Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

Scorecard: December 2011

Only eight new-to-me films in December, thanks to a busy schedule moving, going home for Christmas, and, oh right, getting engaged (to this guy). But we were able to knock out a few more end-of-the-year films, including The Artist – one of my most highly anticipated films of the year – plus some other random stuff. Not a big month, but a strong one; I liked/loved pretty much everything I saw.

What I Loved

The Artist

A black and white silent film coming out in 2011? Sign me up for that, if only for curiosity’s sake. Thankfully, there’s more here than just the gimmick, even if the film does follow some familiar ground (specifically Singin’ in the Rain) in its story of a popular silent film hero – named George Valentin, but much more based on Douglas Fairbanks than Valentino – who resists the transition to sound, quickly falling into oblivion while young starlet Peppy Miller shoots to the top of the sound cinema food chain. Generally films like this tend to just make me want to watch the real thing (cf. The Good German), but The Artist succeeds better than most at capturing the sense of fun, excitement, humor and melodrama that characterize silent cinema, without seeming pandering or imitative; the actors don’t really even seem like modern actors pretending old styles, which is really difficult to pull off. The little bit of sound that is used is quite effective, as long as you remember that we’re seeing through Valentin’s silence-centered understanding of cinema, and thus the world. It’s a light and breezy story, but incredibly charming and likable.
2011 France. Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, John Cromwell.
Seen December 17 at Arclight Hollywood.
Flickchart ranking: 230 out of 2865

The Adventures of Tintin

Chalk this up as one of my favorite 3D experiences so far – the format and I don’t get along very well, with me usually ending up with splitting headaches, strained eyes, and great irritability. This time, no headache, no irritability, just an enjoyable old-fashioned whizbang adventure film, with subtle but effective use of 3D and better than expected motion capture (something else that usually turns me off). The approach here is to make the film both realistic and cartoony at the same time, a difficult balance, but one the film pulls off, making Tintin himself relatively realistic looking, but characters like detectives Thomson and Thompson much more over the top and silly. It works. It’s visually interesting all the way through, with much better composition and camerawork than 3D movies usually even attempt, let alone pull off. There are things in the margins, cutting down on the focal problems I usually have with 3D, and some sequences, like the motorcycle chase toward the end, that are positively breathtaking. The story is straight out of two or three of the Tintin comics, but could easily be direct from 1930s film serials – I won’t go so far as to say this film is in the same league with Indiana Jones (the characters are a little flatter, the pacing a little more ragged), but it’s definitely drinking from the same water fountain, and I enjoyed it immensely. And the dog is awesome.
2011 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost.
Seen December 29 at Regal St. Louis Mills.
Flickchart ranking: 331 out of 2865

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

When the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out here, I was a huge fan and lamented the fact that an English-language version would surely follow soon – lamented because the Swedish one was so good and so accessible there should be no need for any pandering to American audiences. And on the one hand, I was right. That version was solid and in fact, fairly popular in the United States. But on the other hand, this version is tighter, fuller, and every bit as good if not better than its foreign counterpart. It does a better job with the Wennerstrom subplot (which ties off Blomkvist’s arc more fully), it fleshes out some of both his and Lisbeth’s backstory, and as much as I loved Noomi Rapace in the role, Rooney Mara brings a much different and just as effective take on the character here. It’s a star-making performance for her. Fincher could do this stuff in his sleep, but I’m fine watching him do it. I’m really curious how the next two in the series will turn out, since the quality of the Swedish films took a real nose-dive after the first one.
2011 USA. Director: David Fincher. Starring: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Robin Wright Penn.
Seen December 28 at AMC Chesterfield Mall.
Flickchart ranking: 332 out of 2865

The Naked Island

New rule: Whenever Cinefamily is playing something I’ve never heard of when I’m there volunteering, I should definitely watch it, because more often than not, it’s something pretty amazing. This film is an essentially silent document of the daily lives of a family eking out a meagre existence on their island farm. The parents paddle to the mainland before dawn each day to bring back heavy buckets of fresh water, carefully carrying them up the treacherous path to their home and fields, each step a potential disaster. They’ll do that trek three or four more times during the day, metering out the precious water to each plant, any spilled drop a cause for despair. Other times are more enjoyable – a trip to the city with their two sons after harvest, joy over a fish the boys caught. Still others are deeply traumatic, as when one boy falls ill, necessitating an anxious voyage to find the doctor. It’s a very simple film on the surface, and excruciatingly paced at times, but it adds up to one of the more emotionally resonant and profound films I’ve seen all year.
1960 Japan. Director: Kateno Shindô. Starring: Nobuko Otowa, Taiji Tonoyama, Shinji Tanaka, Masanori Horimoto.
Seen December 21 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 407 out of 2865

Wayne’s World

I had this linked in my head with Dumb and Dumber, likely because they both came out in the early nineties, had a pair of guys as the main characters, and starred comedians I don’t generally care for that much. But Jonathan promised me I would like this one much more than Dumb and Dumber (which we watched a few months ago, and I didn’t hate, but isn’t really my thing), and he was totally right. This one is smart, funny, and meta, and I’ve already taken to quoting it almost as much as Jonathan does. Definitely one we’ll return to a lot, I bet. Read our He Says, She Says entry
1992 USA. Director: Penelope Spheeris. Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tia Carrere, Rob Lowe.
Seen December 3 via Zune on Xbox Live.
Flickchart ranking: 454 out of 2865

What I Liked

The Hudsucker Proxy

With this one crossed off my list, I now have only The Ladykillers on my “unseen Coen” list. I’ll get to that one eventually, but this one I’ve actually been meaning to see for quite a while and fortuitously popped it on on New Year’s Eve – fortuitously because it’s actually set on New Year’s, at least for the climax. I’ve heard it said that this was one of the Coens zanier, cartoonier films, so I was expecting something along the lines of the farcical Burn After Reading, and it’s definitely that side of the Coens. But here, they’re pulling tropes from 1930s-1940s films galore, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Christmas in July to His Girl Friday to Bringing Up Baby to It’s a Wonderful Life. Not everything totally works (Leigh’s Katharine Hepburn attempt comes off as grating more often than endearing), and it’s a fairly superficial pastiche, but I honestly don’t have a problem with that, and I enjoyed it a lot, right down to the art deco production design. The only major nitpick is by following the Wham-O line of products (hula hoop, etc.), the film forces itself into 1957, when all the styles it’s borrowing are at least 10-15 years older than that. Not a dealbreaker for me, but rather distracting.
1994 USA. Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring: Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman.
Seen December 31 on Netflix Instant.
Flickchart ranking: 502 out of 2865

Gremlins

Yes, I’ve never seen this. Until now! :) I’m really glad someone mentioned that Gremlins is actually a Christmas movie; I’d meant to watch it in October as part of my month of horror, but we watched it on Christmas, and had a lot of fun with it. I knew the basic “don’t feed it after midnight” premise, but it’s the details that really got me. All the father’s whackadoodle inventions, and how supremely goofy the film gets, culminating in the scene I screencapped above, when all the gremlins stop terrorizing the town and settle in to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I totally didn’t expect it to be so goofy, and I loved that.
1984 USA. Director: Joe Dante. Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Keye Luke, Corey Feldman.
Seen December 25 on DVD.
Flickchart ranking: 965 out of 2865

Dogtooth

What a bizarre little film. I honestly don’t know what I think about it yet, and may not until I rewatch it at some point. Very little story ties together a series of vignettes showing the strange version of child protection practiced by this family – they keep their young adult children (late teens/early twenties) confined on their isolated estate, telling them it isn’t safe to leave until their dogtooth (made-up, but the kids don’t know that) falls out and regrows. It’s a disturbing look at extreme forms of indoctrination and “training,” none of which the children seem to question until an outsider’s brief interactions with them begins to tear the parents’ program apart at the seams. It’s a prickly film, not particularly enjoyable, but somehow continually fascinating despite its off-putting tendencies.
2009 Greece. Director: Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring: Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni, Hristos Passalis, Christos Stergioglou, Michele Valley, Anna Kalaitzidou.
Seen December 31 on Netflix Instant.
Flickchart ranking: 1709 out of 2865

Rewatches – Love

Charade

I just bought the Criterion Blu-ray of this and popped it in just to check the transfer (which is gorgeous; definitely the best way to own this public domain film, which is often sold in highly degraded prints) and then ended up watching the entire thing. I’ve seen it a bunch of times, but never in this kind of picture quality, and that just made the film – already supremely enjoyable due to the winning combination of a twisty espionage story, cutesy romance between Hepburn and Grant, and a script both witty and goofy – that much more fun to watch. If anything, I like it more every time I see it.
1963 USA. Director: Stanley Donen. Starring: Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy.
Seen December 1 on Criterion Blu-ray.
Flickchart ranking: 79 out of 2865

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

I first saw this over a year ago when it played a one-night show at Cinefamily (to a sold-out crowd that included Alan Tudyk, who did a Q&A, and Nathan Fillion, who was there to watch – okay, I’m done name-dropping) long before it had any distribution of any kind. I loved its parody of cabin-in-the-woods horror movies, even if it is a bit on the nose at times, and couldn’t wait to share it with Jonathan, but didn’t get a chance until last night. He loved it as much as I thought he would, and though I feared it might suffer without a full audience, it was just as much fun as I remembered.
2010 USA. Director: Eli Craig. Starring: Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss.
Seen December 31 on Netflix Instant.
Flickchart ranking: 584 out of 2865

Stats

Films seen for the first time: 7
Rewatches: 2
Films seen in theatres: 4
List of Shame films: 2
2011 films: 3
2000s films: 2
1990s films: 1
1980s films: 1
1960s films: 2 (1 rewatch)
American films: 6 (2 rewatches)
French films: 1
Japanese films: 1
Greek films: 1

Scorecard: October

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

As usual in recent years, I devoted October almost solely to horror films, and actually managed to catch up on several that I’ve been meaning to see for a LONG time. I only loved a few of these, but I enjoyed watching them all. It was a good month, all in all, with a lot of variety despite sticking pretty much exclusively to a single genre. Horror has a lot of facets! Most of these capsules are recycled from posts at Row Three, so if you read me there, you’ve seen most of this – the only other film I saw in October was Take Shelter, so that capsule is brand new. I kind of like focusing on a single theme for a month. Maybe I’ll do it more often. (I probably won’t – I always say stuff like that and then don’t do it.)

What I Loved

The Cat and the Canary

It figures that my favorite new-to-me film of the month would turn out to be a silent. I think I’m made backwards or something. Heh. Anyway, this “old dark house” film was namechecked at the screening of The Bat I went to earlier this month (see capsule below), and even though I liked The Bat well enough, THIS is the film it largely wanted to be. I saw “largely” because this film is not a crime film in the same way, and those crime elements are solid in The Bat. The Cat and the Canary focuses on a last testament left by a crotchety old man twenty years ago – he stipulated waiting twenty years after his death to read it, and this is the time, with all his relatives gathered like vultures in his spooky old house to find out who will get his fortune. His instructions are complicated, involving a second inheritor if the main one proves to be insane, which leads to much suspicion all around. Add in a potential escaped lunatic running around through hidden passageways in the house and a mystery involving the family diamonds, plus some well-done comedy around the disparate group of people, not to mention the quite excellent Expressionist-style cinematography and really innovative animated titles, and this is a super-fun time. Is it scary? Well, maybe not, but there are some moments of genuine suspense and tension, and a few of the visuals are extremely creepy. I posted a longer review here.
1927 USA. Director: Paul Leni. Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Shanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmund Carew, Martha Mattox.
Seen October 25 on Netflix Instant.

Carrie

I’ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years – in other words, as long as I’ve had a horror to-watch list. I finally got to it! And despite its reputation and that I knew the basic beats of the menstruation-bullying-to-prom-night-revenge plot, the film still had a lot of surprises for me, most of them good. First off, Carrie’s mom is CRAZY – it’s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrie’s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrie’s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesn’t really explain where that comes from. Anyway, what makes the film strong and memorable is the focus on Carrie, whose transformation into queen of the prom is utterly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking because you know what’s in store for her – the lead-up, though, is so well-done (if a bit retroactively cliched) that you ache for her to have her perfect night. The denoument had me a little baffled, I will admit, though, and undermines Carrie’s deserved revenge; I’m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesn’t need them – the writing and acting here is strong enough that he could afford to save those flashy moments for really striking scenes, giving them greater impact. Longer review here.
1976 USA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Piper Laurie, John Travolta.
Seen October 19 on DVD.

The Descent

My interest in seeing this cave creature feature went up a lot after I quite enjoyed Neil Marshall’s Centurion, but the opportunity never presented itself until now. Six young women who have shared various outdoors adventures with each other meet up again to do a little spelunking a year after one member of the group lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. The trip is supposed to kind of bring the friends back together again after the trauma, but things, well, don’t go according the plan. Tensions rise when the trip planner reveals it’s an unexplored cave and that cave-in might just block the only entrance; even this part of the film is good, with some quite intense cave-in and climbing scenes. But they’re not alone in the cave, and the film continues to ramp up all the way to the end, balancing out and out action and thrills with quiet moments that are often just as nail-bitingly intense. The scares here are solid, and even though some are jump scares (which I don’t necessarily like), a lot of them are also the quieter “evil thing randomly in a shot” kind of scares that I LOVE. The effects are surprisingly good despite what I assume is a relatively low budget, and though it’s not hard to predict the order of deaths, there are still a lot of surprises in HOW they come. I apparently watched the director’s cut version, which has quite a different ending merely by having an extra couple of minutes of footage to the end of the theatrical cut – from what my boyfriend was telling me, I muchly prefer the darker DVD cut.
2005 UK. Director: Neil Marshall. Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone.
Seen October 16 on DVD.

What I Liked

The Fog

This was a nearly random pick off Netflix Instant (not totally random, because I have been meaning to watch more John Carpenter films), and I knew almost nothing about it. I haven’t seen the remake or anything. I ended up really enjoying it – Carpenter has a talent for the kind of creepy scares that I love. Not quite jump scares, but where something just appears (with no cut or music to make it a jump) or you become aware of the bad guy’s presence and it sends chills down your spine. I love that, and there are several scenes in here that did that for me. The story is based on a ghost story (told wonderfully by John Houseman to a bunch of kids in the first scene) about a group of people killed 100 years earlier when their ship wrecked in a massive fog. Legend has it that when the fog returns, so will they, and this apparently is the year for it. Fog is creepy anyway, hiding things until they’re right upon you and tending toward exactly the kind of reveals I just mentioned. And there’s more to the story, as the priest in the town uncovers, that means these ghosts are not just unsettled due to their violent deaths, but actually seeking revenge. Not all of this plot works out totally, and the end is fairly nonsense-making, but on a scene-by-scene basis, I loved this. I actually liked it a little bit more than Halloween, which I’m sure I’ll get eviscerated for, but it’s because I like the ghost back story more (despite the nonsense-making). Halloween is the tighter, better movie, but The Fog appealed to my sensibilities more.
1980 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman.
Seen October 24 on Netflix Instant.

Halloween

Yes, I had never seen this before, though it’s been on my list for a few years. Really, I don’t have much interest in slasher films, but I felt like I needed to see the first entry in each of the major franchises just to be able to say I had and have some level of competence as a film buff. I expected Halloween to be one of the best of those initial films, and it pretty much is. The film establishes Michael Myers with a creepy first-person opening, then immediately jumps ahead to him escaping from the mental institution where he’s been ever since – enough back story to set him up as a character, but not enough to risk falling into the psychoanalysis explanations that too many remakes fall into. But we’re also introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis’s character along with her less-well-grounded friends, giving us a connection to her that a lot of later slasher films eschew (to their detriment). And then the film does those creepy reveals and disappearances that I like so much, even if Carpenter here tends to announce them with obvious music cues. I like his score for the film, so I didn’t mind too much, but some of them I think would’ve been more effective if Michael had just appeared with no score backup. The moment in the screencap above is the best. Anyway, by the time the killing actually gets going, the atmosphere is sufficiently built and it steamrolls to the end nicely. Still, like I mentioned above under The Fog, a psycho killing teenagers is not really that interesting to me as a basic plotline. It’s handled here better than most movies I’ve seen, but it doesn’t really grab me beyond the level of craft.
1978 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Ciphers.
Seen October 27 on DVD.

Eyes Without a Face

For once I made good on a promise to see a film soon after I made it, thanks to a couple of Row Three-ers talking it up recently. I won’t say I loved it immediately, but I can definitely see the haunting and disturbing beauty that draws people to it. Dr. Génessier is one of the most clinical and detached monsters I’ve seen in cinema – he doesn’t even seem to care that much about his daughter Christiane, whose facial scarring he’s trying to fix via skin grafts. She even indicates that she’s more of a guinea pig to him, a convenient way for him to practice surgical grafts of this level of complexity. Despite our intellectual understanding of her plight, it remains a little hard to empathize with her – that’s partially due to the blank mask she wears to cover her injury, and also to her seeming indifference (for a while, at least) to the girls her father kidnaps and operates on to get faces for her – but in a way, that very distance is horrific in and of itself. Christiane doesn’t say a whole lot, so we’re mostly left with this masked girl wandering around an ornate house, a house which is hers but yet she seems utterly alien in it. That otherworldly quality continues to the ambiguous but poetic ending; the film is more like a strange dream than a horror film (it doesn’t go for scares), though I will say, the operation scene was far more graphic than I expected!
1960 France. Director: Georges Franju. Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
Seen October 23 on HuluPlus.

Take Shelter

My one new release, non-horror film of the month! Although, in a way, it is pretty scary – more on the level of a psychological drama/thriller than horror, but still. Shannon turns in yet another fantastic performance as a working class husband and father plagued by nightmares (and sometimes daytime visions) of a massive encroaching storm. He knows mental illness runs in his family (his mother has been hospitalized since he was ten), and fears he may be suffering from schizophrenia, but even as he takes steps to seek medical treatment and therapy, he can’t fight the compulsion to fix up the old storm shelter outside his house to protect his family from the storm he dreads. This causes havoc in his family, already dealing with a lot due to the young daughter’s deafness – aside from his instability frightening his wife (one of several fine roles for Chastain this year) and child, his actions threaten his job and thus the medical insurance that would cover his daughter’s cochlear implant. It’s a lot to deal with, but writer/director Nichols shows remarkable restraint in focusing on this family and their day-to-day interactions, many of which are wonderful and normal – the constant threat of breakdown is meaningful because all the actors, including young Stewart, do such a great job of making this family real to us. The storm metaphor is an obvious one, but it works, and a bunch of the scenes just play like gangbusters. It repeats itself a bit sometimes and could’ve been trimmed a bit, but this is a very strong second feature from Nichols (his previous Shotgun Stories I actually own via some blog contest I won, but have never watched), with some great visuals ably supported by a great score and a raft of solid performances.
2011 USA. Director: Jeff Nichols. Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Wingham.
Seen October 29 at a Laemmle cinema.

The Wicker Man

Another one that’s been on my horror to-watch list for years; how I made it this long knowing as little about the story as I did I’m not sure. I knew there was something about a remote village and cultists, but that’s about it. Religious/ideological battles are at the heart of this film much more strongly than I expected. Police detective Woodward heads to this remote Scottish village on a tip that a girl there has gone missing, but when he gets there, everyone (including the girl’s mother) denies that she even existed. Sensing something’s up, the detective keeps poking around, running across rituals and teachings that hearken back to pre-Christian paganism. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Christian in a personal sense, but he’s explicitly saving his virginity for his upcoming marriage, and when confronted with the contented villagers practicing public orgies and teaching their children about the Maypole as a phallic symbol, he can’t quite stand it and goes all holier-than-thou on them, much to their amusement. The film skews toward the pagans for much of its running time, as Woodward comes across as a bumbling interloper interfering in things that aren’t his business, but that only makes the eventual climax that much more disturbing. Note I didn’t say “scary.” The film isn’t really scary in a visceral way, but by end (which is somehow both surprising and inevitable), it is existentially frightening. I suspect that sense will increase on rewatch, when I’m not as focused on figuring out what’s going to happen. Oh, and for the record, I did love the inclusion of all the weird folk music which almost threatens to make the film an out-and-out musical for a little while. It’s a weirder film than I was expecting, but a less scary one.
1973 UK. Director: Robin Hardy. Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt.
Seen October 13 on IFC (via DVR).

[Rec] 2

The first [rec] was a fantastic example of the first-person camera found-footage technique (one of the few that’s fairly internally consistent), and made great use of its claustrophobic environments. The second one picks up right where it left off, with our intrepid reporter in the attack on the verge of being caught by the virus’s progenitor, then cuts to a SWAT team about to enter the building to shut down whatever is causing the attacks. The scares here aren’t as effective because they’re more out in the open – instead of a creepy feeling of something being just out of sight, the infected here are right there in your face. Which is more gross, but less scary. There are some really interesting things done with structure, though, as parts of the film are done from the point of view of a group of kids who think it’d be cool to break into the building – they’re pretty freaking annoying, but seeing some of the things from a different perspective is nice. The tension ramps up toward the end, and there’s a fairly neat use of night vision. I enjoyed the film, but it doesn’t have the pure viseral thrills of the first.
2009 Spain. Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca.
Seen October 6 on DVD.

Candyman

I hadn’t even heard of this film before my boyfriend started telling me about it – he likes the Chicago ghetto location and the way the ending plays out, which of course he wouldn’t tell me about until after I’d watched it. I was apprehensive, and it was definitely more on the jump scare creepy side than I usually like, but it did have elements that I appreciated. For one, like he said, the location in the Chicago projects is quite interesting, and the way Virginia Madsen’s character (very white, very middle-class) gets drawn in there through her academic research into urban legends works pretty well – it creates a double element of danger because, really, she probably shouldn’t be there at all, mythical killer or no mythical killer. Then the way the plot turns as she starts seeing Candyman and somehow winding up at crime scenes in incriminating circumstances gave it a thriller angle that I didn’t expect (I even wondered for a while if there was a non-supernatural explanation for everything). Some of the imagery (like the paintings in Candyman’s lair) was nice and creepy, too. It goes on a bit too long at times, and even though I liked the ending on a visceral level, it doesn’t quite make sense to me, but that seems to be happening with a bunch of these horror films. Ah, well.
1992 USA. Director: Bernard Rose. Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams.
Seen October 29 on DVD.

The Skeleton Key

I’ve tended to avoid most mainstream horror movies for the past several years, mostly because they aren’t frankly very good. I’m not sure I’d call The Skeleton Key GOOD, per se, but I had an enjoyable time watching it, and it definitely has some intriguing concepts under the hood. Kate Hudson takes a job caring for an older man who’s had a stroke at the old Southern mansion home he and his wife share in the bayous of Louisiana. You pretty much can’t have a supernatural horror flick set outside New Orleans without voodoo (or hoodoo, as the film distinguishes them), and sure enough, turns out the house originally belonged to a Southern gentleman who had no concept of his black servants being anything more than “the help,” when in fact, they were hoodoo practictioners of the highest order. Hudson stumbles into all this and OF COURSE won’t let it go and OF COURSE goes investigating in locked rooms and OF COURSE starts playing with spells herself and OF COURSE gets herself into deep trouble. Most of it is fairly predictable, but it has a few genuinely interesting twists, and watching Gena Rowlands go to town in her hammy part more than makes up for some wooden line readings from Hudson. Plus Peter Sarsgaard is on hand to be his usual self, full of benevolent menace.
2005 USA. Director: Iain Softley. Starring: Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Joy Bryant.
Seen October 9 on Netflix Instant.

The Bat

October’s Silent Treatment program at Cinefamily screened the rare silent horror film The Bat, one of several “haunted” house crime thrillers of the time. In the opening scene, a master criminal known as The Bat (because he dresses like a bat) manages to burgle a millionaire’s home right under the noses of scads of police, who he magnanimously tipped off to his plans. It plays like Fantômas or Les Vampires, and has gorgeous Expressionist photography as we see him set off to another job, a bank robbery. But turns out the bank owner may not’ve been on the up-and-up either, as he seems to have disappeared and the majority of the bank’s money as well. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down. I was in and out doing volunteering stuff during some of this exposition. Anyway. Before long, the plot converges on a country home owned by the bank owner, but currently being leased to the imposing Miss Cornelia and her niece, where police and private detectives, bank clerks and criminals, not to mention a hysterical maid, all try to figure out where the money is and stay safe from The Bat, whose identity is kept a secret to the bitter end. The promise of the early scenes is squandered a bit in the long, comedic center section with all the characters (except Miss Cornelia and the Bat, both of whom are self-possessed to a fault – a real stand-off between these two would’ve been something to behold!) bumbling about. But the end pulls it back together for a satisfying conclusion. Bonus: Even though I’ve read that this isn’t the inspiration for Batman, there’s basically a batsignal moment that’s pretty awesome to see.
1926 USA. Director: Roland West. Starring: Emily Fitzroy, George Beranger, Jack Pickford, Jewel Carmen, Tullio Carminati, Eddie Gribbon, Charles Herzinger, Louise Fazenda, Robert McKim.
Seen October 5 at Cinefamily.

Child’s Play

My boyfriend cajoled me into watching this despite my protestations about doll fears (damn those ventriloquist dummies), arguing that it was the first of a franchise and I’d stated my intention to watch the originals of the major horror franchises. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the voodoo element of soul transference was a fun surprise, the pacing of the film is pretty solid, the effects on Chucky are good, the kid is quite good, and those swooping camera moves are fun if a bit over the top and cliched. I do think there were a few too many “oh, he’s not dead YET?” continuations, but aside from that, I was pretty entertained. I do not intend on watching the sequels, though.
1988 USA. Director: Tom Holland. Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif.
Seen October 22 on Netflix Instant.

Pit and the Pendulum

I quite enjoyed the Corman-Price take on The Masque of the Red Death, so I figured I’d circle around for another dose of their Poe cycle, and I enjoyed it, too. Here John Kerr (a little wooden) hears that his sister has died suddenly and goes to visit her husband Price at his remote castle. Price is apparently devastated and eventually lets out that his wife died after a growing fixation on the castle’s torture chamber, left there by Price’s Inquisitor father. More and more macabre details emerge about Price’s childhood and his father, as well as the potentiality that his wife was actually still alive when buried – a fact that seems more likely as she takes to haunting the castle. It all builds to a climax with the titular pit and pendulum, but the more ghastly moments spread throughout involve B-movie scream queen Barbara Steele, who carries off the part of wife Elizabeth with panache that puts even Price in his place. It’s a splashy big colorful film (it is in color, despite my only finding quality promo images in B&W online), with lots of relatively mindless fun to be had.
1961 USA. Director: Roger Corman. Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, Lynette Bernay.
Seen October 20 on Netflix Instant.

What I Thought Was All Right

Friday the 13th

And with this one, my quest to see all the firsts of the slasher franchises is complete, I think. I’m told I still need to watch Black Christmas, but that isn’t a franchise, so I’m counting it separately. This is the one I was looking forward to the least, and it is pretty darn stupid. But it has a good bit of campy fun to it, too. Clearly influenced by Halloween right down to the first-person opening kill and the twenty-year jump in time, this one doesn’t bother very much to create any empathy between us the teenage summer camp counselors being killed one by one. The fun in the film is all in seeing exactly how each one is going to be offed, with Kevin Bacon’s post-coital knife-through-the-throat a high point. We never see the killer until the very end, though a lot of the time we’re in the killer’s perspective, which adds to our distance from the victims. In this way, Friday the 13th is perhaps the clearest antecedent to the legions of slasher films to follow, which tend to lose human connection in favor of the most outrageous kills – a trend I don’t particularly like, even though it’s done with freshness and naivete here. The music is quite effective, evoking some combination of Psycho and Jaws with screeching violins and see-saw melodies, but again, none of the character depth or quality scripting that made those films so lasting.
1980 USA. Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bertram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer.

Paranormal Activity

I was more amused than intrigued by the first Paranormal Activity‘s marketing campaign, and didn’t rush out to see it, especially as reactions seemed pretty split between “it’s the scariest thing in the world ever” (which I didn’t particularly care to see) and “it’s not scary, it’s totally stupid” (which also isn’t particularly tempting). As is typical for me with films that most people seem to either love or hate, I’m right down the middle. I liked a lot of things about it – the evocation of the demon using very small touches, like a moving sheet or a shadow on a door, are evocative and effective. It does well with creating its mood. On the other hand, almost everything is telegraphed well in advance, so very little of it is actually scary. And the editing drove me crazy – if this is supposed to be a found footage film, with everything coming from the boyfriend’s camera, why are there so many random little edits everywhere? I mean, he didn’t pause and unpause the camera as he’s walking across the room (the camera would’ve jostled a bit while he did, besides why would he), and whoever found the camera later wouldn’t have bothered with editing out a half-second here and there as the guy’s crossing the room. And those edits were EVERYWHERE. So it succeeds on creepy, suggestive low-budget special effects, but it utterly fails as a found footage film, and that’s such a big part of it that I have to mark it down a lot for that.
2007 USA. Director: Oren Peli. Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs.
Seen October 12 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches – Love

A Tale of Two Sisters

I first watched this in October 2009, and it was my favorite film that month. I simply had to revisit it and share it with my boyfriend this year, and it did not disappoint on rewatch. I’m notoriously bad at remembering endings, so even though I remembered part of the twist, I’d forgotten the other part so slowly remembering it as the movie went on was quite enjoyable. I love that the film works equally well as a tragic drama as it does as a creeptastic horror film – the very end is absolutely heartbreaking as well as chilling. It takes its time a bit more toward the ending than I’d like, threatening to delve into “too many endings” territory, but as I said, the final sequence makes it all totally worth it. And as I watch more horror films and nail down the approaches I like and don’t like and what scares me and doesn’t, this film is an excellent example of what actually scares me. The sequence where Soo-mi sees a dark figure at the foot of her bed that’s hunched over awkwardly and moves closer until it rushes above her…that whole part. Scares the crap out of me. It’s some combination of sound design, plain weirdness (the unnatural positioning of the figure) and the editing shifting from slow to incredibly fast without warning. So yeah. If you want to scare me, do stuff like that. Jump scares and gore don’t do it.
2005 South Korea. Director: Kim Jee-woon. Starring: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-Young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-su.
Seen October 30 on DVD.

Dead of Night

This was one of the first horror films I remember seeing that I actually liked – a trend in my tastes toward creepy B&W atmospheric horror that hasn’t really abated, despite my new openness to other subsets of the genre. When TCM played it this week, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again. What I’d forgotten before this rewatch was how quickly it jumps into the frame story, no explanation, just the guy driving up to the country house where he has a weird sense of having dreamt about all these people before and an incredible ability to predict things that will happen throughout the evening. Intrigued by his uncanny sixth sense, the other guests start telling about their own experiences with unexplained phenomena – each of these stories could easily be a Twilight Zone episode, and they all have that feel of something just outside normal, none moreso than the frame story. Often frame stories in anthology films are throwaway and rather tiresome, but I really love this one, and the way it circles in on itself and the other stories at the end is surreal and genuinely intense, even though several of the stories are not particularly scary. I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to my memories on rewatch, but it did. I still love it.
1945 UK. Director: Basil Dearden, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton. Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Robert Wyndam.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Jaws

Watching this again, I’m not entirely sure what genre it should be. I guess all creature features tend to be lumped into horror, but it plays more like a character drama punctuated by bursts of intense thrills. So, creature feature drama thriller, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s damned impressive, even thirty-five years later. Countless films have tried to capture whatever it is that makes Jaws special, but few even come close – the pacing is perfect, building up the tension before the shark attacks and letting it go just at the last minute, or temporarily difusing it with a red herring. The fact that the film comes right out of the gate and makes a dog and a little boy among the first set of victims is telling – it remains shocking. Thrills aside, the real pleasure here is the interactions between the three very different characters who go after him. Beginning as stereotypes, but not sticking to them, Brody, Quint, and Hooper have a competition/companionship vibe among them that’s much stronger than most creature features have time to establish. Sure, the movie has great special effects (you’ll rarely notice the shark is animatronic), thrilling action, and even awkward humor in the form of the dumbass mayor and his cronies, but the depth of character and willingness to linger on the in-between moments are what make Jaws great.
1975 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
Seen October 7 on DVD.

Rewatches – Like

The Uninvited

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this one I didn’t remember anything beyond the descriptor “creepy haunted house movie.” Which could describe umpteen different movies. A rewatch was definitely in order, especially since I’ve continued to mention the film as an example of the kind of 1940s quiet horror that’s closest to my heart even as my memory of it faded into nothingness. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are brother and sister who buy a deserted seaside mansion, only to discover that it’s routinely filled with noises of crying, flickering candles, creeping coldness, and a scent of mimosas, none of which can be explained scientifically. It all seems bound up in the former owner’s granddaughter, who lived in the house until she was three and her mother died falling off the cliff. The next logical step – hold some seances! Of course. It’s a charming little film, really, with a nice crotchety performance from veteran Donald Crisp as the dour grandfather, and some really effective special effects on the ghost. It’s not particularly scary, but it definitely has the quietly chilling atmosphere down pat.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Alan Napier.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Totals

Films seen for the first time in October: 16
Rewatches in October: 4
Films seen in theatres in October: 2
List of Shame films seen in October: 3
2010s films seen in October: 1
2000s films seen in October: 5 (1 rewatch)
1990s films seen in October: 1
1980s films seen in October: 3
1970s films seen in October: 4 (1 rewatch)
1960s films seen in October: 2
1940s films seen in October: 2 (2 rewatches)
1920s films seen in October: 2
American films seen in October: 14 (2 rewatches)
British films seen in October: 3 (1 rewatch)
Spanish films seen in October: 1
French films seen in October: 1
Korean films seen in October: 1 (1 rewatch)

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