Tag Archives: Them!

Film on TV: March 19-25

I picked out a bunch of classics to pull over from this week’s Film on TV post over at Row Three. Some film noir, some Depression-era musicals, some 1950s creature features, and some Czech New Wave classics. Okay, just one of each of those things. But these are all solid films with some variety, and there’s definitely a lot more to choose from if you click over and see the whole post.

Gold Diggers of 1933

Tuesday, March 20 at 8:00pm on TCM
The story’s nothing to get excited about (and in fact, the subplot that takes over the main plot wears out its welcome fairly quickly), but the strong Depression-era songs, kaleidoscopic choreography from Busby Berkeley, and spunky supporting work from Ginger Rogers pretty much make up for it.
1933 USA. Director: Mervyn LeRoy. Starring: Joan Blondell, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon, Ginger Rogers, Guy Kibbee.

This Gun for Hire

Wednesday, March 21 at 1:30am on TCM (that’s late Tuesday night)
This early noir depicts a hitman (Alan Ladd in his first big role) trying to revenge himself on a former-employer-turned-police-informant, while evading the police (led by Robert Preston), with the help of the policeman’s girlfriend (Veronica Lake), who also happens to be a spy trying to ferret out information on the informant, who is smuggling bomb plans out of the country. Confused yet? It’s intricately-plotted, but most of it makes sense, and the shifting alliances make for engaging viewing. Throw in a sultry magic act for Lake posing as a showgirl, and This Gun for Hire is a more than solid example of a 1940s B-level crime film.
1942 USA. Director: Frank Tuttle. Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar.

Them!

Thursday, March 22 at 6:15pm on TCM
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.

Bunny Lake is Missing

Friday, March 24 at 5:45pm on TCM
As the title suggests, this is a missing person mystery, but with a twist. When four-year-old Bunny Lake goes missing, her mother frantically tries to track her down, but no one else, including her nursery school teachers, will acknowledge the child ever existed. Is this a vast conspiracy, or a woman gone mad? Otto Preminger keeps the tension tight in this foray into British cinema, and I’ll set this credit sequence against anything else Saul Bass has ever done.
1965 UK. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier, Keir Dullea, Martita Hunt, Anna Massey.

Closely Watched Trains

Monday, March 26 at 4:30am on TCM (that’s late Sunday night)
One of the most highly regarded films of the Czech New Wave is, typically, about a seemingly mundane subject – a young man who takes a job as a conductor at his tiny town’s train station and seeks to come of age sexually. The basic story has been told many, many times, but the undertones of the Czech resistance to Nazi occupation along with the surprisingly sweet treatment of Milos’ personal quest make this engaging and memorable. Also, you’ll never look at stamp pads quite the same way again.
1966 Czechoslovakia. Director: Jirí Menzel. Starring: Václav Neckár, Josef Somr and Vlastimil Brodský.

Film on TV: March 8-14

FotoFlexer_Photo-79.jpg
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: 29 Dec – 4 Jan

A bit late again. Good thing there wasn’t a lot on Monday or Tuesday worth looking at anyway. So we’ll start in on Wednesday. The movie channels apparently decided to dump EVERYTHING they had for the turn of the new year, because the 31st and 1st are jam packed. Craziness. I also threw in some listings from the Fox Movie Channel, since I noticed some great stuff while setting my DVR this week.

Wednesday, December 31

6:00am / 5:00am – TCM – Stagecoach
TCM is apparently doing a John Ford/John Wayne tribute today, and that’s never a bad thing. In this 1939 film, Wayne is an outlaw traveling in a cramped stagecoach along with a prostitute (Claire Trevor, who turns in an amazing performance) and various other staple characters of the Western genre perfectly calculated for maximum uncomfortability.

7:45am / 6:45am – TCM – They Were Expendable
One of the best WWII films made during the war (1945). Wayne is the only one who thinks u-boats have any use in combat, but he proves everyone else wrong. Equal parts action and pathos, this is one that seems fairly routine at any given moment, but put all the moments together (especially the last few) and you get blown away by how good it is.

12:30pm / 11:30am – TCM – The Quiet Man
Ford and Wayne are probably best known for the westerns and war movies they made together, but this romantic drama may be the best of the bunch. Wayne is an American former boxer who travels to Ireland to seek his roots; he finds frequent costar Maureen O’Hara there and wants to marry her, but has to overcome her stubborn streak and her lunkish brother’s objections before he can. Filled with charm and humor, Ford received one of his Oscars for it. One wonders if it would’ve won Best Picture if it had come from a major studio instead of upstart Republic (consider that overblown corker The Greatest Show on Earth won that year). Must See

7:00pm / 6:00pm – Fox Movie Channel – Planet of the Apes
I saw this not knowing anything about the ending. I suggest that if you haven’t seen it and don’t already know the ending that you do the same. One of the classic sci-fi films.
(repeats at 4pm EST on the 1st and 3:30am EST on the 2nd)

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment!
If you like musicals, you’ll love That’s Entertainment!, MGM’s celebration of its history of movie musicals. If you don’t like musicals…you won’t. It’s that simple. This was put together in 1974 as a theatrical release in honor of MGM’s 50th anniversary, so it’s really well put together and hosted by many of the stars who were there at the time (and some whose connection to MGM is tenuous at best – like Paramount’s Bing Crosby).

10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – Adaptation
Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to Being John Malkovich is slightly less bizarre, but still pretty out there – just in a more subtle way. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman who’s stuck in his attempt to adapt a bestseller; it doesn’t help when his successful brother (also played by Cage) shows up. The end feels like it’s going off the rails, but that’s all part of the genius.
(repeats at 5:00am EST on the 1st)

10:30pm / 9:30pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment, Part 2
MGM couldn’t get all their great musical clips into one compilation film, so two years later they made another one. And it’s almost as good, especially because it includes some great non-musical moments as well.

12:00am / 11:00pm – Sundance – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Charlie Kaufman again, this time with Michel Gondry instead of Spike Jonze, and this may be his greatest collaboration – in fact, neither Kaufman nor Gondry apart from each other have matched the perfection of this film. After a painful breakup with his girlfriend Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey decides to undergo a procedure to remove her completely from his memory. But is forgetting the bad times worth losing the good? Must See

12:45pm / 11:45pm – TCM – That’s Entertainment III
This completes the That’s Entertainment! series, really (they did a straight-to-video That’s More Entertainment later), and they are starting to run out of clips. Still. If you liked the first two, it’s worth a watch.

3:00am / 2:00am – TCM – That’s Dancing!
The only downside to the That’s Entertainment series is that it only includes MGM films. That’s Dancing does rectify that, bringing in clips from other studios, but it doesn’t have the panache of MGM’s series.

Thursday, January 1

6:00am / 5:00am – Cartoon Network – Looney Tunes Marathon
Okay, folks, there’s a lot going on today moviewise, and you probably have other stuff going on on New Years, but Cartoon Network is showing like fourteen straight hours of Looney Tunes. This is like a gold mine. These cartoons are like sixty years old, and they’re still among the most hilarious and innovative films ever made, cartoon or live-action, short or feature-length. I’m pretty much going to be parked here all day, since I’ve seen almost all the stuff on TCM today. :) Not that I haven’t seen most of the Looney Tunes…never mind, reasoning broke down.

6:00am / 5:00am – TCM – Nothing Sacred
And TCM is devoting New Year’s Day (during the day at least) to screwball comedy, and that’s hard to pass up. In this one, terminally ill Carole Lombard gets a big newspaper to pay her way to New York and the high society life in exchange for her human interest story. Except she’s only pretending to be terminally ill. Oops.

6:00am / 5:00am – Fox Movie – The Seven Year Itch
I actually can’t remember much about this film (Tom Ewell had a mid-life crisis and dabbles with neighbor Marilyn Monroe), but it is the one with the iconic image of Marilyn’s skirt being blown up as she walks over a grate. So there’s that.
(repeats at 1:30pm EST)

9:00am / 8:00am – TCM – Libeled Lady
Throw William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow all together in an MGM comedy, and you’re almost guaranteed a winner. And Libeled Lady delivers with a twisty story, fast-talking script, and the best these stars have to offer.

11:00am / 10:00am – TCM – Bringing Up Baby
Poor Cary Grant just can’t get away from delightfully ditzy Katharine Hepburn, especially after her dog steals his museum’s priceless dinosaur bone. Oh, and after her pet leopard escapes (and a dangerous zoo leopard escapes at the same time). Incredible situation follows incredible situation in this zaniest of all screwball comedies. Must See

4:15pm / 3:15pm – TCM – The Awful Truth
Married couple Cary Grant and Irene Dunne can’t stand living together any more and divorce, but they also can’t live apart and end up working overtime to sabotage each other’s new relationships. Epitomizes the battle-of-the-sexes aspect of screwball comedy perhaps better than any other film.

6:00pm / 5:00pm – TCM – It Happened One Night
Spoiled heiress Claudette Colbert runs off to marry against Daddy’s wishes, but gets sidetracked by reporter Clark Gable, who wants her story but ends up winning her heart. (Damn, that was corny. I apologize.) MGM sent Gable to Columbia to make this picture as a punishment for getting too big for his contract’s britches, but it backfired – he won an Oscar for his role, as did Colbert, director Frank Capra, writer Robert Riskin, and the film itself. Must See

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – King Kong
The 1933 special effects are a bit creaky at times, but by and large with a little imagination, King Kong more than holds up to its remakes and imitators. I’m one that didn’t mind Peter Jackson’s version as much as a lot fo cinephiles did, but for the real King Kong, go back to the original.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – Them!
Atomic anxiety strikes again, this time in the form of radiation-created giant ants that threaten Texas and then California. I was actually far more entranced with this surprisingly solid 1950s sci-fi B-movie than I expected to be. Frankly, I loved it, and I wish we could still manage to make creature feature as simple and as simply great as this one.

11:00pm / 10:00pm – Fox Movie – Die Hard
All John McClane wants to do is get home for Christmas. But plans change, especially when a bunch of terrorists take over his wife’s office building and McClane has to take them out almost singlehandedly. And give us one of the best action movies ever made. The sequels are not that good. Skip ’em.

Friday, January 2

The networks overcrowded the 31st and the 1st, and ran out of good stuff for the 2nd. But then found a bunch more for the 3rd. Go figure.

Saturday, January 3

10:00am / 9:00am – IFC – The Cat’s Meow
I throw this in here because for a while it was one of my arguments that Kirsten Dunst is actually good if given the right part. Now Marie Antoinette is my argument for that, but The Cat’s Meow remains a fun little Hollywood period piece. Dunst plays Marion Davies, a 1920s actress who’s now better known for being William Randolph Hearst’s mistress – the film is set at one of Hearst’s parties at which producer Thomas Ince mysteriously died. Director Peter Bogdanovich has made 1920s-1930s nostalgia (often with a cinematic twist) his specialty, and while The Cat’s Meow ain’t no Last Picture Show or even Paper Moon, it’s still enjoyable.
(repeats at 4pm EST)

12:00pm / 11:00am – Fox Movie – Two for the Road
Once in a while a film comes out of nowhere and blindsides me with brilliance. Two for the Road is directed by Stanley Donen, best known for lighthearted musicals, comedies, and mysteries. It stars Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney; Hepburn at least also best known for lighthearted, whimsical fare. But Two for the Road is one of the most thoughtful and adult films of the 1960s, and I mean that in a good way. It dissects Hepburn’s and Finney’s relationship, cutting back and forth between their meeting, their marriage, and their separation almost as if all three are happening at the same time – every moment of their life together becomes part of who they are and part of the sum of their relationship, and Donen has found the perfect way to depict that. Must See

2:00pm / 1:00pm – TCM – Invasion of the Body Snatchers
My favorite thing about this 1956 sci-fi classic is that it can be read either as pro-Left or pro-Right with very little difficulty (which shows just how close totalitarian Fascism and Communism end up being in practice). So it’s politically charged, but never in a way that feels overly heavy-handed and manipulative. Aliens are invading by taking over people’s bodies, turning them into emotionless pod people. They’ve tried remaking it a couple of times, but somehow it never ends up packing quite the punch of the original.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Modern Times
Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece (to my mind, anyway) thrusts our hapless Little Tramp into an overly mechanized factory world, brilliantly skewering the industrial revolution and its reduction of humanity to gears and cogs. He escapes with the gamine Paulette Goddard, who shines as much here as in any of her other films. It’s a mostly silent film, despite being made in 1936, but it’s hard to argue with any conviction that Chaplin was behind the times. Must See

8:00pm / 7:00pm – IFC – Fargo
This blackest of black comedies has it all: hitmen, theft, blackmail, murder, and woodchipper-as-body-disposal-mechanism, not to mention an extremely pregnant policewoman to sort it all out. The Coen Brothers spin one of their finest yarns (I place it third behind O Brother Where Art Thou and No Country For Old Men, which still leaves it really darn high in my overall film list), proving why they’re the masters of the everyday macabre. Must See
(repeats at 1:00am EST on the 4th)

11:00pm / 10:00pm – TCM – The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Ooh, I haven’t seen this for such a long time! Let’s see what I remember…it’s based on a Dr. Seuss story about a kid who dreams his piano teacher is an evil prison-master. What I really remember is that it’s just about the most surreal and innovative children’s movie I’ve ever seen. I’d compare it only to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children, except I wouldn’t actually show Jeunet’s film to kids. In any case, Dr. T‘s a trip that’s well-worth taking.

2:30am / 1:30am (4th) – TCM – Shall We Dance
Not one of Fred and Ginger’s best, but hey. It’s still Fred and Ginger.

Sunday, January 4

10:30pm / 9:30pm – TCM – The Red Shoes
Real ballerina Moira Shearer plays an aspiring ballerina in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s version of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale. Actually, the fairy tale is the story within the story – the main story is more Svengali and Trilby, as a producer extraordinaire takes Shearer under his wing, but is outraged when she falls in love with poor young composer instead. In between all this is probably the greatest ballet sequence ever put on film (on a set that would never have fit on any stage), as the Anderson story becomes Shearer’s signature role. The Technicolor is breathtaking, too.

Non-related, probably non-interesting side note. I write a lot more when I’m tired (i.e., longer descriptions of the movies). Apparently the energy-intensive part of writing for me is not the actual writing, but the editing. Or the writing concisely.

February 2008 Watching/Reading/Gaming Recap

Click through for reactions to Them!, The War of the Worlds, Superbad, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Assassination of Jesse James, Sunshine, Vanity Fair, Bleak House, Call of Duty 4, and more.

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