Tag Archives: Ben-Hur

Film on TV: February 22-28

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Stage Door, playing at 3:30am on Sunday, Febuary 28th (late Saturday)

As TCM’s Oscar-celebratory month winds down, they’ve still got a few new ones to throw at us – the first musical to win a Best Picture Oscar, The Broadway Melody, shows on Monday; an actual good Merchant-Ivory film in A Room With a View turns up on Thursday; and fantastic underrated film noir The Killers plays on Thursday; finally, one of my personal all-time favorite films, Stage Door, hits the screen late Saturday/early Sunday (trust me, picture quality is higher than the still above; couldn’t find a decent cap). Sundance also springs Zhang Yimou historical actioner Curse of the Golden Flower to us on Sunday. As expected, the rest of the week is filled out with great repeats on all channels – many classics, both new and old.

Monday, February 22

2:00pm – TCM – The Broadway Melody
After Warner Bros. thrust the film industry into the sound era with Jolson’s musical numbers in The Jazz Singer, it wasn’t long before other studios latched onto the musical possibilities provided by the debut of synchronized sound. MGM led the way with this backstage entry (the first of a series of unrelated “Broadway Melody” films) and earned themselves a Best Picture Academy Award. That’d never hold up today – this is extremely creaky and old-fashioned now – but hey. It has historical interest.
1929 USA. Director: Harry Beaumont. Starring: Charles King, Anita Page, Bessie Love.
Newly Featured!

6:00pm – 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. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit.
1950 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olsen, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton.
Must See

11:45pm – TCM – It Happened One Night
In 1934, It Happened One Night pulled off an Academy Award sweep that wouldn’t be repeated until 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, snagging awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress. Colbert is a rebellious heiress, determined to run away and marry against her father’s wishes. Along the way, she picks up Gable, a journalist who senses a juicy feature. This remains one of the most enjoyable comedies of all time, with great scenes like Colbert using her shapely legs rather than her thumb to catch a ride, Gable destroying undershirt sales by not wearing one, and a busload of people singing “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”
1934 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.
Must See

Tuesday, February 23

8:45am – TCM – 42nd Street
By 1933 when 42nd Street came out, the Hollywood musical had already died. So excited by the musical possibilities that sound brought in 1927, Hollywood pumped out terrible musical after terrible musical until everyone was sick of them. 42nd Street almost single-handedly turned the tide and remains one of the all-time classic backstage musicals. It may look a little creaky by later standards, but there’s a vitality and freshness to it that can’t be beat.
1932 USA. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Starring: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel.

2:45pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who constantly fight and decide to divorce, only to wind up meddling in each other’s lives (and screw up other relationship attempts) because they just can’t quit each other. Dunne’s impersonation of a Southern belle showgirl is a highlight.
1937 USA. Director: Leo McCarey. Starring: Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy.
Must See

5:45pm – IFC – Bananas
Woody Allen in full-on zany mode in one of his earlier films, as the wonderfully named Fielding Mellish. In an attempt to impress a politically-minded girl, Mellish runs off to a Latin American country and takes it over.
1971 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalbán.

6:15pm – TCM – Topper
Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are hard-living young couple who crash their fancy car after a night of drinking and end up as ghosts. They choose to spend their afterlife haunting Grant’s uptight boss Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) and teaching him to enjoy life again. Something of a screwball comedy without the battle of the sexes part; slight but a lot of fun.
1937 USA. Director: Norman Z. McLeod. Starring: Roland Young, Cary Grant, Constance Bennett.

10:30pm – 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.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See

11:15pm – TCM – Gigi
Maurice Chevalier’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” might come off as more pervy now than it was originally intended, but as a whole Gigi stands as one of the most well-produced and grown-up musicals made during the studio era. Vincente Minnelli gives it a wonderful visual richness and sophistication, while music from Lerner & Loewe (usually) stresses the right combination of innocence, exuberance, and ennui for its decadent French story.
1958 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold.

12:00M – IFC – The Good German
Steven Soderbergh’s attempt using 1940s equipment and filming techniques didn’t actually turn into a particularly good movie, but as a filmmaking experiment, it’s still fairly interesting. And has George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in gorgeous B&W as former lovers/current spies, if you’re into that sort of thing.
2006 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire.

1:15am (24th) – TCM – An American in Paris
Expat artist Gene Kelly in Paris, meets Leslie Caron, woos her away from rival Georges Guetarey, all set to Gershwin music and directed with panache by Vincente Minnelli. All that plus Kelly’s ground-breaking fifteen-plus-minute ballet to the title piece.
1951 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetarey.
Must See

Wednesday, February 24

10:30am – TCM – The Third Man
Novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) searches for his elusive, possibly murdered friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. A little bit of American film noir, a little bit of European ambiguity, all mixed together perfectly by screenwriter Grahame Green and director Carol Reed.
1949 UK/US. Director: Carol Reed. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles.
Must See

12:30pm – TCM – The Magnificent Ambersons
Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this film about a wealthy but decaying American family, but wasn’t given nearly as much creative freedom. But even with studio interference, it’s well worth seeing.1942 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead.

2:00pm – TCM – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
One of Humphrey Bogart’s best films casts him as greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, who teams up with old-timer Walter Huston and youngster Tim Holt to find a horde of gold. Along the way, they uncover instead the darker sides of human nature. One of director John Huston’s most impressive films.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston.
Must See

6:00pm – 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.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 4:30am on the 25th)

8:00pm – 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.
(repeats at 2:55pm on the 25th)

1:15am (25th) – TCM – A Room With a View
One of Merchant-Ivory’s best films out of their many classy adaptations of period literary classics – and less, uh, stuffy than they often tend to be. For me, it vies only with Howards End (another E.M. Forster adaptation) in their repertoire. A young Helena Bonham Carter, a veteran Maggie Smith, and Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his earliest film roles, don’t hurt at all.
1985 UK. Director: James Ivory. Starring: Helen Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Julian Sands, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, February 25

2:00pm – TCM – A Day at the Races
The Marx Brothers take over the racetrack in what is probably the last of their really great comedies. As with A Night at the Opera you do have to put up with the silly romantic subplot, but it’s not too big a strain.
1937 USA. Director: Sam Wood. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Allan Jones, Maureen O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
One of Frank Capra’s most whimsical films stars Gary Cooper as an unassuming country boy who suddenly inherits a great amount of money. When he decides to give it all away to whoever comes and asks for some, he garners a media frenzy, everyone thinking he’s crazy. Idealistic, warmly funny, and, yes, Capracorny. But as corn goes, it’s among the best. Also, any chance to see Jean Arthur is worth taking.
1936 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille.

5:45pm – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See
(repeats at 11:20am on the 26th)

8:00pm – 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.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Three of the greatest names in westerns – John Ford, John Wayne, and James Stewart – teamed up to make this film just as the classical western was fading out of popularity. Perhaps fittingly, then, it’s a film about western myth and the transition from outlaw gunslingers to government rule, a transition aided in one town at least by the man who shot outlaw Liberty Valance.
1962 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien.

Friday, February 26

9:30am – TCM – Mrs. Miniver
One of the more celebrated World War II home front films has Greer Garson in an Oscar-winning turn as the stalwart title character, holding her home together against the German Blitz. It’s the kind of movie that could only be made in 1942, and it won awards all over the place. It comes off a bit over-earnest today, though.
1942 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright.

5:45pm – TCM – Victor/Victoria
Making a living proves tough for singer Julie Andrews, until she decides to try cross-dressing, pretending to be a man performing as a female impersonator. This creates, um, interesting situations in her personal life, as well. Andrews’ husband Blake Edwards directs this amusing farce.
1982 USA. Director: Blake Edwards. Starring: Julia Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren.
Newly Featured!

7:45pm – IFC – Se7en
Detectives Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman pursue a serial killer who bases his murders on the seven deadly sins. One of the great serial killer thrillers, with one of the great serial killer speeches of all time.
1995 USA. Director: David Fincher. Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:05am on the 27th)

Saturday, February 27

6:00am – IFC – Millions
In this Danny Boyle film, 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.
2004 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford.
(repeats at 11:35am and 5:15pm)

10:30am – TCM – The Manchurian Candidate
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.
1962 USA. Director: John Frankenheimer. Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury.

12:45pm – TCM – From Here to Eternity
There’s the famous part, yes, where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love on the beach among the crashing waves. But there’s also a solid ensemble war tale, involving young officer Montgomery Clift and his naive wife Donna Reed, and embittered soldiers Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.
1953 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift, Lee J. Cobb.

8:00pm – TCM – Tom Jones
The book Tom Jones, written in the late 1700s by Henry Fielding, is usually considered one of the earliest novels, and part of its charm is the way it pastiches earlier literary forms as it tells its story of a rakish young English nobleman and his adventures with women. Though the film version can’t really claim the same place in cinematic history that the novel does in literary history, it’s still quite enjoyable, and manages to convey a similar playfulness by pastiching earlier filmmaking styles – which never fails to earn it a spot in texts on adaptation.
1963 UK. Director: Tony Richardson. Starring: Albert Finney, Susanna York, Hugh Griffiths.

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.

12:20am (28th) – Sundance – Oldboy
Ultra-violent revenge films don’t get much better than this. A man is inexplicably locked up in a room for several years then just as inexplicably released, at which point he seeks revenge. A bloody and at times disturbing film, but with an underlying thoughtfulness that sets it apart.
2003 Korea. Director: Park Chan-Wook. Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang.

3:30am (28th) – TCM – Stage Door
I cannot describe to you how much I love this film. I’m not sure it’s wholly rational. Katharine Hepburn plays an heiress who wants to make it on her own as an actress, so she moves (incognito) into a New York boarding house for aspiring actresses. Her roommate ends up being Ginger Rogers (who’s never been better or more acerbic), and the boarding house is rounded out with a young Lucille Ball, a young Eve Arden, a very young Ann Miller, and various others. The dialogue is crisp and everyone’s delivery matter-of-fact and perfectly timed, and the way the girls use humor to mask desperation makes most every moment simultaneously funny and tragic – so that when it does turn tragic, it doesn’t feel like a shift in mood, but a culmination of the inevitable.
1937 USA. Director: Gregory La Cava. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, Gail Patrick, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Constance Collier.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Sunday, February 28

6:05am – IFC – Primer
Welcome to sci-fi at its most cerebral. You know how most science-dependent films include a non-science-type character so there’s an excuse to explain all the science to audience? Yeah, this film doesn’t have that character, so no one ever explains quite how the time travel device at the center of the film works. Or even that it is, actually, a time-travel device. This is the sci-fi version of getting thrown into the deep end when you can’t swim. Without floaties.
2004 USA. Director: Shane Carruth. Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford.
(repeats at 2:05pm)

8:15am – TCM – The Philadelphia Story
Katharine Hepburn is Tracy Lord, a spoiled socialite about to marry Ralph Bellamy when ex-husband Cary Grant turns up. Throw in newspaper columnist James Stewart and his photographer Ruth Hussey, along with a bunch of great character actors filling out the cast, and you have both rollicking wedding preparations and one of the best films ever made.
1940 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharaine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Ralph Bellamy, Virginia Weidler.
Must See

10:15am – TCM – You Can’t Take it With You
Capra won his third directing Oscar for this film (the others were for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), but to me it’s not one of his more interesting pieces. Young couple James Stewart and Jean Arthur invite chaos when his staid, wealthy family meets her wacky, irreverent one.
1938 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Spring Byington.

5:15pm – TCM – The Greatest Show on Earth
Widely considered one of the least deserving films ever to win the Best Picture Academy Award, Cecil B. DeMille’s circus picture is big, loud, and gaudy – and okay, kinda fun. No, it didn’t deserve an Oscar that year, but in terms of spectacle, you get death-defying trapeze acts, clowns with shady pasts, and one of the most incredible train crashes ever on film.
1952 USA. Director: Cecil B. DeMille. Starring: Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, James Stewart, Gloria Grahame, Dorothy Lamour.

8:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston is the titular character, going through pretty much everything a Jew in the first century could expect – mistreatment from the Romans, being sold as a galley slave as punishment for a minor offense, fighting for his life as an arena chariot racer, and becoming convinced by Jesus of Nazareth’s promises of hope and a better kingdom to come. Ben-Hur practically defines the word “epic,” and remains one of the best of the sword-and-sandal films so popular in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Cathy O’Donnell, Martha Scott.
Must See

10:00pm – Sundance – Curse of the Golden Flower
One of the weaker entries in Zhang Yimou’s series of historical martial-arts-on-wires films, but it still has its moments – and the production design, as usual, is flawlessly beautiful. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of the style.
2006 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Ye Liu.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 4:15am on the 29th)

12:00M – 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

Film on TV: December 14-20

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Children of Paradise, playing at 2:45am on the 21st, on TCM

This is the week of the epics for TCM – explicitly so on Sunday, when they’re playing Doctor Zhivago, Ben-Hur, and others, but they’re also throwing in Gone With the Wind on Tuesday. Humphrey Bogart is TCM’s star of the month this month, and all day Wednesday is devoted to Bogart films (including a lot of lesser-known gangster films he did in the 1930s, which I didn’t specifically write up), culminating in a quartet of greats in the evening/overnight: The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The African Queen. Meanwhile, IFC is continuing to repeat some great stuff, from The New World and Before Sunrise to a trio of Tarantino films on Saturday night.

Monday, December 14

9:35am – 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 2:35pm)

4:00pm – TCM – The Trouble With Harry
A group of small-town New Englanders find a dead body (that of Harry) in the woods and, fearing they’ll be murder suspects if it’s found, conspire to hide it. One of Hitchcock’s funniest films, mixing the macabre and the absurd adeptly.
1955 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick.

Tuesday, December 15

7:00pm – 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

8:00pm – TCM – Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell’s sprawling best-seller became David O. Selznick’s sprawling epic, the story of spoiled southern belle Scarlett O’Hara coping with the horrors of unrequited love, threats to her family’s plantation, and oh, yeah, the Civil War. Gone With the Wind needs no introduction, really.
1939 USA. Director: Victor Fleming. Starring: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel.
Must See
Newly Featured!

3:45am (16th) – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.
1940 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson, George Sanders.

Wednesday, December 16

6:05am – IFC – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This version of Shakespeare’s magical comedy is a tad on the over-produced side, but there’s a lot to like from Stanley Tucci’s unusual Puck and Rupert Everett’s sly Oberon to the reimagining of the faeries through the lens of Bacchus legends and the use of popular operatic arias on the soundtrack. I’m never too sure whether I like Kline as Bottom, but then I’m rarely sure whether I like Bottom at all.
1999 USA/UK. Director: Michael Hoffman. Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Kevin Kline, Calista Flockhart, Anna Friel, Christian Bale, Dominic West, Stanley Tucci, David Strathairn, Sophie Marceau.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 1:15pm)

8:15am – IFC – Bride & Prejudice
Laugh at me if you must for recommending Chadha’s Bollywood-infused version of Pride and Prejudice, but I love it. It’s silly, it’s beautiful, it’s a fun exercise in adaptation of literary classics, and it’s only slightly weighed down by Martin Henderson’s woodenness.
2005 UK. Director: Gurinder Chadha. Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Alexis Bledel.
(repeats at 3:35pm)

5:35pm – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 5:00am on the 17th)

8:00pm – 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

10:00pm – TCM – Casablanca
Against all odds, one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced, focusing on Bogart’s sad-eyed and world-weary expatriot Rick Blaine, his former lover Ingrid Bergman, and her current husband Paul Henreid, who needs safe passage to America to escape the Nazis and continue his work with the Resistance. It’s the crackling script that carries the day here, and the wealth of memorable characters that fill WWII Casablanca with life and energy.
1943 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains.
Must See

10:00pm – Sundance – Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Neko Case, etc.
Okay, not a movie. But I know there some Neko Case fans around here, and she’s going to be on Elvis Costello’s concert/interview show this week. She always gives a good interview (and, obvously, concert), so I’m definitely planning to tune in for her segment at least.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 17th)

12:00M – TCM – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
One of Humphrey Bogart’s best films casts him as greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, who teams up with old-timer Walter Huston and youngster Tim Holt to find a horde of gold. Along the way, they uncover instead the darker sides of human nature. One of director John Huston’s most impressive films.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston.
Must See

2:15am (17th) – TCM – The African Queen
One of several films John Huston and Humphrey Bogart made 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.
1951 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley.

Thursday, December 17

9:00am – IFC – Love’s Labour’s Lost
Kenneth Branagh has taken on a lot of Shakespeare plays and usually does them with incredible fidelity (like his uncut, four-plus hour-long Hamlet). This time around, he takes a lesser-known comedy and adds music by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern to turn it into a 1930s style musical. It doesn’t work all the time, but for fans of Shakespeare and old musicals (like me), it’s still a fun watch.
2000 USA. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Alessandro Nivolo, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Kenneth Branagh, Matthew Lillard.
(repeats at 2:30pm)

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.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

8:00pm – TCM – Christmas in Connecticut
The always-worth-watching Barbara Stanwyck is a magazine columnist who makes up a traditional country home for her column while living in New York, a subterfuge which causes no problems until a serviceman on leave wants nothing more than to spend Christmas on her farm and her editor thinks it’s a great human interest piece. Her attempts to recreate that world while falling for the serviceman are funny, warm, and enjoyable enough to add this to your holiday rotation.
1945 USA. Director: Peter Godfrey. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Una O’Connor.

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

11:30pm – IFC – Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader – making sado-masochism fun since 2002! But seriously, this was Maggie’s breakout role, and it’s still probably her best, as a damaged young woman whose only outlet is pain. And despite the subject, Secretary is somehow one of the sweetest and most tender romances of recent years.
2002 USA. Director: Steven Shainberg. Starring:James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Friday, December 18

8:45am – IFC – Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, but I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done.
1995 USA. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
Must See
(repeats at 2:00pm, and 5:45am on the 19th)

11:00am – TCM – Swing Time
Many people call Swing Time the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and it’s certainly up there. Frothy story? Check. Jerome Kern music? Check. Fantastic dances? Check. Of course.
1936 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Shane
Alan Ladd plays the titular cowboy, idolized by the young son of the family he takes refuge with as he tries to escape Jack Palance.
1953 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Jack Palance.

Saturday, December 19

6:00am – TCM – Out of the Past
Out of the Past comes up in most conversations about film noir. It’s got all the elements: low-key lighting (due in this case to budgetary concerns), an existential anti-hero (Robert Mitchum), a femme fatale (Jane Greer), etc. It’s honestly not my favorite noir, but it’s a good one to see once.
1947 USA. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer.

12:00N – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
The ultimate nostalgia film, harking back to the turn of the century and the year leading up to the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Judy Garland holds the film and the family in it together as the girl who only wants to love the boy next door, but it’s Margaret O’Brien as the little willful sister who adds the extra bit of oomph, especially in the manic Halloween scene and the violent Christmas scene that carries the film from an exercise in sentimentality into a deeper territory of loss and distress.
1944 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
What do you do when you’re seven brothers in the backwoods and need wives? Why, go kidnap them of course! Patriarchal values aside, Seven Brides is one of the most entertaining movie musicals ever made, and I defy anyone to outdo the barn dance/raising scene.
1954 USA. Director: Stanley Donen. Starring: Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn.

6:00pm – 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 (from the novel by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, which became Flynn vehicles) is one of his better films, and does boast the longest sword fight in cinema history. So there’s that.
1952 USA. Director: George Sidney. Starring: Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker, Mel Ferrer.

8:00pm – TCM – The Man Who Came to Dinner
A rare comedic film for Bette Davis, though the film mainly focuses on Monty Woolley as an acerbic newspaper critic forced to take up residence with a midwestern family when he breaks his hip outside their house. Woolley was a great character actor here given the spotlight, and he takes it and runs with it. A great script by Julius and Philip Epstein (of Casablanca) doesn’t hurt, either.
1942 USA. Director: William Keighley. Starring: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Monty Woolley, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke.

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
(repeats at 3:00am on the 20th)

10:35pm – 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

12:30pm – 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.

Sunday, December 20

12:30pm – TCM – Doctor Zhivago
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of this film, but I also haven’t seen it for many years – probably so long that I was too young to really get it. Idealistic Zhivago experiences the Bolshevik Revolution while also dealing with his conflicting feelings for his wife Tonya and young nurse Lara. Many things about the romance side of the story bothered me, mostly the fact that I liked Tonya way more than Lara, and I never understood why Zhivago wanted Lara so badly. Although Maurice Jarre did write her a lovely musical theme, I’ll say that.
1965 UK/USA. Director: David Lean. Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness.

4:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur
Charlton Heston is the titular character, going through pretty much everything a Jew in the first century could expect – mistreatment from the Romans, being sold as a galley slave as punishment for a minor offense, fighting for his life as an arena chariot racer, and becoming convinced by Jesus of Nazareth’s promises of hope and a better kingdom to come. Ben-Hur practically defines the word “epic,” and remains one of the best of the sword-and-sandal films so popular in the ’50s and ’60s.
1959 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Cathy O’Donnell, Martha Scott.
Must See
Newly Featured!

6:30pm – IFC – Wassup Rockers
Small film about a group of teenage Latino skateboarders from South Central LA. They go up to Beverly Hills to skateboard, get caught by cops, escape, meet up with some girls, get in fights with preppy 90210 guys, and try to get home. But the moments that’ll get you are when they’re just talking, to the camera, or to the girls, about their life and what it’s like to live in South Central. It doesn’t go anywhere, really, but it’s a wonderful slice of life.
2005 USA. Director: Larry Clark. Starring: Jonathan Velasquez, Francisco Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Usvaldo Panameno, Eddie Velasquez.

12:00M – Sundance – Oldboy
Ultra-violent revenge films don’t get much better than this. A man is inexplicably locked up in a room for several years then just as inexplicably released, at which point he seeks revenge. A bloody and at times disturbing film, but with an underlying thoughtfulness that sets it apart.
2003 Korea. Director: Park Chan-Wook. Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang.

2:45am (21st) – TCM – Children of Paradise
A shy mime loves a popular actress in this classic French film set in the artsy district in Paris. This is one of the most magical, beautiful, captivating films I’ve ever seen. It’s almost three hours long, and it feels like half that.
1945 France. Director: Marcel Carne. Starring: Jean-Louise Barrault, Arletty, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Film on TV: June 1-7

Persona
Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, playing at 12:30am on the 5th on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is apparently highlighting a different Great Director every night in June, showing some of their best movies. That means they are showing a BOATLOAD of great films. I’ve included a tiny intro to each director – note that after the director blurb, all the rest of the films that day on TCM are by that director. There may be films on other channels interspersed, because I’ve kept the times chronological.

All times are Eastern Standard.

Monday, June 1

9:30am – TCM – Love Affair (1939)
This film is not as well known as its remake, 1957’s An Affair to Remember, which has the advantage of having the more famous Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr rather than Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer – who were both huge stars at the time, but are less known now. Both films were directed by Leo McCarey, and tell of a shipboard romance and a fateful rendezvous. I actually like Love Affair a tad better, but that could be just because I like being contrarian.

2:30pm – TCM – Duck Soup
Leo McCarey directs the Marx Brothers in what many think is their best and zaniest film. This is the one with Groucho becoming the dictator of Freedonia and declaring war on nearby Sylvania. Frequent Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont is on board as the wealthy woman who causes the rivalry that leads to the war. Personally, I prefer A Night at the Opera to Duck Soup, but this may be your best bet if the idea of musical interludes from Allan Jones (of which Opera has several) turns you off. Must See

6:15pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies (along with Bringing Up Baby), starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who constantly fight and decide to divorce, only to wind up meddling in each other’s lives (and screw up other relationship attempts) because they just can’t quit each other. Dunne’s impersonation of a Southern belle showgirl is a highlight. Must See

8:00pm – IFC – Clerks
Kevin Smith’s first feature, done for cheap, has become a cult classic, and though I think he’s done better films since Clerks, it’s definitely a worthwhile watch.
(repeats at 2:05am on the 2nd)

TCM – Great Director: John Ford
TCM starts off their celebration of great directors with John Ford, usually considered one of the greatest auteurs of the American studio era. He’s best known for westerns (like Stagecoach and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, playing tonight) and war films, but turned out plenty of quality dramas as well (like The Quiet Man). Disappointingly, TCM is not playing The Searchers, arguably his best film. Pick it up on Blu-ray, though – it’s not very expensive and it looks incredible.

10:00pm – 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

2:00am (2nd) – TCM – The Quiet Man
John Wayne plays a retired boxer returning to his ancestral home in Ireland, where he meets spitfire Maureen O’Hara and decides to marry her. She’s game, except her somewhat boorish brother Victor McLaglen disapproves and refuses to give up her dowry, and tradition is tradition! A great supporting cast of character actors and an epic (and comic) boxing match round out The Quiet Man into one of the most entertaining and endearing films John Ford ever made. Though I will say the last time I watched it, I was a little more concerned by its gender politics than I had been in the past.

4:15am (2nd) – TCM – She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
The first of John Ford’s informal “Cavalry trilogy,” which continued with Fort Apache and Rio Grande – all three films star John Wayne, though they’re unrelated in plot and character. Technically, I guess that makes them both westerns and war films, doesn’t it? Heh.

Tuesday, June 2

12:00N – TCM – Captains Courageous
Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for this film, based on Rudyard Kipling’s adventure story about a spoiled rich kid who falls off a steamship and ends up having to work on a fishing vessel to get home. A young Mickey Rooney plays the ship captain’s rough-and-tumble son.

6:00pm – TCM – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
There have been a lot of versions of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and this one isn’t considered one of the better ones. It’s interesting to me, though, to contast it to the 1932 version, which won an Oscar for Fredric March. In March’s version, the highly effective transformation into Hyde is done with heaps of makeup that render March unrecognizable. In this 1941 version, Spencer Tracy plays the doctor and his alter-ego, expressing the transformation almost solely through his facial expressions and physical bearing – no change in makeup – and his intensity makes it work.

TCM – Great Director: Frank Capra
Frank Capra is sometimes derided these days for what is seen as over-sentimentalism, dubbed “Capra-corn” in his honor. I think that’s mostly a mistake – his most well-known film It’s a Wonderful Life is extremely dark, and his idealistic heroes and sometimes overly hopeful endings are usually balanced by a cynical character or two that can’t quite be shaken as easily as it seems, or at least a tacit knowledge that the victories won aren’t necessarily for keeps. And for every Capra-corn Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, there’s a zany screwball comedy that reminds us that Capra was an excellent comedic director, whether you buy his idealistic side or not.

8:00pm – TCM – It Happened One Night
In 1934, It Happened One Night pulled off an Academy Award sweep that wouldn’t be repeated until 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, snagging awards for Best Picture, Director (Capra), Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Actor (Clark Gable), and Actress (Claudette Colbert). Colbert is a rebellious heiress, determined to run away and marry against her father’s wishes. Along the way, she picks up Gable, a journalist who senses a juicy feature. This remains one of the most enjoyable comedies of all time, with great scenes like Colbert using her shapely legs rather than her thumb to catch a ride, Gable destroying undershirt sales by not wearing one, and a busload of people singing “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” Must See

10:00pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Extremely underrated comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.

11:00pm – Sundance – The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Tommy Lee Jones takes up the directorial reins for the first time with this revisionist western about a rancher whose Mexican right-hand-man dies, his last request being that his body be returned across the border to his family. Thus begins an odyssey that’s more about mood and character than anything else. It’s not wholly even, but Jones has an excellent eye, and this was one of the more surprisingly good films of its year.

12:15am (3rd) – TCM – You Can’t Take It With You
Capra won his third directing Oscar for this film (the others were for It Happened One Night, see above, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), but to me it’s not one of his more interesting pieces. Young couple James Stewart and Jean Arthur invite chaos when his staid, wealthy family meets her wacky, irreverent one.

2:30am (3rd) – TCM – Arsenic and Old Lace
In what is probably Capra’s zaniest, least Capra-corn-esque film, Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster – a perfectly normal man until he discovers that his sweet old maid aunts have accumulated several dead bodies in the basement due to poisoning lonely old men. Add in another nephew who is a serial killer, a quack plastic surgeon, and an uncle who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and Mortimer’s got his hands full trying to keep his family secrets away from the girl he loves. It’s over-the-top, sure, but you gotta love the crazy.

Wednesday, June 3

8:10am – IFC – Three Times
Hsiao-hsien Hou directs this tripartite film – three stories set in three different time periods (1911, 1966, and 2005), each with the same actors, and each depicting a relationship that’s both very specific and individual and also sheds light on the mores of its respective time period. I liked the 1966 story the best, but they were all intriguing, and the contrast between them even more so.
(repeats 2:15pm)

TCM – Great Director: King Vidor
I’ve got to admit I don’t know very much about King Vidor, other than he directed some stuff. Maybe I should watch the documentary about him at 8:00pm, before I move on to his films?

9:00pm – TCM – The Crowd
This silent film has been on my to-watch list for a LONG time, so I’m glad TCM is giving me the opportunity to cross it off. It’s about a young couple moving to the big city, and their struggles against the impersonal, all-consuming nature of the city and the husband’s cog-in-the-wheel job.

10:45pm – TCM – The Champ
Wallace Beery earned an Oscar for his role as a has-been prizefighter, living hand to mouth with his adoring son. But then the boy has a chance to go live with his mother, long-divorced from Beery and now married to a well-to-do man. This is a great example of a high-end Warner Bros. programmer from the early 1930s – it’s very lean, nothing extra in it, but it’s got a heart that I didn’t expect.

Thursday, June 4

6:00pm – TCM – A Day at the Races
The Marx Brothers take over the racetrack in what is probably the last of their really great comedies. You do have to put up with the silly romantic subplot, but it’s not too big a strain.

TCM – Great Director: Ingmar Bergman
When Ingmar Bergman died a couple of years ago, floods of blog posts and articles came out, some valorizing his work and mentioning the profound effect his films had on the authors, others positing that he’s overrated and only wanna-be elitists claim to enjoy his films. But whether you love him or hate him, you can’t get around the staying power that images from The Seventh Seal, Persona and others have had. He’s sometimes a difficult director, but I believe the rewards are there.

9:00pm – TCM – The Seventh Seal
A medieval knight has a chess match with Death for the fate of his soul in one of Bergman’s best-known films. It’s not one of my favorites, although I’m probably due for a rewatch. It ought to be seen, but I don’t think it should be the only Bergman people see, nor the first.

10:45pm – TCM – Wild Strawberries
I’m looking forward to catching Wild Strawberries for the first time this week; I’ve got no excuse for not having watched it, other than the plot descriptions I’ve read (from IMDb: “After living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence.”) don’t sound that interesting. But Bergman’s strength is in mood, so I’m giving that plot the benefit of the doubt.

12:30am (5th) – TCM – Persona
Of all Bergman’s films, Persona is the one I always come back to. A nurse takes her patient, a former actress who one day simply refused to talk any more, to a lonely island to try to help her recover. They soon engage in a battle of the wills, and their identities start merging. Meanwhile, Bergman interrogates not only the concept of identity within the film, but the apparatus of film itself and its capacity for understanding and communication. There’s more to it every time I watch it. Must See

1:30am (5th) – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria and La Strada, two films that Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase in the mid-1950s with Giulietta Masina, always stand out to me almost even more than his more famous, more flamboyant 1960s films like 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. Nights of Cabiria 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. Must See

2:00am (5th) – TCM – Hour of the Wolf
Another Bergman I haven’t seen yet, but am really excited about. From IMDb: “An artist in crisis is haunted by nightmares from the past in Ingmar Bergman’s only horror film, which takes place on a windy island. During ‘the hour of the wolf’ – between midnight and dawn – he tells his wife about his most painful memories.” Everything I have heard about it suggests it’s nice and surreal, and probably an influence on David Lynch. I AM THERE.

Friday, June 5

5:15pm – IFC – Before Sunrise
Though some people think Richard Linklater’s 2004 follow-up Before Sunset is better than this 1995 original, I’m going to disagree, at least until I get the chance to see both together again. Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done. Must See
(repeats at 3:45pm on the 6th)

6:00pm – TCM – The Third Man
Novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) searches for his elusive, possibly murdered friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) in post-war Vienna. A little bit of American film noir, a little bit of European ambiguity, all mixed together perfectly by screenwriter Grahame Green and director Carol Reed. Must See

TCM – Great Director: Steven Spielberg
Spielberg needs no introduction. Interestingly, TCM is only playing one really good Spielberg film – the other ones are, like, 1941. Not sure what’s up with that, unless they had trouble getting rights clearances or maybe just wanted to do some lesser known entries in his catalog.

9:30pm – TCM – Saving Private Ryan
I’m sure most everyone reading this has seen Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s take on D-Day and a post-D-Day rescue mission, so I’ll save my breath on it, and just point out when it’s on in case someone wants a rewatch.

3:35am (6th) – Sundance – Wristcutters: A Love Story
Patrick Fujit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists and finds himself in a strange, limbo-like place where all the suicides get stuck after they die. But then he meets Shannyn Sossamon, who claims she’s there by mistake, and embarks on an odyssey to get her out of limbo. It’s a bit of a strange film, but it’s also very sweet and Sundancey, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.

Saturday, June 6

6:15am – IFC – Waking Life
Richard Linklater’s first foray into overlaid animation is a philosophical dreamscape that’ll either leave you cold or inhabit your thoughts for weeks. It’s the latter for me. Like most of Linklater’s films, it’s largely made up of people talking, but with the added interest of the unique ever-shifting, never-solid animation style (which he’d reuse with a slightly more standard sci-fi story in A Scanner Darkly).
(repeats at 2pm)

TCM – Great Director – William Wyler
William Wyler was one of the most consistently reliable directors in the Hollywood studio system, helming many of the most prestigious studio pictures of the time and guiding Bette Davis, Greer Garson, Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, and Audrey Hepburn to Oscars (and winning three of his own in the meantime).

9:30am – TCM – The Little Foxes
Bette Davis is at her most vicious here, as the conniving matriarch who uses her daughter to play upon her estranged husband’s weaknesses in order to carry off a money-making scheme.

11:30am – TCM – Mrs. Miniver
One of the more celebrated World War II home front films has Greer Garson in an Oscar-winning turn as the stalwart title character, holding her home together against the German Blitz. It’s the kind of movie that could only be made in 1942, and it won awards all over the place. It comes off a bit over-earnest today, though.

2:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur (1959)
The epic of epics. Chariot race and all. Except I’m not really that huge a fan. But it’s epic!

6:00pm – TCM – Jezebel
Bette Davis got one of her Oscars for this film, playing a suspiciously Scarlett O’Hara-like Southern belle the year before Gone With the Wind made it onto the screen.

8:00pm – TCM – The Letter
In this cut-above-average melodrama, Bette Davis shoots a man in self-defense. Or was it self-defense?

9:35pm – IFC – The Player
Robert Altman takes on Hollywood in this story of a script screener (Tim Robbins) who gets drawn further and further into a web of blackmail and double-crosses when he’s threatened by a screenwriter whose script he rejected. You gotta love it for the virtuosic opening pan at the very least; the rest of the Hollywood insider references are just gravy.
(repeats 3:45am on the 7th)

9:45pm – TCM – Roman Holiday
Not Audrey Hepburn’s first film, as is often thought, but her first lead role, and the one that immediately catapulted her into stardom. She’s a princess who runs away to try out being normal, and spends an adventurous day exploring Rome with incognito journalist Gregory Peck. Pretty much delightful right the way through.

Sunday, June 7

8:00am – IFC – Les Diaboliques
In Henri-Georges Clouzot’s thriller, a man’s wife and mistress plot together to murder him (gee, I wonder why?), but find it more difficult than they expected to get rid of him for good.

TCM – Great Director: Michael Curtiz
Michael Curtiz was a solid workhorse director for Warner Bros. throughout the 1930s and 1940s. However, he tended more toward adventure and genre pictures and thus didn’t get the prestige pictures that, say, William Wyler was known for. That said, I find a lot more enjoyment in most Curtiz pictures than in most Wyler pictures.

8:15am – TCM – Angels With Dirty Faces
One of the classic gangster pictures has James Cagney as a criminal idolized by the youth of Hell’s Kitchen and Pat O’Brien as Cagney’s boyhood buddy who grew up to be a priest. Though the two remain friends, they wind up understandably at odds with each other when O’Brien starts working to clean up the neighborhood.

10:00am – IFC – The Wages of Fear
Many people think The Wages of Fear is Henri-Georges Clouzot’s finest film. It’s certainly intense, as a group of drifters in South America hoping to earn some money to get home take on the dangerous job of transporting truckloads of nitroglycerin to a burning oil drilling site. Every bump or snag in the road turns deadly – and there are a lot of bumps and snags.

2:00pm – 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.

4:00pm – TCM – Captain Blood
This was Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s first of eight films together, and it’s one of the best. Flynn is the eponymous captain, a dentist named Blood who gets captured by pirates and ends up escaping and taking over the pirate ship himself. Full of swashbuckling and derring-do.

6:15pm – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films). I recently splurged on the Blu-ray, and at $13 from Amazon, it’s a total steal. Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney won an Oscar putting on his dancing shoes to play song-and-dance man and Broadway composer George M. Cohan in this biopic. Though it seems strange to think of gangster picture regular Cagney in a musical, he actually got his start in show business as a hoofer, and returned to musicals many times throughout his career, though this remains the most notable example.

12:30am (8th) – TCM – Mildred Pierce
In quite probably Joan Crawford’s best role (only perhaps excepting her catty “other woman” in The Women), she plays a woman trying to work her way up in the world from lowly waitress to entrepreneur, all the while dealing with her shrew of a daughter. Melodrama isn’t a particularly prized genre these days, but films like Mildred Pierce show how good melodramas can be with the right confluence of studio style, director, and star.

2:30am (8th) – TCM – Casablanca
Curtiz’s crowing achievement also happens to be one of the best films Hollywood ever turned out. I won’t bother telling you about it, though – I’m sure you’ve all seen it. Must See

Film on TV: April 11-12

Well, I had a bit of an internet outage this week, preventing me from posting the Film on TV post. I would’ve just skipped it, but Saturday has a HUGE AMOUNT of fantastic movies playing. So a late and truncated post will have to do. Please direct any complaints to Time Warner Cable of Los Angeles. They should be used to it by now.

Saturday, April 11

6:00am – IFC – A Hard Day’s Night
(repeats at 12:35pm)

6:00am – TCM – The Kennel Murder Case
Before taking on the role of detective Nick Charles in the Thin Man movies, William Powell did a couple of films as Philo Vance, another witty private eye. Here he’s joined by Mary Astor, who nearly matches Myrna Loy as his counterpart.

7:30am – TCM – The 39 Steps
My vote for Hitchcock’s finest British-era film follows Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll though a twisty and witty tale of spies and mistaken identities.

8:00am – IFC – Throne of Blood
Shakespeare often seems to work better, or at least take on new vitality, when transposed into different times and places – here his Macbeth moves into medieval Japan in the capable hands of Akira Kurosawa.

9:50am – 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.
(repeats at 3:30pm)

12:00N – TCM – They Were Expendable

5:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai

8:00pm – TCM – Saboteur
Not a particularly memorable Hitchcock film, but it does have a great sequence with the hero and villain chasing each other and hanging off the Statue of Liberty.

10:00pm – TCM – Shadow of a Doubt
And this is a somewhat lesser-known Hitchcock film that ought to be top-tier. Small-town girl Teresa Wright idolizes her uncle Charlie, but we know that he’s an infamous murderer on the run. Hitchcock once made a distinction between mystery and suspense: mystery is when there’s tension because the audience doesn’t know whodunit, suspense is when there’s tension because the audience does. This film is a perfect example of suspense, and Hitchcock’s preference for telling the audience whodunit very early in the film and letting them squirm.

12:00M – TCM – Foreign Correspondent
Another lesser-known Hitchcock film that’s nonetheless well worth watching.

2:15am (12th) – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film isn’t one of my favorites, but a lot of people like it quite a lot. For me it’s more that the ending cops out from the book, and I know that’s the studio’s influence, not Hitchcock’s. And that bugs me.

Sunday, April 12

4:30am – TCM – Spellbound
Hitchcock + Ingrid Bergman + Gregory Peck + Freudianism + Salvador Dali dream sequences. There was something else you wanted? I didn’t think so.

8:00am – IFC – Au revoir, les enfants

12:30pm – TCM – Ben-Hur (1959)

1:05pm – IFC – Millions

7:00pm – TCM – Easter Parade
One of the better examples of MGM’s opulent musical style – having Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Ann Miller on board doesn’t hurt.

10:15pm – IFC – Amores Perros

Film on TV – 22-28 December

Merry Christmas, everyone! I apologize for not getting this out on Sunday. I was having eureka moments in programming and it completely slipped my mind.

Tuesday, 23 December

12:35am / 11:35pm (24th) – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Another chance at one of the best movies from last year.

Wednesday, 24 December

11:10am / 10:10am – Sundance – Fahrenheit 451
Truffaut’s first English-language film, an adaptation of Bradbury’s famous anti-censorship, anti-passive media novel. Rewatched it recently, and found it better than I had remembered.

6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – The Bishop’s Wife
Not one of my favorite Christmas films, but its popularity continues despite my ambivalence. :)

1:00am / 12:00am (25th) – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
I forget to count this as a Christmas film, but it is the origin of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” so I guess it is. It’s also just plain great.

Thursday, 25 December

4:00pm / 3:00pm – Sundance – The Constant Gardener
I’d have to check and make sure, but I think The Constant Gardener is sitting pretty right at the top of my Best of 2005 list. Its combination of love story, conspiracy thriller, and human rights drama meshes perfectly, and isn’t hurt by gorgeous cinematography, a moody and contemplative tone, and a terrific performance from Rachel Weisz (which earned her an Oscar).

4:00pm / 3:00pm – TCM – Ben-Hur (1959)
TCM showed the silent version of Ben-Hur a couple of weeks ago; here’s the Charlton Heston version. They’re also doing King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told earlier in the day, if your need for life-of-Jesus epics isn’t satiated.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Casablanca
Bogart. Bergman. Witty bon mots. Thwarted romance and nobility. Classic.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – The Big Sleep
Bogart and Bacall in Howard Hawks’ version of Raymond Chandler’s best detective novel. Can’t get any better than that.

12:00pm /11:00pm – TCM – The Maltese Falcon
Bogart inhabits Dashiell Hammett’s private eye Sam Spade, creating pretty much the definitive on-screen hard-boiled detective. Not mention setting the early benchmark for noirs films.

2:00am / 1:00am (26th) – TCM – The African Queen
I didn’t love The African Queen as much as I wanted to, and I don’t know why. Bad mood probably. I felt like Bogart, despite his Oscar win for this, was phoning it in a little, and Hepburn felt over the top. Anyway, it’s still one you oughta see once, just so you can say you have.

4:00am / 3:00am (26th) – TCM – High Sierra
Bogart’s breakout role as an on-the-run con man who gets involved with the lame Joan Leslie. (No, I mean actually crippled.) He’d been bumming around as a Warner second lead or villain, but with 1941’s double punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, he unequivocally arrived.

Friday, 26 December

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Lawrence of Arabia
There were a lot of epics made in the 1950s and ’60s. Today most of them are laughable to one degree or another. But Lawrence of Arabia stands as tall as it ever did, refusing to reduce its enigmatic subject into the confines of normal biography or explain his conflicting actions and traits. Plus, the most gorgeous desert cinematography you’ll ever see. Ever.

Saturday, 27 December

8:00am / 7:00am – IFC – The Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai epic usually appears very near the top of any list of favorite/best foreign films. My difficulty with Japanese cinema means it’s not that high for me yet, but I respect it for its influence alone. It’s basically Kurosawa’s take on the Western, and in return it spawned the revisionist Western of the 1960s with its complicated heroes and moral ambiguity.

12:00pm / 11:00am – TCM – The Great Escape
Steve McQueen, cool as only Steve McQueen could be, leads an elaborate escape attempt from a WWII POW camp. It’s a lot more fun than that sounds.

3:00pm / 2:00pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne won an Oscar for his role in this. I feel like it may have been a lifetime achievement sort of thing, despite being in a competitive category, but hey – what do I know? I actually haven’t seen it yet.

3:30pm / 2:30pm – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
My favorite of Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastic animated features.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Woman of the Year
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, together for the first time. And would you believe that this is one of only a couple of their eight films together that I haven’t seen yet? I’ve DVR’d it at least twice, but it keeps getting deleted before I watch it. Third time’s the charm?

10:45pm / 9:45pm – IFC – The Cooler
I mentioned The Cooler as one of my favorite Maria Bello films in my 20 Favorite Actresses post, and in fact, it’s one of my favorite recent indie films, no qualifications. William H. Macy, who’s always worth watching, turns in one of his most sympathetic performances, and Alec Baldwin hones his ironic boss skills before he moved on to 30 Rock.

2:00am / 1:00am (28th) – TCM – Annie Hall
I’ve been denigrating Annie Hall in favor of Manhattan for a long time now, but I just rewatched Annie Hall last week, and wow. It’s way better than I remembered. I still love Manhattan to bits, but it’s at least a tie now between them. Brilliant writing. Brilliant.

Sunday, 28 December

8:00am / 7:00am – IFC – Rashomon
I actually like Kurosawa’s Rashomon quite a bit better than The Seven Samurai, and I imagine that’s due to my love of ambiguous narratives. A woman and two men meet in the woods. One man is killed. But what caused his death is unknown – we have conflicting stories from three witnesses, but cannot judge the truth. Rashomon is the first film to a) have completely unreliable cinematic segments and b) refuse to tell the audience which is true. It breaks the rule that what you see on screen is real, and it doesn’t allow either the characters or the audience any way to figure out what is real. Truly groundbreaking.

5:00pm / 4:00pm – IFC – The Princess and the Warrior
Tom Tykwer’s second film with Franka Potente isn’t as frenetic as the first (Run Lola Run), but has a quieter sort of mesmerizing power all its own. It never gained the traction that Lola did, but it deserves more of an audience than it’s gotten.

3:00am / 2:00am (29th) – TCM – Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
French writer/actor/director Jacques Tati specialized in nearly-silent physical comedy that reminds one at times of Chaplin or Keaton, but with a slightly more ironic French flair about it. In Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, a trip to the seashore turns out to be anything but relaxing.