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Scorecard: April 2012

[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.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

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Film on TV: March 8-14

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Them!, playing on TCM late Friday, early Saturday

The Oscars are over for another year, but Film on TV continues apace, and it’s another quite good week with a bunch of quality films across the board. Among newly featured films, TCM has a Kurosawa mini-marathon on Tuesday night through Wednesday morning – I’ve only seen a few Kurosawa films myself, so I’m hoping to catch up on a few myself. We’ve also got the first film with synchronized sound, The Jazz Singer and Ellen Page’s breakout film, Hard Candy – how’s that for a near-double feature? Friday’s got some real B-level treats, including The Collector, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, and one of my absolute favorite 1950s atomic creature-features, Them!.

Monday, March 8

4:00am – TCM – The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli directs Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame in one of the best dark-side-of-Hollywood noirish films this side of Sunset Boulevard.
1952 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame.

6:15am – 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 12:05pm and 5:30pm)

8:15am – TCM – The Band Wagon
There are many reasons to consider The Band Wagon among the best movie musicals ever made. The satirical plot involving a Shakespearean director who tries to turn a lighthearted musical into a doom-and-gloom version of Faust, the bright yet sardonic script and score by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who basically appear in the film as the characters played by Nanette Fabrey and Oscar Levant), the last really great role for Fred Astaire (maybe Funny Face is a contender, but barely), and of course, the never-surpassed beauty of dance numbers like “Dancing in the Dark” with Fred and Cyd Charisse. But even if it didn’t have all that, I’d still rank it among my favorites for the epic “Girl Hunt Ballet” number spoofing hard-boiled detective fiction.
1953 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabrey.
Must See

9:35am – IFC – Bride and Prejudice
Laugh at me if you must for recommending Chadha’s Bollywood-infused version of Pride and Prejudice, but I love it. It’s silly, it’s beautiful, it’s a fun exercise in adaptation of literary classics, and it’s only slightly weighed down by Martin Henderson’s woodenness.
2005 UK. Director: Gurinder Chadha. Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Alexis Bledel.
(repeats at 3:30pm)

4:00pm – TCM – Silk Stockings
The musical version of Ninotchka, about a staid, repressed Communist woman who goes to Paris on a mission, only to get loosened up by a Western guy. You’re better off with Ninotchka, honestly (and this week, you’re in luck, it’s on next). Silk Stocking substitutes Cyd Charisse (who’s really only ever convincing when she’s dancing), Fred Astaire (who’s fine, though a bit on the old side by 1957), and adds Cole Porter music, which is really the major reason to check this version out.
1957 USA. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, George Tobias.

8:00pm – IFC – Go
In the first section of this tripartite film, bored grocery store clerk Sarah Polley seizes an opportunity to broker a drug deal when her dealing coworker takes a trip to Vegas. It goes very wrong. Meanwhile, her coworker in Vegas gets mixed up in a murder there. Also meanwhile, two actors work with a narcotics officer to break up the drug ring. All three stories tie up together in the end, but not before a lot of quite well-constructed Pulp Fiction-esque jumping around. A lot of fun, and better than you might expect.
1999 USA. Director: Doug Liman. Starring: Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf.
(repeats 12:30am on the 9th, 10:30pm on the 11th, and 2:15am on the 12th)

9:45pm – TCM – The Jazz Singer
This one is pretty darn creaky these days, but in terms of historical significance, ought to be watched once. Al Jolson sings “Mammy” and then tells us “You ain’t heard nothing yet” in the first instance of synchronized sound in movie history. The whole film isn’t sound, but the musical sequences that are sounded the death knell for silent film.
1927 USA. Director: Alan Crosland. Starring: Al Jolson, May McAvoy, Warner Oland, Eugenie Besserer.
Newly Featured!

10:30pm – IFC – Hard Candy
Ellen Page burst onto the scene as a teenage girl getting involved with an older guy she met on the internet – initially looks like a cautionary tale about internet chat relationships, but goes into even more twisted realms than that, with Ellen owning the screen every second.
2005 USA. Director: David Slade. Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 2:45am on the 9th, 8:00pm on the 12th, and 1:30am on the 13th)

11:30pm – TCM – I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
Paul Muni plays an initially optimistic and energetic young man who struggles to find a job during the Depression. Eventually he ends up unwillingly involved in a robbery and sentenced to the chain gang. One of Warner Bros’ best “ripped from the headlines” socially conscious films – they did a lot of them in the 1930s.
1931 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson.

Tuesday, March 9

5:00am – TCM – Casablanca
Against all odds, one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced, focusing on Bogart’s sad-eyed and world-weary expatriot Rick Blaine, his former lover Ingrid Bergman, and her current husband Paul Henreid, who needs safe passage to America to escape the Nazis and continue his work with the Resistance. It’s the crackling script that carries the day here, and the wealth of memorable characters that fill WWII Casablanca with life and energy.
1943 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains.
Must See

8:15am – IFC – Dancer in the Dark
Bjork plays a factory worker whose increasing blindness threatens to keep her from being able to do her job, which will keep her from earning the money she needs for an operation that will prevent her son from suffering the same blindness. Add in the relationship with her not-as-happy-as-they-seem neighbors and a trenchant critique of the justice system and death penalty, not to mention several musical numbers juxtaposed throughout, and you have a film that’s unlike any other.
2000 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare.
(repeats at 2:30pm)

9:45am – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
The ultimate nostalgia film, harking back to the turn of the century and the year leading up to the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Judy Garland holds the film and the family in it together as the girl who only wants to love the boy next door, but it’s Margaret O’Brien as the little willful sister who adds the extra bit of oomph, especially in the manic Halloween scene and the violent Christmas scene that carries the film from an exercise in sentimentality into a deeper territory of loss and distress.
1944 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Ikiru
TCM is doing a mini-Kurosawa marathon tonight, which maybe will give me a chance to catch up on some more of his work – I’ve only seen one of the ones they’re showing. This one is a drama about a government employee who, upon learning he has terminal cancer, decides to stop wasting his life and do some good with it instead. I’ve not been as impressed with Kurosawa’s samurai films as I feel like I should be, so I’m wondering if maybe a drama like this will help me appreciate him more.
1953 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Takashi Shimura, Shinichi Himori, Haruo Tanaka, Minoru Chiaki.
Newly Featured!

10:30pm – TCM – Throne of Blood
This is Kurosawa’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is in and of itself enough to get me interested. I do like Ran, and I can’t explain why I’ve never gotten around to Throne of Blood.
1957 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo.
Newly Featured!

12:30am (10th) – TCM – The Hidden Fortress
Perhaps best known as a major inspiration for Star Wars, but also a fine film in its own right – though I tended to find its two meandering servants (who C-3PO and R2D2 are modeled on) more annoying than endearing.
1958 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshir⊚ Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki, Katamari Fujiwara.
Newly Featured!

The Kurosawa mini-fest continues with a couple more films into the morning, so if you’re a fan or a wanna-be fan, check those out too.

Wednesday, March 10

8:00pm – IFC – Kill Bill, Vol. 1
A lot of people would point to Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s best film, and I think Inglourious Basterds is right up there, too, but I vote Kill Bill Vol. 1 for sheer amount of fun. He homages spaghetti westerns, Hong Kong fighting flicks, and revenge-sploitation, and ties it all together with incredible style.
2003 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine.
Must See
(repeats at 1:00am on the 11th)

8:00pm – TCM – The Gay Divorcee
Most film buffs will put Top Hat and/or Swing Time at the top of the list of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, but I somehow have a huge love for The Gay Divorcee. Ginger hires a gigolo to try to force her husband to divorce her, but then thinks Fred (who wants to court her) is the gigolo. Mistaken identities for the win, and the stellar supporting cast doesn’t hurt at all, either. Plus, a young Betty Grable in a musical number with Edward Everett Horton. How can you go wrong?
1934 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Alice Brady, Eric Rhodes, Eric Blore.

8:00pm – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
Must See
(repeats at 3:45am on the 11th)

10:00pm – TCM – Top Hat
For me, Top Hat and Swing Time battle it out for the top spot constantly, with the one I’ve seen more recently usually taking the crown. Mistaken identity follows mistaken identity here, as Ginger thinks Fred is her best friend’s husband, causing her a lot of consternation when Fred starts romancing her. That’s far from the end of it all, though. Also has the most definitive collection of Astaire-Rogers supporting actors.
1935 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
Must See

10:30pm – IFC – Kill Bill, Vol. 2
On the one hand, Kill Bill Vol 1 isn’t quite complete without Kill Bill Vol 2. And there are a lot of good parts in here – the film noirish opening as the Bride catches us up on what’s going on, the fight with Daryl Hannah in the trailer, training with the kung fu master, her getting out of the coffin, etc. But the ending lags a little too much for me to truly say I enjoy watching it as much as Vol. 1.
2004 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen.
(repeats at 3:00am on the 11th)

12:00M – TCM – Swing Time
Many people call Swing Time the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and it’s certainly up there. Frothy story? Check. Jerome Kern music? Check. Fantastic dances? Check. Of course.
1936 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
Must See

2:00am (11th) – TCM – Roberta
Apparently the studio still didn’t trust Fred and Ginger to carry a film after their debut pairing as second leads in Flying Down to Rio; this time they’re second leads behind Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott, but at least Dunne and Scott are decent actors and Roberta has a fair bit of charm outside of Astaire and Rogers, due in no small part to a solid score by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach.
1935 USA. Director: William A. Seiter. Starring: Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers.

4:00am (11th) – TCM – Follow the Fleet
Follow the Fleet‘s title isn’t thrown around as much as some of Fred and Ginger’s other films, but it’s actually one of their best, with a great set of Irving Berlin songs, a mixture of sailor and show business settings, and a decent second-lead pairing of Randolph Scott and Harriet Hilliard (better known as Harriet Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet).
1936 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Harriet Hilliard.

Pretty much the whole rest of the Fred and Ginger catalog play on through Thursday morning, but the ones above are the best. The rest, including Shall We Dance, Carefree, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, and The Barkleys of Broadway are recommended only for serious F&G fans.

Thursday, March 11

11:15am – 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.
2005 Hong Kong. Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou. Starring: Qi Shu, Chen Chang.
(repeats at 4:05am on the 12th)

8:00pm – TCM – The Lady Eve
Barbara Stanwyck and her father Charles Coburn are cardplayers, cheating cruise ship denizens of their wealth. Millionaire (and snake afficianado) Henry Fonda is a good mark, especially since he’s a bit dense and spacey. Stanwyck’s plot is hugely elaborate, only a little muddled by her falling in love with Fonda as well, and she’s a delight from start to finish. As she usually is.
1941 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette.
Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The More the Merrier
A World War II housing shortage has Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur sharing an apartment; soon Coburn is matchmaking for McCrea and Arthur, and we get a wonderful, adorable romance out of it.
1943 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Jane Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn.

Friday, March 12

12:00N – TCM – The Collector
This is the 1965 Terence Stamp film that was discussed on the Row Three Cinecast a couple of weeks ago. I immediately put it in my Netflix queue when I heard that segment, because it sounds awesome. And then it popped up on TCM to save me the trouble!
1965 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – Sundance – Metropolitan
If Jane Austen made a movie in 1990 and set it among entitled Manhattan socialites, this would be it. The film follows a group of such entitled teens from party to party, focusing especially on the one outsider, a boy from the blue-collar class who has to rent a tux and pretend he likes to walk to avoid letting his new friends know he has to take the bus home. Though they find out soon enough, they keep him around because his intellectual nattering amuses them. In fact, it’s quite amazing that this film is interesting at all, given the amount of pseudo-intellectual nattering that goes on, from all the characters. But from start to finish, it’s both entertaining and an incisive look at the American class structure.
1990 USA. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman, Carolyn Farina, Taylor Nichols, Dylan Hundley.
(repeats at 3:30am and 8:15am on the 13th)

12:05am (13th) – IFC – Evil Dead 2
The sequel/remake to Sam Raimi’s wonderfully over-the-top demon book film, set in the same creepy wood-bound cabin, with even more copious amounts of blood and a lot more intentional humor. I’m still not sure which I like best, but either one will do when you need some good schlock. (I still haven’t seen Army of Darkness, I’m shamed to admit.
1987 USA. Director: Sam Raimi. Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks.
Newly Featured!

12:30am (13th) – TCM – Them!
I love a good classic sci-fi film and this one hits all the high points. Radioactive material? Check. Mutant insects? Check. Scientists? Check. Nuclear paranoia? Check. Giant mutant ants (created by radioactivity left by atomic bomb tests in Arizona) start attacking people, first in Arizona, then to Texas and Mexico, and finally in the middle of Los Angeles. A team of scientists works with the police to take the monsters down. One of the better examples of the “atomic mutant” sci-fi films, of which there were many; it builds intensity perfectly (in fact, it’s at least half an hour in before you come close to finding out what’s happening, adding in a very welcome mystery element) and doesn’t spend to long on its obligatory romantic subplot.
1954 USA. Director: Gordon Douglas. Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness.
Newly Featured!

Saturday, March 13

6:25am – IFC – Crimes and Misdemeanors
When Martin Landau’s long-time mistress threatens to expose their affair unless he marries her, he’s faced with the decision to let her ruin his life and career or have her murdered. In a tangentially and thematically-related story, Woody Allen is a documentary filmmaker forced into making a profile of a successful TV producer rather than the socially-conscious films he wants to make. One of Allen’s most thoughtful and philosophically astute films – there are few answers here, but the questions will stay in your mind forever.
1989 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Martin Landau, Anjelica Huston, Claire Bloom, Joanna Gleason.
Must See
(repeats at 12:00N and 5:15pm)

4:00pm – TCM – True Grit
John Wayne had a career full of iconic western roles before he won an Oscar for this one, as tough old U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn, recruited by a young woman to help her avenge her father’s death, a quest that takes them deep into Indian territory.
1969 USA. Director: Henry Hathaway. Starring: John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper.

6:15pm – TCM – Ride the High Country
In the 1960s, Sam Peckinpah contributed to the beginnings of the revisionist western, taking complicated heroes and violence to new levels – in Ride the High Country, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott (who had both starred in many westerns throughout the 1930s and 1940s) play jaded cowboys hired to transport gold who get caught up in a family feud that forces them to confront their own differences and troubled pasts. It’s a fairly simple plot on the surface, but goes much deeper than you’d expect.
1962 USA. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Mariette Hartley, Ron Starr.

8:00pm – TCM – White Heat
James Cagney in one of his most powerful roles as the slightly (okay, make that more-than-slightly) unbalanced criminal Cody Jarrett. Probably counts as one of the last truly great Warner crime films, too.
1949 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly.

10:30pm – 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 3:00am and 8:45am on the 14th)

12:00M – TCM – The Big Heat
Director Fritz Lang came out of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, so it’s not surprising that he ended up making some of the better noir films, given film noir’s borrowing of Expressionist style. Glenn Ford is a cop working against his corrupt department, but the parts you’ll remember from the film all belong to Gloria Grahame in a supporting role as a beaten-up gangster’s moll. Her performance and Lang’s attention to detail raise the otherwise average story to a new level.
1953 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame.
Must See

5:15am (14th) – IFC – Paranoid Park
I go back and forth on whether I think Gus Van Sant is brilliant or a pretentious bore – maybe some of both. But I really quite liked the oblique, moody approach in this film about a wanna-be skateboarder kid who relishes hanging out with the bigger skateboarders at the titular skate park – but there’s a death not far from there, and it takes the rest of the movie to slowly reveal what exactly happened that one night near Paranoid Park.
2007 USA Director: Gus Van Sant. Starring: Gabe Nevins, Daniel Lu, Jake Miller, Taylor Momsen, Lauren McKinney.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 10:30am and 4:30pm on the 14th)

Sunday, March 14

11:30pm – Sundance – The Lives of Others
If any film had to beat out Pan’s Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, I’m glad it was one as good as The Lives of Others. A surveillance operator is assigned to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working against the government regime – he’s torn in both directions when he starts sympathizing with his subject. It’s really well done in tone and narrative, with a great performance by the late Ulrich Mühe.
2006 Germany. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Theime.

Film on TV: June 8-14

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Singin’ in the Rain, playing Tuesday, June 9th at 12:30am on TCM

This week, TCM continues their celebration of great directors with Stanley Donen, Fred Zinnemann, Preston Sturges, Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, and Howard Hawks. They also seem to be doing director mini-marathons for John Huston, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, and Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur, though they aren’t officially in the Great Director series. Whether they should be or not is definitely arguable. And IFC and Sundance have a few gems to throw in, as well.

Monday, June 8

12:45pm – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).

6:15pm – TCM – The Big Heat
Director Fritz Lang came out of the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, so it’s not surprising that he ended up making some of the better noir films, given film noir’s borrowing of Expressionist style. Glenn Ford is a cop working against his corrupt department, but the parts you’ll remember from the film all belong to Gloria Grahame in a supporting role as a beaten-up gangster’s moll. Her performance and Lang’s attention to detail raise the otherwise average story to a new level.

Great Directors on TCM: Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen shone at directing flashy musicals and mod comedies throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The films he co-directed with Gene Kelly (On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, see below) stand among the best musicals ever made, and his later films like Charade and Arabesque merged Hitchcockian thrills with 1960s comic panache in a way that no-one else really matched.

9:00pm – TCM – On the Town
Sailors on leave Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin hit New York City, spending the day sightseeing and searching for Kelly’s dream girl Vera-Ellen, meanwhile picking up Betty Garrett and Ann Miller for the other boys. Not much plot here, but enough to precipitate some of the best song and dance numbers on film. Also one of the first musicals shot on location. Must See

9:45pm – IFC – Far From Heaven
Director Todd Haynes homages 1950s melodrama king Douglas Sirk with this film, loosely based on Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. I don’t think he succeeded as well as he might’ve (Sirk’s sort of in a class by himself), but he and lead Julianne Moore make a darn good attempt. Moore plays a 1950s housewife, trapped in her marriage to a man struggling with his own sexual identity (Dennis Quaid), and slowly falling into an affair with her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
(repeats at 3:30am)

10:45pm – TCM – Royal Wedding
This isn’t one of the all-time great Fred Astaire musicals, but it’s quite charming in its small way, and has the distinction of including the Fred’s “dancing on the ceiling” extravaganza, as well as a few surprisingly competent dance numbers from Fred and not-dancer Jane Powell. Oh, and Fred’s love interest is Sarah Churchill, Winston Churchill’s daughter, which is interesting (Powell plays his sister).

12:30am (9th) – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
After On the Town, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly teamed up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception. Must See

2:30am (9th) – TCM – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
What do you do when you’re seven brothers in the backwoods and need wives? Why, go kidnap them of course! Patriarchal values aside, Seven Brides is one of the most entertaining movie musicals ever made, and I defy anyone to outdo the barn dance/raising scene.

Tuesday, June 9

6:00am – TCM – I Know Where I’m Going!
This is one of those little films that doesn’t get much press and is very quiet and unassuming, but once you watch it you won’t easily forget it. Wendy Hiller is a confident young woman who knows exactly what she wants and where she’s going – that is, to meet her wealthy fiance and marry him on one of the Scottish Hebrides. But when a storm strands her on the way, she finds herself thrown off-course in more ways than one. There’s nothing wasted here, and I Know Where I’m Going! stands as one of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s crowning achievements, even if it’s not as well-known as Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes.

1:00pm – TCM – A Matter of Life and Death
An RAP pilot bails out of his crashing plane and survives, even though he was meant to die, due to a mix-up in heaven. He’s granted the chance to plead his case for life in a heavenly trial in Powell & Pressburger’s fantasy drama. I haven’t seen this one, but I have friends who place it among their all-time favorites, so I’m looking forward to it.

5:15pm – TCM – The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Another Powell & Pressburger film I haven’t seen, this one follows an idealistic army colonel from the Boer War through WWII, focusing on his romantic pursuits as well as the changes in military strategy and notions of honor. I find WWI films interesting for the juxtaposition of modern warfare with 19th century nobility, and looks like this will draw on that. Plus, really young Deborah Kerr.

6:05pm – IFC – Stage Beauty
Sometime around Shakespeare’s time, theatrical convention changed from having all female parts played by males on stage to allowing women to perform female roles themselves. Caught in this shift were the effeminate men who had made their careers and indeed, their identities, out of playing women. Stage Beauty is about one such man and his crisis of self when he no longer had a professional or personal identity. It’s a fascinating film in many ways.

Great Directors on TCM: Fred Zinnemann
I don’t tend to think of Fred Zinnemann when I think of great directors, and I’m sure that’s influenced by my auteurist outlook. Yet I do quite like several of the films he’s directed, such as the ones below.

8:00pm – TCM – High Noon
An Oscar-winning performance by Gary Cooper and an early role for Grace Kelly in Fred Zinnemann’s classic cowboy showdown drama. Follow it up with Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, something of a response to High Noon, which Hawks disliked.

9:30pm – TCM – Oklahoma!
I can’t begin to guess how many times I watched Oklahoma! growing up, but it’s well into double-digits. It’s a nothing story, about minor conflicts between farmers and cowboys, a couple of young lovers, and the obsessive farmhand who wants the girl for himself. It’s the way the music and dancing is integrated that’s wonderful (and groundbreaking in the 1943 play the film is based on). It’s worthwhile just for the surreal dream ballet in the middle.

12:00M – TCM – From Here to Eternity
There’s the famous part, yes, where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love on the beach among the crashing waves. But there’s also a solid ensemble war tale, involving young officer Montgomery Clift and his naive wife Donna Reed, and embittered soldiers Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.

Wednesday, June 10

6:00am – TCM – Kiss Me Kate
It’s hard to improve Shakespeare, but it usually works best to place his stories and words in a new context. Kiss Me Kate does just that by coupling a musical version of Taming of the Shrew with a backstage story that mirrors Shrew‘s fighting protagonists. Great supporting work from Ann Miller, James Whitmore, Keenan Wynn, etc. helps out leads Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson considerably, as do Cole Porter’s songs.

7:00am – 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
(repeats at 6:00pm, and 1:00pm on the 13th, and 5:00am on the 14th)

Great Directors on TCM: Preston Sturges
Preston Sturges is responsible, as writer and director, for many of the most insane, provocative, and lasting comedies of the early 1940s. He consistently pushed envelopes, and while some of his films may come across a little shrill today, I still love them to pieces.

8:00pm – TCM – The Lady Eve
Barbara Stanwyck and her father Charles Coburn are cardplayers, cheating cruise ship denizens of their wealth. Millionaire (and snake afficianado) Henry Fonda is a good mark, especially since he’s a bit dense and spacey. Stanwyck’s plot is hugely elaborate, only a little muddled by her falling in love with Fonda as well, and she’s a delight from start to finish. As she usually is. Must See

10:00pm – TCM – Sullivan’s Travels
Sullivan’s Travels is a slightly more serious turn for Preston Sturges, but ultimately upholds his comedic tendencies. Joel McCrea is a filmmaker known for his comedies who decides he wants to make a serious film about the depression; but as a successful Hollywood director, he doesn’t know anything about poverty and the working class, so he embarks on an odyssey to learn about them, picking up waifish Veronica Lake as a traveling companion. Must See

12:00M – TCM – The Palm Beach Story
Similar in tone but less consistent than The Lady Eve, this film follows bickering couple Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert as she leaves him to gold dig for a richer man. He follows her, pretending to be her brother, and they get all entangled with a wealthy brother and sister. The ending is a weak bit of trickery, but there are enough moments of hilarity to make it worth watching.

2:00am (11th) – The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Preston Sturges’ zaniest and most irreverent comedy gives Betty Hutton her best role as Trudy Kockenlocker, who goes out for a night on the town with a group of soldiers about to ship out. A few months later, she finds out she’s pregnant and can only vaguely remember an impromptu wedding ceremony with a soldier who may or may not be named Ratskiwatski. I’m always impressed that Sturges got away with as much as he did in this film in 1944.

Thursday, June 11

7:45am – TCM – The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was really MGM’s first foray into noirish crime films. Being MGM, it’s more polished and, to me, less interesting than the crime dramas that Warner Bros. and the smaller studios were putting out, but hey. It’s still pretty good. And has a really young Marilyn Monroe.

2:00pm – TCM – The Maltese Falcon
Humphrey Bogart inhabits the role of Dashiell Hammett’s private eye Sam Spade, creating one of the definitive on-screen hard-boiled detective (vying only with Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, really). Not mention setting the early benchmark for noir films. Must See

3:45pm – TCM – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
One of Bogart’s best films casts him as greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, who teams up with old-timer Walter Huston and youngster Tim Holt to find a horde of gold. Along the way, they uncover instead the darker sides of human nature. One of director John Huston’s most impressive films.

6:00pm – TCM – The African Queen
Yet another team up of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart pits Bogart against the Amazon river – and straight-laced missionary Katharine Hepburn, who is forced to travel with him to escape Germany enemies. Well, boats are small, and one things leads to another, you know.

Great Directors on TCM : Akira Kurosawa
Between his flawless translations of American genre films (especially crime films and westerns) to Japanese settings both contemporary and medieval, his groundbreaking experiments with cinematic point of view and narrative reliability, and his brilliant juxtapositions of Shakespeare with Japanese tradition, Akira Kurosawa can easily claim to be one of the greatest and most influential directors of all time.

8:00pm – TCM – The Seven Samurai
Probably Kurosawa’s best-known film, The Seven Samurai is an eastern version of a Western, with down-on-their-luck samurai (led by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune) working together to help a ravaged village hold off bandit invaders. Completing the cycle of cinematic borrowing, the film was remade in the US as The Magnificent Seven. Must See

10:00pm – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision.

Friday, June 12

12:30pm – TCM – Out of the Past
Out of the Past comes up in most conversations about film noir. It’s got all the elements: low-key lighting (due in this case to budgetary concerns), an existential anti-hero (Robert Mitchum), a femme fatale (Jane Greer), etc. It’s honestly not my favorite noir, but it’s a good one to see once.

2:00pm – Sundance – A Woman Under the Influence
Gena Rowlands gives a tour-de-force performance as Mabel, a woman whose teetering madness threatens her marriage to Nick (Peter Falk). Their relationship edges back and forth between love, frustration, and anger with amazing quickness, yet it’s not clear whether Mabel’s instability is causing the problems, or the other way around. John Cassavetes directs with an unwavering camera, refusing to look away.

5:15pm – 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.

6:30pm – TCM – Cat People
Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur team up for this suggestive horror film, tapping into Eastern European legends of women who turn into cats to protect themselves against oppressive male attention. Highly creepy while showing almost nothing – and I happen to quite like that in a film.

Great Directors on TCM: Woody Allen
Woody Allen is one of the most prolific writer/directors currently working, having turned out a new film nearly every year since the early 1970s. He’s gone through several creative phases, gained and lost popularity, been in and out of the tabloids, etc etc ad nauseum. But when he’s on, he manages to create films that are by turn watchably philosophical, absurdly hilarious, movingly emotional, cinematically and personally nostalgic, and caustically witty. TCM’s hitting almost every base with the films they’ve chosen – throw in Crimes and Misdemeanors and it’d be perfect.

9:45pm – TCM – Broadway Danny Rose
In this lesser Woody Allen film, 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 only does Danny worry about the tenor’s wife, he also gets himself in trouble with the woman’s family.

11:15pm – TCM – Hannah and Her Sisters
Say what you want about Annie Hall and even Manhattan, both of which I love, I throw my vote for best Woody Allen movie ever to Hannah and Her Sisters. It has all the elements Allen is known for – neurotic characters, infidelity, a tendency to philosophize randomly, New York City, dysfunctional family dynamics, acerbic wit – and blends them together much more cogently and evenly than most of his films do. Must See

1:15am (13th) – TCM – The Purple Rose of Cairo
A love letter to cinema, The Purple Rose of Cairo has Woody Allen at his most romantic. Unhappy housewife Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escapes to the cinema to see The Purple Rose of Cairo again and again, where she fantasizes over hunky character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). Much to her surprise (and the other characters’ consternation), Baxter steps off the screen to join her. It makes it even more complicated when Gil, the actor who played Baxter, turns up as well.

2:45am (13th) – TCM – Interiors
In case anyone doubted Woody Allen’s admiration for Ingmar Bergman, he made this film to prove it. Interiors is about the best imitation of a Bergman chamber drama you could ask for, down to the spare set design, strained family relations, and a climax involving an angry sea. Still, it is also very much Allen’s film – his first straight drama – focusing on deeply neurotic, introspective characters unable to get outside their own heads for long enough to form really true relationships.

4:30am (13th) – 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.

Saturday, June 13

Great Directors on TCM: Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder had an incredible ability to make definitive films in most genres – screwball comedy, film noir, socially conscious drama, bittersweet comedy-drama. Rarely are his films bad; most of the time they’re brilliant.

8:30am – TCM – The Apartment
Wilder had a knack for combining comedy and drama into bittersweet goodness, and that’s exactly what he does here, garnering Oscars for Picture, Director, and Screenplay in the process. Jack Lemmon lends his apartment to his boss Fred MacMurray for romantic trysts – a situation that gets even more complicated when MacMurray trysts with Shirley MacLaine, who Lemmon happens to love from afar. Everything comes together perfectly in this film, one of Wilder’s best. MUST SEE

3:30pm – TCM – Some Like It Hot
After musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon unwittingly witness the St. Valentines Day Massacre, they have to escape the mob by impersonating women and joining an all-girls band. The fact that Marilyn Monroe is the band’s lead singer doesn’t help them stay undercover. Easily one of the greatest comedies ever put on film. Must See

8:00pm – 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.
(repeats at 1:00am on the 14th)

10:15pm – TCM – Double Indemnity
Quite probably the most definitive film noir film in existence (vying only with The Big Sleep in my head, anyway) has insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) being seduced by bored housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and convinced by her to help murder her husband for the insurance money. Wilder’s crackling dialogue and Stanwyck’s perfectly tuned mixture of calculation and innocence can hardly be beat. Must See

12:15am (14th) – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit. Must See

Sunday, June 14

Great Directors on TCM: Howard Hawks
Even more so than Wilder, Howard Hawks genre-shifted with ease, including westerns and musicals along with comedies, action films, noir and drama. Yet they all somehow bore his stamp, making him one of the first directors given auteur status by the French film critics who coined the term. (I tend to have more difficulty finding his stamp than I do with, say, Hitchcock – someday I’m going to a specifically auterist study of Hawks so I can write about him more knowledgably. For now I only know that I usually like most everything he did.)

9:30am – TCM – Sergeant York
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for this film, portraying pacifist-turned-WWI hero Alvin C. York. Unfortunately, I’ve never actually seen it all the way through, so I don’t have much more to offer about it.

12:00N – 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 screwiest of all screwball comedies. Must See

2:00pm – TCM – Twentieth Century
In one of the films that defines “screwball comedy” (along with The Awful Truth and Bringing Up Baby), John Barrymore plays a histrionic theatre producer trying to convince his star Carole Lombard to come back to him – both professionally and personally. Lombard is luminous as usual, and Barrymore can chew scenery with the best of them, which is precisely what his role calls for.

4:00pm – TCM – His Girl Friday
This is a remake of a 1931 film called The Front Page about newspaper buddies who go after a major story – Hawks took it to a whole new level by turning one of the men into a woman, and setting reporters Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant as a former couple, now divorced who can’t seem to stay apart, either personally or professionally. The dialogue is a stroke of genius, as well, overlapping in a maelstrom of words that’s overwhelming and delightful all at the same time. I call this one of the greatest American films ever made. Must See

6:00pm – TCM – Ball of Fire
Hawks tries to recapture a little bit of Bringing Up Baby in this tale of a showgirl (Barbara Stanwyck, who’s trying to recapture a bit of The Lady Eve) who ends up among a bunch of stuffy professors, including Gary Cooper. Ball of Fire isn’t as memorable as either of those other films, but it has its own charm, and it’s certainly worth a watch.

8:00pm – TCM – To Have and Have Not
It’s said that this film came about because Howard Hawks bet Earnest Hemingway that he (Hawks) could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst book. Of course, to do that, Hawks ended up basically changing the story entirely, but hey. It’s the thought that counts. It’s honestly mostly notable for being Lauren Bacall’s first film, the one where she met Humphrey Bogart, and the one that spawned the immortal “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve” bit of dialogue. That one scene? Worth the whole film.

10:00pm – TCM – The Big Sleep
Only one of the greatest detective/mysteries/films noir ever made. Humphrey Bogart is the definite hard-boiled detective, Lauren Bacall is the potential love interest/femme fatale. Don’t try to follow the story; whodunit is far less important than crackling dialogue and dry humor. Watch out for future Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind) in the small but extremely memorable part of the bookshop girl. Must See

12:00M – TCM – Only Angels Have Wings
I’ve never gotten into Only Angels Have Wings as much as I have into other Hawks’ films – why I don’t know. It has elements I like – Cary Grant as a daring pilot making dangerous cargo runs in exotic locales, Jean Arthur in an uncharacteristically dramatic turn, and a sighting of a young Rita Hayworth. Just doesn’t seem to come together in a memorable whole for me.