Tag Archives: Kwaidan

Film on TV (Oct 27-Nov 2)

Monday, Oct 27

2:00pm EST / 1:00pm CST – TCM – Roman Holiday
Not Audrey Hepburn’s film debut (that would be a brief walk-on in the British crime caper The Lavender Hill Mob), but the film that thrust into international stardom. She plays a sheltered princess who runs away to see real life and falls in with reporter Gregory Peck and photographer Eddie Albert. Slight story, but Hepburn’s charm fills the screen.

4:00pm / 3:00pm – TCM – An American in Paris
American ex-pat Gene Kelly dances around Paris, snagging Leslie Caron along the way. Oh, yeah, and dancing a mind-blowing modern ballet through Parisian art to Gershwin’s title piece. These days it usually plays second fiddle to Singin’ in the Rain, but American in Paris rewards a viewing.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – To Be or Not To Be
If you never listen to anything else I ever say, listen to this: To Be or Not To Be is one of the greatest films of all time, and you should see it. It’s a comedy about Nazi Germany. I know. Jack Benny plays the leader of a Polish theatre troupe, specializing in playing Hamlet along side his wife Carole Lombard. I know. When Hitler takes over Poland, the troupe engages in an act of espionage both dangerous and ridiculous. I know! It’s simultaneously hilarious, ominous, and heartbreaking. Director Ernst Lubitsch’s finest hour? For me it is. Carole Lombard’s best role (the final one of her career, before she was killed in a plane crash returning from a war bond tour)? For me it is.

Tuesday, Oct 28

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter 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, 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, and Buster Keaton makes an appearance as an old friend.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Ace in the Hole
This is a Wilder film I haven’t seen yet, but it’s got a reputation for being one of the most cynical films of all time. Sign me up for that!

4:00am / 3:00am (29th) – TCM – Some Like It Hot
And if Wilder-does-depressing-noir and Wilder-does-cynical-drama doesn’t grab you, how about Wilder-does-madcap-cross-dressing-comedy? Quite probably the best comedy ever made, in fact. Musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress as women to join an all-girl band and escape the mob after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Keeping their cover as women becomes quite a chore after they discover the charms of Marilyn Monroe are ALSO in the band.

Wednesday, Oct 29

7:45am / 6:45am – TCM – Notorious
Hitchcock turns in his finest spy drama; US agent Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman to get close to enemy target Claude Rains. When “get close” becomes “get married to” their own budding romance is in jeopardy, not to mention Bergman’s life if Rains discovers her true affiliation.

11:45pm / 10:45pm – 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.

Thursday, Oct 30

9:00am / 8:00am – TCM – I Walked With a Zombie
In case you missed it during the Val Lewton festival last week.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Dead of Night
A group of people gather at a lonely English country house and tell scary stories. One of the earliest horror anthology films, it remains one of the best. The framing device particularly makes me happy, and I’m really looking forward to revisiting the film.

2:00am / 1:00am (31st) – TCM – Kwaidan
One of the more famous and lauded horror anthology films, Kwaidan is a set of Japanese ghost stories. I watched and didn’t completely love Kwaidan earlier this year, but I promised myself I’d give it another chance. I was highly distracted the first time.

4:45am / 3:45am (31st) – TCM – Spirits of the Dead
I haven’t heard of this film, but I looked it up, and it’s an anthology film of Edgar Allan Poe stories directed by Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim. I know, right?! So I have to check that out.

Friday, Oct 31

7:30am / 6:30am – TCM – Cat People
In case you missed it during the Val Lewton festival last week.

Saturday, Nov 1

2:00pm / 1:00pm – TCM – 2001: A Space Odyssey
In case you missed it last week. Wow, lots of repeats, TCM. What’s up with that?

6:15pm / 5:15pm – TCM – Forbidden Planet
What’s better than Shakespeare’s The Tempest? Why, a science fiction The Tempest set on a planet run by a maverick genius, his robot, and his daughter, of course. Okay, Forbidden Planet isn’t really better than The Tempest, but it is an interesting take on the play, and an obvious influence on the original Star Trek.

10:15pm / 9:15pm – TCM – A Star is Born (1954)
After four years away from the screen trying to recover from depression and addiction, Judy Garland returned for this film of a singer/actress getting her big break in show business just as her actor husband’s career is falling off the rails. Along the way, she belts “The Man That Got Away” and other great tunes that define her late career. (The 1937 non-musical version of the film with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March is also worth watching; I couldn’t say about the 1976 version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, because I have not yet personally found it worth watching.)

1:15am / 12:15am (2nd) – TCM – All About Eve
The ultimate backstage drama. Superfan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) worms her way into working for Broadway diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis), but she really aims to replace her. The superb supporting cast includes Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, and a young Marilyn Monroe, all spouting crackling dialogue by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Sunday, Nov. 2

6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – Gigi
Vincente Minnelli’s Oscar-winning musical seeks to answer the age-old question – can a Parisian playboy marry for love? This is quite a mature-themed musical, focusing as it does on Louis Jourdan’s intent to make Leslie Caron his mistress rather than his wife, not to mention Maurice Chevalier’s slightly disturbing rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” but it has many rewards in a wonderful score and beautiful art direction. You just may not want to make it family movie night.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – All the President’s Men
The Watergate scandal becomes a follow-the-money mystery of investigative reporting by main characters Bernstein and Woodward of the Washington Post. Great filmmaking, and tour de force performances from Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the rookie/outcast reporters who earn their stripes on the story of the decade.

Independent and World Cinema: Catch-Up Post

I’m being arbitrary once again with my definition of “independent.” In this category, I’m going to include a) indie or non-mainstream films that are not new releases, like the first two films below, and b) new release films that are truly small films, i.e., did not get a lot of studio publicity and a wide release, and probably were not financed by a major studio, even their speciality arms. I don’t always know about the financing side, though, so I don’t want to use that as an absolute standard, even though it should be. Basically, this means that films like Juno or No Country for Old Men would appear in the New on DVD category rather than here. When in doubt, my logic goes “if a moviegoer who only goes to multiplexes knows about the film, it doesn’t go in the independent category.” I want to use it to highlight lesser-known films.

When I start writing on a film-by-film basis, Indie Cinema and World Cinema will be separate categories; I just threw them together here because there weren’t too many of either one.

Kicking and Screaming
NOT the Will Ferrell soccer movie. :) No, this is an early film from the guy who did The Squid and the Whale, one of my favorite movies from a couple of years ago. And this one is similarly excellent, though with much less plot. Basically take Slacker, throw in some Metropolitan, and then maybe a dash of Wes Anderson. The nominal plot follows a group of recent college graduates trying to figure out what to do next with their lives (a concept that hit very close to home among our group of grad students; after all, why else were we getting graduate degrees in English if not because we were unable to figure out what to do after college?). The story falls off a bit toward the end, but the characters are so identifiable and the script so outstanding that it comes very close to Richard Linklater’s best, which is a high compliment from me. Also, the cover of the Criterion edition is quite possibly the most awesome DVD cover ever, so I’m using it in lieu of the poster. Click on it to see it bigger and read the quotes, which are good in context, but perhaps even better out of context. ;)
Well Above Average
USA 1995; dir: Noah Baumbach; starring: Chris Eigeman, Samuel Gould, Olivia d’Abo
IMDb | The Frame

Dazed and Confused
My experience with other Linklater films had me anticipating this one to a possibly unhealthy degree, and it didn’t live up to my expectations. I think he does better with college and later than with high school, because Dazed and Confused was all right, but not great. Basically it follows a couple of freshmen as they try to survive the hazing given them by the older students and ingratiate themselves into the booze-and-drug ridden high school world. Yay! *eyeroll* It’s not that that story couldn’t work, it’s just that it doesn’t – it doesn’t go anywhere, and in a much less satisfying way than the way, say, Slacker didn’t go anywhere. I think because it felt like it was meant to go somewhere, whereas Slacker fit the meandering style much better. Plus, any movie wherein Matthew McConaughey (who I usually can’t stand) is the most entertaining part? Yeah.
Average
USA 1993; dir: Richard Linklater; starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Wiley Wiggins
IMDb | The Frame

Wristcutters: A Love Story
While the opening credits run, Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists. Soon he finds himself in a limbo-esque place, full of other suicides who all go about relatively normal lives – working dead-end (no pun intended) jobs and wandering around aimlessly. It sort of reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s hell in The Great Divorce; just a dismal, grey place characterized more by depression and boredom than pain. Anyway, Shannyn Sossamon shows up one day, claiming that she’s not supposed to be there because she didn’t commit suicide. She snags Fugit and another friend and they start seeking whoever runs the place to fix the apparent administrative mix-up. Oh, and they’re also looking for Fugit’s ex-girlfriend, who committed suicide a few weeks after he did. I could go on with the plot; there’s a commune at one point, and a guy with Jesus delusions (played by the guy who played Gob on Arrested Development; I have such a hard time disassociating him with that role enough to see him in anything else), etc. Even though the story gets fairly unbelievable at times, even for a film that’s about suicide-limbo, it remains quirkily engaging.
Above Average
USA 2006; dir: Goran Dukic; starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Will Arnett
IMDb | The Frame

Hannah Takes the Stairs
I’m not wholly against considering films like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno as indie films, despite the fact that they had financing from specialty divisions of major studios and clearly straddle the line between mainstream and indie, but sometimes I’m tempted to just point at films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and say “Now THIS is an independent film.” Swanberg, Gerwig, and a group of other filmmakers including Ronald and Mary Bronstein, Mark and Jay Duplass (whose Baghead is in limited release now), and Andrew Bujalsi have made a number of films at this point loosely grouped together by critics under the name “Mumblecore.” Hannah got wider distribution than most of the others, but still was hardly seen outside of New York, Los Angeles, and Austin. Following a largely improvised script, Hannah is a twenty-something struggling through a failing relationship with her boyfriend and the possibility of relationships with two of her coworkers. There isn’t much more plot to mention, and the film comes under perhaps deserved criticism for its lack of development and the frustrating uncertainty of its heroine. On the other hand, there’s a rawness here that feels more real than most films, a rawness that gets polished away by the mainstream, a rawness I found quite refreshing. I certainly wouldn’t say that all films should be more like Hannah, but I think it’s important that there’s a space in the filmmaking/distribution world for these willfully non-mainstream films that push the envelope by refusing to play by the rules.
Above Average
USA 2007; dir: Joe Swanberg; starring: Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski
IMDb | The Frame

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Fabulous. But then, you pretty much have to call any half-way decent film about three drag queens driving a bus (the eponymous Priscilla) through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) fabulous. 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. Ultimately, though, it’s a fun journey, at least for the audience if not necessarily for the three guys. Let me just say, though, that Hugo Weaving makes one ugly woman. Also interesting to see Guy Pearce before his big Hollywood roles – as my Australian friend Anna pointed out, I wonder who saw this film and thought, “you know what, I bet he’d be perfect for that straight-laced cop in L.A. Confidential!”
Above Average
Australia 1994; dir: Stephan Elliott; starring: Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce
IMDb | The Frame

Kwaidan
I’m working on my appreciation for Japanese film. I’m getting there with anime, especially Miyazaki, but even Kurosawa I often don’t connect to on the level I would like. My friend Kat suggested I try Kwaidan, since she feels roughly the same way and now places Kwaidan among her all-time favorite films. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether it’s because I watched it during a time of moving stress or what, but it didn’t have the same effect on me. Basically, it’s a collection of unrelated ghost stories, none of which are particularly scary. Or memorable, to me. Well, there was one I quite liked, about a blind monk who gets drawn away from the monastery at night to recite poems to a mystical court which only he can see. Honestly, most of the others I don’t remember. Given my level of distraction, though, I’ll put it on the rewatch list.
Average
Japan 1966; dir: Masaki Kobayashi; starring: Katsuo Nakamura, Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuyo Nakadai
IMDb | The Frame