I missed that night. But seeing a few of those definitely gave me a taste for them, and I went into Loves of a Blonde with high hopes – which were not misplaced. With definite French New Wave influences, the film basically follows a young girl in a rural factory town in Czechoslovakia, who eschews the middle-aged men who remain in the town after most young men have been conscripted in favor of a pianist from Prague. But the story is less important than the individual scenes, vignettes like three leches macking on girls at a factory-sponsored dance, the girl getting lectured on propriety back at her hostel, and the encounter with the boy’s parents when she arrives unannounced on his doorstep. Take the focus on the youthtful and mundane from the Nouvelle Vague and add in a specifically Czech-under-communism austerity, and that’s this film.

49 Up (2005)

This can kind of stand in for the entire Up series of documentaries – it’s difficult to judge them separately, and this is the most recent one (though if they stay on schedule, 56 Up would be out this year). The premise of the series is that in 1964, a TV production team got a group of fourteen British 7-year-olds from different regions and class backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics. Every seven years they’ve gone back and interviewed the same people (though not all of them have agreed to be in every episode). It’s fascinating, both in the ways it upholds the original premise that a child’s future is set by the age of seven, in terms of societal status, and the ways it subverts those expectations – not to mention how it delves into the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. I don’t like documentaries that much, and this one is largely talking heads, but it is absolutely entrancing.

Vagabond (1985)

After being a huge fan of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 last year, I wanted more Varda, but I put off seeing this one for a good while, largely because it just looked freaking depressing. And yeah, it kind of is. It’s about a twenty-something girl who roams the roads, hitchhiking, sleeping wherever she can, working for a while or living with people as she’s able. But the film opens with her dead in a ditch, then backtracks to how she got there, so you know it isn’t going to romanticize the life of the open road. Even though this was made long after the New Wave’s heyday, it does have that same kind of non-committal sympathy that works so well for me – Varda isn’t going to manipulate you into feeling sorry for the girl, she’s just going to show you want happened and allow your feelings to grow naturally. She’s not always an attractive character – often being rude or dismissive to those who would help her, until it’s too late – yet Varda’s technique works. It’s a really powerful, often hard to watch, but very rewarding film.

Robin Hood (1922)

I couldn’t pass up a chance to see a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks silents at Cinefamily earlier this year, and I think this was my favorite of the lot – it tells a good bit of the backstory to Robin Hood, depicting Robin of Locksley’s friendship with King Richard and his falling for Maid Marion before Richard ever went off to the Crusades, allowing Prince John to oppress the people and create the need for Robin Hood. Some of that gets a little long, but it’s a nice setup that most versions of Robin Hood skip over. After that, it’s really pretty similar to the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Fairbanks is even more athletic and exuberant than Flynn.

Zazie dans le metro (1960)

I still don’t quite know what to make of this early Louis Malle film, but I know I enjoyed watching it, and will likely enjoy it even more on future rewatches. Taken from a Raymond Queneau book (he was a prominent literary experimenter), the film is delightfully absurd, with basically no plot stringing along its series of nonsensical vignettes. It’s definitely got that New Wave sensibility that appeals to me so much, but I’m sure there are also satirical elements that slipped by me entirely. Even so, it was a whole lot of fun.

Carrie (1976)

Finally got around to this horror classic this October, after meaning to for the past two Octobers and failing. Despite knowing all about the bullying and the prom scene already, this film was a LOT different than I was expecting. The crazy mother, for one thing, and then the whole ending that went on much past the prom scene and complicates it a lot. In some ways, I didn’t like where the ending went, but I am highly intrigued by it and wish people would talk about it more, rather than just accepting the film as a pro-feminist revenge-on-bullies story. In any case, the film is really effective at putting us on Carrie’s side through Spacek’s wide-eyed performance and the agonizing yet lovely leadup to the climax at the prom, even if DePalma does overdo the visual flamboyance when he doesn’t really need to.

A Man Escaped (1956)

I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Bresson. I love Pickpocket, but really dislike Lancelot du Lac and felt pretty ambivalent towards Diary of a Country Priest. This one seemed more on the Pickpocket wavelength, and sure enough, it joins the “love” side of Bresson’s filmography for me. The film takes its time, as the main character is member of the French resistance imprisoned by Nazi forces, who works carefully and patiently to plan and execute an escape. Despite the slow pace, though (something Bresson is known for generally), this film maintains tension perfectly, and doesn’t get dull at all.

Back to the Future II (1989)

When Jonathan found out I had only seen the first Back to the Future film and that I hardly remembered any of that, he sat me down with the whole trilogy almost immediately. Not only did I enjoy the first one a lot more than I initially had, but Part II instantly joined the ranks of sequels that are better than the originals. The way that II coils back on I with amazing intricacy is great, but I was also really taken by the future world (which is NOW, by the way, if you work the dates out…I’d say we failed to progress in certain areas quite as much as expected, but maybe we’re better off in other ways). Of course, being the history nut that I am, I also really enjoyed Part III, but not quite enough for it to make this list. It’s hovering right below it.

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Long before David Lynch (Blue Velvet) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty) satirized the underbelly of American suburbia, Nicholas Ray brought this scathing attack against suburban values – or the veneer that suburbia tries to uphold to hide the darker things lying beneath. Here James Mason secretly works two jobs to support his family, but a malicious disease takes its toll on him, the only thing that helps being large doses of painkillers – which he becomes addicted to. He eventually devolves into madness, and yes, there’s quite a bit of melodrama in the film, but if you go along with its excesses, you’ll find one of the darkest films about the ’50s ever made.

Born to Kill (1947)

I’d never heard of this noir film until a friend lent it to me, but hey, Robert Wise usually makes good pictures, right? Right. The always-impressive Claire Trevor leaves town after she finds a friend murdered, not wanting to get involved, but unbeknownst to her, the murderer (her friend’s jealous boyfriend) is insinuating himself into her life, ALSO not knowing that she knew the victim. It’s a crazy mess of fate, mutual attraction and repulsion, double-crosses, and both a femme fatale AND an homme fatale. Plus, Elisha Cook Jr. in a meaty supporting role. A lesser-known noir this may be, but that’s a mistake – it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen.

Taking Off (1971)

After making a splash with the Czech New Wave (see Loves of a Blonde, above), Milos Forman made his way to Hollywood success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. But first he did this little-known film, his first in the United States, about a teenage girl who runs away to be part of a group of hippies, and her parents trying to find her. It’s got its ridiculous parts (which have a strange tendency to turn sublime, like the scene where all the parents learn how to smoke a joint to try to understand their children better), but it’s ultimately a quite moving and wistful portrait of two generations, and the longing of both to find meaning and connection.

The Constant Nymph (1943)

Long kept out of circulation due to rights issues, TCM finally got it worked out to show this Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine film at the TCM Film Festival this year, and it was pretty great to see it with a whole crowd of people who’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. It’s a bit of an unusual film, though, with Fontaine a spright of a girl who breathlessly falls in love with a family friend who still thinks of her as a child. It’s chockfull of melodrama, but Fontaine plays it all with such eager naivete that it’s impossible not to like her, despite the underlying ick factor their ages make kind of hard to ignore.

This is the Night (1932)

Hyped up at the TCM Festival for being Cary Grant’s debut feature, there’s a lot more than that here to like. Basically playing second lead to Roland Young’s hapless gentleman, Grant is an athlete whose wife Thelma Todd is stepping out with Young (no, it’s not believable, just go with it), but in order to keep Grant from finding out, Young hires an actress to pretend to be his wife. It’s convoluted, but thanks to a stellar lead and supporting cast and a solid script, it’s as witty and charming as any 1930s movie – it’s unfortunate that it’s so little known. Definitely deserves a look.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Silly and nonsensical story? Check. Ridiculous line readings? Check. Cheesy stop-motion effects? Check. Actually, the special effects are kind of awesome, I love watching stop-motion animation. It’s not believable, but it has a tactile charm that CGI loses along the way. The story here is basic fantasy adventure stuff with sorcerers and princesses and giant monsters, but it’s all in good fun, and I had a great time watching it.

Good Morning (1959)

I’ve tried to watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (generally touted as his best/most important film) at least two or three times and always failed, getting bogged down in my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and the film’s deliberate pacing. A friend suggested I start with Good Morning instead to get into Ozu, and that was an excellent suggestion. This is a sunny, funny film, the loose plot centered on a pair of kids who want a television more than anything, but with plenty of time given to other vignettes around their apartment area. Charming and breezy.

Gremlins (1984)

I mostly snuck this one in here just because I was shocked at how much fun this film is – I thought it was just gonna be a horror film (and I knew the basic “don’t feed them after midnight” premise), but it’s REALLY goofy, and that’s what I liked about it. I loved all the inventions, I loved the gremlins having fun at the movies, I thought all that stuff was great – even more so because I had no idea it existed.

Film on TV: March 1-7

Contempt.jpg
Contempt, playing on TCM late Sunday/early Monday.

Of the new ones this week, I’m most excited about catching Days of Heaven myself (Monday on TCM), since it’s part of the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls marathon. Don’t know if I’ll watch it right away, though; I’m trying to keep in somewhat chronological order watching those. Other notable newly features ones: West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause on Tuesday, Alien on Wednesday (I’m long overdue a rewatch on that one), All the President’s Men on Thursday, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt late Sunday/early Monday.

Monday, March 1

8:30am – IFC – American Splendor
Harvey Pekar is one of the more idiosyncratic graphic novelists there is (”comic book” doesn’t quite cover his very adult, neurotic art), and Paul Giamatti brings him to life perfectly.
2003 USA. Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis.
(repeats at 3:30pm)

10:15pm – TCM – Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick has made his reputation on only four films; this is his second, some five years after debut Badlands. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls Marathon list, so I will be before long – and judging by the screencaps I’ve already seen, I’m expecting to love it.
1978 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard.
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Tuesday, March 2

9:30am – TCM – The Maltese Falcon
Humphrey Bogart inhabits the role of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye Sam Spade, creating one of the definitive on-screen hard-boiled detective (vying only with Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, really). Not mention setting the early benchmark for noir films.
1941 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr, Walter Huston.
Must See

10:15am – IFC – Crimes and Misdemeanors
When Martin Landau’s long-time mistress threatens to expose their affair unless he marries her, he’s faced with the decision to let her ruin his life and career or have her murdered. In a tangentially and thematically-related story, Woody Allen is a documentary filmmaker forced into making a profile of a successful TV producer rather than the socially-conscious films he wants to make. One of Allen’s most thoughtful and philosophically astute films – there are few answers here, but the questions will stay in your mind forever.
1989 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Claire Bloom, Joanna Gleason.
Must See
(repeats at 3:45pm)

11:00am – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.

4:00pm – 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.

6:00pm – TCM – West Side Story
I unabashedly love musicals, Shakespeare, and stylized choreography. Hence, I love West Side Story. I wish Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood were a little more interesting as the leads, but the supporting cast is electrifying enough that it doesn’t much matter, especially with Bernstein and Sondheim music and Jerome Robbins choreography.
1961 USA. Director: Richard Wise & Jerome Robbins. Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Rita Moreno.
Must See
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11:00pm – TCM – Rebel Without a Cause
Nicholas Ray’s best-known movie (though not, I’d argue, his best), likely because it’s one of James Dean’s three films. Dean is a rebellious teen, hanging out with the wrong crowd, whose parents don’t understand him. It all seems a little overwrought these days, but there’s an intensity to Dean and the film that manages to make it still relatable.
1955 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo.
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Wednesday, March 3

11:30am – TCM – Adam’s Rib
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn take on the battle of the sexes as married lawyers on opposite sides of an assault case involving gender politics. It’s a great movie in dialogue and acting, and still interesting for the 1949 view of women struggling for even basic equality. Some of its approach to gender may be a bit strange today, but…that’s why it’s interesting.
1949 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, Jean Hagen, Gig Young

1:30pm – 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.
1950 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe.

3:30pm – TCM – Oklahoma!
I can’t begin to guess how many times I watched Oklahoma! growing up, but it’s well into double-digits. It’s a nothing story, about minor conflicts between farmers and cowboys, a couple of young lovers, and the obsessive farmhand who wants the girl for himself. It’s the way the music and dancing is integrated that’s wonderful (and groundbreaking in the 1943 play the film is based on).
1955 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, Eddie Albert, Charlotte Greenwood, James Whitmore.

9:45pm – IFC – Volver
Pedro Almodóvar 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 Almodóvar’s films, there are related subplots aplenty. Penélope 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.
2006 Spain. Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanco Portillo, Yohana Cobo
Must See

10:15pm – TCM – Alien
Often considered one of the best sci-fi/horror creature features of all time (or just behind its sequel Aliens). Sigourney Weaver gets an iconic role as ass-kicking astronaut Ripley.
1979 USA. Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, John Hurt.
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Thursday, March 4

6:00am – TCM – Four Daughters
Something of a high-B-level programmer, Four Daughters tells the fairly routine story of four sisters and their love interests; there’s more to it than meets the eye, though, and starlet Priscilla Lane (notably of Arsenic and Old Lace) carries it well with her two sisters Lola and Rosemary. It’s interesting to contrast with its 1954 musical remake Young at Heart, which boasts the greater star power of Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. They’re virtually identical in script, but this one strikes a more sincere note with me.
1938 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, John Garfield.

5:30pm – TCM –The Postman Always Rings Twice
Sizzling adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic pulp novel has Lana Turner as the unhappy wife of a middle-of-nowhere gas station owner and John Garfield as the drifter who drops in and plots her husband’s demise with her. Skip the 1982 remake, from what I’ve heard, but if you’re feeling adventurous, check out Luchino Visconti’s Ossession, a 1943 Italian adaptation of the novel widely considered to be a forerunner of the Italian Neo-Realist movement.
1946 USA. Director: Tay Garnett. Starring: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn.

8:00pm – Sundance – A Prairie Home Companion
I’ve been taken to task for ignoring Robert Altman films in these write-ups, and I’ll confess that’s true due to my woeful ignorance of Altman films. Though I’m working to rectify this blind spot, I just haven’t seen that many of his films, including this one, the last one he made before he died.
2006 USA. Director: Robert Altman. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Lily Tomlin.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 4:10am on the 5th)

9:00pm – TCM – To Have and Have Not
It’s said that this film came about because Howard Hawks bet Earnest Hemingway that he (Hawks) could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst book. Of course, to do that, Hawks ended up basically changing the story entirely, but hey. It’s the thought that counts. Mostly notable for being Lauren Bacall’s first film, the one where she met Humphrey Bogart, and the one that spawned the immortal “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve” bit of dialogue. That one scene? Worth the whole film.
1944 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan.

11:00pm – TCM – All the President’s Men
The Nixon and Watergate scandal is presented as a mystery almost, from the point of view of Woodward and Bernstein, the rookie Washington Post investigative reporters who broke the story. The film unfolds like a very good procedural, balancing the fact-finding itself with the roadblocks Woodward has to overcome at the paper because of his youth and inexperience. Not a showy film, but a really well-made one with excellent performances from Redford and Hoffman.
1976 USA. Director: Alan J. Pakula. Starring: Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook.
Newly Featured!

1:30am (5th) – Sundance – The Death of Mr. Lazrescu
One of the major films in Romania’s current cinematic resurgence – emphasis on realism, slow pacing, and in this case, the failures of the Romanian health care system, which shunts poor Mr. Lazarescu around from hospital to hospital as he gets sicker and sicker. I wasn’t as captivated by this as I was by 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days by a longshot, but if you’re interested in Romanian film, you oughta see it. If you didn’t like 4 Months, though, you almost certainly won’t like this. ;)
2005 Romania. Director: Cristi Puiu. Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu, Doru Ana, Monica Barladeanu, Doru Boguta.

Friday, March 5

7:00am – IFC – The Station Agent
One of the most pleasant surprises (for me, anyway) of 2003. Peter Dinklage moves into a train depot to indulge his love for trains and stay away from people, only to find himself befriended by a loquacious Cuban hot-dog stand keeper and an emotionally delicate Patricia Clarkson. A quiet but richly rewarding film.
2003 USA. Director: Thomas McCarthy. Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale.
(repeats at 12:30pm)

8:35am – 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.
2004 USA. Director: Joshua Marston. Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Virginia Ariza, Yenny Paola Vega.
(repeats at 2:00pm)

Saturday, March 6

8:30am – TCM – The Ladykillers
One of the most delightful of the Ealing comedies, with Alec Guinness leading a bunch of crooks (including a young Peter Sellers) whose bankrobbing plans get flustered by an unlikely old lady.
1955 UK. Director: Alexander Mackendrick. Starring: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers.
Must See

1:30pm – 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.
1985 Sweden. Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman.
(repeats at 5:00am on the 7th)

5:30pm – TCM – On the Beach
After nuclear war, most of humanity is destroyed; a small outpost in Australia survives, but not for long. See David’s longer take here;.
1959 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire.

8:00pm – 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.
1951 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Stanley, Karl Malden.

10:00pm – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
Must See
(repeats at 4:20am on the 7th)

2:30am (7th) – 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.

4:15am (7th) – TCM – The Killers (1946)
Burt Lancaster made his film debut in this excellent noir, an expansion of an Ernest Hemingway short story. Lancaster is a quiet gas station attendant killed in the opening of the film by two hitmen – the events that lead up to his death (involving, among other things, a classic femme fatale played by Ava Gardner) are told in flashback throughout the rest of the film.
1946 USA. Director: Robert Siodmak. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene.

Sunday, March 7

10:15pm – TCM – The Big Knife
Clifford Odets’ searing play about his hatred of Hollywood comes to the screen, with Jack Palance mugging as a frustrated actor who wants out of his contract, but can’t get out because the studio is blackmailing him. Between Odets’ overly poetic dialogue, director Robert Aldrich’s melodramatic style, and Palance’s scenery-chewing, this is a camptastic good time.
1955 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Jean Hagen, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters.

2:00am (8th) – TCM – Contempt
One of Jean-Luc Godard’s most consciously self-reflexive films, and that is saying a lot for someone who uses self-reflexivity the way most people use water. It took me longer to warm to this film than most of Godard’s (perhaps because of seeing it earlier than some of his lighter fare), but there’s a lot here to chew on, and a lot to enjoy, from the comments on his own relationship with Anna Karina to the foibles of filmmaking to the misunderstandings of translation.
1963 France. Director: Jean-Luc Godard. Starring: Michel Piccoli, Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Fritz Lang.
Must See
Newly Featured!

4:00am (8th) – TCM – The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli directs Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame in one of the best dark-side-of-Hollywood noirish films this side of Sunset Boulevard.
1952 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame.

Film on TV: January 11-17

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Henry V, playing on TCM Saturday at 6:00am.

There haven’t been so many newly featured films to highlight for quite a while as there are this week. Nice to have some new stuff to write up for a change! We have a couple of 1940s British classics in Henry V and Kind Hearts and Coronets on Saturday and Sunday respectively, plus some adaptations of great 19th and 20th century literature – A Streetcar Named Desire on Monday, and The Heiress and Cyrano de Bergerac on Sunday. This is the 1950 version of Cyrano, which I don’t think is quite as good as Gerard Depardieu’s 1990 version, but hey. It’s on right after Steve Martin’s Cyrano-inspired Roxanne, so there’s the fun of comparing and contrasting them. For musical fans, a couple of not-quite-classic but still enjoyable MGM productions: Ziegfeld Follies on Tuesday and Broadway Melody of 1936 on Sunday. And a few more recent offerings are also new to us this week, like Brian DePalma’s Blow Out on Sunday and the more-fun-than-I-expected Go on Monday.

Monday, January 11

8:00pm – IFC – Go
In the first section of this tripartite film, bored grocery store clerk Sarah Polley seizes an opportunity to broker a drug deal when her dealing coworker takes a trip to Vegas. It goes very wrong. Meanwhile, her coworker in Vegas gets mixed up in a murder there. Also meanwhile, two actors work with a narcotics officer to break up the drug ring. All three stories tie up together in the end, but not before a lot of well-constructed Pulp Fiction-esque jumping around. A lot of fun, and better than you might expect.
1999 USA. Director: Doug Liman. Starring: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:00am)

10:15pm – TCM – A Streetcar Named Desire
Elia Kazan’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ southern gothic play unleashed Marlon Brando upon the world and served as a strong comeback for Vivien Leigh – all in all, not a bad day’s work.
1951 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Kim Stanley.

Tuesday, January 12

3:00pm – TCM – Ziegfeld Follies
A plotless film, intended to recreate the revue-style musical show that Ziegfeld was so well known for in the early days of Broadway. Not every segment is worthwhile, but Fred Astaire’s three numbers (one of them with Gene Kelly, the only time they worked together until That’s Entertainment!) are great, and Judy Garland has a fun spot doing a Greer Garson parody.
1946 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Lucille Bremer, William Powell.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, January 13

6:00am – Sundance – A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands gives a tour-de-force performance as Mabel, a woman whose teetering madness threatens her marriage to Nick (Peter Falk). Their relationship edges back and forth between love, frustration, and anger with amazing quickness, yet it’s not clear whether Mabel’s instability is causing the problems, or the other way around. John Cassavetes directs with an unwavering camera, refusing to look away.
1974 USA. Director: John Cassavetes. Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands.
(repeats at 12:00N)

10:00pm – 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.
1939 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas.

Thursday, January 14

8:15am – 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 2:00pm)

3:30pm – TCM – Anatomy of a Murder
One of the best courtroom dramas ever made – James Stewart vs. George C. Scott as lawyers on a murder/rape trial that may not be quite what it seems. And that’s aside from the top-notch jazz score by Duke Ellington, which is in itself reason enough to see the film.
1959 USA. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick.
Must See

6:15pm – TCM – While the City Sleeps
The head of a New York newspaper dies, leaving it in his son Vincent Price’s hands to choose someone to promote: managing editor Thomas Mitchell, lead reporter Dana Andrews, or a couple of other people. The way to get the job? Get the scoop on the serial killer taking out women around the city. It gets a little plot-heavy at times, but it’s so full of classic character actors and the noirish feel that director Fritz Lang does so well that it’s still very worthwhile.
1956 United States. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, George Sanders

8:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.
1957 USA/UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa.

8:00pm – 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

10:00pm – IFC – Kill Bill Vol. 2
On the one hand, Kill Bill Vol 1 isn’t quite complete without Kill Bill Vol 2. And there are a lot of good parts in here – the film noirish opening as the Bride catches us up on what’s going on, the fight with Daryl Hannah in the trailer, training with the kung fu master, her getting out of the coffin, etc. But the ending lags a little too much for me to truly say I enjoy watching it as much as Vol. 1.
2004 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen.

10:00pm – 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 3:00am on the 15th)

3:00am (15th) – 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.

Friday, January 15

9:15pm – 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.

Saturday, January 16

6:00am – TCM – Henry V (1944)
Laurence Olivier’s version of Shakespeare’s historical epic was made during WWII and reflects England’s need of a national hero to look up to – his Henry is the epitome of English goodness and strength, making it interesting to compare this version with Kenneth Branagh’s much more conflicted Henry. Also notable for its art direction, borrowed from medieval illustrations.
1944 UK. Director: Laurence Olivier. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Renee Asherson, Leslie Banks.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Sunday, January 17

6:00am – TCM – Broadway Melody of 1936
MGM made four films under the Broadway Melody title (in 1929, 1935, 1936 and 1940), and this is easily the best – a polished, sparkling show biz tale with the production detail you expect from 1930s MGM. Eleanor Powell can dance up a storm no matter what film she’s in, and this is one of the few she did, honestly, that has any interest outside of her tap numbers.
1935 USA. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Starring: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell, Jack Benny, Una Merkel, Sid Silvers, Buddy Ebsen.

10:00am – TCM – Kind Hearts and Coronets
In one of the zaniest of the zany comedies that Alec Guinness was best known for in his early career, he plays eight, count ’em, eight characters – all relatives in line to receive a duke’s massive fortune upon his death. The last in line plots to murder all the others to make himself the sole heir.
1949 UK. Director: Robert Hamer. Starring: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson, Dennis Price.
Newly Featured!

4:00pm – TCM – The Heiress
Olivia de Havilland won her Oscar for her role as the title character in this adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square, a woman forbidden from love with a young suitor because her controlling father fears the suitor is only a fortune hunter.
1949 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – Blow Out
Sound man John Travolta is recording sound samples one night, and may have accidentally recorded a murder occurring. As he tries to investigate, he’s drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. Inspired to some degree by Antonioni’s photography-based Blow-Up, but this is definitely DePalma’s film all the way.
1981 USA. Director: Brian DePalma. Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz.
Newly Featured!
(repeats 12:45am on the 18th)

8:00pm – TCM – Roxanne
Steve Martin takes on the classic story of Cyrano de Bergerac and his doomed love for the oblivious Roxanne, transposing it into modern times and making it much more consciously comedic.
1987 USA. Director: Fred Schepisi. Starring: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
And here’s a straight version of Cyrano. This time Jose Ferrer (who won an Oscar for the role) plays the title character, a poet marred by the extreme size of his nose, whose love for Roxanne is such that he helps handsome but dull Christian woo her since he thinks she’ll never notice him.
1950 USA. Director: Michael Gordon. Starring: Jose Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – The Lives of Others
If any film had to beat out Pan’s Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, I’m glad it was one as good as The Lives of Others. A surveillance operator is assigned to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working against the government regime – he’s torn in both directions when he starts sympathizing with his subject. It’s really well done in tone and narrative, with a great performance by the late Ulrich Mühe.
2006 Germany. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Theime.

2:15am (18th) – TCM – Wild Strawberries
On his way to accept an honorary degree, elderly medical doctor Victor Sjöström thinks back and re-evaluates his life while being plagued by nightmares. Sounds kinda depressing, but then again, it is Ingmar Bergman. And he has a way of making depressing seem AWESOME.
1957 Sweden. Director: Ingmar Bergman. Starring: Victor Sjöstroöm, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand.

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