A bit late again. Good thing there wasn’t a lot on Monday or Tuesday worth looking at anyway. So we’ll start in on Wednesday. The movie channels apparently decided to dump EVERYTHING they had for the turn of the new year, because the 31st and 1st are jam packed. Craziness. I also threw in some listings from the Fox Movie Channel, since I noticed some great stuff while setting my DVR this week.
Wednesday, December 31
6:00am / 5:00am – TCM – Stagecoach
TCM is apparently doing a John Ford/John Wayne tribute today, and that’s never a bad thing. In this 1939 film, Wayne is an outlaw traveling in a cramped stagecoach along with a prostitute (Claire Trevor, who turns in an amazing performance) and various other staple characters of the Western genre perfectly calculated for maximum uncomfortability.
7:45am / 6:45am – TCM – They Were Expendable
One of the best WWII films made during the war (1945). Wayne is the only one who thinks u-boats have any use in combat, but he proves everyone else wrong. Equal parts action and pathos, this is one that seems fairly routine at any given moment, but put all the moments together (especially the last few) and you get blown away by how good it is.
12:30pm / 11:30am – TCM – The Quiet Man
Ford and Wayne are probably best known for the westerns and war movies they made together, but this romantic drama may be the best of the bunch. Wayne is an American former boxer who travels to Ireland to seek his roots; he finds frequent costar Maureen O’Hara there and wants to marry her, but has to overcome her stubborn streak and her lunkish brother’s objections before he can. Filled with charm and humor, Ford received one of his Oscars for it. One wonders if it would’ve won Best Picture if it had come from a major studio instead of upstart Republic (consider that overblown corker The Greatest Show on Earth won that year). Must See
7:00pm / 6:00pm – Fox Movie Channel – Planet of the Apes
I saw this not knowing anything about the ending. I suggest that if you haven’t seen it and don’t already know the ending that you do the same. One of the classic sci-fi films.
(repeats at 4pm EST on the 1st and 3:30am EST on the 2nd)
8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment!
If you like musicals, you’ll love That’s Entertainment!, MGM’s celebration of its history of movie musicals. If you don’t like musicals…you won’t. It’s that simple. This was put together in 1974 as a theatrical release in honor of MGM’s 50th anniversary, so it’s really well put together and hosted by many of the stars who were there at the time (and some whose connection to MGM is tenuous at best – like Paramount’s Bing Crosby).
10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – Adaptation
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
(repeats at 5:00am EST on the 1st)
10:30pm / 9:30pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment, Part 2
MGM couldn’t get all their great musical clips into one compilation film, so two years later they made another one. And it’s almost as good, especially because it includes some great non-musical moments as well.
12:00am / 11:00pm – Sundance – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman again, this time with Michel Gondry instead of Spike Jonze, and this may be his greatest collaboration – in fact, neither Kaufman nor Gondry apart from each other have matched the perfection of this film. After a painful breakup with his girlfriend Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey decides to undergo a procedure to remove her completely from his memory. But is forgetting the bad times worth losing the good? Must See
12:45pm / 11:45pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment III
This completes the That’s Entertainment! series, really (they did a straight-to-video That’s More Entertainment later), and they are starting to run out of clips. Still. If you liked the first two, it’s worth a watch.
3:00am / 2:00am – TCM – That’s Dancing!
The only downside to the That’s Entertainment series is that it only includes MGM films. That’s Dancing does rectify that, bringing in clips from other studios, but it doesn’t have the panache of MGM’s series.
Thursday, January 1
6:00am / 5:00am – Cartoon Network – Looney Tunes Marathon
Okay, folks, there’s a lot going on today moviewise, and you probably have other stuff going on on New Years, but Cartoon Network is showing like fourteen straight hours of Looney Tunes. This is like a gold mine. These cartoons are like sixty years old, and they’re still among the most hilarious and innovative films ever made, cartoon or live-action, short or feature-length. I’m pretty much going to be parked here all day, since I’ve seen almost all the stuff on TCM today. :) Not that I haven’t seen most of the Looney Tunes…never mind, reasoning broke down.
6:00am / 5:00am – TCM – Nothing Sacred
And TCM is devoting New Year’s Day (during the day at least) to screwball comedy, and that’s hard to pass up. In this one, terminally ill Carole Lombard gets a big newspaper to pay her way to New York and the high society life in exchange for her human interest story. Except she’s only pretending to be terminally ill. Oops.
6:00am / 5:00am – Fox Movie – The Seven Year Itch
I actually can’t remember much about this film (Tom Ewell had a mid-life crisis and dabbles with neighbor Marilyn Monroe), but it is the one with the iconic image of Marilyn’s skirt being blown up as she walks over a grate. So there’s that.
(repeats at 1:30pm EST)
9:00am / 8:00am – 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.
11:00am / 10:00am – TCM – Bringing Up Baby
Poor Cary Grant just can’t get away from delightfully ditzy Katharine Hepburn, especially after her dog steals his museum’s priceless dinosaur bone. Oh, and after her pet leopard escapes (and a dangerous zoo leopard escapes at the same time). Incredible situation follows incredible situation in this zaniest of all screwball comedies. Must See
4:15pm / 3:15pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
Married couple Cary Grant and Irene Dunne can’t stand living together any more and divorce, but they also can’t live apart and end up working overtime to sabotage each other’s new relationships. Epitomizes the battle-of-the-sexes aspect of screwball comedy perhaps better than any other film.
6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – It Happened One Night
Spoiled heiress Claudette Colbert runs off to marry against Daddy’s wishes, but gets sidetracked by reporter Clark Gable, who wants her story but ends up winning her heart. (Damn, that was corny. I apologize.) MGM sent Gable to Columbia to make this picture as a punishment for getting too big for his contract’s britches, but it backfired – he won an Oscar for his role, as did Colbert, director Frank Capra, writer Robert Riskin, and the film itself. Must See
8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – King Kong
The 1933 special effects are a bit creaky at times, but by and large with a little imagination, King Kong more than holds up to its remakes and imitators. I’m one that didn’t mind Peter Jackson’s version as much as a lot fo cinephiles did, but for the real King Kong, go back to the original.
10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Them!
Atomic anxiety strikes again, this time in the form of radiation-created giant ants that threaten Texas and then California. I was actually far more entranced with this surprisingly solid 1950s sci-fi B-movie than I expected to be. Frankly, I loved it, and I wish we could still manage to make creature feature as simple and as simply great as this one.
11:00pm / 10:00pm – Fox Movie – Die Hard
All John McClane wants to do is get home for Christmas. But plans change, especially when a bunch of terrorists take over his wife’s office building and McClane has to take them out almost singlehandedly. And give us one of the best action movies ever made. The sequels are not that good. Skip ’em.
Friday, January 2
The networks overcrowded the 31st and the 1st, and ran out of good stuff for the 2nd. But then found a bunch more for the 3rd. Go figure.
Saturday, January 3
10:00am / 9:00am – IFC – The Cat’s Meow
I throw this in here because for a while it was one of my arguments that Kirsten Dunst is actually good if given the right part. Now Marie Antoinette is my argument for that, but The Cat’s Meow remains a fun little Hollywood period piece. Dunst plays Marion Davies, a 1920s actress who’s now better known for being William Randolph Hearst’s mistress – the film is set at one of Hearst’s parties at which producer Thomas Ince mysteriously died. Director Peter Bogdanovich has made 1920s-1930s nostalgia (often with a cinematic twist) his specialty, and while The Cat’s Meow ain’t no Last Picture Show or even Paper Moon, it’s still enjoyable.
(repeats at 4pm EST)
12:00pm / 11:00am – Fox Movie – Two for the Road
Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and blindsides me with brilliance. Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen, best known for lighthearted musicals, comedies, and mysteries. It stars Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney; Hepburn at least also best known for lighthearted, whimsical fare. But Two for the Road is one of the most thoughtful and adult films of the 1960s, and I mean that in a good way. It dissects Hepburn’s and Finney’s relationship, cutting back and forth between their meeting, their marriage, and their separation almost as if all three are happening at the same time – every moment of their life together becomes part of who they are and part of the sum of their relationship, and Donen has found the perfect way to depict that. Must See
2:00pm / 1:00pm – TCM – Invasion of the Body Snatchers
My favorite thing about this 1956 sci-fi classic is that it can be read either as pro-Left or pro-Right with very little difficulty (which shows just how close totalitarian Fascism and Communism end up being in practice). So it’s politically charged, but never in a way that feels overly heavy-handed and manipulative. Aliens are invading by taking over people’s bodies, turning them into emotionless pod people. They’ve tried remaking it a couple of times, but somehow it never ends up packing quite the punch of the original.
8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece (to my mind, anyway) thrusts our hapless Little Tramp into an overly mechanized factory world, brilliantly skewering the industrial revolution and its reduction of humanity to gears and cogs. He escapes with the gamine Paulette Goddard, who shines as much here as in any of her other films. It’s a mostly silent film, despite being made in 1936, but it’s hard to argue with any conviction that Chaplin was behind the times. Must See
8:00pm / 7:00pm – IFC – Fargo
This blackest of black comedies has it all: hitmen, theft, blackmail, murder, and woodchipper-as-body-disposal-mechanism, not to mention an extremely pregnant policewoman to sort it all out. The Coen Brothers spin one of their finest yarns (I place it third behind O Brother Where Art Thou and No Country For Old Men, which still leaves it really darn high in my overall film list), proving why they’re the masters of the everyday macabre. Must See
(repeats at 1:00am EST on the 4th)
11:00pm / 10:00pm – TCM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Ooh, I haven’t seen this for such a long time! Let’s see what I remember…it’s based on a Dr. Seuss story about a kid who dreams his piano teacher is an evil prison-master. What I really remember is that it’s just about the most surreal and innovative children’s movie I’ve ever seen. I’d compare it only to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, except I wouldn’t actually show Jeunet’s film to kids. In any case, Dr. T‘s a trip that’s well-worth taking.
2:30am / 1:30am (4th) – TCM – Shall We Dance
Not one of Fred and Ginger’s best, but hey. It’s still Fred and Ginger.
Sunday, January 4
10:30pm / 9:30pm – TCM – The Red Shoes
Real ballerina Moira Shearer plays an aspiring ballerina in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale. Actually, the fairy tale is the story within the story – the main story is more Svengali and Trilby, as a producer extraordinaire takes Shearer under his wing, but is outraged when she falls in love with poor young composer instead. In between all this is probably the greatest ballet sequence ever put on film (on a set that would never have fit on any stage), as the Anderson story becomes Shearer’s signature role. The Technicolor is breathtaking, too.
Non-related, probably non-interesting side note. I write a lot more when I’m tired (i.e., longer descriptions of the movies). Apparently the energy-intensive part of writing for me is not the actual writing, but the editing. Or the writing concisely.