Tag Archives: The Grapes of Wrath

Top Ten: Americana Films

Wikipedia defines “Americana” as “artifacts related to the history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage of the United States,” with “patriotism and nostalgia playing a defining role in the subject.” Since we’re coming up on the American Independence Day this week, I thought it would be a good time to look at some movies that celebrate American history and culture. My instant reaction on hearing the term Americana is to think of sentimental, somewhat simplistic and possibly jingoistic stories or art that glorify a past and a culture that doesn’t necessarily deserve it, so I was glad to see that I really do love the top ten films labeled Americana on my Flickchart.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

To me, Meet Me in St. Louis is practically the definition of Americana. It’s certainly got the nostalgia part of it down pat, with its look at turn-of-the-century St. Louis and the hosting of the World’s Fair. It’s chock-full of little details, like an ice wagon going on its rounds, difficult calls on an early model telephone, old-fashioned Halloween rituals, trolley rides, and reminders of simpler times where the biggest worry was that the boy next door won’t like you. To be fair, the main conflict of the possibility of having to move for the father’s job is still relevant. There’s a sentimentality to the film, for sure, but the more serious issues and the weirdness of some of Tootie’s subplots keep it from being totally schmaltzy.

9 – The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

From John Steinbeck’s classic Dust Bowl novel, John Ford’s film takes the story of Okies traveling west to seek a brighter future in California and makes it resonate on both the level of the individual family and the whole generation. This could be a very depressing film, and I put off watching it for quite a while because of that (and because I feared it would be kind of boring), but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it is. It certainly has some gut-punching moments, but thanks to a crime subplot, moody cinematography from Gregg Toland, and charismatic performances, it remains engrossing and ultimately inspirational in the good way.

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My 2011 in Film: Favorite Non-2011 Films

My Favorite Films of 2011 are posted here, but like any good film buff, I also watched a whole lot of non-2011 films. Here are some of my favorites of those first-time watches in loosely descending order (more favorites at the top). I didn’t limit this to a specific number. If I feel like it’s worth mentioning and I want to write a few words about it, it’s on here.

Le cercle rouge (1967)

I had a feeling I was going to like this film, just based on how much I’ve liked Jean-Pierre Melville’s other films, especially Le samourai, which, if I recall correctly, topped my favorites list in 2010. I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Melville weaves several plotlines together, involving a criminal just out of prison, the mob he steals money from, a detective chasing a different escaped con, a former sharpshooter cop who’s now an alcoholic, and more. Each of them has their own narrative rise and fall, and each character has their own arc, but they all interplay in an incredibly intricate way, as different ones join up on a heist (one of the best heist sequences in cinema) and others try to track them down for their own reasons. It’s hard to explain, but very easy and clear to watch. Brilliant work on all levels.

Blue Valentine (2010)

This film just missed my 2010 best of list (I saw it mere days after last year’s posts were made), but it would’ve ended up about #4 on that list. It might be even higher now. The film parallels the beginning and end of a single romance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both in career-best performances), juxtaposing the courtship and the break-up of this couple to incredible emotional effect. Despite the temporal contrivance, the film is incredibly raw and realistic, with no easy answers for what causes a couple who seem so perfect for each other to hit the skids so badly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Why in the world did it take me this long to watch this movie? That phrase actually applies to the next two as well, but the prestige of those two be darned, this is the one that I can’t get out of my head. The tales surrounding it are as legendary as the film itself, playing on the long-standing bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who here play two aging showbiz sisters who have a long-standing bitter rivalry. It may be high camp, but this is quite possibly Bette Davis’s best performance – it’s mean and grotesque and pitiful and naive. And the movie itself is quite possibly the best example of Hollywood gothic, yes, even giving Sunset Boulevard a run for its money.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

There is a reason I’d been avoiding watching this classic must-see. I’m not a big Brando fan. I’d seen On the Waterfront, Sayonara, The Godfather, and more, and I just didn’t really get the whole Brando thing. But I finally sat down with this one and suddenly GOT IT. He’s utterly magnetic here, and the film is far more stylistically interesting than I’d expected. It wears its stage origins on its sleeve, but in a heightened way that works, and the clash of Leigh’s old-school Hollywood acting with Brando’s muttering animalism is palpable. Now I want to go rewatch all those other Brando films – I bet I’ll like them more.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

And the reason I’d been avoiding this one was simply that I figured it’d be depressing and Important Movie-esque. (Also I dislike Steinbeck based on “The Red Pony” traumatizing me as a child.) Wrong on both counts. It’s certainly not a happy peppy movie, and a ton of bad things happen to this Dust Bowl family, but I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeously this is shot (Gregg Toland, should’ve known) and how intense it can be, sharing in this family’s troubles and little joys, as well as dealing with the subplot of Tom Joad’s fugitive status. His final speech is justly praised, but the whole thing is pretty great.

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Often cited as one of the prime examples of the haunted house mystery comedy, a genre that was apparently prominent in the silent era, and rightly so. Simply a ton of fun from start to finish, as a group of people gather in a long-deserted mansion to read the will of their crotchety old relative. There are threats of insanity, a murderer running rampant, an asylum escapee on the loose, plus various positive and negative interpersonal interactions among the varied potential heirs. Moody cinematography counterbalances the humor in the plot.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

I watched the Man with No Name trilogy all out of order (I’d already seen the other two…yeah, backwards), but Jonathan wasn’t about to let me get away with not having seen this one, which is his favorite. I still like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more, but there’s a lot I did like about this one, especially the way the story really follows Lee Van Cleef instead of Clint Eastwood – that was an interesting touch. Also, the bank robbery segment is just awesome. Next up – watching all three of these actually in order. :)

The Godless Girl (1929)

I always enjoy Cinefamily’s Silent Treatment nights because I get to see films that are rarely if ever screened and aren’t on DVD, plus learn a bunch about silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood and chat with film archivists. I’m always appreciative of the films I see, but to be honest, a lot of times, they’re mostly of historical significance. This is an exception, because this film is gangbusters fun. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it’s the story of a clashing set of teenagers – one the leader of a group of young Christians, the other the leader of a group of Atheists. After the groups get in a riotous fight, they’re carted off to reform school, where they get to know each other. Frankly, there are like five or six sections of story (and tones!). But they’re all crazy and fun, and it ends with a massive escape/chase sequence followed by a climactic fire.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Seems like every year a film I’ve never heard of wins Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, upsetting one I either wanted to win or thought was a shoo-in. And then every year when I get around to seeing the actual winner, I’m blown away. This is an extremely solid mystery/character study of a detective flashing back to that one case, you know that one he never quite managed to solve. It’s tough to find the balance between mystery and character in films, but this one does it wonderfully, and with a lot of style to boot – just wait for the seemingly one-take stadium shot. It’s incredible.

The Naked Island (1960)

I happened to be volunteering on a night when Cinefamily screened this film, which I’d never heard of and knew nothing about – I hadn’t even read the blurb on the Cinefamily schedule. I stuck around to watch it anyway, and I’m certainly glad I did. An almost silent picture, depicting the day-to-day lives of a family struggling to maintain their farm on an unwelcoming island. Much of the film is just watching them cart water from the mainland, carry it up a treacherous hill, and water their crops one at a time. Sounds boring, but it isn’t, and when larger events do happen, they hit you like a ton of bricks.

The Illusionist (2010)

A sweet and simple ode to the entertainments of the past, the pleasures that progress has robbed us of in search of bigger, faster, louder thrills. The main character, once a popular vaudeville magician, finds himself less and less wanted as rock bands and television replace his craft – all except for one little girl, entranced by his magic. Like Sylvain Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is almost silent – as befits its origin as an unproduced script from Jacques Tati. Charming, simple, warm, and wistful.

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, this is one of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales films, and so far, I think it’s my favorite. Each of these films presents some sort of moral dilemma, but not in a didactic way – in this case a happily married man daydreams about other women, with no intention of taking action – until his friend Chloe decides to seduce him. Like most French New Wave films, it’s emotionally aloof in such a way that you actually end up supplying the emotions yourself, and this one presents its characters without judgement, but with a great deal of fairness and empathy. I love New Wave noncommital-ness, and this is right in my ballpark.

Night Train to Munich (1940)

I already knew director Carol Reed was more than just The Third Man, from having seen The Fallen Idol, but this would’ve clenched it – Night Train to Munich is a WWII spy story with double agents, concentration camps, undercover espionage, and daring mountaintop chases, all of which it does with a wit and panache that set it apart from most other spy films. It’s classy and silly and genuinely thrilling. Also, and this is not unimportant, it knows when to stop and doesn’t clutter everything up with needless denoument and codas.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

Frank Sinatra may have already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity two years earlier, but with this film he really cemented his standing as an actor. Pushing the envelope of the Production Code, the film tells of Frankie Machine, a card dealer and drug addict who just wants to get clean and play the drums, but he can’t get out of the gambling game – tied in by debts and drugs and a shrew of a wife. It’s not always easy to watch, and it does have an old-school realist melodrama angle, but when it’s on, boy is it on. The withdrawal scene gave ME the DTs.

The Descent (2005)

Director Neil Marshall continually impresses me with his genre films, and this one was no different – a group of girlfriends tries to reconnect after one of them experiences tragedy by going spelunking. But in an unknown cave, anything can happen, and everything does. This film is great on every level, with the dangers of the cave itself creating enough intensity, but the film is hardly content to stop with that. The pacing, the use of sound design, and the thematic content all raise this film above your standard horror thriller.

My Winnipeg (2007)

Easily the most accessible Guy Maddin film I’ve seen so far, and thus my favorite, at least until I get more accustomed to his extremely unique style of filmmaking – this time he takes us on an idiosyncratic tour of his hometown of Winnipeg, a surreal blending of his childhood, his attempts at recreating his childhood to deal with past trauma, and legends and stories of the town itself. It’s associative, bizarre, dreamlike, and definitely an experience.

Wayne’s World (1992)

I totally did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did – I had it mentally lumped in with a bunch of other early ’90s comedies that just struck me as stupid and juvenile, but Jonathan convinced me to watch it, and yeah. This one is much smarter than it seems on the surface, with a lot of clever writing and meta humor that worked like gangbusters for me. Jonathan already quoted this one a bunch (leaving me shrugging my shoulders in ignorance), but now we’re quoting it together ALL THE TIME. See our “He Says, She Says” post.

Changing Husbands (1924)

Another hit from the Silent Treatment folks at Cinefamily, this one has Leatrice Joy (no, I’d never heard of her) in a double role as a bored rich housewife who wants to be an actress and a poor browbeated actress who just wants some peace and rest. Yep, you guessed it, they run into each other and decide to switch places for a bit, since the rich woman’s husband is out of town anyway. Surprise, he comes back and wants to take his “wife” on holiday. More mix-ups ensue, with a lot of sly innuendo and some great comic timing from all involved. It’s frothy, but great fun, and one of my favorite new-to-me silents of the year.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

I hesitate to put this movie (a big-screen film to go along with the campy ’60s TV show) into the “so bad it’s good” category, because I think the people who made it knew exactly what they were making, and did it all – the cheesy line readings, the over-abundance of villains, the ridiculous plot elements – totally on purpose. There’s no way they didn’t, there are too many self-referential jokes (“some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). If you go into this with the same kind of pure enjoyment of ridiculousity that they did, you’ll have fun. I sure did.

Woman in the Window (1944) / Scarlet Street (1945)

I’m lumping these two together because it’s hard not to. In 1944, Fritz Lang got together with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and made a quiet little noir film about a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman and gets drawn into a crime because of her. It worked out so well. They all got together and did the same thing the next year. The details of the plot are different of course, but that trajectory is the same. Both films are solid noirs; it’s hard to rank them against each other, though, because WotW has a better and more interesting plot overall, but has a serious cop-out ending, while SS follows through on the ending beautifully, but has a less interesting/believable plot throughout. Both worthwhile, though, especially for noir fans.

Loves of a Blonde (1965)

Cinefamily did a series on the Czech New Wave a couple of years ago, but either they didn’t play this Milos Forman entry, or I missed that night. But seeing a few of those definitely gave me a taste for them, and I went into Loves of a Blonde with high hopes – which were not misplaced. With definite French New Wave influences, the film basically follows a young girl in a rural factory town in Czechoslovakia, who eschews the middle-aged men who remain in the town after most young men have been conscripted in favor of a pianist from Prague. But the story is less important than the individual scenes, vignettes like three leches macking on girls at a factory-sponsored dance, the girl getting lectured on propriety back at her hostel, and the encounter with the boy’s parents when she arrives unannounced on his doorstep. Take the focus on the youthtful and mundane from the Nouvelle Vague and add in a specifically Czech-under-communism austerity, and that’s this film.

49 Up (2005)

This can kind of stand in for the entire Up series of documentaries – it’s difficult to judge them separately, and this is the most recent one (though if they stay on schedule, 56 Up would be out this year). The premise of the series is that in 1964, a TV production team got a group of fourteen British 7-year-olds from different regions and class backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics. Every seven years they’ve gone back and interviewed the same people (though not all of them have agreed to be in every episode). It’s fascinating, both in the ways it upholds the original premise that a child’s future is set by the age of seven, in terms of societal status, and the ways it subverts those expectations – not to mention how it delves into the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. I don’t like documentaries that much, and this one is largely talking heads, but it is absolutely entrancing.

Vagabond (1985)

After being a huge fan of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 last year, I wanted more Varda, but I put off seeing this one for a good while, largely because it just looked freaking depressing. And yeah, it kind of is. It’s about a twenty-something girl who roams the roads, hitchhiking, sleeping wherever she can, working for a while or living with people as she’s able. But the film opens with her dead in a ditch, then backtracks to how she got there, so you know it isn’t going to romanticize the life of the open road. Even though this was made long after the New Wave’s heyday, it does have that same kind of non-committal sympathy that works so well for me – Varda isn’t going to manipulate you into feeling sorry for the girl, she’s just going to show you want happened and allow your feelings to grow naturally. She’s not always an attractive character – often being rude or dismissive to those who would help her, until it’s too late – yet Varda’s technique works. It’s a really powerful, often hard to watch, but very rewarding film.

Robin Hood (1922)

I couldn’t pass up a chance to see a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks silents at Cinefamily earlier this year, and I think this was my favorite of the lot – it tells a good bit of the backstory to Robin Hood, depicting Robin of Locksley’s friendship with King Richard and his falling for Maid Marion before Richard ever went off to the Crusades, allowing Prince John to oppress the people and create the need for Robin Hood. Some of that gets a little long, but it’s a nice setup that most versions of Robin Hood skip over. After that, it’s really pretty similar to the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Fairbanks is even more athletic and exuberant than Flynn.

Zazie dans le metro (1960)

I still don’t quite know what to make of this early Louis Malle film, but I know I enjoyed watching it, and will likely enjoy it even more on future rewatches. Taken from a Raymond Queneau book (he was a prominent literary experimenter), the film is delightfully absurd, with basically no plot stringing along its series of nonsensical vignettes. It’s definitely got that New Wave sensibility that appeals to me so much, but I’m sure there are also satirical elements that slipped by me entirely. Even so, it was a whole lot of fun.

Carrie (1976)

Finally got around to this horror classic this October, after meaning to for the past two Octobers and failing. Despite knowing all about the bullying and the prom scene already, this film was a LOT different than I was expecting. The crazy mother, for one thing, and then the whole ending that went on much past the prom scene and complicates it a lot. In some ways, I didn’t like where the ending went, but I am highly intrigued by it and wish people would talk about it more, rather than just accepting the film as a pro-feminist revenge-on-bullies story. In any case, the film is really effective at putting us on Carrie’s side through Spacek’s wide-eyed performance and the agonizing yet lovely leadup to the climax at the prom, even if DePalma does overdo the visual flamboyance when he doesn’t really need to.

A Man Escaped (1956)

I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Bresson. I love Pickpocket, but really dislike Lancelot du Lac and felt pretty ambivalent towards Diary of a Country Priest. This one seemed more on the Pickpocket wavelength, and sure enough, it joins the “love” side of Bresson’s filmography for me. The film takes its time, as the main character is member of the French resistance imprisoned by Nazi forces, who works carefully and patiently to plan and execute an escape. Despite the slow pace, though (something Bresson is known for generally), this film maintains tension perfectly, and doesn’t get dull at all.

Back to the Future II (1989)

When Jonathan found out I had only seen the first Back to the Future film and that I hardly remembered any of that, he sat me down with the whole trilogy almost immediately. Not only did I enjoy the first one a lot more than I initially had, but Part II instantly joined the ranks of sequels that are better than the originals. The way that II coils back on I with amazing intricacy is great, but I was also really taken by the future world (which is NOW, by the way, if you work the dates out…I’d say we failed to progress in certain areas quite as much as expected, but maybe we’re better off in other ways). Of course, being the history nut that I am, I also really enjoyed Part III, but not quite enough for it to make this list. It’s hovering right below it.

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Long before David Lynch (Blue Velvet) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty) satirized the underbelly of American suburbia, Nicholas Ray brought this scathing attack against suburban values – or the veneer that suburbia tries to uphold to hide the darker things lying beneath. Here James Mason secretly works two jobs to support his family, but a malicious disease takes its toll on him, the only thing that helps being large doses of painkillers – which he becomes addicted to. He eventually devolves into madness, and yes, there’s quite a bit of melodrama in the film, but if you go along with its excesses, you’ll find one of the darkest films about the ’50s ever made.

Born to Kill (1947)

I’d never heard of this noir film until a friend lent it to me, but hey, Robert Wise usually makes good pictures, right? Right. The always-impressive Claire Trevor leaves town after she finds a friend murdered, not wanting to get involved, but unbeknownst to her, the murderer (her friend’s jealous boyfriend) is insinuating himself into her life, ALSO not knowing that she knew the victim. It’s a crazy mess of fate, mutual attraction and repulsion, double-crosses, and both a femme fatale AND an homme fatale. Plus, Elisha Cook Jr. in a meaty supporting role. A lesser-known noir this may be, but that’s a mistake – it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen.

Taking Off (1971)

After making a splash with the Czech New Wave (see Loves of a Blonde, above), Milos Forman made his way to Hollywood success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. But first he did this little-known film, his first in the United States, about a teenage girl who runs away to be part of a group of hippies, and her parents trying to find her. It’s got its ridiculous parts (which have a strange tendency to turn sublime, like the scene where all the parents learn how to smoke a joint to try to understand their children better), but it’s ultimately a quite moving and wistful portrait of two generations, and the longing of both to find meaning and connection.

The Constant Nymph (1943)

Long kept out of circulation due to rights issues, TCM finally got it worked out to show this Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine film at the TCM Film Festival this year, and it was pretty great to see it with a whole crowd of people who’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. It’s a bit of an unusual film, though, with Fontaine a spright of a girl who breathlessly falls in love with a family friend who still thinks of her as a child. It’s chockfull of melodrama, but Fontaine plays it all with such eager naivete that it’s impossible not to like her, despite the underlying ick factor their ages make kind of hard to ignore.

This is the Night (1932)

Hyped up at the TCM Festival for being Cary Grant’s debut feature, there’s a lot more than that here to like. Basically playing second lead to Roland Young’s hapless gentleman, Grant is an athlete whose wife Thelma Todd is stepping out with Young (no, it’s not believable, just go with it), but in order to keep Grant from finding out, Young hires an actress to pretend to be his wife. It’s convoluted, but thanks to a stellar lead and supporting cast and a solid script, it’s as witty and charming as any 1930s movie – it’s unfortunate that it’s so little known. Definitely deserves a look.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Silly and nonsensical story? Check. Ridiculous line readings? Check. Cheesy stop-motion effects? Check. Actually, the special effects are kind of awesome, I love watching stop-motion animation. It’s not believable, but it has a tactile charm that CGI loses along the way. The story here is basic fantasy adventure stuff with sorcerers and princesses and giant monsters, but it’s all in good fun, and I had a great time watching it.

Good Morning (1959)

I’ve tried to watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (generally touted as his best/most important film) at least two or three times and always failed, getting bogged down in my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and the film’s deliberate pacing. A friend suggested I start with Good Morning instead to get into Ozu, and that was an excellent suggestion. This is a sunny, funny film, the loose plot centered on a pair of kids who want a television more than anything, but with plenty of time given to other vignettes around their apartment area. Charming and breezy.

Gremlins (1984)

I mostly snuck this one in here just because I was shocked at how much fun this film is – I thought it was just gonna be a horror film (and I knew the basic “don’t feed them after midnight” premise), but it’s REALLY goofy, and that’s what I liked about it. I loved all the inventions, I loved the gremlins having fun at the movies, I thought all that stuff was great – even more so because I had no idea it existed.

Scorecard: August 2011

A long time ago I used to do a monthly round-up of films I saw during the month. I stopped doing it when I started writing for Row Three, but I don’t really have time to write up full reviews for everything over there. Some capsules go into our joint Movies We Watched series, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a quick little overview of everything I watched over here as well, if only because so many films seem to be getting by without me voicing my opinion on them at all, and I don’t like that. Note that if I DID write a capsule in Movies We Watched, I’ll likely copy it over here with only slight modifications.

So here’s everything I saw in August – not a very long list; I’ve been missing my 15-movies-a-month goal lately, but film festival months (in which I often watch 25 or more) make up for it. You can always see the latest films I’ve watched listed on my Watching page, and my running Best list on my Best of This Year page.

What I Loved

Attack the Block

After hearing about this film from all the geek and fanboy blogs for months, I went into it interested, but wary; these things get overhyped easily. But all the praise for Attack the Block is fully warranted. In a summer of costumed superheroes, this movie has hoodie thugs from South London. In a summer of flashy CGI, this movie has barely-seen yet terrifying alien creatures. In a summer of fun but relatively shallow action films, this movie has a raft of fully-developed characters, each with their own arc. It manages to successfully blend high-octane thrills with social commentary, the way good sci-fi/horror should, without ever condescending. I had a great time with this film, and it’ll stick with me for a while.
2011 UK. Director: Joe Cornish. Starring: John Bogeya, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost.
Seen August 13 at an AMC multiplex.

The Grapes of Wrath

This is one that has been on my List of Shame (great films that I SHOULD’VE seen by now) for ten or fifteen years now. Literally. I’m not sure why I’ve put it off so long, other than it rather seemed like a film that would be more message-y and depressing than I prefer. I should’ve known better. Photographed by Gregg Toland, the low light, high-contrast look of the film makes it almost a proto-noir. That Expressionist surrealism lends an unearthly quality to the otherwise very earthy and mundane story of Oklahoma farmers pushed off their land in the Dust Bowl. The journey is at times excruciating, but in grand Old Hollywood style, it never fails to be gripping, and the suspense surrounding Fonda’s fugitive status was a welcome surprise for me. That said, it’s definitely Darwell who steals the show, getting the most poignant moments of all as Fonda’s long-suffering mother.
1940 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine.
Seen August 6 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Batman: The Movie

From The Grapes of Wrath to Batman, eh? That’s how I roll. Look, this movie is ridiculous. It has a ridiculous script, filled with preposterous circumstances, idiotic line readings, he most inscrutable riddles ever, and not just one, but THREE villains after Batman and Robin. Oh, and an exploding shark. It’s at least five times campier even than the Adam West TV show. And I loved every second of it.
1966 USA. Director: Leslie H. Martinson. Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero.
Seen August 29 on Netflix Instant Watch.

What I Liked

For a Few Dollars More

I finally finished Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy this month, having watched them all out of order. Thankfully, it’s only a loose trilogy, so it doesn’t much matter what order you see them in. This middle chapter takes a robbery/revenge plot involving Lee van Cleef, a bounty hunter who competes with laconic Clint Eastwood for a bounty on a notorious outlaw in the midst of a plan to rob a bank. The central robbery itself is pretty cool to watch in planning and execution, and it’s interesting for a western to spend so much time with both the “good guys” and “bad guys”. The audacity of the daylight robbery fits right in with the visual flair of the film in general and the (as always) epic score from Ennio Morricone. Perhaps most interesting is how much of a side seat Eastwood takes to the main drive of the plot, even standing aside while van Cleef stands off with his lifelong nemesis.
1965 Italy. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen August 20 on Blu-ray.

Aliens

And another from my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), but I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it stays full throttle for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. My one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.
1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Resier, Bill Paxton.
Seen August 27 on DVD.

Taking Off

I went into this not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Milos Forman. Turns out it was his first film in the United States, the story of a teenager “taking off” to live with her hippie friends and leaving her parents to search for her plays out in a combination of wistful musical numbers (by such up and comers as Carly Simon and Kathy Bates; Ike and Tina Turner show up for a more rousing tune) and dryly absurd scenarios involving the parents. In fact, we spend most of our time with the parents as they stumble around trying to figure out what to do and how to make sense of the changing world – a scene where they go to a meeting of parents of runaway children and learn to smoke marijuana is priceless. But infused in all the hilarity and absurdity is a very real sense of yearning, a need to connect both across generations and within your own. It’s a fascinating film – often ridiculous, but just as often genuinely moving.
1971 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin, Linnea Hitchcock, Georgia Engel.
Seen August 24 at Cinefamily.

Scarlet Street

I watched The Woman in the Window a few weeks ago liked it enough to want to check out this film, made the year later with the same director and lead cast. It begins with a similar setup, with Robinson as a mild-mannered middle-aged man who bonds with some peers while wondering whether he could ever be attractive to a young woman. When he saves damsel in distress Joan Bennett from an apparent attacker, it seems the answer might be yes, but Bennett somehow gathers from his discussion of the amateur art he does that he makes a lot of money from it and she and her boyfriend set out to swindle him out of it, playing on his gullible infatuation with her. The plotting in The Woman in the Window is a bit stronger overall, but this one has the advantage of not copping out the ending.
1945 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea.
Seen August 15 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Zazie dans le metro

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for YEARS, ever since I first heard of it and learned that it wasn’t available in the US basically at all. The combination of New Wave era Louis Malle and playfully postmodern writer Raymond Queneau attracted me greatly, so when Criterion announced the disc, I knew it’d be a blind buy. And now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure what I make of it. I enjoyed watching it, but it is much more non-linear and absurdist than I expected, with Zazie’s trip to Paris to stay with her uncle pretty much going every which way. There are probably satirical themes under the surface that I simply didn’t get on a single viewing (or may not at all, with my almost wholly-cinematically based knowledge of the era). Yet, even superficially it’s an awfully fun ride, akin to Tati’s Playtime, but with more obscure themes.
1960 France. Director: Louis Malle. Starring: Philippe Noiret, Catherine Demongeot, Hubert Deschamps, Carla Marlier.
Seen August 13 on Blu-ray.

What I Thought Was Okay

The Barker

I didn’t realize until I saw the list of characters in the credits that this is the same story as Hoop-la, Clara Bow’s final film (1933) which I saw at the TCM Festival this year. There are some notable differences, especially that this film stays focused on the older title character, a carnival barker. The Bow film is slightly rewritten (more than slightly toward the end) to focus on her character, who is decidedly secondary here. Unfortunately, this film is pretty rote without the luminous presence of Bow, and it’s difficult to refrain from comparing them. The one major interesting thing about The Barker is that it’s right on the cusp of the sound revolution, and has several sequences in full synchronized sound, while others remain fully silent, with title cards and everything. For that bit of historical curiosity alone it’s worth checking out.
1928 USA. Director: George Fitzmaurice. Starring: Milton Sills, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Seen August 3 at Cinefamily.

Bonnie’s Kids

It’s hard to know where to put movies like this, a soft-core exploitation film from the 1970s. I tend to find these films laughably fun, and that’s pretty much where Bonnie’s Kids fell, but it’s by no means an actual good film. Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson are the two kids, but Bonnie has already died before the picture starts, leaving her young daughters (one in her early 20s, the other about 15) with a potentially abusive stepfather in a town of apparent statutory rapists in waiting. They skedaddle to Hollywood where their uncle lives, and get embroiled in some sort of thievery plot he’s got going on. Part crime, part T&A, not particularly memorable nor absurd enough to be up there with Batman, but a fun bad movie to watch.
1973 USA. Director: Arthur Marks. Starring: Tiffany Bolling, Steve Sandor, Robin Mattson.
Seen August 13 on DVD.

Totals:
Films seen in August: 10
Films seen in theatres in August: 3
List of Shame films seen in August: 3
2011 films seen in August: 1
1980s films seen in August: 1
1970s films seen in August: 2
1960s films seen in August: 3
1940s films seen in August: 2
1920s films seen in August: 1
American films seen in August: 7
French films seen in August: 1
British films seen in August: 1
Italian films seen in August: 1

Film on TV: November 30-December 6

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Old Yeller, playing on TCM on Friday at 6:00am

Almost ALL repeats this week – seriously, the only two ones I added are Old Yeller, playing on TCM on Friday, and Christmas in Connecticut, on TCM on Sunday. The former is a family classic that every kid should grow up seeing (I’m of the school, though, that believes children shouldn’t be sheltered from death in film) and the latter is a lesser holiday entry that’s still enjoyable thanks to Barbara Stanwyck’s engaging performance. There are still plenty of good repeats to go around, though, so check for stuff you may have missed.

I’m really sorry for not getting this posted last night; I have no excuse, really. I simply forgot – had the template all laid out and then didn’t think about it again until this morning. I’ll try not to let it happen again.

Tuesday, December 1

6:30am – TCM – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Hitchcock’s first take on this story of an attempted assassination and associated kidnapping stars Peter Lorre as one of the bad guys. I haven’t seen it myself yet, but many people claim it’s better than his glossier Hollywood remake.
1934 UK. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Peter Lorre, Leslie Banks, Edna Best.

9:30am – TCM – The Lady from Shanghai
Most of Welles’ films, no matter the genre, feel a little noirish in mood, but The Lady from Shanghai is the real thing, complete with fatalistic hero who gets dragged into a murder plot by a femme fatale (Rita Hayworth).
1948 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth.

6:00pm – TCM – Take the Money and Run
An early Woody Allen movie, when he was mostly focused on being funny and absurd, and this film about a set of totally inept bank robbers is both. It’s actually my favorite of the pre-Annie Hall Allen films.
1969 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Janet Margolin.

7:15pm – IFC – Before Sunrise
Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done.
1995 USA. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
Must See
(repeats at 7:45am and 1:15pm on the 2nd)

Wednesday, December 2

9:30am – IFC – Broadway Danny Rose
It’s lesser Woody Allen, but it’s still Woody Allen. Danny Rose (Woody) is a theatrical agent whose clients always leave him when they start becoming successful. His current client, a has-been tenor trying to make a comeback, gives him further grief by having an affair with a young woman (Mia Farrow) with gangster connections. Not very substantial, but enjoyable.
1984 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte.
(repeats at 3:00pm)

7:55pm – Sundance – Volver
Pedro Almodóvar deftly straddles the line between drama and comedy in one of his more accessible films. Two sisters return to their home at the death of their aunt, only to find their mother’s ghost – or is it a ghost? And as always in Almodóvar’s films, there are related subplots aplenty. Penélope Cruz is incredible as the younger, fierier sister – she’s never been more moving than in her passionate rendition of the title song, nor funnier than when calmly cleaning up a murder scene.
2006 Spain. Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanco Portillo, Yohana Cobo
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – The Petrified Forest
Bette Davis and Leslie Howard are top billed in this 1936 crime drama, but the thing you’ll remember is Humphrey Bogart in his first major film role as criminal-on-the-run Duke Mantee. They’re all holed up in a remote gas station while Mantee figures out his scheme to escape the manhunt for him. He fairly sizzles on screen.
1936 USA. Director: Archie Mayo. Starring: Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran.

1:30m (3rd) – 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.
1938 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: James Cangye, Pat O’Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart.

Thursday, December 3

12:30am (4th) – Sundance – Ran
Akira Kurosawa’s inspired transposition of King Lear into medieval Japan, mixing Shakespeare and Japanese Noh theatre tradition like nobody’s business.
1985 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu.
Must See

Friday, December 4

6:00am – TCM – Old Yeller
One of the great tear-jerker family films, about a family in the old west who adopt a stray dog, growing to love and depend on the animal in the absence of their father (away on a cattle drive). Ah, yes, the good old days, when kids movies weren’t all happy-peppy all the time.
1957 USA. Director: Robert Stevenson. Starring: Dorothy Maguire, Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran.
Must See
Newly Featured!

7:30am – TCM – The 400 Blows
Francois Truffaut’s first feature, a semi-autobiographical look at a boy’s childhood in Paris, dealing with strict teachers, fighting parents, etc. This film along with Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless usually mark the beginning of the New Wave. Truffaut’s sentimental tendencies come out already, as well as his incredible ability to direct children to great performances. Jean-Pierre Leaud would go on to star in many more Truffaut films, but for me, his adult roles never match this one.
Must See

8:15am – IFC – The Station Agent
One of the most pleasant surprises (for me, anyway) of 2003. Peter Dinklage moves into a train depot to indulge his love for trains and stay away from people, only to find himself befriended by a loquacious Cuban hot-dog stand keeper and an emotionally delicate Patricia Clarkson. A quiet but richly rewarding film.
2003 USA. Director: Thomas McCarthy. Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale.
(repeats at 4:00pm)

12:00M – IFC – Shadow of the Vampire
What if actor Max Schreck, who played the vampire in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, actually WAS a vampire and kept eating various members of the cast and crew? That’s the premise set forth by this slight but entertaining film, with John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as the eccentric Schreck.
2000 USA. Director: E. Elias Merhige. Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack.

Saturday, December 5

9:55am – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 3:05pm)

3:15pm – TCM – The Clock
This was Judy Garland’s first real purely dramatic role, directed by her then-husband Vincente Minnelli in 1945. It’s a wartime story of a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who meets a girl (Garland) and their attempts to get married before he has to return to his unit. It’s a sweet, unassuming little film that showcases Garland’s charm quite well, and has a nice supporting role for comedian Keenan Wynn.
1945 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, Keenan Wynn.

5:00pm – TCM – My Fair Lady
George Cukor finally won an Oscar in 1964 for this film, a high-quality adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, itself based on the Greek story of Svengali and Trilby. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn acquit themselves well as phonetics professor Henry Higgens and street urchin Eliza Doolittle. I guess I just find it a bit overlong and overproduced, as most 1960s musicals were, but I’m in the minority.
1964 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White.

8:00pm – IFC – Office Space
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will identify with Office Space immediately – with the paper-jamming printers, the piles of beaurocratic paperwork, and the difficulty of keeping up with staplers if not the plot to make off with boatloads of money due to an accounting loophole. In fact, if you do or have worked an office job, I’m gonna call this required viewing.1999 USA. Director: Mike Judge. Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston.
(repeats at 1:00am on the 6th)

10:00pm – 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.
2002 USA. Director: Spike Jonze. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, Chris Cooper.
(repeats at 3:35am on the 6th)

11:15pm – IFC – Garden State
First-time director Braff brings his quirky personality and taste in indie music to this story of a young man who returns to his home town for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. While there, he meets a girl who teaches him how to feel for the first time since his father started prescribing meds to him as a child. It’s become a popular pastime to hate on Garden State and its self-conscious quirk, but I refuse. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it now.
2004 USA. Director: Zach Braff. Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard.
(repeats at 4:15am and 12:30pm on the 6th)

Sunday, December 6

6:00am – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 2:15pm)

12:00N – TCM – Christmas in Connecticut
Not in the upper echelon of great Christmas movies, but really, how many times in a row can you watch those over and over (okay, actually, a lot, but I digress). The always-worth-watching Barbara Stanwyck is a magazine columnist who makes up a traditional country home for her column while living in New York, a subterfuge which causes no problems until a serviceman on leave wants nothing more than to spend Christmas on her farm and her editor thinks it’s a great human interest piece. Her attempts to recreate that world while falling for the serviceman are funny, warm, and enjoyable enough to add this to your holiday rotation.
1945 USA. Director: Peter Godfrey. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Una O’Connor.
Newly Featured!

5:55am (7th) Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
Must See

Film on TV: September 28-October 4

Taxi Driver pic2.png
Taxi Driver, playing at 2:00am on September 30th on TCM.

A few to highlight this week: Martin Scorsese’s electrifying Taxi Driver is playing late Tuesday/early Wednesday on TCM, the small but highly worthwhile The Station Agent is on Wednesday on IFC, and TCM is showing a Marx Brothers double-feature Friday morning.

Monday, September 28

5:10am – Sundance – That Obscure Object of Desire
Luis Buñuel, ever one to come up with outlandish conceits, here directs two women playing the same role. The result is trippy and mesmerizing.
1977 France/Spain. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernandy Rey, Carole Bouquet, Ángela Molina.

6:55am – IFC – Wild Strawberries
On his way to accept an honorary degree, elderly medical doctor Victor Sjöström thinks back and re-evaluates his life while being plagued by nightmares. Sounds kinda depressing, but then again, it is Ingmar Bergman. And he has a way of making depressing seem AWESOME.
1957 Sweden. Director: Ingmar Bergman. Starring: Victor Sjöstroöm, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand.

9:00am – Fox Movie Channel – The Mark of Zorro
Not perhaps one of the greatest adventure films ever made, but a perfectly servicable one, and quite enjoyable for fans of Zorro. Tyrone Power was Fox’s version of Errol Flynn, and though he doesn’t have quite the panache that Flynn does, he’s still fun.
1940 USA. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Starring: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Basil Rathbone, Gale Sondergaard, Eugene Pallette.
Newly Featured!

12:00M – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
Must See
(repeats at 12:45pm on the 29th)

12:00M – Sundance – Man on Wire
I haven’t taken the opportunity to see last year’s highly-acclaimed documentary about high-wire walker Philippe Petit yet, but here it is already on Sundance.
2008 UK/USA. Director: James Marsh. Starring: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau.
(repeats at 12:00M on the 30th/1st)

Tuesday, September 29

6:00am – Fox Movie Channel – Anna and the King of Siam
The earlier/non-musical version of The King and I stars Irene Dunne in one of her last films and Rex Harrison in one of his earliest. Both do a fine job.
1946 USA. Director: John Cromwell. Starring: Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Gale Sondergaard.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – The Bride Wore Black
A poker-faced Jeanne Moreau takes cold-hearted revenge on five men who had a hand in her husband’s death in François Truffaut’s most overt homage to Alfred Hitchcock.
1968 France. Director: François Truffaut. Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Bouquet.
Newly Featured!

2:00am (30th) – TCM – Taxi Driver
One of those films that bursts off the screen at you with intensity, both because of Scorsese’s dynamite direction and Robert DeNiro’s tightly-wound performance as Travis Bickel. When I first watched this, I expected it to be a film I’d put up with so I could mark it off my “film buffs must watch” list, but I was riveted for every second.
1976 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, September 30

6:00am – IFC – Love’s Labour’s Lost
Kenneth Branagh has taken on a lot of Shakespeare plays and usually does them with incredible fidelity (like his uncut, four-plus hour-long Hamlet). This time around, he takes a lesser-known comedy and adds music by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern to turn it into a 1930s style musical. It doesn’t work all the time, but for fans of Shakespeare and old musicals (like me), it’s still a fun watch.
2000 USA. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Alessandro Nivolo, Alicia Silverstone, Natascha McElhone, Kenneth Branagh, Matthew Lillard.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 10:35am and 4:50pm)

8:30am – Sundance – Paris je t’aime
I have a huge soft spot for Paris – basically any movie set there I will like to at least some degree. So an anthology film with eighteen internationally-renowned directors giving their take on Paris with eighteen short films all mashed together? Yeah, instant love. Obviously some sections are far stronger than others – the Coens, Gus van Sant, Alexander Payne, Isabel Coixet, Tom Tykwer, and Wes Craven turn in my favorites.
2006 France. Director: various. Starring: many.
(repeats at 2:30pm)

9:00am – IFC – The Station Agent
One of the most pleasant surprises (for me, anyway) of 2003. Peter Dinklage moves into a train depot to indulge his love for trains and stay away from people, only to find himself befriended by a loquacious Cuban hot-dog stand keeper and an emotionally delicate Patricia Clarkson. A quiet but richly rewarding film.
2003 USA. Director: Thomas McCarthy. Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:15pm)

3:45pm – TCM – Some Came Running
Frank Sinatra gets to prove his acting chops again as a cynical soldier returning to his small-town home. Shirley MacLaine is a revelation, and Dean Martin gets probably his best role, as well. Meanders a bit in the middle, but thanks to strong performances and incredibly well-done yet subtle mise-en-scene from Minnelli, ends up staying more memorable than you might expect.
1959 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine.

6:15pm – TCM – Dark Victory
A Bette Davis tour-de-force, as she plays a woman diagnosed with a blindness-causing brain tumor. She’s supported by George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ronald Reagan, and a young Humphrey Bogart (as an Irish stablehand, providing an amusement factor that’s almost reason enough to watch the film).
1939 USA. Director: Edmund Goulding. Starring: Bette Davis, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Henry Travers, Cora Witherspoon.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – Fox Movie Channel – Miller’s Crossing
The Coen brothers take on 1930s gangland with this film, and do so admirably well. As they do most things. I have to admit I wasn’t quite as enamored of it as I usually am of Coen films, but it definitely has its moments.
1990 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, Albert Finney.
(repeats at 12:00M)

10:00pm – IFC – Raising Arizona
This relatively early Coen Brothers comedy has Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a childless ex-con couple who decide to rectify that situation by stealing one of a set of quintuplets. They’ll never miss him, right? Wrong. Zany complications ensue.
1987 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, Frances McDormand.
(repeat at 2:00am)

Thursday, October 1

9:35am – IFC – Millions
In this Danny Boyle film, a young British boy finds a bag with millions of pounds in it; the catch is that Britain is days away from switching to the euro, so the money will soon be worthless. The shifting ethical questions combined with a sometimes almost 2004 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford.
(repeats at 2:00pm)

8:00pm – IFC – From Hell
Johnny Depp takes on the role of a troubled Victorian police detective on the trail of Jack the Ripper in this adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel. Not quite as memorable as would hope, but worth a watch.
2001 USA. Directors: Albert and Allen Hughes. Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 2:30am)

11:45pm – IFC – Amores Perros
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarrítu specializes in films with multiple intersecting storylines, and he does it best here, in his breakthrough Mexican film (starring Gael Garcia Bernal, also just beginning to become a household name at this point). The three largely independent stories are tied together by the characters’ relationship with dogs and involvement in a climactic car crash – though the idea is similar to his later film Babel or Paul Haggis’ Crash, Amores Perros is much more subtle and memorable.
2000 Mexico. Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarrítu. Starring: Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo.
Newly Featured!

1:30am (2nd) – TCM – The Grapes of Wrath
This is one of those huge omissions in my film-watching repertoire. I’ve meant to watch John Ford’s homage to the dust bowl farmers of the 1930s for years, but have never quite gotten around to it.
1940 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin.

Friday, October 2

6:00am – TCM – A Night at the Opera
One of the best of the Marx Brothers’ zany comedies finds them running awry through the world of opera. This is the one that contains the famous “how much stuff can we stuff into a stateroom” scene. And a subplot with Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle, but that’s best ignored as much as possible.
1935 USA. Director: Sam Wood. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Allan Jones, Kitty Carlisle, Margaret Dumont.
Must See

7:45am – TCM – A Day at the Races
The Marx Brothers take over the racetrack in what is probably the last of their really great comedies. As with A Night at the Opera you do have to put up with the silly romantic subplot, but it’s not too big a strain.
1937 USA. Director: Sam Wood. Starring: The Marx Brothers, Allan Jones, Maureen O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont.
Must See

8:00am – Fox Movie Channel – My Darling Clementine
John Ford’s version of the famous confrontation at the OK Corral actually focuses more on Wyatt Earp’s fictional romance with the fictional Clementine than on the real-life Earp/Clanton feud, but history aside, this is one of the greatest and most poetic westerns on film, proving yet again Ford’s mastery of the genre and of cinema.
1946 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell, Cathy Downs, Walter Brennan, Tim Holt.
Must See

9:30am – IFC – American Splendor
Harvey Pekar is one of the more idiosyncratic graphic novelists there is (”comic book” doesn’t quite cover his very adult, neurotic art), and Paul Giamatti brings him to life perfectly.
2003 USA. Directors: Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis.
(repeats at 2:35pm)

6:15pm – IFC – Manhattan
In one of Woody Allen’s best films, he’s a neurotic intellectual New Yorker (surprise!) caught between his ex-wife Meryl Streep, his teenage mistress Mariel Hemingway, and Diane Keaton, who just might be his match. Black and white cinematography, a great script, and a Gershwin soundtrack combine to create near perfection.
1979 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway, Alan Alda.
Must See
(repeats at 6:15am and 2:00pm on the 3rd)

9:00pm – TCM – Rear Window
Hitchcock, Stewart, and Kelly mix equal parts suspense thriller, murder mystery, romance, voyeristic expose, ethical drama, caustic comedy and cinematographic experiment to create one of my favorite films of all time.
1954 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr.
Must See

11:30pm – IFC – The Cooler
In this under-the-radar film, William H. Macy plays a loser whose bad luck gets him a job as a “cooler” at a casino – his luck spreads and cools off any hot winning streaks that might be going on. But when he starts a relationship with Maria Bello, his new-found love and acceptance turns his luck. This film reinforced my knowledge of Bill Macy’s talent, made me take notice of Maria Bello, and gave Alec Baldwin pretty much his best role until 30 Rock.
2003 USA. Director: Wayne Cramer. Starring: William H. Macy, Mario Bello, Alec Baldwin.

12:00M – TCM – Shadow of a Doubt
Somewhat lesser-known Hitchcock film that ought to be top-tier. Small-town girl Teresa Wright idolizes her uncle Charlie, but we know that he’s an infamous murderer on the run. Hitchcock once made a distinction between mystery and suspense: mystery is when there’s tension because the audience doesn’t know whodunit, suspense is when there’s tension because the audience does. This film is a perfect example of suspense, and Hitchcock’s preference for telling the audience whodunit very early in the film and letting them squirm.
1942 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten.

Saturday, October 3

1:00am – Fox Movie Channel – 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.
1988 USA. Director: John McTiernan. Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Must See

7:30am – TCM – I Walked With a Zombie
Or, Jane Eyre in the West Indies. In Val Lewton’s moody little fantastic horror flick, mousy nurse Betsy goes to the Caribbean to care for afflicted Jessica, the wife of an important plantation owner. Turns out her affliction is due to zombification, a curse of the voodoo-practicing natives. Certainly the acting and script are nothing special here, but the noirish cinematography and direction by Jacques Tourneur as well as producer Lewton’s peculiarly literary sensibility certainly are.
1943 USA. Director: Jacques Tourneur. Starring: Frances Dee, James Ellison, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, Christine Gordon, Darby Jones.

Sunday, October 4

3:30pm – Fox Movie Channel – 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.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Donen. Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney.
Must See