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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.