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Links I Like: June 29, 2011

I had meant to do this feature every week or so, but with film festivals and other commitments, I haven’t had very much time to read other sites or gather good links. That being the case, some of these are several weeks old and you may have already read them. But in case you haven’t, I still think they’re worth taking a look at.

The Cultural Vegetables Debate – Dan Kois, A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, Jim Emerson, Glenn Kenny, AND MORE

It all started with this article in the New York Times Magazine, when Dan Kois admitted that he has a tough time watching certain critically-acclaimed movies (especially slow-moving ones like Solaris or Meek’s Cutoff) and terming them “cultural vegetables.” Fellow NYT critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis responded with “In Defense of the Slow and Boring”, arguing that slow and boring isn’t necessarily bad, and what’s more, often mainstream films like The Hangover Part II are far more boring than arthouse slow cinema like Meek’s Cutoff. Soon, other critics and bloggers put in their two cents as well, including Glenn Kenny, Jim Emerson, Richard Brody, Matt Singer, Bilge Elibri, Vadim Rizov, etc. Andrew O’Hehir’s article in Salon may summarize things the best. Then Kois, Scott, and Dargis all got together for a follow-up article. And now Glenn Kenny is tired of the whole thing. In a way, it’s gotten blown out of proportion from Kois’s original personal and sincere article, but the various points brought up by various authors are all very interesting and enlightening, to one degree or another, in a culture where both critics and laypeople can feel marginalized by the other.

Comment on “No Comment” – Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi

The last frame of Jean-Luc Godard’s lastest film is the text “No Comment,” which many have interpreted as Godard’s sort-of playful, sort-of standoffish way of deflecting criticism, a way of tossing a bunch of seemingly nonsensical images up on screen for 90 minutes and then refusing to respond to questions or criticisms of them. Vishnevetsky argues that instead, Godard is declining authorial control, inviting the audience to participate in making meaning of his film. In short, it’s not a dismissal, but a deferral, and rather than being standoffish and closed, the ending slide is open and welcoming. This fits with how I see Godard’s early films, as well as his tendency to make films about the death of cinema as well as the death of language.

10 Best Michelle Williams Performances – Kevyn Knox at Anomalous Material

I see I’m not alone in my belief that Michelle Williams is possibly the best Hollywood actress of our generation, and Kevyn Knox has gathered together a slew of performances that prove it. I’m ashamed to admit that I have only seen a handful of these – looks like I’ve got a lot more Williams to discover, which is a wonderful thing.

Academics vs. Critics: Never the Twain Shall Meet? – David Bordwell in Film Comment

Bordwell outlines the somewhat tense relationship between what he terms “cinephile critics” and academics – the difference between someone like Andrew Sarris, who popularized the auteur theory in the United States and had a deep understanding of film history and art that showed through his weekly reviews and columns at the Village Voice (and later the New York Observer), and someone like Christian Metz, who used linguistic theory to probe how audiences process visual narratives. It’s a line that I’ve struggled to understand myself, as I have just enough academic in me to want to sometimes use esoteric theory or historical minutiae when thinking about film, but I also identify strongly with the Sarris-style cinephile critic. Bordwell actually argues that the twain can and should meet, noting the different purposes each type of criticism is for and how the two can be complementary.

Blu-ray Consumer Guide, June 2011 – Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running

Kenny runs through an amazingly long list of Blu-ray releases, with a paragraph on each talking a little bit about the film and whether it’s worthwhile, but mostly about this particular blu-ray release and what it does or does not bring to the table. It’s a daunting post even to read; I pale at the amount of work (both writing and viewing all the discs) that must’ve gone into it, but the recommendations or warnings are very welcome. Discs discussed include: A.I., All the President’s Men, early Antonioni, The Black Pirate, Blow Out, The Comancheros, Diabolique, Great Dictator, Kes, Lolita, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Flower, Senso, Some Like It Hot, El Topo, Topsy Turvy, and a lot more. A lot of Criterions, but that’s fine with me!

Kiss Me Deadly: The Thriller of Tomorrow – J. Hoberman at Criterion Current

Kiss Me Deadly just came out on Criterion DVD and Blu-ray, and J. Hoberman looks at the film in its historical context – especially the way it uses and modifies Mickey Spillane’s basically amoral “hero” Mike Hammer as a comment on modern society, and the relationship the film and its director Robert Aldrich had with the McCarthyism running rampant at the time of its release. The film is a great one on a straight crime noir level; I’m looking forward to rewatching with more of a historical context in mind.

“It’s Just a Bit of Fun”: Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News for Movies – Helen O’Hara at Empire Online

Whenver a Hollywood blockbuster comes out and film critics lambast it, there’s always a chorus of “but it’s just supposed to be fun, stop bashing it” from commenters and fans of Hollywood blockbusters. The latest round is in relation to Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, and Empire Online put up this piece in response to the comments they’ve been receiving on their review of the film. O’Hara makes a lot of great points, and so do several of the commenters on this post, about critics responding to blockbusters, and how it’s okay to want more from blockbusters – not necessarily that they be Citizen Kane, that would be silly, but that they aspire to the greatness of blockbusters like Back to the Future or The Terminator, which had good scripts, storytelling, and acting, and were also a whole lot of fun. As O’Hara puts it, why wouldn’t you want “a film that has giant robots but is also a good film?” (her emphasis) Amen.

Initial Reaction: The Tree of Life – Kevin J. Olsen at Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies

Although Kevin put up a full review a few days after this initial post, I love this stream-of-consciousness approach to Tree of Life. The film itself follows an associative logic rather than a linear narrative logic, and as Kevin points out, it’s difficult to talk about such an unconventional film in a conventional writing style. I think this bulleted list of things the film made him think about and associations it drove him to make is possibly the best way to talk about Tree of Life.

Misreading the Tomatometer – Jim Emerson at scanners::blog

It’s something I’ve said time and time again, but Emerson explains quite well how the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer works – that 75% Fresh means 75% of critics gave it a positive review (that is, somewhere between 5 and 10 on a ten point ranking scale), not that all critics gave it a 7.5 out of 10. You could theoretically have a movie that’s 100% Fresh because every critic gave it a 6 out of 10 – that’s an extreme and unlikely example, but the system is highly imprecise. He also goes into the difficulties of assigning a positive/negative score to mixed reviews that don’t use a star or numeral ranking system. There are good ways to use Rotten Tomatoes (like as a portal to actually read a bunch of reviews), and the Tomatometer score isn’t always a bad indicator of general critical climate, but it needs to be understood properly to be very useful.

Film on TV: April 5-11

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A Fistful of Dollars, playing on TCM on Saturday, April 10th.

A bit sparse this week, but still plenty of things worth checking out. Among the newly featured films are a couple of Australian comedies, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Monday and Strictly Ballroom on Friday, the early Woody Allen sci-fi comedy Sleeper on Tuesday, sparkling screwball comedy Libeled Lady on Thursday, quintessential spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars on Friday, and Garbo showcase Queen Christina on Sunday.

Monday, April 5

8:00pm – IFC – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Any half-decent film about three drag queens driving a bus through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) pretty much has to be fabulous, and this one is. Hugo Weaving is the one with the secret former marriage and son, Terence Stamp the aging one who tends to be somewhat bitter but can also be the consummate lady, and Guy Pearce is the flamboyant youth. As they move through the Outback toward their next proposed gig as lipsynching dancers, they run into mechanical difficulties, bigotry, and interpersonal conflicts that get into more thoughtful territory than you might expect.
1994 Australia. Director: Stephan Elliott. Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, Rebel Penfold-Russell.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:00am on the 6th)

10:00pm – Sundance – Le doulos
Jean-Paul Belmondo brings his signature style to Jean-Pierre Meville’s excellent crime film as a possible police informant working with another criminal on a jewel heist. These two men are played off each other in a sort of doubling motif – it’s often even difficult to tell which is which, due to careful cinematography and lighting work by Melville.
1962 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Serge Reggiani, René Lefèvre.
(repeats at 5:25am on the 6th, and 6:25am and 2:15pm on the 10th)

1:30am (6th) – 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.

Tuesday, April 6

10:35am – IFC – Sleeper
One of Woody Allen’s early films, and a rare attempt at science fiction, has meek Miles Monroe cryogenically frozen only to wake in a totalitarian future as part of a radical movement to overthrow the government. A rather different film for Woody, but still with his signature anxious wit and awkwardness.
1973 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 4:15pm)

Wednesday, April 7

6:10am – 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 11:30am and 4:45pm)

11:15pm – 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.
1935 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee.

1:30am (8th) – TCM – The Pirate
A flop when first released, The Pirate looks more and more like a potential cult classic all the time. Gene Kelly is an entertainer who impersonates the dread pirate Mack the Black Mococo to get close to Spanish heiress Judy Garland in a period Caribbean seaport. It’s over-the-top, has some of Cole Porter’s most outlandish songs, and is somehow immensely, compulsively watchable.
1948 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, the Nicholas Brothers.

Thursday, April 8

8:00pm – TCM – Libeled Lady
Throw William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow all together in an MGM comedy, and you’re almost guaranteed a winner. And Libeled Lady delivers with a twisty story, fast-talking script, and the best these stars have to offer.
1936 USA. Director: Jack Conway. Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Walter Connolly, Charley Grapewin.
Newly Featured!

12:05am (9th) – IFC – Hard Candy
Ellen Page burst onto the scene as a teenage girl getting involved with an older guy she met on the internet – initially looks like a cautionary tale about internet chat relationships, but goes into even more twisted realms than that, with Ellen owning the screen every second.
2005 USA. Director: David Slade. Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh.

Friday, April 9

8:15am – IFC – Strictly Ballroom
The first of Baz Lurhmann’s “Red Curtain” trilogy, about a Latin ballroom dancer who shakes up the Australian ballroom competition circuit with his unorthodox choreography. Among other things. A little shrill at times, but mostly funny and endearing, and less borderline schizophrenic than the rest of the trilogy (which I love, don’t get me wrong).
1992 Australia. Director: Baz Luhrmann. Starring: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Gia Carides.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 1:30pm)

4:55pm – IFC – A Fish Called Wanda
It’s not a Monty Python picture, but with John Cleese and Michael Palin on board as participants in a zany crime story, along with ambiguous-relationshiped Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline, it has some of the same absurd charm.
1988 USA/UK. Director: Charles Crichton. Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Maria Aitken, Tom Georgeson.
(repeats at 4:35am on the 10th)

6:00pm – 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

Saturday, April 10

12:00N – TCM – The Man from Laramie
One of several westerns that James Stewart and Anthony Mann made together, and this one is one of the most solid; in this one, Stewart is a wagon train leader who gets pulled into a territorial feud against his will when one side torches his wagons. These westerns begin to show the dark side of the west, where the hero is only a hero because it’s expedient for him, or because he has some personal gain to get out of it.
1955 USA. Director: Anthony Mann. Starring: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O’Donnell.

4:00pm – TCM – A Fistful of Dollars
The first of the Leone-Eastwood “Man With No Name” trilogy has Eastwood loping into a small Texas town out nowhere and finding himself caught in the middle of an ongoing feud between the two powerful families that run the town. In true revisionist Western style, he wavers back and forth between amoral mercenary desires and noble actions – he’s not classical Hollywood’s Western hero, but he draws on that mythology, breathing new life into the genre.
1964 Italy. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonté, Wolfgang Lukschy.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – 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 1:00am on the 11th)

4:15am (11th) – TCM – Kiss Me Deadly
Fairly iconic noir film, with hard-boiled action, nuclear paranoia, and one of the more memorable non-Hitchcock McGuffins in movie history. Plus some great LA locations. I didn’t quite love it as much as I wanted to the first time I saw it, but I’m due for a rewatch, and it definitely needs to be seen at least once, especially if you’re a noir fan.
1955 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr.

Sunday, April 11

8:00am – TCM – Queen Christina
Quite possibly the supreme example of Greta Garbo’s extraordinary power over the camera, portraying the 17th-century monarch of Sweden whose unanticipated love affair with a Spanish emissary complicates her life and her reign. Her frequent silent film costar John Gilbert comes off a little less well in sound pictures, but Garbo more than makes up for that and for the film’s occasional creakiness.
1933 USA. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Ian Keith, Lewis Stone.
Newly Featured!

12:00N – 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.
1933 USA. Director: Leo McCarey. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern.
Must See

3:00pm – 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

Film on TV: March 16-21

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Kiss Me Deadly, playing on TCM on Saturday

Two birthday marathons on TCM this week – Akira Kurosawa on Tuesday (one of a multiple mini-marathons leading up to his centennial birthday on the 23rd) with heavy hitters The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low and Red Beard and some lesser-known ones; then Ginger Rogers on Wednesday, mostly concentrating on her pre-code stuff, including 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, as well as a bunch of other obscure ones that probably aren’t quite “good” in the strictest sense of the word. Other newly featured stuff includes Ealing’s The Lavender Hill Mob on Tuesday, Kiss Me Deadly and 12 Angry Men on Saturday, and the Billy Wilder-penned Midnight on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 16

11:30am – TCM – The Lavender Hill Mob
Alec Guinness leads the Ealing Studios regulars in this delightful heist comedy, one of the greats among a bunch of great late ’40s, early ’50s Ealing films. Also look for a really young Audrey Hepburn in a walk-on (this is her first film, I believe).
1951 UK. Director: Charles Crichton. Starring: Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway, Sid James, Marjorie Fielding.
Newly Featured!

1:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.
1963 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn, James Donald.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Musical tones and volcano images haunt Richard Dreyfuss, eventually leading to an encounter with some of the most strangely beuatiful and mysterious, yet apparently friendly, aliens ever put on film.
1977 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban.

8:00pm – TCM – Akira Kurosawa centennial marathon
So, TCM’s playing Kurosawa films because it would be his 100th birthday on the 23rd of March. Predictably, I haven’t seen any of the offerings tonight, though, also predictably, I’m hoping to change that. Tonight, they’ve got The Bad Sleep Well followed by High and Low, and Red Beard, and then on into the morning with I Live in Fear and Scandal.

Wednesday, March 17

8:00pm – 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.

9:45pm – TCM – Gold Diggers of 1933
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

Ginger Rogers marathon on TCM – The above two films are part of TCM’s birthday tribute to Ginger Rogers; if you’re a fan, keep watching the rest of Wednesday night and most of Thursday. They’re playing a lot of her little-known films, a lot of them pre-code, which can be a lot of fun. I haven’t heard of most of them myself, but I’m probably gonna keep my TV tuned to TCM and check some out.

Thursday, March 18

9:45am – 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 4:45pm)

9:55am – IFC – Paranoid Park
I go back and forth on whether I think Gus Van Sant is brilliant or a pretentious bore – maybe some of both. But I really quite liked the slow, oblique approach in this film about a wanna-be skateboarder kid who relishes hanging out with the bigger skateboarders at the titular skate park – but there’s a death not far from there, and it takes the rest of the movie to slowly reveal what exactly happened that one night near Paranoid Park. Gets by on mood and cinematography.
2007 USA Director: Gus Van Sant. Starring: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Lu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen, Lauren McKinney.
(repeats at 2:45pm)

8:00pm – TCM – My Darling Clementine
John Ford’s version of the famous confrontation at the OK Corral actually focuses more on Wyatt Earp’s fictional romance with the fictional Clementine than on the real-life Earp/Clanton feud, but history aside, this is one of the greatest and most poetic westerns on film, proving yet again Ford’s mastery of the genre and of cinema. (TCM is also playing a few other versions of the Wyatt Earp/OK Corral story following this one, so if you’re interested, stay tuned.)
1946 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Cathy Downs, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt.
Must See

8:00pm – 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, 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 4:00am and 12:45pm on the 19th)

12:00M – 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.

Friday, March 19

6:35am – 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 1:30pm)

Saturday, March 20

8:05am – 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 1:35pm)

8:30am – TCM – Kiss Me Deadly
Fairly iconic noir film, with hard-boiled action, nuclear paranoia, and one of the more memorable non-Hitchcock McGuffins in movie history. Plus some great LA locations. I didn’t quite love it as much as I wanted to the first time I saw it, but I’m due for a rewatch, and it definitely needs to be seen at least once, especially if you’re a noir fan.
1955 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr.
Newly Featured!

8:30am – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynch’s first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film – what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.
(repeats at 4:00pm)

2:00pm – TCM – Stalag 17
William Holden won an Academy Award as a POW in this Billy Wilder film. Wilder had a knack for making top-of-the-line films in just about every genre, so even though I haven’t gotten around to seeing this one myself yet, I’m willing to give it a shot just based on Wilder’s involvement.
1953 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Peter Graves.
Newly Featured!

4:15pm – TCM – 12 Angry Men
A brilliant exercise in minimalist filmmaking; after a brief courtroom scene, twelve jurors discuss the fate of a young man accused of murder. What’s assumed to be a cut-and-dried conviction is contested by Henry Fonda, who isn’t convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, and slowly works through the evidence to pull the other jurors one by one to his side. The stifling heat, claustrophobic room, prejudices and preconceptions of the jurors, logic and emotions, everything plays into this film, which is much more engaging than it has any right to be.
1957 USA. Director: Sidney Lumet. Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – Lawrence of Arabia
Most epics are over-determined and so focused on spectacle that they end up being superficial – all big sets and sweeping music with no depth. The brilliance of Lawrence of Arabia is that it looks like an epic with all the big sets and sweeping music and widescreen vistas, but at its center is an enigmatic character study of a man who lives bigger-than-life, but is as personally conflicted as any intimate drama has ever portrayed.
1962 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jose Ferrer.
Must See

Sunday, March 21

10:00am – TCM – Midnight
Solid Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett-penned screwball comedy that ought to be better known than it is. Claudette Colbert ends up in the middle of a millionare-wife-gigolo triangle, paid by the millionaire husband to break up the wife and gigolo by impersonating a baroness; meanwhile, a poor taxi driver she’d met previously is smitten with her and seeks her out, only to find her in her new guise. Sparkling dialogue and a strong cast give this a sophisticated twist that doesn’t quite match Lubitsch at his best, but is on the same track.
1939 USA. Director: Mitchell Leisen. Starring: Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer.
Newly Featured!

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 – 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.

10:30pm – 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.

Film on TV (Nov 10 – 17)

Monday, 10 November

7:25pm EST / 6:25 CST – IFC – Clerks
Kevin Smith’s debut film is little more than a few convenience store clerks chatting, but its fresh feel fits right in with the mid-’90s indie scene. And the film introduces Smith stock characters Jay and Silent Bob, so there’s that.

Tuesday, 11 November

7:55am / 6:55am – IFC – Solaris (1972)
The original Andrei Tarkovsky version, not the George Clooney remake. I haven’t seen either, but I’ve heard really great things about the Tarkovsky, and it’s on my to-watch list.

12:15pm / 11:15am – AMC – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British military discipline in the form of commander Alec Guinness doesn’t mesh well with being in a WWII Japanese prison camp – or maybe it does, as Guinness puts his all into building the titular bridge for Japanese use, while American prisoner William Holden plots to blow it up. David Lean’s 1957 Best Picture winner doesn’t hold up for me as well as some of his other films, but it’s still got legs.

9:00pm / 8:00pm – TCM – This is the Army, Hollywood Canteen, Stage Door Canteen, and Thousands Cheer
None of these are good movies, let’s state that up front. But they’re a special genre of Hollywood war effort films featuring tons of cameos by famous stars, which makes them an interesting snapshot into the studio system of the time. This is the Army is based on an Irving Berlin Broadway revue, which donated virtually all of its box office returns to the war effort. Hollywood Canteen and Stage Door Canteen are named after famous USO locations in Hollywood and New York, respectively. Thousands Cheer is more story-oriented, but ends with a revue featuring numbers by Judy Garland, Virginia O’Brien, June Allyson, and others. The other one I would’ve put in this programme is Thank Your Lucky Stars, notable mostly because it makes Warner dramatic stars like Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan try to sing, which is just unavoidably amusing.

Wednesday, 12 November

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Strangers on a Train
Farley Granger meets Robert Walker on a train and jokes with him about exchanging murders – Granger’s unloved wife (who is in the way of Granger’s love for Ruth Roman) for Walker’s tyrannical father. Except Walker wasn’t joking. One of Hitchcock’s most intense films, with some of his most memorable shots and set-pieces (carousel, anyone?).

10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – This is England
Shane Meadows’ film about a young boy in 1980s Britain becoming involved with skinheads got outstanding reviews from all quarters last year. I missed it in theatres, but definitely want to get a shot at it now.

1:30am / 12:30am (13th) – TCM – Blowup
In Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film, a London photographer thinks he may have captured a murder on film, but he can’t be quite sure. What might have been a routine detective story becomes something else – a mystery without an answer. Related in a way to surveillance ethics stories like The Conversation, Antonioni brings his detached intellectualism to the film, making it quite unlike most anything else ever made.

Thursday, 13 November

9:45am / 8:45am – IFC – Amarcord
One of Federico Fellini’s four Best Foreign Film statuettes is for this film, and though I rail against many of Oscar’s choices when it comes to foreign films, Fellini deserved all of his. Amarcord is a slice-of-life film showcasing a small 1930s Italian village, with Fellini’s typically flair. [Playing again on the 14th at 5:50am EST]

11:00am / 10:00am – AMC – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Sergio Leone’s most definitive spaghetti western finishes off his “Man with No Name” trilogy starring Clint Eastwood. It’s not necessary to see the other two entries (A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More) first.

12:45pm / 11:45am – TCM – The Shop Around the Corner
The original version of You’ve Got Mail has James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as feuding employees of a shop who are unknowingly exchanging romantic letters. Ernst Lubitsch directs, bringing his warm European wit to bear.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – AMC – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Remember when Steven Spielberg liked aliens? Contrary to many opinions, I think, I prefer Close Encounters to E.T. Maybe it’s the fact that the aliens communicate with such a distinctive musical phrase. I don’t know.

Friday, 14 November

9:30am / 8:30am – AMC – Pillow Talk
More recent movies have tried to replicate Pillow Talk‘s combination of innocence and sex (notably the near-remake Down With Love), but I haven’t found any that manage with the aplomb of the original. Accept no imitators!

4:00pm / 3:00pm – TCM – Rear Window
My all-time favorite film. Hitchcock, Stewart, Kelly, voyeurism, fashion, murder, paranoia, sarcastic nurses, I can’t get enough. Ever.

3:45am / 2:45am (15th) – TCM – The Haunting (1963)
There’s The Haunting and then there’s The Haunting. And this is the good one, not the overblown 1999 remake. Robert Wise’s original is creepy, disturbing, and, like, good.

Saturday, 15 November

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Paths of Glory
In this early Stanley Kubrick film, soldier Kirk Douglas has to decide what to do when three of his men are charged with cowardice (a capitol offense) for refusing to obey orders to make a suicidal charge at the enemy. The film is not only an historical exploration of the shift from pre-WWI tactics to post-machine gun tactics, but also a pointed inquiry into military ethics.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – AMC – The Godfather
If AMC is still doing commercial breaks in their movies, don’t watch The Godfather now. But sometime. Somewhere. Even if it’s just to say you have, like it is for me. Someday I’m going to watch it and actually love it. [Playing again on the 17th at 7:00am and 4:00pm EST]

11:30pm / 10:30pm – TCM – Kiss Me Deadly
I actually didn’t love this well-respected hard-boiled noir film as much as I wanted to when I saw it last year, but I’m throwing it in here because it is reasonably solid, and one of those films you have to see to count yourself a competent film noir fan. If, you know, being a competent film noir fan is on your shortlist of things to do with your life. Which it is for me.

12:00am / 11:00pm – AMC – The Godfather Part II
See above re: The Godfather. Except one of my shames as a film buff is that I’ve never seen Part II. I sort of doubt I’m going to on AMC, though, just throwing out the possibility to you. I’m shooting for the new Coppola Restoration DVDs. [Playing again on the 17th at 11:30am and 8:00pm EST]

4:30am / 3:30am (17th) – AMC – The Usual Suspects
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people he didn’t exist.” And The Usual Suspects pulls a similar trick, placing it forever on the list of greatest twist films ever.

Sunday, 17 November

8:00am / 7:00am – IFC – The Seventh Seal
Ingmar Bergman dramatizes an actual chess game between a medieval knight (Bergman regular Max von Sydow) and Death. Heavy stuff, not that that’s unusual for Bergman.

9:45am / 8:45am – IFC – The Virgin Spring
One of Bergman’s I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing – maybe because the description “Swineherds seek shelter with the father of a girl they raped and killed” (from IFC’s site) sounds even more depressing than usual for Bergman? But I intend to see all of his eventually, so its time will come.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Every time I see this frenetic Guy Ritchie crime comedy, I like it a little more. A young man gets into a gambling debt that his casino-running father refuses to bail him out of, so he hatches a poorly-planned scheme to steal and sell some priceless antique shotguns. Add in some other hoods working on other crimes and a few hitmen running around, and pretty soon the whole thing spirals out of control. Add in cockney accents and you’ve got a zany good time that’s hard to beat.

2:00am / 1:00am (18th) – TCM – Diabolique
A man’s wife and his lover plot together to kill him, but get a surprise when he shows back up soon after. Ghost? Madness? Who can say? Taut thriller from Henri-Georges Clouzot.

April 2007 Reading/Watching Recap

Guess what! I finally finished April’s recap! I know, right? April was the month in which I rediscovered Turner Classic Movies during a few weeks of relative dead time at school and, between that and an active month of Netflixing and theatre-going, watched a total of 24 movies. I think that’s a record. And that’s not even including the four or five rewatches. So without further ado, here are my reactions to Marie Antoinette, Band of Outsiders, Kiss Me Deadly, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, The Lives of Others, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Through a Glass Darkly, Hot Fuzz, and many others. Plus some books.

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